Travel Special: ACTION PLAN

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The Independent Culture
ARCTIC EXPLORER With its great rivers and waterfalls, volcanic landscapes and hot springs, few holiday destinations can offer more adventurous prospects than Iceland. A giant playground for off-the-beaten-track driving, Arctic Experience offers a variety of jeep safaris, travelling in Iceland's Super Jeeps specially adapted for the snow. Participants learn driving techniques and how to use the high-tech equipment on board. No less thrilling, a skidoo safari into the highlands and snowy plains whisks you into active geothermal areas, while cross-country safaris on skis and snowshoes take you to parts that even these vehicles can't reach.

Ice fishing and hiking are also on the activity menu, plus a chance to sample the life of an Icelandic fisherman on a trawler expedition when you can hope to spot whales and dolphins. The six-day holiday is centred at Husavik, a little fishing village in northern Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle (a flight across the Arctic Circle with a certificate to prove it, is another option), with two nights in the increasingly trendy capital Reykjavik.

FURTHER INFORMATION Six-day Icelandic breaks cost from pounds 417 to pounds 568 from Arctic Experiences (01737 218800), including flights, b&b and sightseeing excursions. Activities are priced separately; the jeep safari costs pounds 119; skidoo safari pounds 87; cross-country trip pounds 45 and fishing boat trip pounds 33.

GO TO TIMBUKTU

If you're looking for a really off-the-beaten-track adventure, Explore Worldwide, who have operated in Ethiopia for some years, can now offer newly independent Eritrea and the legendary Timbuktu on different expeditions.

On a 17-day Horn of Africa tour, nine nights are spent in Ethiopia visiting the rock-cut churches of Labilela, taking mule treks into the surrounding mountains, before crossing into Eritrea, where the highlight is the 2,300 metre escarpment from Asmara, the capital, down to the Arabic port of Massawa. Conditions, claim Explore, are safe and relaxed, roads poor but passable, and the scenery as yet unexploited.

Timbuktu, once a stop on the Trans-Sahara caravan route, wealthy from its trade in gold and salt, is the highlight on a 16-day Mali camping tour which also includes a foot safari into Dogon country, and a pirogue (or canoe) trip up the Niger River.

FURTHER INFORMATION Eritrea: Explore Worldwide's (01252 319448) 17-day Horn of Africa Tour costs pounds 1,795; the 16-day Mali Tour pounds 1,295; both prices include flights and b&b.

ACTIVITY UK

BACK IN THE UK, several firms organise adventure and activity breaks where you can test your fitness and courage. On a design-your-own commando weekend with Anglian Activity breaks of Norwich, you can drive anything from a go-kart to an ex-Soviet tank, build a raft and battle across a lake or scramble over nets and up greasy poles. Accommodation is in bunks in tents at the outdoor adventure centre, with the option of staying in hotels nearby.

On the Welsh borders, Acorn Activity runs a range of adventure holidays for families, couples, groups or singles. Breathless multi-activity weeks for singles running from 11 July until 29 August include abseiling and climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, pony-trekking and a gorge adventure day, with accommodation at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny.

Family multi-activity weeks in the Black Mountains based around the Manor Hotel at Crickhowell offer similar activities.

FURTHER INFORMATION On the Commando breaks from Anglian Activity Breaks (01603 700770) individual activities cost from pounds 7 per session, and heavy- duty driving days cost pounds 225 per person. Accommodation starts at pounds 37 per night per person. The Multi-Activity weeks from Acorn Activities (01432 830083) are priced at pounds 450 per week, and are inclusive of full board and all activities. JC

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