Can you believe there's a better place than L.A. to stargaze? It's Costa Rica. During TravelQuest's annual Costa Rica Southern Sky Party tour, amateur astronomers can take in the vast southern sky with deep-sky experts. Other activities will include birding, cultural experiences and boating to Isla Chira.
Itinerary: San José to Costa Rica Star Lodge, Sarchí and back to San José
Dates: Jan. 16 to 23
Price: $1,740 (double occupancy, single supplement $330), including seven nights in hotels, round-trip airport transfers, private motor coach transportation in Costa Rica, most meals, two boat excursions, evening sky shows with the guidance of astronomy author Gary Seronik and nature walks led by Costa Rican guides. The price does not include international airfare, Costa Rican departure tax ($32) and gratuities.
Contact: TravelQuest, Prescott, Ariz.; (800) 830-1998, www.travelquesttours.com
Whale, turtle watching
Fans of marine life will appreciate the eight-day Whale Watching and Turtle Research trip by Baja Expeditions and SEE Turtles, an organization that promotes conservation tourism. Highlights include close-up encounters with gray whales, study of the region's critically endangered sea turtles (weighing, measuring, tagging and releasing), kayaking near mangroves, bird-watching, hiking and exploring the town of La Paz.
Itinerary: La Paz to Magdalena Bay
Dates: Jan. 30 through Feb. 6, or Feb. 28 through March 7
Price: $1,795 (double occupancy), including two nights' lodging and five nights' catered camping, all in-country transportation, tent and sleep-kit rental, kayak rental, most meals and activities, the services of naturalist guides, ground transfers, taxi vouchers from La Paz airport and a donation for turtle conservation. The price does not include airfare and a $30 conservation fee. Children 8 to 15 are 30% off; ages 2 to 7 are half off.
Contact: SEE Turtles, Portland, Ore.; (503) 608-9679, www.seeturtles.org
Cruise among 8 urban areas
If you can't decide which Asian country to visit, book Oceania's Imperial Explorations cruise aboard the new Nautica ship, and you'll see eight urban areas in 15 days. Until the end of December, Oceania is offering free airfare and two-for-one cruise prices, so the rate listed below reflects significant savings off the typical price (around $10,000 for this itinerary). In China, explore Beijing's Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square; in South Korea, the 14th century Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, National Museum and the DMZ beckon. In Japan, see memorials and shrines, ancient temples and castles, caves and the countryside. Taipei, Taiwan, and Hong Kong also offer their own wonders.
Itinerary: Beijing to Seoul and Shanghai; Hiroshima and Kyoto and Okinawa, Japan; Taipei and Hong Kong
Date: Departs March 25
Price: From $5,063 (double occupancy), including round-trip airfare from select gateway cities (including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and others), meals, taxes and fees. Optional shore excursions and ground transfers are extra. Book by Dec. 31 to get this rate.
Info: Oceania Cruises, Miami; (800) 531-5658, www.oceaniacruises.com
CYPRUS AND TURKEY
Follow in the footsteps of Apostles Paul and Peter and Saints Barnabas and Lazarus on this 12-day pilgrimage to sites of early Christianity. Accompanied by L.A. pastor Mark Rasbach, attendees will visit Cappadocia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as St. Peter's Grotto, Paphos (where Paul was punished for sharing the Gospel), the millennium-old city of Tamasos, archaeological museums, St. Lazarus Church, Goreme Valley, underground cities and churches and Byzantine frescoes and icons. Travelers will also see Turkey's whirling dervishes and have the chance to shop for Turkish rugs and red pottery.
Itinerary: Limassol to Larnaca, Salamis, Paphos, Nicosia, Kyrenia, Tarsus, Tasucu, Antakya, Hatay, Cappadocia and Ankara
Dates: April 12 to 23
Price: From $2,998, double occupancy (single supplement $595), including round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, 10 nights' lodging, airport transfers, guided sightseeing tours, flight insurance, entrance fees, and breakfasts and dinners. The rate does not include gratuities and airport taxes and fees.
Info: Hope Lutheran Church, Los Angeles; (323) 938- 9135, www.hopelutheranchurch.net
A multi-stop safari
Those looking for a full-on safari might consider Odysseys Unlimited's Africa's Wildlife: Botswana, Zambia and Victoria Falls, a 15-day tour that includes game drives in Botswana's Chobe National Park and Zambia's Lower Zambezi National Park, plus a visit to Victoria Falls. Other highlights include walking orphaned lion cubs in Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve, a sunset Zambezi River cruise and visits to local villages.
Itinerary: Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park, Lower Zambezi National Park, Lusaka and back to Johannesburg
Dates: Seven departure dates from August to November
Price: From $5,495 (double occupancy; single supplement $1,195), including round-trip airfare, intra-Africa flights, 12 nights' accommodations, most meals, guided wildlife viewing, park entrance fees, the services of a tour director, private motor coach transportation, luggage handling (one bag per person), gratuities and a $100 frequent-traveler credit toward another Odysseys tour.
Info: Odysseys Unlimited, Newton, Mass.; (888) 370-6765, Ext. 700, www.odysseys-unlimited.com
-- Avital Binshtock