The Whale Shark Safari

The Whale Shark Safari

James R.D. Scott / Getty Images

Whale Shark Excursions in Tofo, Mozambique

A golden arc on the eastern rim of the Inhambane panhandle, a couple of degrees south of the Tropic of Capricorn, Mozambique[1]'s Praia do Tofo[2] seems like the ideal place to laze about in the sun. But speak to the locals and you'll soon discover that there is a reason to leave the lounge chairs set out by the rapidly growing number of luxury hotels. The reason: Whale sharks[3], a veritable posse of them, cruising in a corridor of nutrient-rich water less than a mile offshore.

Found in warm waters from Tanzania to Taiwan, the world's biggest fish has spawned a mini-industry full of outfitters promising access to the docile giants. Even compared with more popular whale shark tourism destinations, including Mexico's Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve[4] and the Coral Sea[5], Tofo is exceptional. Research by conservation biologist Simon Pierce shows that daily "ocean safari" excursions out of Tofo find sharks 87 percent of the time. Sign up, haul the rigid inflatable through Tofo's tumble-dryer surf, slither aboard, and, chances are, your run-in with a goliath is just moments away.

"There aren't many places where sightings are virtually predictable," says Dr. Pierce, a New Zealand native whose interest in whale sharks drew him to Mozambique in 2005. "That's what makes Tofo such a hotspot."

After swimmers climb aboard the shark-seeking vessels, the pilot guns through the swells while a spotter crouched atop a scaffold in the stern keeps watch for fins. A guide offers a simple warning for first-timers: "Don't swim in front of it and, whatever you do, don't touch!"

Unless you're part of the unlucky 13 percent, someone will spot a fin – several perhaps – and chaos will ensue as hyper-excited tourists don snorkels, swivel on the rubber, and hurl themselves into the ocean. When the first few frantic moments have passed and everyone has found a point at which they can admire the creature without getting kicked or inadvertently swallowed, all that's left is to watch the sharks swim gracefully through the blue.

More information: Daily flights to Inhambane Airport are available from Johannesburg and Maputo aboard Mozambique Airlines[6]. Lovely rooms with ocean views are available for $140 a night at Blue Footprints[7], which can arrange whale shark tours with a number of local outfitters.


  1. ^ Mozambique (
  2. ^ Praia do Tofo (
  3. ^ Whale sharks (
  4. ^ Mexico's Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve (
  5. ^ Coral Sea (
  6. ^ Mozambique Airlines (
  7. ^ Blue Footprints (

The Most Beautiful Lake on Earth

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The Most Beautiful Lake on Earth   View More Photos[1] Andrew Geiger / Getty Images

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

When German explorer Alexander von Humboldt famously called Guatemala's Lake Atitlan "the most beautiful lake in the world," he was just trying to be accurate. Surrounded by the towering volcanoes that helped create it, Lake Atitlan and its cobalt blue waters set a scene that borders on being "too much of a good thing," as English novelist Aldous Huxley later wrote. But the area isn't just for Prussian explorers and British recreational drug enthusiasts: The area around the lake has a sublime hiking, paragliding, climbing, and mountain biking scene.

For starters, visitors can sign up with a machete-toting guide and tackle some of the countless trekking trails that crisscross the hills. Weave through coffee plantations, avocado trees, and corn fields en route to the rocky cone of a still-smoking volcano, or take a more leisurely route from village to colorful village, following in the footsteps of the Mayans, who still call the lake home.

Those looking for something more strenuous should consider the punishing Atitlan Marathon[2]. Inaugurated in 2012, the route features more than 2,000 feet of vertical climbing over terrain more appropriate for beast than man.

Prefer wheels to walks? Bikers follow some of the same, rugged routes on a heart-pounding downhill sprint, helmet definitely required. For something more leisurely, pick one of the multi-day tours that take riders around the entire lake, stopping in tiny villages along the way to refuel with locally grown coffee and watch local residents live, work, and play as they have for centuries.

Those looking beyond the Earth-bound adventures have two options.

Take to the air with the folks at Real World Paragliding[3], riding the breezes high above the blue waves far below. Or, for a truly unique experience, go scuba-diving in Central America's deepest lake. Swimmers can pass along steep walls of a still-active volcano and warm their hands in mud heated by the molten lava buried far below them.

When it's time for a break from the adventure, head to the hillside Casa Palopo[4]. A former colonial-style villa turned boutique hotel, the Palopo is a seven-bedroom luxury property frequented by the rich (Bill Gates), as well as the famous (Charlize Theron), who often arrive by helicopter at one of the hotel's two onsite helipads. The food from Palopo's restaurant 6.8[5] is gourmet (try the tuna tartare). The bar, complete with vintage barber shop stools and a Wurlitzer jukebox, is hard to leave. And the views from the infinity pool to the massive volcanoes across the lake are impossible to forget. Not that you'd want to.

More information: Visitors fly into Guatemala City, from where they can take a direct shuttle (3 hrs) or a helicopter (20-minutes) from the airport to Lake Atitlan.


  1. ^   View More Photos (
  2. ^ Atitlan Marathon (
  3. ^ Real World Paragliding (
  4. ^ Casa Palopo (
  5. ^ 6.8 (

Kayaking the Los Angeles River

Kayaking the Los Angeles River

Noaki Schwartz / AP

Kayaking the Los Angeles River

The Los Angeles River is less associated with boats than it is with cars – the cement waterway served as the backdrop for stunt driving in 'Grease[1],' 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day[2],' and 'Gone in 60 Seconds[3]' – but that could be about to change. Over the weekend, a 2.5-mile stretch of the urban waterway dubbed Elysian Valley opened to the public as a boating area[4]. This stretch of Class I rapids, sandwiched between a strip of greenery and an artificial bank, hardly resembles the Salmon River[5], but that hasn't kept local kayakers from showing up in force. Schools of urban paddlers ride the waves toward the jutting skyscrapers at the city's core.

"The I-5 Freeway runs right next to the stretch of open river, but because of the way the trees are, you can't hear it," says George Wolfe, who famously navigated the entire 52-mile river in 2008[6]. "It is just a surreal Los Angeles thing – highway life running next to this natural area."

Elysian Valley represents the first stretch of the river opened to the general public. Up until now, paddlers looking to make a trip down the sunburnt trench have had to sign on for trips with outfitters like Paddle the L.A. River[7] or Wolfe's Los Angeles River Expeditions[8], which is perpetually booked solid. Wolfe says that by opening the river to the public, Los Angeles County and the Army Corps of Engineers have helped his city move from "the bottom of the list in terms of city boating to near the top."

The veteran guide says he's even hearing Los Angeles mentioned as a rival to Columbus, Georgia – America's most whitewater-friendly city.

"You can now see egrets, Great Blue Herons, hawks, and turkey vultures from the water," says Wolfe, adding that kayakers are likely to also see a fair number of the City of Angels' homeless, who wrap themselves in blankets along the banks.

Wolfe is currently working with Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Mark Toy[9] and a number of community advocates to expand public access to encompass at least 2.5 more miles of water by the end of next year. Though there are certain hazards to paddling a diverted waterway – the current can hit 45 mph during a heavy rain – Wolfe says he believes that the river will become a more central part of the Los Angeles landscape as access improves.

"We've even managed to get a canoe down there," he boasts. "It takes a bit of skill but can be done."

The same could probably be said of providing Los Angeles with a sorely needed oasis, and it is only fitting that a bit player finally steps into that starring role.

More information: The new park is located near the Marsh Street Skate Park off I-5[10]. For the moment, kayaks should be rented at the beach and trucked inland.


  1. ^ Grease (
  2. ^ Terminator 2: Judgment Day (
  3. ^ Gone in 60 Seconds (
  4. ^ Elysian Valley opened to the public as a boating area (
  5. ^ Salmon River (
  6. ^ famously navigated the entire 52-mile river in 2008 (
  7. ^ Paddle the L.A. River (
  8. ^ Los Angeles River Expeditions (
  9. ^ Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Mark Toy (
  10. ^ near the Marsh Street Skate Park off I-5 (

Dune Bashing Outside Doha

Dune Bashing Outside Doha

Matilde Gattoni / Getty Images

Driving the Qatari Desert (Doha, Qatar)

Doha, the capital of tiny Qatar, is a hub waiting to happen[1]. The glistening Arabian Peninsula city, full of ritzy hotels, restaurants, and boutiques sits within eight hours' flying time of over three-quarters of the world's population. Right now it is primarily a business stopover, but skyscraper-filled Doha offers a chance at desert adventure for visitors willing to drive away from the steel, glass, and marble, and into the sands of the "Inland Sea[2]," where off-roading is referred to as "Dune Bashing."

It's a 45-kilometer drive south from Doha to the desert town of Masaieed, and the Sealine Resort[3], which serves as a staging post for desert adventures. This is where drivers working for various outfitters – including Qatar Inbound Tours[4], and Qatar Adventure[5] – deflate the tires of their Toyota Land Cruisers to about 11 psi, crank up the AC, and head out into the oblique light of the dunes.

As their passengers hold on for dear life, drivers flirt with the dunes' ridges and dips, then slam on the gas pedal, rocketing up and over unmarked crests. SUVs hang in the air and crash back to Earth as grips tighten and hearts lurch. Drivers then plunges down the far side of the amber wave and grind into the brown belly of the salt flats at its feet. Most drivers "Tokyo drift" along the pan before hurtling up another steep dune for a traverse along its face. Vehicles feel as though they are about to turn over and spit out sand like a blender churning through flour. Trust Allah, but buckle your seat belt.

The drivers, each skilled and experienced, can be prevailed upon to stop at the crest of the largest dunes so that passengers can step out into the wind, which makes a scratchy drumming sound – caused by the piezoelectric properties of crystalline quartz, the same way a needle on a phonograph translates vibrations into sound. The dunes seem to be shifting, migrating. Just over the rise is Saudi Arabia, the so-called "Empty Quarter," and what British explorer Wilfred Thesiger[6] called "this cruel land."

Then it's back into the truck, which fishtails over the poured geometry of each silvery drift. The driver continues bashing, launching his vehicle ever higher and swinging in circles until the landscape resembles the whorls of gigantic fingertips.

The end of the rides are timed to coincide with sunset, so bashers can take in a meal at a Bedouin camp near the Arabian Gulf. Across the water, and out of sight, sits Dubai, where this sort of desert adventure was dreamt up in the first place[7]. What makes the Doha experience better is that fewer tourists have arrived on this sunburnt peninsula.

As the dunes turn rose-red, tea is served, and limbs are checked for bruises. Camels strut at the water's edge. Soon it's back to the neon, the jazz, the museums, and the high thread-counts of Doha, where the sand visitors track into their rooms is vacuumed up by conscientious maids.

More information: British Airway, American Airlines, US Airways, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Delta Air Lines, And ANA all fly into Doha. A dune-bashing trip generally costs around $100, though more luxurious and inclusive trips may run $300.


  1. ^ hub waiting to happen (
  2. ^ Inland Sea (
  3. ^ Sealine Resort (
  4. ^ Qatar Inbound Tours (
  5. ^ Qatar Adventure (
  6. ^ Wilfred Thesiger (
  7. ^ where this sort of desert adventure was dreamt up in the first place (

The '72 Hour' Survivor

'72 Hours' (TNT)

Courtesy TNT

'72 Hours' (TNT)

Fiji, Tasmania[1], Hawaii[2], the Rockies[3]: Brandon Johnson[4] has been thoroughly enjoying the remote locations of his new job. An actor who has appeared on 'One Life to Live[5]' and Disney's hit show 'Shake It Up[6],' the Minnesota native is hosting the new TNT reality competition '72 Hours[7],' which premieres at 9 p.m. EDT on TNT.

"It's an incredible job," he says, "to have your office be a helicopter."

Each new episode features three new teams of three contestants who are dropped off in the wilderness with nothing but water, a GPS tracking device, and the clothes on their backs. They have three days to find a briefcase full of $100,000 in cash, or, alternately, simply to survive the ordeal. "The course pushes people to their limits, and exposes them for who they really are," Johnson tells 'Men's Journal.' "We want to rip off the mask that they wear every day. There are lots of obstacles physically, but even more emotionally and mentally. There are a couple of episodes where people are pushed to the absolute brink."

Johnson, who was born in Bloomington, Minnesota, says he grew up in the great outdoors, camping, fishing, and hunting. "I'm an adrenaline junkie," he says. "I have a thrill for adventure, and life in general."

Armchair travelers may learn a handy tip or two for their next hike or camping trip by watching the show, Johnson says: "Something as simple as a bandanna or a shirt – not only do they protect you from the elements, but you can also use them as a filtration system or to carry things. Shoelaces are great for starting fires or climbing trees, if you need to do surveillance. If you have a pair of sunglasses, you can use them as a magnifying glass to start fires."

In a recurring role on 'Hannah Montana,' Johnson played an unctuous singing-show host who reminded viewers not a little of a certain real-life unctuous singing-show host. He fancies himself a student of the field: "I recently had the chance to sit next to Wink Martindale from 'Tic-Tac-Dough' back in the day," he says. "It's a trip when you rub shoulders with some of these people. But this is kind of more a Jason Bourne-type character, an action hero. I'm having a ball." ['72 Hours[10]' premieres on TNT on June 6 at 9 p.m. EDT][8][9]


  1. ^ Tasmania (
  2. ^ Hawaii (
  3. ^ the Rockies (
  4. ^ Brandon Johnson (
  5. ^ One Life to Live (
  6. ^ Shake It Up (
  7. ^ 72 Hours (
  8. ^ Hannah Montana (
  9. ^ Tic-Tac-Dough (
  10. ^ 72 Hours (