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Postcards from the Edge ( 2 )

Mar. 13, 2005

Bored by the prospect of another tame holiday spent sipping espresso on a piazza or sunning yourself on a crowded beach? Audacious travelers can now explore rougher, wilder destinations as tour operators cater to an increasingly adventurous clientele. Here are three trips guaranteed to satisfy even the most jaded thrill-seeker. If you don't mind slogging through thick mud and dense forest, a gorilla-spotting holiday in Rwanda might appeal. Now that relative political stability has returned to the country, it's once again possible to observe mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Following in researcher Dian Fossey's footsteps, visitors can catch a rare glimpse of some of the 700 surviving primates at Parc National des Volcans, a conservation center in the northwestern part of the country. Expect your trek to be rewarded with screeches, grunts, beating of chests and close encounters with some of the most fascinating creatures on earth. The park's lodge is basic but spacious — rooms have seating areas, lots of windows and an en suite eco-friendly shower. Cost is $1,444 per person sharing a twin room. tel: (44-870) 8708480; www.volcanoessafaris.com

If traveling to Antarctica isn't excitement enough for you, try scuba diving in its icy waters. Divemasters lead groups of as many as 10 to a depth of up to 15 m. The frigid waters don't dampen the thrill of swimming among humpback whales, leopard seals and penguins. Visibility is excellent, and spectacular marine life like sea stars, brittle stars and coral puts on a stunning display. In optimum ice, water and wind conditions, groups may dive as many as four times in two days. Divers must hold PADI or NAUI Advanced Open Water credentials. Accommodation ranges from triple cabins with shared facilities to suites aboard the good ship Akademik Shokalskiy. The rate for a diving expedition is $595 per person. tel: (1-203) 656 0499; www.quarkexpeditions.com

If fishing is your thing, a trip to the Pantanal in western Brazil, one of the richest ecosystems in the world, will likely have you hooked. This vast wetland along the northern reaches of the Paraguay River is about the size of Britain, and is home to over 200 species of fish — making it a prime site for South American anglers. While you're waiting for the fish to bite, you can spot giant otters, jaguar, anteaters, monkeys and huge guinea pig-like capybaras. There are also over 300 species of bird, ranging from toucans to the magnificent 1.2-m jabiru stork. Visitors stay in a lodge with air conditioning, private bathrooms and spectacular river views. Tours can be arranged on horseback or foot, by boat or jeep, but the Pantanal itself is only accessible by charter flight. Rental prices for planes range from $1,800-$2,200, and accommodation is $150 per person per night. tel: (44-20) 7384 2332; www.cazloyd.com