UZBEKISTAN AND TURKMENISTAN
'Cities of the Silk Road'
A key highlight of Wild Frontiers' 16-day "Cities of the Silk Road" itinerary is seeing Darvaza, fondly called Turkmenistan's "Door to Hell," a 280-foot-wide crater that's been ablaze since 1971, when geologists ignited its natural gases. Besides that fiery spectacle, there's plenty else to take in between these two rarely visited Central Asia nations, with their many archaeological sites, culture and history aplenty, the world's largest carpet, the Oxus River, the moonscape of the Karakum Desert and Ashgabat's impressive architecture.
Itinerary: Tashkent to Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara, Mary, Margush, Ashgabat, Darvaza, Konya, Urgench, Dashoguz, Khiva and back to Tashkent
Dates: May 21-June 5
Price: About $3,300 at press-time exchange rates, double occupancy (single supplement about $450), including lodging, meals, guidance, government passes and permits, entrance fees, and transportation. The price does not include international airfare, though Wild Frontiers can book travelers' flights.
Info: Wild Frontiers, London; 011-44-20-7736-3968, http://www.wildfrontiers.co.uk
South Seas adventure
Fourteen tropical days await amid the lush volcanic islands and white-sand beaches of the South Seas. Explorer-environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau will be onboard the recently renovated vessel and present lectures and videos of his lifelong marine-conservationist work. He also will accompany guests on several dives into the clear-water reefs and reserves that teem with colored fish. Other activities include snorkeling, kayaking, outrigger canoeing, going on a rain forest tour and attending Polynesian performances.
Itinerary: Lautoka to Malolo Island, Suva, Savusavu, Vava'u, Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Bora-Bora, Taha'a (Motu Mahana), Moorea and Papeete
Dates: Departs May 22
Price: Starting at $5,545, double occupancy (single supplement 100%), including onboard accommodations, meals and gratuities but not taxes and government fees ($135) and a possible fuel surcharge. A current sale provides for two-for-one airfare from Los Angeles.
Info: Paul Gauguin Cruises, Bellevue, Wash.; (800) 848-6172, http://www.pgcruises.com
THE CITIES OF ROUTE 66
Down the Mother Road
The romance, the grit, the kicks—it's all there on this jampacked 13-day Route 66 road trip, an all-American epic spanning scenic, dusty byways, resplendent natural vistas, and some of America's most revered monuments. Start by touring Chicago, then head to Lincoln's Tomb, the Gateway Arch, the Meramec Caverns and the Ozark Mountains. Drink your fill at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, tap your toes in the musical hub of Branson, Mo., tip your hat at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and lower your head at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Stop in at the Route 66 Museum, snap shots at the pop-art Cadillac Ranch, amble Old Town Albuquerque, get guided through Sky City Acoma Pueblo and admire nature's majesty in Arizona's Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park and the incomparable Grand Canyon. You'll overnight in the national park, then end up where the Mother Road does: good old Santa Monica.
Itinerary: Chicago to Springfield, Ill., St. Louis, Branson, Oklahoma City, Clinton, Texas, Amarillo, Texas, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Ariz., the Grand Canyon, Seligman, Ariz., Kingman, Ariz., Las Vegas and Los Angeles
Dates: Departures May 22, June 19, July 17, Aug. 7, Sept. 24 and Oct. 2; book by April 30 to ensure discounted price
Price: From $2,249, double occupancy, including upscale lodging, motor coach transportation, airport transfers, the services of a tour director, guided tours, museum admissions, all breakfasts, several dinners (including one on a Mississippi River cruise), hotel service charges and tips, a wallet for travel documents, a tour book with a map—but not including airfare.
Info: Trafalgar Tours, London; (866) 544-4434, http://www.trafalgartours.com/america
'Highlands & Haciendas'
Country Walkers' eight-day "Highlands & Haciendas" is an ambulatory trip along the Hacienda Trail, an inn-to-inn route that links centuries-old haciendas—charming, colonial-style working ranch estates with gardens—where guests overnight and enjoy farm-fresh breakfasts each morning. Between bedtimes, you follow ancient trails up to nine miles per day at altitudes as high as 11,000 feet in the Andean "Avenue of the Volcanoes" to see snowy 16,000-foot peaks, high grasslands and cloud forests. A naturalist guide explains the flora-and-fauna-filled sights in Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, atop a volcano called Cubilche, in small villages and local markets, during the aerial tramway ride up Rucu Pichincha and in Quito, a city whose architecture qualified it as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Itinerary: Quito to Hacienda Pesillo, Zuleta, Cubilche Volcano, San Pablo del Lago, Otavalo, Cuicocha Lake, Cushnirumi Cloudforest and back to Quito