This article from Yahoo explains how vacations can also be a learning experience and not just a chance to get a beautiful tan.
Vacations that feed curious minds are on the rise, especially those with a focus on science. What could be cooler — particularly for kids — than spending time with researchers dedicated to studying and preserving life on Earth? After all, the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein once said, “Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.”
Around the horn
In the spirit of Einstein, resorts worldwide are creating programs that allow visitors to tag along with scientists during their daily rounds, and in many cases help out with the research. From darting rhinos in South Africa and tracking chimpanzees from dawn to dusk in Uganda to catching and measuring sea turtles in Brazil and cataloging manta rays in the Maldives, the programs let travelers become scientists for a day — while making memories for a lifetime.
Imagine yourself in a South African grassland or undulating bushveld, a safe distance away as a sharp-shooting researcher in a helicopter overhead darts a white rhino. In under 10 minutes, after the target turns to a snoring lump of flesh and the vet gives an OK to approach, you’ll be at the rhino’s side, assisting the team to measure the animal and its horns, notching an ear for ID purposes or spraying water on the rhino while someone else does the notching, taking DNA samples, and placing passive transponders inside a horn.
After you’ve retreated to the vehicle and the vet has administered an antidote, the rhino will be snorting and rushing into the bush. This rare experience can be arranged by andBeyond for guests staying at its lodges in Phinda Private Game Reserve (all-inclusive rates start at $545 per day, plus $3,350 for a group of up to eight scientists for a day of rhino research).
Touching moment: feeling the soft skin behind a rhino’s ear compared with the thick, hard, protective skin on the shoulder.
Plan it of the apes
You’ll need an early wake-up to watch chimpanzees de-nesting in the moist rainforest of Kibale National Park in Uganda, home to the highest concentration of primates in Africa, including chimps. Led by the Kibale research team, you’ll track a chimpanzee family through its daily routines until they ascend into the trees around 6:30 p.m. to build their nests for the night — an unforgettable day that can be incorporated into Epic Private Journeys’ customized Uganda itineraries (rates start at $650 per person/day).
Inspiring realization: watching the chimps’ human-like interactions, knowing that 98 percent of our DNA is the same.
Come out of your shell
For a science adventure on Brazil’s eco-paradise isle of Fernando de Noronha, Blue Parallel can build a trip around insider experiences with researchers dedicated to preserving the ecosystems and species of the 21-island Fernando de Noronha archipelago. It’s possible to spend a full day with a biologist from the Brazilian Sea Turtle Institution and another helping with dolphin counts while plana-subbing, a propelled form of snorkeling. Describe your perfect days and Blue Parallel will make it happen (rates from $5,000–$5,500 per person for four days, based on two people). Dream day: catching, measuring, and marking a wild sea turtle.
Related: Tuck in Your Favorite Animals at These Zoo Sleepovers
Rays the roof
Join the researchers of the Manta Trust in the Indian Ocean at a dive site in the Maldives off Six Senses Laamu in the Laamu Atoll. Swim with Laamu’s gentle manta rays — that live in perpetual motion in order to survive — and learn how to take ID shots and catalog the mantas when you return to the resort.
If you find a ray that hasn’t been entered in the Laamu database, you’ll get the honor of naming the manta. Six Senses Laamu (room rates start at $995, dive rates at $300 per day) offers dives with the Manta Trust between mid-September and mid-October, the best time for witnessing the rays’ courtship behaviors.
Just winging it
Spend a day with Mashpi Lodge’s resident biologist Carlos Morochz, mapping populations and behaviors of the lodge’s butterflies, birds, and moths. Early risers can join him at 5 a.m. to pick up and replace camera traps and download the images back at the lodge, take a hike to the mating spots for birds and visit Mashpi’s life center to check on the larvae, pupas, butterflies, host plants and nectar plants.
All this and excursions inside the reserve are included (all-inclusive rates for two start at $1,374 for a two-night package and $608 for additional nights).
Ruin your chances
On the Greek isle of Santorini, two Starwood Luxury Collection resorts, Vedema and Mystique, have collaborated on an archaeology tour of Akrotini, a Minoan (3000 BC) settlement abandoned after severe earthquakes, followed by an eruption that buried the entire island in 1600 BC. Some believe that Akrotini inspired Plato’s story of the lost city of Atlantis.
Take a half-day tour with an archaeologist who has been excavating this wonder (room rates at Vedema and Mystiquestart at $450 per night, the tour costs $175 per person, based on a five-night stay).
Big surprise: seeing more than 40 magnificently preserved rooms, furniture stacked as if the owners were coming back, and beautiful frescoes.
If you think the loud-calling lemurs at the Central Park Zoo are fascinating, join primatologist Travis Steffens in Madagascar. You’ll do exactly what he does every day in his work: track and count lemurs, mark locations of rare species with a GPS and report those sightings to park staff and other researchers.
Kensington Tours has a 15-day tour of Madagascar led by Travis Steffens, departing Nov. 1 (rates start at $9,150 per person).
Overhead views: watching Sifaka and Indri lemurs that leap 30 feet between trees and hit the ground looking like kangaroos practicing kung fu.
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