Paddle alongside whales in Baja California
In isolated Magdalena Bay, off the southern Baja California peninsula, gray whales migrate every winter to calve in a vast lagoon sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by barrier islands. Here, visitors can go sea-kayaking in the company of a marine biologist to watch whales, sea lions, and dolphins. Nesting shorebirds are also on view, in the mangroves and high dunes of the Sonoran Desert wilderness. On Baja’s eastern coast, along the Sea of Cortés, unpeopled shorelines and azure coves are backed by the towering peaks of the Sierra de la Gigante. Scientists consider this international biosphere reserve an ideal spot for close encounters of the cetacean kind, and the kayaks provide an unrivaled "sea-level" observation platform. Snorkeling and hiking will fill your days; at night, you’ll sleep in tents pitched on sandy beaches under constellations undimmed by urban settlements. Sea Quest, 888/589-4253; www. sea-quest-kayak.com; from $1,199 for an eight-day itinerary.
Explore the Amazon and follow Incan trails
A motorized dugout canoe on the Madre de Dios River takes travelers to the Manu Wildlife Center, a private rain-forest camp within a 4.6-million-acre unesco biosphere reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. Climb a canopy platform to catch glimpses of brilliant macaws. Join naturalists on expeditions in search of giant otters and black spider monkeys. Then shift gears and head to another remarkable realm, on an invigorating four-day trek along lesser-known trails in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Bilingual guides lead this high-altitude walk through colonial Andean villages and untrammeled vales dominated by soaring mountains and ice-blue lakes. After visiting Incan ruins, including Phuyupatamarca and mist-shrouded Machu Picchu, linger overnight in the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel before returning to Cuzco. Latin Excursions, 866/626-3750; www.latinexcursions.com; from $6,775 for a 14-day itinerary.
Immerse yourself in imperial treasures
Begin in Moscow with a viewing of jeweled Easter eggs and regal ball gowns at the Kremlin, then journey back even further in time, to 12th-century Russia, with a driving tour through rustic Vladimir and Suzdal, in the Golden Ring. Once the home of 15 monasteries, Suzdal still has five—you can visit them all, and the town’s kremlin too. Finally, fly to St. Petersburg and don your finest apparel for one of the city’s most dazzling evenings, the Hermitage Ball, a charity benefit held on the summer solstice at the state museum’s grand Winter Palace. Galleries are open for guests to wander in at will; stars of the Mariinsky ballet company perform in the Neoclassical theater built by Catherine the Great; an operatic interlude and lavish banquet follow in the Jordan gallery. The trip includes three more White Nights (in June, the sun barely sets), when you can tour the magnificent monuments of this fabulous city. Exeter International, 800/633-1008; www.russiatours.com; from $10,150 for a 10-day itinerary. The Hermitage Ball, on June 22, is $1,300 extra per person.
Discover an authentic Iberia
Delve into Spanish culture on a guided insider tour that combines classical architecture, modern performances, and regional cuisine. Included are private lectures with an art historian in Madrid, a lesson at a flamenco academy in Seville, a cooking demonstration by one of Spain’s rising chefs in Ronda, and a sherry tasting with a wine expert in Jerez. You’ll see the country’s Moorish legacy on visits to Granada’s Alhambra and the Tarazona’s hidden masterpiece, Palacio de la Aljafería; at the Royal Palace in Madrid, you’ll have access to the Bailen wing (open by invitation only), the official residence of King Juan Carlos I. You’ll also have lunch at an Andalusian estate famous for its fighting bulls, and walk through Barcelona’s iconic architecture, such as Gaudí’s Parc Güell and church of La Sagrada Familia, before joining a curator at the Museu Picasso to view rare early works of the great modern master. Heritage Tours, 800/378-4555; www.htprivatetravel.com; 15 days from $38,000.