Just in time for summer, our travel editors present ten trips for nature lovers and urban explorers. Don't see your favorite destination here? Tell us in the comments or submit it to our new online community, Travel Favorites.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Photograph by Heiko Meyer, Redux
Mythological birthplace of the omnipotent sun god, Inti, Isla del Sol is the largest island in Lake Titicaca (pictured here near the town of Copacabana), one of the world’s highest navigable lakes at 12,500 feet. Rocky trails shared by hikers, the local Aymara community, and pack donkeys and llamas (no cars allowed) link dozens of pre-Inca and Inca ruins. Winter (June to September) is dry season: clear skies, bright sun, and high temperatures in the 50s. Slowly acclimate to the altitude in sprawling La Paz, the world's highest capital city (11,800 feet), before catching a bus to Copacabana, Bolivian departure point for Isla del Sol ferries. On the island’s north end, explore the courtyards and rooms of Chincana and visit nearby Titi Khar’ka, the revered Rock of the Puma. Head south to climb 206 steep, Inca-built stone steps (Escalera del Inca) to a fabled “fountain of youth.” Spend the night at solar-heated Ecolodge La Estancia—15 adobe-brick, thatch-roof cottages constructed over restored pre-Inca agricultural terraces and surrounded by high-Andes fields planted with quinoa, lima beans, and potatoes.
Argyll and the Isles, Scotland
Photograph by Thornton Cohen, Alamy
A few hours’ train ride west from Glasgow lies an edge-of-the-world landscape—the loch-raked Argyll coastal region and its brooding, windswept Western Isles. From the gateway port city Oban, it’s a 45-minute ferry ride to the Isle of Mull. From here, island hop around the Inner Hebrides archipelago to stroll the quartz singing (or squeaking) sands on Eigg, view Jura’s resident red deer herd, and windsurf the Gulf Stream-warmed waves off Tiree. Back on Mull, tour 13th-century Duart Castle (pictured here), ancestral home of Clan Maclean; watch the island’s celebrated white-tailed sea eagles (reservations required); and tour the Tobermory Distillery (reservations required) to sample a dram of the single malt whisky handcrafted here since 1798. From Fionnnphort on Mull’s far western end, take the ten-minute ferry ride west to Iona and the family-run Argyll Hotel. Everything here is homegrown and home-baked, so leave room for a slice of apple and raisin pie.
Photograph by Greg Pease, Getty Images
Charm City welcomes the world to its Inner Harbor June 13 to 19 for Star-Spangled Sailabration 2012. The international festival commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the national anthem launches with a Flag Day (June 14) celebration welcoming dozens of tall ships (such as those pictured here at the Inner Harbor), and U.S., British, and Canadian naval vessels. Climb aboard ships for free daily public tours. On June 16 and 17, all eyes will be on the skies above Fort McHenry and the harbor for the first Baltimore visit by the Blue Angels demonstration squad. Head to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on June 17 for the world premiere of “Overture for 2012,” composed by Baltimore native Philip Glass. Beyond Sailabration, summer events within walking distance of the harbor include concerts at Pier Six Pavillion (June to September); the free Little Italy Open Air Film Fest (Friday nights, July and August); and more than 40 Major League Baseball games (June 8 to August 30) at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012.
>> Check out our Family Trip: Baltimore
Photograph by Carlos Sanchez Pereyra, JWL/Aurora
To the south and east, Barcelona’s fanciful cityscape—from playful Joan Miró sculptures to Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical architectural swirls—meets the Mediterranean Sea. In summer, the city’s collective focus shifts coastward to eight white-sand beaches and Port Vell, the medieval Catalan harbor transformed into a world-class entertainment district as part of Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics makeover. Pictured here, “The Wounded Star,” a sculpture by Rebecca Horn, looms over Barceloneta Beach (accessible by metro), where you can spend the morning before cruising the harbor aboard a traditional, wooden Las Golondrinas. Back on shore, head inside Aquarium Barcelona where you can walk through the Oceanarium’s transparent tunnel for an underwater view of rays, sharks, and morays. Certified divers (ages 18 and up) can dive into the Oceanarium’s million-gallon waters as part of a shark biology program.
>> Check out our Family Trip: Barcelona
Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada
Photograph by Ron Erwin, Alamy
North America’s boneyard, located about three hours southeast of Calgary in the wind-and-water-carved Canadian Badlands, was and is home to dinosaurs. Over 40 species of dinosaurs have been discovered at the Dinosaur Provincial Park UNESCO World Heritage site, and their bones, teeth and fossils are scattered naturally among the eerie hoodoos (lifelike rock pinnacles, pictured here) in the park’s preserved areas. Access to the fossil sites is limited, so make advance reservations during summer for guided tours and educational programs like the hands-on Fossil Safari. Book a fully equipped Comfort Camping canvas tent in the park campground to allow more time for hiking the five self-guided interpretive trails. To join an authentic palaeontological dig, reserve a spot (six-person limit) on one of the Bonebed 30 Two Day Guided Excavations (June 12 to August 25). Participants learn dinosaur excavating techniques and prospect for new fossil finds, contributing to ongoing research at Royal Tyrell Museum, Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of paleontology.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Photograph by Ripani Massimo, SIME
Peter the Great’s stately Baltic city built on 42 Neva Delta islands celebrates “White Nights” (near-round-the-clock summer light) with joyful abandon. Late May to mid-July the skies above St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress (resting place of the tsars, pictured here during White Nights) and Nevsky Prospekt (the city’s main thoroughfare) glow pale blue, pink, and peach well after midnight. Cruise the canals and River Neva on Anglotourismo’s guided White Nights boat tour, and then stroll atop the Neva Embankments—elegant granite barriers built to control flooding—to watch the four illuminated Neva drawbridges open (around 2 a.m.). Stars of the White Nights 2012: International Music Festival (May 25-July 15) features some hundred opera, ballet, and symphony performances and concerts at Mariinsky Theatre and the Concert Hall. June 18, join the massive end-of-school festival, Scarlet Sails, for free concerts, a multivessel pirate battle, and the dramatic arrival of an 18th-century tall ship, its red sails illuminated by the city’s biggest summer fireworks show.
Traverse City, Michigan
Photograph by Carlos Osorio, AP
Traverse City is the biggest little beach town on the “Third Coast”—the U.S. shores of the eight-state Great Lakes coastline. The region’s 180 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline basically trace the upper left edge of Michigan’s “mitten.” Add another 149 inland lakes that are 10 acres or larger and you get a rambling Cape Cod-on-freshwater summer playground: quaint port villages, sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, rolling orchards, family-friendly festivals (including the National Cherry Festival, July 7-14), and summer-only Traverse City Beach Bums pro baseball games (team members bunk with local families). Head northwest from Cherry Capital Airport to the Leelanau Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (pictured here). Michigan’s monumental sandbox is best known for its 150-foot Dune Climb (or roll), but there’s also 35 miles of pristine Lake Michigan beach. Take the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive loop in time to watch the sunset from Lake Michigan Overlook observation deck, perched 450 feet above the water.
>> Check out our Family Trip: Lake Michigan Dunes
Spencer Glacier, Alaska
Photograph by Matt Hage, Alamy
Spencer Glacier is easy to see from the Glacier Discovery Train that winds through Chugach National Forest south of the Portage Valley, but it’s a bit harder to reach. No roads lead to the glacier, named for railroad employee Bill Spencer, who disappeared “out there somewhere” in 1914. Thanks to a partnership between Alaska Railroad Corporation and the U.S. Forest Service, day visitors can hop off the train at the Spencer Whistle Stop for a narrated ranger hike to Spencer Lake and unguided treks to the glacier. June to September, small group outfitter Ascending Path leads Spencer Glacier ice-climbing treks, combining train travel from Anchorage, Girdwood, or Portage with top-rope climbing on blue ice walls. The hiking terrain is flat and the scenery is pure Alaska—floating crystal icebergs, snowcapped Kenai Mountains, and aquamarine ice caves.
Channel Islands, California
Photograph by Kevin Steele, Alamy
Southern California’s Channel Islands National Park and surrounding National Marine Sanctuary (extending for six nautical miles around each island) harbor rich biological diversity, including more than 150 endemic species and a vast, undersea kelp “forest.” The park’s abundant marine life—seals, sea otters, whales, dolphins, and the only breeding colony of fur seals south of Alaska—is best viewed via sea kayak (pictured here near Santa Cruz Island). Strict regulations limit travel around and on the five (rather remote) islands, making this one of the least-visited national parks. To safely and legally navigate through the challenging waters, book a kayak tour with an authorized park outfitter. Santa Cruz, the park’s (and California’s) largest island, encompasses a hundred-plus sea caves, including one of the world’s largest and deepest—hundred-foot-wide Painted Cave. Paddle and picnic on a Santa Cruz day trip that includes food (there are no concessions on the islands), and follows the 3.8-mile route from Potato Harbor to Cavern Point, passing through the Surging T, a 354-foot-long tunnel.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Photograph by Alamy
White sand, weathered cottages, and low-tech diversions like crabbing and cornhole (bean bag toss) have made “arrogantly shabby” Pawleys a favorite family beach destination since the 1800s. Hurricanes (and subsequent rebuilding) have altered the landscape since rice planters built summer places here to escape the heat and mosquitoes, but the laid-back, low-country vibe endures. There’s no commercial development this side of the salt marsh, so rent a beach house (preferably one with a traditional rope hammock) from Pawleys Island Realty Company. The island is compact (four miles long and a quarter-mile wide), making it easy to walk or bike to the beach, and convenient to cross the North or South Causeway for mainland golfing and grocery shopping, or rainy day entertainment in Myrtle Beach (about 25 miles north). At nearbyHuntington State Beach Park in Murrells Inlet, tour Atalaya, the palatial Moorish summer residence of sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and look (from a safe distance) for alligators in the freshwater lake.
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