There’s no question about it: Traveling in the company of scholars and specialists makes the experience of visiting a far-flung, complicated region that much richer. And these six new and notable trips, run in conjunction with cultural and academic institutions—the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and MIT among them—open doors and borders that would otherwise remain firmly shut. After all, it’s one thing to stand in Red Square, guidebook in hand, trying to conjure up old TV images from the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s quite another to be there with the very politicians and diplomats who were involved at the time.
Global Challenges in a Post-Perestroika World
Twenty years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, its former states are still feeling the aftereffects. To provide an in-depth look at the region, eight distinguished speakers, including Condoleezza Rice and Mikhail Gorbachev, will join travelers on a tour to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Run by World Leaders Travel, the trip is cosponsored by the alumni associations of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, among other institutions. August 30–September 15. From $23,990; worldleaderstravel.com.
Bridging the Equator: Micronesia
Both nature and culture can require conservation, and Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions’ trip gives equal attention to each, aided by the expertise of ecologist Paul Ehrlich, a MacArthur “Genius” grant winner and the president of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology. The island nation’s increasingly threatened biodiversity is impressive—something travelers, whether diving, snorkeling, or boating, experience firsthand. They also see how local villagers are working to preserve their traditional ways of life. August 26–September 8. From $8,890; zeco.com.
Iran: The North West
Iran’s history as a cradle of civilizations makes it a fascinating place to visit, but its repressive politics and antagonistic relations with the West make travel there nearly impossible. British company Martin Randall is well-versed in the country’s strict regulations, however. On this tour—led by Charles Melville, a professor of Persian history at Cambridge University—the group visits Persian, Arabian, and Mongol relics, like the ancient rock inscriptions at Bisitun and Qazvin’s 12th-century Friday mosque. September 13–24. From $4,780; martinrandall.com.
Inside the Russian Space Program
Mir Corporation has timed this trip, cosponsored by the MIT and UC Berkeley alumni associations, to coincide with June’s Soyuz rocket launch, which the group will attend at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (That’s where Yuri Gagarin embarked on the first manned spaceflight, in 1961.) Then it’s off to Russian mission control to watch, by live satellite feed, the spacecraft docking at the International Space Station. Joining the tour is Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut who copiloted a Soyuz on a space station mission in 2004. June 7–17. From $18,795; mircorp.com.
Ethiopia’s Hidden Treasures
Ethiopia is home to eight Unesco World Heritage sites, not least of all Lalibela, where medieval Coptic Christians carved 11 churches deep into the town’s red volcanic-rock hills. Cosponsored by Unesco and the AMNH, Academic Travel Abroad’s tour visits Lalibela as well as Aksum (for the ancient monoliths thought to mark graves) and Fasil Ghebbi (a 17th-century fortress near the city of Gondar). Getu Assefa Wondimu, who runs a division of Ethiopia’s Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritages, leads the trip. October 12–22. From $6,495; academic-travel.com.
Golden Stupas, Ancient Temples: The Treasures of Burma
A 2,000-year history of Buddhism has endowed Myanmar (also known as Burma) with a rich architectural legacy. In partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this Academic Arrangements Abroad trip goes from Yangon to Mandalay to Bagan, focusing on pagodas, shrines, and monasteries. Art historian Olivier Bernier provides detailed context, something Burmese guides, constrained by the military regime’s severe restrictions on speech, cannot. November 9–22. From $8,950; arrangementsabroad.com.