The Indelible Journey

Tour the world’s ancient sites with an archaeologist in tow.

Once in a while, every traveler requires a decadently lowkey vacation to “recharge”—think dreamy days of poolside dozing and frozen daiquiris at the swim-up bar. Yet sometimes it’s preferable to combine a little learning with the lounging. A certain type of jetsetter likes to simply wander a town, getting lost among new sites, sounds, smells and tastes. But another subset of explorers feels more connected to surroundings after they’ve absorbed some of the destination’s history and culture; for this latter group, there’s AIA.


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Built during the 8th century, the famed Kailasa Temple monument at Ellora, Maharashtra, India still stands today (© R. Todd Nielsen)

For more than 25 years, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), has hosted land and sea tours that allow participants to delve a little deeper. North America’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the world of archaeology, the AIA was founded in 1879 and chartered by the United States Congress in 1906. With many of its programs, the Institute caters to students and professional archaeologists. With its tours, however, anyone can join; members of the public get to truly dig in at stunning, world-renowned sites of archaeological and cultural interest.

So what can participants expect? Todd Nielsen (Director AIA Tours) says that these excursions “offer a variety of excellent-quality itineraries worldwide, each accompanied by an expert (an archaeologist, usually), focusing primarily on archaeology and history, of course, but also touching on the closely-related topics of art history, architecture, anthropology, ethnology, medieval history and/or mythology.” When possible, attendees also get to experience “distinctive, traditional or contemporary culture (through the culinary, visual and/or performing arts).” Once at the designated destination, AIA lecturers and local guides attempt to “bring the sites to life” through guided walks and discussions.

Most AIA travelers are well-traveled, well-educated professionals who represent diverse fields and backgrounds. According to Nielsen, these folks are “curious and/or enthusiastic about learning about different cultures, past and present.” If archaeology or ancient history piques one’s interest, AIA is the perfect fit.

Later this summer, two AIA tours take visitors aboard the Aegean Odyssey, an elegant, 350-guest cruise ship that comfortably lodges passengers amid a variety of cabins, staterooms and suites. “Circumnavigation of the Black Sea” sails from August 30 through September 13, to explore the alluring Black Sea, which has served as a scenic, cultural crossroads for thousands of years. En route, guests learn about ancient, medieval and modern history (from the ancient Greeks to Stalin) as they discover ancient Greek ruins, Byzantine churches and Tartar and Russian palaces. The adventure begins and ends in sensational Istanbul—a feast for the senses—in the meantime cruising counterclockwise around the Black Sea with pit stops in Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria.

“Exploring the Aegean: Istanbul to Athens” pushes off September 10 and docks September 27, allowing passengers to enjoy the archaeological sites and dramatic landscapes of the Greek Isles and the western coast of Turkey. Think Byzantine and Ottoman architectural wonders in Istanbul, a partially reconstructed Minoan palace at Knossos and the natural beauty found on such islands as Delos, Mykonos and Skiathos.

Aboard the Aegean Odyssey, guests live the good life, enjoying fine cuisine and complimentary house wine, beer and soft drinks at the Marco Polo Restaurant and Terrace Café (with seating options indoors or under the stars). Public areas on the intimate vessel range from an observation lounge, Internet center, health spa and beauty salon to a spacious sun deck and pool. Added bonus: A musical trio brings entertainment to the ship daily.

From September 3 through 15, on a land tour titled “Prehistoric Cave Art of Spain & France,” guests travel with world-renowned archaeological author Paul Bahn through some of southwestern Europe’s most extraordinary prehistoric caves. Highlights include Altamira II, a replica of the site often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art;” Atapuerca, the most significant early human site in western Europe; plus Las Monedas Cave and Cueva del Castillo, where artists painted 180 animal likenesses some 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. The tours also explore archaeological and ethnographic museums, the medieval Château de Beynac and quaint, “storybook” towns like Santillana del Mar and San Sebastian. And of course, tour goers also indulge in top-notch accommodations, cuisine and wine—arguably the best parts of overseas travel.

With AIA, tour goers simultaneously take a vacation and help create revenue for the institution’s do-gooding mission (which includes fostering an appreciation of our globe’s diverse cultures and advocating the preservation of the world’s archaeological heritage). Nielsen concludes, “AIA Tours offer the discerning traveler generous comfort, good food and top-shelf educational travel experiences in the company of expert leaders and a small group of like-minded fellow travelers.” Who are we to argue with that? Onward, ho!

All photos courtesy of Archaeological Institute of America (AIA)

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