by Liz fleming

Are you a sophisticated traveler longing for something entirely different? From the South Pole to the hot sun of Tahiti, the world has exotic and fascinating treasures waiting for you!

Monk in MyanmarCourtesy of iStock - A neophyte Monk overlooking the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar

No matter how many times we’ve packed our suitcases, bought our tickets and made our painstaking plans, real travelers never lose that Christmas morning excitement that arrives with the beginning of a new adventure. What makes it all the more fun is the idea of seeing something new, something our friends haven’t yet seen, and something out of the ordinary. If you have a burning passion for travel, then likely you’re always thirsty for the new, the adventurous and the authentic.

Avid adventures ourselves, we’ve carefully created this exclusive lineup of some of the world’s most authentic and fascinating travel opportunities. Whether you’re keen to discover the ancient secrets of Myanmar, dying to hike the Inca Trail to uncover the mysteries of Machu Picchu, keen to sail the beautiful islands of French Polynesia or eager to get up close and personal with the penguins of Antarctica, you’ll find the signposts here to point you in the right direction.

Karaweik Hall in MyanmarCourtesy of Fotolia - Karaweik Hall, Myanmar

Uncover the ancient secrets of Myanmar

Sailing the Irrawaddy River through the exotic countryside of Myanmar, formerly Burma, is less touring than it is time traveling. In a country where little has changed since the British colonial period and tourists are still a pleasant novelty, authentic cultural experiences are everywhere. You’ll watch fishermen balancing precariously on the same slim vessels used by their grandfathers and find friendly villagers as eager to meet you as you are to meet them.

Tourism is new to Myanmar so the best vantage point from which to experience the fascinating Irrawaddy is a river cruise ship. AmaWaterways is a great choice, as it offers luxurious accommodations for just 56 guests on the intimate, all-suite AmaPura. From al fresco seating areas, spacious suites with balconies, or as they sit in the dining room, guests gaze deeply into life on the river banks as they savor regional cuisine and sample the best of the local spirits and beers. Amongst other river lines sailing here are Viking River Cruises and Avalon Waterways.

Some of the must-sees: Plan to walk the ancient city of Bagan where you’ll see the remains of as many as 2,000 temples, pagodas and stupas, dating from the 11th century. History will come alive at your feet.  Hike into the countryside to explore the lost cities of Mandalay where the remains of former royal capitals lie protected by the rolling hills; visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Pyu Ancient Cities - Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra - three brick, walled and moated cities located in vast irrigated landscapes in the dry zone of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River basin; and capture on film the famous U Bein Bridge in Amapura, built of beautiful teak.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon, IcelandCourtesy of iStock - Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland

Discover the land of ice and fire that is Iceland

Lava fields, glaciers, geysers, raging waterfalls, stunning fjords, miniature ponies, the world’s largest natural hot tub and a landscape so thermo-dynamic that you can bake bread in the ground…all this and more is Iceland.

Now a popular May-September destination for several major cruise lines on itineraries that can also include Norway, the Arctic, Northern Europe, the British Isles and the Mediterranean, Iceland offers not only a taste of life at the top of the globe but also one of the world’s best places for viewing the northern lights.

The cruise ports most often visited (and unpronounceable!) include Bildudalur, Djupivogur, Grundarfjordur, Heimaey, Husavik and Reykjavik but whether you arrive by ship or air, be sure to put the wild waters of the Golden Waterfall, the steamy power of the  Strokkur Geyser, and the ancient Viking parliament at Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on your itinerary. Sample Icelandic lobster, lamb and the more challenging hákari (rotted shark meat), slather butter on a slice or two of rúgbraud (that bread baked in ovens heated naturally by the earth) then grab your bathing suit and enjoy a long, hot soak in the healing waters of the world famous Blue Lagoon, an enormous rock-walled pool of volcanically heated water and smooth, soothing silica mud.  Finish your visit with a stop in Reykjavik where the rooftops are painted in Crayola-bright shades and the vodka is always on ice.

Cruise lines to consider include Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Oceania Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Windstar and Holland America Line.

King PenguinsCourtesy of Fotolia

Sail to the South Pole and be amazed by Antarctica

A destination so remote few people are ever fortunate enough to visit, Antarctica certainly warrants a place at the top of your travel bucket list.

Expect to invest up to 12 hours in getting to your embarkation port, which will likely be Buenos Aires or Santiago, and be sure to choose your cruise line carefully. Weigh the fact that smaller ships are better able to navigate in certain areas and may offer more opportunities for landings, against the greater stability larger ships provide in rough seas. Some itineraries are designed for hardcore adventurers who want to hike or plunge into hot springs while others are geared for those who prefer fewer challenges and more creature comforts.

Larger or smaller, rugged or more relaxed, all Antarctic cruises put the emphasis on experiencing the destination. Jump into the Zodiacs for shore adventures, or prepare for a wet landing,  and get ready to explore!  If your passion is penguins, you’ll be surrounded at every stop. Waddling up to surround you, these black and white wonders are the welcoming party that finds and greets every ship.  

Antarctica truly provides an exclusive immersion in one of the most fascinating and breathtaking places on the globe. Some of the preferred cruise lines to consider for an Antarctic adventure include Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, PONANT Cultural Cruises & Expeditions, Seabourn and Silversea Cruises.

Machu PichuCourtesy of Folotia - Machu Picchu

Explore the lost city of the Incas in mystical Machu Picchu

When, after years of exhaustive searching, explorer Hiram Bingham reached the rugged mountain top in the Peruvian jungle the natives called Machu Picchu, he was overcome with wonder. At last, Bingham had found the famed lost city of the Incas. Though more than a century has passed, visitors to this sacred UNESCO World Heritage site are still struck by that same sense of wonderment and awe. How did ancient Incans transport stones for miles to create their sophisticated structures, altars, aqueducts and terraced gardens without trucks, cranes or even mortar? How have those structures survived the ages? And most mysteriously, where did those ancient Incan architects go?

If you’re a lover of history, culture and mystery, Machu Picchu is a must-see.  As you stand on the ancient stone floors, watching llamas idling on the terraces below, you’ll marvel at the intricacies of design achieved by these mysterious ancient architects.

PeruviansCourtesy of Shutterstock - Peruvians in traditional costume

Begin your Peruvian adventure in the cosmopolitan, seaside city of Lima, then travel to charming Cuzco for a few relaxing days while you acclimatize to the altitude before heading to Machu Picchu.

When you’re ready to recreate Bingham’s discovery, take the adventurous route and hike the challenging Inca Trail (a two to four day excursion) or simply climb aboard a sightseeing train that will whisk you through the Andes Mountains to the base of Machu Picchu. Either way, you’ll experience the magic and majesty of the lost city of the Incas and might just solve some of the mysteries you’ll find there.  Both Globus Journeys and Trafalgar Tours offer escorted tours to Machu Picchu and a few cruise lines offer excellent land and sea packages either before or after your South American cruise including Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Oceania Cruises.

French PolynesiaCourtesy of Shutterstock

Celebrate your passion for Polynesia on the silken sand shores of Bora Bora and beyond

If you’ve ever dreamt of sailing away to a deserted island where palm trees sway in time to the gentle lapping of the waves on a soft white sand beach, this is the year to escape to French Polynesia. While there are far more lovely islands than we have time to describe here and each would make an ideal home for a week or two in paradise, the best way to experience the glories of Tahiti and her islands is on an intimate cruise.

Overwater bungalowCourtesy of Shutterstock

Sail through sun-dappled seas aboard a small but luxurious cruise ship, making stops to swim with friendly lemon sharks and stingrays off the shores of Bora Bora, to have a fresh fish barbecue and picnic on a motu near Moorea or to explore the lush green interior of Tahiti on a jeep tour led by a latter day Polynesia prince dressed in a traditional pareo and boar’s teeth necklace. Paradise truly has no end. Listen to the call of the conch horn, blown by a welcoming islander, taste fish so fresh it almost swims onto your plate and tuck a vivid Hibiscus bloom behind your ear. This is the essence of French Polynesia’s magical appeal.

Best cruise lines to consider are those which sail year round in these waters – Windstar Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises both of which have special offers on air from Los Angeles to French Polynesia. Other cruise lines such as Oceania Cruises and Princess Cruises also call on French Polynesia.

Originally published in Dream Voyages Fall 2016 issue.

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