six hundred miles off the coast of ecuador, darwin's fantasy-come-true still bursts with life, and there may be no better way to see the galápagos and its wild offerings than by kayak. sign on with explorers' corner and you will meander through the galápagos isles - singsong places like isabela, fernandina, and isla espanola - in a luxurious catamaran, then depart this mobile base to explore the islands, naturalist in hand, by kayak, which allows access to places most galápagos visitors never see. along the way you could happen upon penguins, fur seals, marine iguanas, enormous turtles, and, frankly, who knows what else. nearly half the galápagos birds and insects, 32 percent of the plants, and 90 percent of the reptiles exist nowhere else. wrote herman melville, "i know not whether i am not the occasional victim of optical delusion regarding the galápagos." see for yourself. cost for the 10-day trip is $3,550; price does not include the mainland-to-galápagos charter flight and $100 park entrance fee. www.explorerscorner.com, (510) 559-8099

southern right whales
explore the beautifully rugged southern argentine coast of patagonia - and the nursery ground and sanctuary for the majestic southern right whale - via kayak. there is no more intimate mode of marine travel, and whitney & smith legendary expeditions puts you smack dab in the middle of a marine sanctuary fat with life. not only will you be able to paddle within feet of 50-foot right whales, if timing and luck are with you, you'll also get equally intimate with elephant seals, dusky dolphins, and transient orcas. for added wild measure, you'll see dozens of birds - from penguins (the trip visits a penguin colony) to plovers. but it is the endangered right whales that steal the show and capture your heart. to lie on a night beach listening to their resonating blows is to be touched and changed forever. the 14-day trip, which begins and ends in buenos aires, is $3,900. www.legendaryex.com, (403) 678-3052