We begin this extraordinary adventure with a welcome reception, followed by dinner at our hotel.
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes (D)
This morning, our private jet takes us to Lima, where we take a local flight to charming Cusco (11,200 feet).
Hotel Monasterio or Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco (B, L, D)
Explore the imposing cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, considered by many to be the Western Hemisphere's finest combination of Spanish Renaissance style and legendary Inca stonemasonry. In the colorful market, visit local artisans-including National Geographic grantee and master weaver Nilda Callanaupa-who are dedicated to preserving the region's distinctive music and arts. Discover the remains of the great fortress Sacsayhuaman overlooking Cusco.
Continue to Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca citadel abandoned by the Inca and rediscovered only in 1911. Excavated by Hiram Bingham with funding from National Geographic, Machu Picchu is one of the world's greatest archaeological sites. Examine the artfully cut stone altars, temples, fountains, staircases, and terraced gardens.
Hotel Monasterio or Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco (B, L, D daily)
Alternative: Instead of visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu, head to northern Peru to visit the temples of Trujillo and Chiclayo, where the richest burial chambers in the Americas were discovered. See where the ancient Moche and Chimu peoples lived, and explore Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world.
Libertador Trujillo (B,L,D daily)
Fly to Easter Island, located 2,300 miles off the coast of Chile. Scattered with mysterious, colossal stone statues called moai, the island is an open-air museum of the ruins of a lost culture. The island has been a subject of debate since it was first seen by Europeans on Easter Sunday in 1722. How did its native people first arrive? What transpired over the centuries? What do the tall, brooding statues mean? Learn the hidden stories of the island's wonders with renowned archaeologist Edmundo Edwards, and marvel at the many moai that dot the island's windswept landscape. Along the way, discover the ancient ceremonial centers, volcanic craters, petroglyphs, lava formations, and fascinating clues to the Orongo birdman cult. Then enjoy a splendid performance by the Kari Kari Rapa Nui dance troupe.
Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa (B, L, D daily)
From Easter Island we continue our voyage across the Pacific, crossing the international date line. We lose a day en route and arrive in Samoa the following evening.
Samoa is one of the few places where pure Polynesian culture remains essentially intact—tribal rituals and hierarchies are little changed from ancient times. Trace the coast on a scenic drive, passing through charming seaside villages. Enjoy a traditional Polynesian welcome ceremony and a fiafia, a colorful performance of Samoan dance and song.
Aggie Grey's Lagoon Beach Resort & Spa (B, L, D)
Fly to Cairns and transfer to the charming seaside town of Port Douglas. Explore the Great Barrier Reef, the largest known coral reef in the world and home to an exceptionally rich variety of marine life. Snorkel among rainbow-colored corals with schools of unicornfish, surgeonfish, bumphead parrot fish, and sea turtles.
Or discover the natural wonders of the Daintree, a rain forest that is approximately 90 million years older than the Amazon rain forest. Go on a Dreamtime walk in Mossman Gorge with an aboriginal guide, a member of the Kuku Yalanji, who will share his people's legends and take you to sacred sites.
Sea Temple Resort & Spa (B, L, D daily)
Fly to private jet to Siem Reap, our base for exploring Angkor, the heart of the ancient Khmer Empire. Delve into the magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex, one of humankind's greatest architectural triumphs; and discover the massive towers, carved murals, colonnades, and courtyards that exemplify classic Khmer architecture. At Angkor Thom, explore the Bayon Temple and the Terrace of the Elephants. Then set out on a cruise to nearby floating villages on Tonle Sap lake (water levels permitting), or explore the temple of Ta Prohm, still tangled in the thick roots of banyan trees. In the evening, enjoy a classical Apsara dance performance during dinner at our fine hotel.
Alternative: Instead of Angkor Wat, explore the lost jungle temple of Beng Mea Lea (water levels permitting), among the largest Khmer temples, and the ninth-century Roluous temple complex of Hariharalaya, the first capital of the Khmer Empire, which predates Angkor Wat by some 300 years.
Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor (B, L, D daily)
Fly by private jet to Chengdu, China, where we will see the area's giant pandas at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center. Then enjoy dinner and a night's rest before departing for Tibet.
Shangri-La Chengdu (B, L, D)
Depart by local flight to Lhasa, Tibet's capital, located on one of the world's highest plateaus. Once a "forbidden city," this Himalayan center of Buddhist pilgrimage—with the spectacular Potala Palace dominating its skyline—still maintains a mystical atmosphere. During our visit, see the Jokhang Temple, the region’s oldest and most revered; and explore the colorful Tibetan markets, known for their finely crafted ornaments, rugs, and religious paintings and carvings. The next day, visit the fabled Potala Palace, a highlight of our time in Lhasa. The palace, with its hundreds of rooms, lavish decor, and labyrinthine corridors, was once the winter residence of the Dalai Lama and served as the seat of the Tibetan government for more than 300 years. Stop by the nearly 600-year-old Sera Monastery, where we may see monks in the debating courtyard.
Alternatively, you may choose to travel to Xi’an, China, to view the famous 7,000-strong army of life-sized terra-cotta warriors, the Ming dynasty walls, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and the impressive Yangling Tombs of Emperor Liu Qi and Empress Wang.
St. Regis Lhasa Resort or Westin Xian (B, L, D daily)
*Note: On the January 2016 departure, Myanmar will replace China and Tibet on Days 13-15. Visit the ancient city of Bagan, home to more than 2,000 temples; Inle Lake and its floating gardens and stilt villages; and the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
Return to Chengdu by local flight and continue on our private jet to Agra. Discover the iconic Taj Mahal, built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan as a tribute to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. A masterpiece of the Mogul empire, the monument soars majestically above the banks of the Yamuna River. Wander the site, admire its form among the reflecting pools and gardens that surround it, and examine its intricate mosaics made of precious stones. In the afternoon, you may explore the imposing sandstone Red Fort of Agra, where Mogul emperors lived in splendor. Or you may choose to venture into Kachhpura, a village in Agra inhabited by the Harijan people, otherwise known as "untouchables." Meet with local families and visit a school. If you wish, rise early to join our National Geographic photographer to capture images of the Taj Mahal at sunrise.
Alternative: Instead of visiting the Taj Mahal, explore Fatehpur Sikri, Emperor Akbar's crowning architectural achievement, an exquisite red-sandstone city that served as the Mogul capital from 1572 to 1585. Stroll through well-preserved pavilions, courtyards, tombs, and palaces—most notably the emperor's private quarters, a "palace of dreams" richly decorated with Persian calligraphy and murals.
The Oberoi Amarvilás (B, L, D daily)
Fly to Kilimanjaro Airport and choose
from two options: go deep into Serengeti National Park to witness Africa's greatest
concentration of wildebeests and zebras as well as big cats, including lions, cheetahs, and leopards. Or descend into the Ngorongoro Crater to observe the permanent population of almost 25,000 animals in one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world. Along with the great herds of wildebeests, gazelles, and zebras, we may also see the "big five" (rhinoceros, lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo). National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Meave or Louise Leakey will join us to discuss the family’s historic fossil finds.
Four Seasons Safari Lodge, Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (B, L, D daily)
Situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, Petra was settled by the
enigmatic Nabataean people in 312 b.c. and became an important crossroads between
Arabia, Egypt, and the Levant. The Nabataeans disappeared mysteriously, but the nomadic
Bedouin civilization remains to this day. Half built, half-carved into rose-red sandstone
cliffs, Petra is undoubtedly one of the world’s most impressive architectural achievements.
Step back in time 2,000 years as you stroll this ancient city, and learn why these enigmatic people built their capital in such an inaccessible spot. Enter the Siq, a dramatic opening in the brilliantly hued bedrock; and arrive at the Treasury, Petra’s most exquisite edifice. Discover many other elaborately decorated buildings and tombs chiseled from sheer rock walls, and observe up close the superb blending of Eastern traditions with Hellenistic architecture. On our last evening, gather for a festive Bedouin dinner.
Mövenpick Petra, Jordan (B, L, D daily)
Alternative: Instead of exploring Petra, travel to Wadi Rum, a beautiful desert landscape made famous by T. E. Lawrence and the film Lawrence of Arabia. See the spectacular rock formation known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and enjoy a traditional mansaf meal prepared by local Bedouin villagers.
Fly by private jet to Marrakech where we explore this fabled city, located in an oasis of palm and olive groves and steeped in ancient Berber tradition. See the Koutoubia Mosque, Ben Youssef Madrasa, and the grand Bahia Palace. Wander through the medina, a jumble of colorful suqs; and stroll the Djemaa el Fna, a lively square where snake charmers, acrobats, and magicians enchant the passsersby. If you wish, immerse yourself in the lush blue-and-green paradise of the Majorelle Garden, a delightful combination of traditional Moroccan architecture, Islamic art and artifacts, rare plants from five continents, and North African birds. On our last evening, celebrate our adventure at a farewell banquet with traditional entertainment.
Alternative: Instead of exploring Marrakech, spend the day in the spectacular Atlas Mountains, the highest mountain range in North Africa. Visit a Berber village, share tea with a village elder and his family, and enjoy a delicious picnic lunch. In the evening, rejoin the group in Marrakech for our farewell dinner.
La Mamounia (B, L, D daily)
Following breakfast, board our private jet and fly to Orlando, Florida. Upon arrival, you may connect with your commercial flight home, or, if you wish, we will provide complimentary accommodations at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport Hotel for the night. For the October departures which end in Washington, D.C., complimentary accommodations will be provided at the Hyatt Dulles Airport Hotel for one night.