16 fan­tas­tic voyages

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Cruise, pad­dle, sail and splash your way around the globe. We pick the top wa­ter­borne ad­ven­tures to float your boat, from wine­soaked rivers to the ice floes of Antarc­tica…

1 Best for house­boats Ker­ala, In­dia

When to go: Win­ter (Novem­ber–fe­bru­ary) is cool but busy. Du­ra­tion: 2–4 days Why go? The lures of Ker­ala’s labyrinthine back­wa­ters aren’t just scenic, though waft­ing past tum­bling pad­dies, twit­ter­ing bird sanc­tu­ar­ies and thick man­groves is a gen­uine joy. It’s more about the how you see them, and Ker­ala is the land of slow travel. Most vis­i­tors take to the canals at Alleppey (Alap­puzha) in float­ing ket­tuval­lam, con­verted barges that were once used to lever rice and spices out of the bread­bas­ket of south­ern In­dia. Those times are long gone, how­ever. To­day, the ‘boat with knots’ (so called be­cause its frame is held to­gether with coir rope rather than nails) are en­tirely set aside for trav­ellers keen to slow down.

Me­an­der the great lake of Vem­banad, past wa­ters clus­tered with is­land vil­lages to the colo­nial streets of Cochin (Kochi). Kayak­ing side-trips (house­boats stick to the ma­jor back­wa­ters) and an over­land visit to the tigers of Peri­yar NP are worth it, but noth­ing beats be­ing el­e­gantly chug­ging along these jun­gle-fringed back­wa­ters at an easy pace. Also try... Rideau Canal, Canada: take charge of your own nar­row­boat for a week and plough the mir­rored sur­face of On­tario’s Unesco-listed, 19th-cen­tury wa­ter­way.

2 Best for un­der­wa­ter fun Philip­pines

When to go: Dry sea­son (Novem­ber–april) is the best time to visit, though it gets hot late in the sea­son Du­ra­tion: 6–14 days Why go? Given the Philip­pines num­ber some 7,000 is­lands, cruises here rarely fol­low one set route. There is one thing that most itin­er­ar­ies have in com­mon: Palawan. The coun­try’s most sparsely pop­u­lated prov­ince trick­les all the way to Bor­neo, form­ing a vast, twin­kling archipelago of white-sand isles splayed be­tween the Sulu and South China seas, like dice scat­tered on blue vel­vet. Puerto Princesa is typ­i­cally the first port of call; here, un­der­ground rivers, fire­fly­flick­er­ing forests and sunken la­goons vein the jun­gle and lime­stone in­te­rior.

But it’s off­shore, amid the clear wa­ters of Honda Bay, where vis­i­tors can dis­cover a touch of magic amid the tiny islets, daz­zling reefs and colour­ful ma­rine life – Starfish Is­land is well-named, ap­pear­ing for all the world like a gal­axy fell to Earth. Dol­phin tours (Apr–oct) bring na­ture – and the odd whale shark – up close while most trips in­clude stops in Coron, one of the wreck-div­ing cap­i­tals of the world, and the jun­gles of Sarawak, Bor­neo, en route to Manila. Also try... Belize: the re­cov­ery of the Me­soamer­i­can reef (cov­er­age has in­creased 35% in just a decade) has been one of the great con­ser­va­tion sto­ries in re­cent years, and Belize’s coral gar­dens and Great Blue Hole are some of the Caribbean Sea’s finest sights.

3 Best for his­tory Nile River, Egypt

When to go: Boats sail year-round, but Oc­to­berApril is coolest; high sea­son (De­cem­ber– Fe­bru­ary) isn’t as busy as it used to be. Du­ra­tion: 3–18 days Why go? Watch­ing the cen­turies drift by is what makes the Nile un­miss­able. What’s more, as vis­i­tors slowly trickle back to Egypt (tourist num­bers rose by 170% in 2017 yet are still less than a third that of a decade ago), now is an ideal time to see it. The coun­try may have faced its share of trou­bles in re­cent years, but the Nile Val­ley has avoided much of them, and its an­cient tem­ples (Kar­nak, Kom Ombo, Edfu) and daz­zling necrop­olises (Val­ley of the Kings) re­main time­less sights wor­thy of any ex­tended trip.

‘Long Nile’ (880km) cruises run be­tween Cairo and Aswan but the ma­jor­ity of trips plough the river’s up­per reaches from Luxor, where the pharaohs fought to out­spend their an­ces­tors and steam ships, da­habeya (house­boats with huge sails) and traditional felucca (smaller sail boats where you often sleep on deck) still part the wa­ters. Aswan Dam makes a nat­u­ral ter­mi­nus, but there you can also swap boats for a four-day re­turn sail on Lake Nasser, tak­ing you all the way to Abu Sim­bel, a pair of vast 13th-cen­tury BC tem­ples near the Su­danese bor­der. Also try... Rhine River: spy Ger­man fairy­tale cas­tles, baroque palaces and me­dieval towns as you wind through Europe; plus there’s the odd vine­yard to whet your whis­tle. ⊳

4 Best for is­land-hop­ping Croa­tia

When to go: The peak sum­mer months (June– Au­gust) can get un­fea­si­bly busy, so avoid. Du­ra­tion: 7– 14 days Why go? Nearly 1,000 is­lands speckle the Croa­t­ian Adri­atic, with just 48 of those in­hab­ited. Many are ser­viced by schools of hulk­ing fer­ries and cata­ma­rans, but to ex­plore them prop­erly, un­teth­ered from the tyranny of ferry sched­ul­ing, it pays to take a cruise. Week­long tours of the Dal­ma­tian coast typ­i­cally run be­tween northerly Zadar or Dubrovnik to the south, towards the mid­point of Spilt, where the is­land of Vis was cut off from the pub­lic un­til the late 1980s and re­mains pock­eted with Greek and Ro­man ru­ins.

Fur­ther north of Zadar, the Kvarner archipelago re­veals walled cities, pine forests and fine walk­ing, while the twin­kling islets and reefs of Kor­nati Na­tional Park are a nat­u­ral won­der to ri­val Viet­nam’s Ha­long Bay. But it’s the south­ern isle of Kor­cula (a ‘mini Dubrovnik’ without the suf­fo­cat­ing crowds) that re­mains the coast’s jewel, with its dense forests and for­ti­fied me­dieval town other­wise tricky to reach out­side of the sum­mer ferry sched­ules. Also try... The In­done­sian Archipelago: from the Ko­modo dragon isles of the Lesser Sun­das to the ex­tra­or­di­nary funeral rites of Su­lawesi and the re­cov­er­ing reefs of Raja Am­pat, there is so much to see here.

5 Best for the long-haul South Pa­cific

When to go: Year-round. Du­ra­tion: 24 days and over Why go? Serv­ing up end­less va­ri­ety amid count­less stops, the South Pa­cific is per­fect for longer voyages. Three-week cruises can eas­ily take in the an­cient won­ders of Mi­crone­sia (Pohn­pei’s ar­chi­tect-de­fy­ing ‘float­ing’ city of Nan Madol is one of the world’s un­der­rated won­ders); the tiki stat­ues and rum-soaked tales of Poly­ne­sia; or Me­lane­sia’s in­cred­i­ble dive sites, such as Van­u­atu’s Mil­lion Dol­lar Point where the USA dumped a trea­sury’s worth of Pa­cific War hard­ware af­ter the war fin­ished. Combine some of these, or even tack on side trips to the re­mote is­lands of Pit­cairn and Easter, for a truly epic ad­ven­ture. Also try... Am­s­ter­dam to the Black Sea: ford the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers, drift­ing Europe’s grandee cities and tow­er­ing gorges.

6 Best for the aurora Nor­way

When to go: The Arc­tic win­ter (Oc­to­ber–march) is the best time to spot the aurora. Du­ra­tion: 4–12 days Why go? How’s this for con­fi­dence? Such is Scan­di­navia’s rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a prime des­ti­na­tion for spy­ing the north­ern lights that some cruises of­fer ‘free’ voyages if you don’t see any­thing. Of course, noth­ing is guar­an­teed, but on au­ro­raspot­ting trips it pays to make sure your days are as busy as your evenings, which is what makes Nor­way such a good op­tion.

From whale-watch­ing and dog-sled­ding ex­cur­sions to sim­ply ex­plor­ing the fjords and coastal cities be­tween Tromso, Ber­gen and even up to Kirkenes, there’s plenty to keep you warm while you wait for the planet’s best light show. Most boats will also likely have as­tronomers, film­mak­ers or photographers on board too, teach­ing you to re­spec­tively un­der­stand, shoot and frame this cos­mic won­der; then, as the sky dark­ens, all that’s left to do is to tilt your head sky­ward and watch the cos­mic bal­let un­fold. Also try... New Zealand’s Sub-antarc­tic Is­lands: the south­ern lights can be spot­ted as far up as the North Is­land, but it’s Ste­wart Is­land and the re­mote Sub-antarc­tic bird­ing re­serves of The Snares and the Auck­land Is­lands where you’ll get them to your­self.

7 Best for sail­ing Thai­land

When to go: Cruises run the An­daman coast be­tween Novem­ber and March. Du­ra­tion: 5 days Why go? If you want to get back to na­ture, a sail­ing cruise is de rigueur, and weav­ing the thou­sands of is­lands that scat­ter the ma­rine parks of Thai­land’s An­daman coast on a Chi­nese-style junker (sail­boat) blows all the clichés away. Be­tween Krabi and Phuket, whip past tow­er­ing lime­stone karsts, lonely patches of white sand and some of the best div­ing and snorkelling in South-east Asia as your fan-like sails steal the breeze from the steamy air.

But this trip is no hi-glam Du­ran Du­ran video (and her name def­i­nitely isn’t Rio!): the ac­com­mo­da­tion can often be on the rus­tic side, but kayak tours of labyrinthine caves, ma­jes­tic coral gar­dens and the chance to drop an­chor on far-off sand­banks away from the crowds on-shore mean that it doesn’t mat­ter one jot. Also try... Greece: count­less sail­ing tours hop the is­lands of the Aegean, with yacht­ing trips to the white­washed vil­lages, walk­ing trails and pic­turesque an­cient build­ings of the Cy­clades a must. ⊳

8 Best for scenery Patag­o­nia & Cape Horn

When to go: The cruis­ing sea­son runs be­tween Oc­to­ber and March. Du­ra­tion: 4–14 days Why go? In 1832, nat­u­ral­ist Charles Dar­win’s ex­pe­di­tion ship HMS Bea­gle first slid the icy wa­ters and sub-polar forests off Patag­o­nia’s south­ern tip. The voy­age would go down in his­tory, and the en­coun­ters there did much to shape his fu­ture writ­ings, but even the great Dar­win didn’t think much of the scenery at first; the ‘dense, gloomy forests’ of Tierra del Fuego did lit­tle for him, though he ad­mits ‘a sin­gle glance… was suf­fi­cient to show me how widely dif­fer­ent it was from any­where else.’

Yet, as Dar­win ven­tured fur­ther, he be­came en­rap­tured, and it’s this route (the Bea­gle Chan­nel) that cruises repli­cate to­day, drift­ing fjords and glacial al­leys (Pia) as well as is­lands (Mag­dalena, Tucker) where Mag­el­lanic pen­guins and ele­phant seals nois­ily blot the shores. Fin­ish at Cape Horn and the old Ya­mana set­tle­ments of Wu­laia Bay, where trails through Mag­el­lanic forests un­ravel its fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory. Also try... Kim­ber­ley, Aus­tralia: From the dusty out­back to the ‘hor­i­zon­tal falls’ and re­mark­able ‘ris­ing’ Mont­gomery Reef off­shore, West­ern Aus­tralia’s north­ern cor­ner is full of nat­u­ral – and typ­i­cally wild – won­ders.

9 Best for a mini-cruise In­ner He­brides, Scot­land

When to go: Trips run be­tween April and Oc­to­ber. Du­ra­tion: 3–4 nights Why go? While trips to the Outer He­brides can be weather-cur­tailed, the In­ner is al­to­gether calmer and you can just about squeeze it into a long week­end (though it can eas­ily stretch for longer). Trips typ­i­cally start from Oban and can ei­ther drift north to the Sound of Mull and over to Tober­mory, tak­ing in mus­sel farms, dis­til­leries and clifftop cas­tles; or slide south down to the wind-whistling sea lochs and isles of Bute and Ar­ran.

Au­tumn in par­tic­u­lar is a de­light, as multi-day na­ture cruises de­scend on Loch Etive and the Morvern coast in search of seals, ot­ters, ea­gles and por­poises. Plus, if you want to ex­tend your trip, con­tinue on to Glen­coe, where you can inch along the Cale­do­nian Canal across the High­lands on week­long barge tours. Also try... Baja Cal­i­for­nia, Mex­ico: some of the planet’s best whale-watch­ing can be packed into four days on the Sea of Cortez, where grey whales (Jan–mar) swim up to your panga (fish­ing boat) for a quick tickle.

10 Best for wine lovers Douro River, Por­tu­gal & Spain

When to go: Year-round; har­vest sea­son usu­ally falls be­tween Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber. Du­ra­tion: 7–14 days Why go? But what about the Moselle, Rhône, Bur­gundy or Rhine, squeak the naysay­ers – won’t some­one please think of the ter­roir? True enough, to over­look the wine-soaked rivers of France or Ger­many takes some do­ing, not least when you con­sider that port can be an ac­quired taste. But the rip­pling vine­yards, tiny vil­lages and un­crowded wa­ters of the Douro en­sure it re­mains a rare gem, as trips drift out of the me­dieval docks of Porto be­fore sweep­ing down the val­ley via tiny Pin­hão, flanked by lush hill­sides and some of the best port pro­duc­ers on the planet.

Stops at vil­lages en route (some don’t even have docks) re­veal hid­den flavours off the tourist maps, and no sooner does the land­scape fade to the rusted crags of the Span­ish bor­der (spot nest­ing grif­fon vul­ture in the gorges at Douro NP) than the sand­stone walls and cathe­drals of bustling Sala­manca, Spain, rise on the hori­zon. A fi­nale that lingers long on the palate. Also try... Bordeaux: gas­tron­omy, vine­yards and the Garonne River en­sure that this al­ter­na­tive to the usual bussed win­ery tours re­mains a choice to savour.

11 Best for meet­ing cul­tures Brahma­pu­tra River, In­dia

When to go: Cruises run from Novem­ber to April, af­ter the mon­soon sea­son is over. Du­ra­tion: 3–8 days Why go? You don’t need to cross bor­ders to ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent cul­tures. One of the lures for cruis­ing the rag­ing Brahma­pu­tra – one of the fastest rivers in the world – is that it thrashes its way through the As­sam states, an area strung with is­land vil­lages. The re­gion sweats into In­dia, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Burma (Myanmar), and as a his­toric gate­way be­tween south­ern and south-eastern Asia, its com­mu­ni­ties are liv­ing relics of age-old mi­gra­tions.

From Kolkata (Cal­cutta), cruises typ­i­cally stop at Sib­sagar (the for­mer strong­hold of the Ahom king­dom, founded by ar­rivals from Yun­nan in the 13th cen­tury), the As­samese monas­ter­ies of Ma­juli Is­land and the stilt houses of the Mish­ing peo­ple, with chances to min­gle and learn. Of course, the river has its wild side, too, and side-trips to sight the one-horned rhino of Kazi­ranga NP are un­miss­able. Also try... The Sepik River: drift ‘spirit houses’ and cul­tures un­changed for cen­turies on week­long voyages into the rain­forests of Pa­pua New Guinea. ⊳

12 Best for wildlife Galá­pa­gos Is­lands, Ecuador

When to go: Year-round – there’s al­ways some­thing amaz­ing to see here. Du­ra­tion: 4–15 days Why go? There’s a good rea­son why this is a peren­nial bucket-list top­per with Wan­der­lust read­ers. Whether snorkelling the twisted lava chutes of Is­abela Is­land’s Los Túne­les to spy manta rays, play­ful tur­tles and sea lions, swim­ming the coves of Isla Bar­tolomé along­side the world’s north­ern­most pen­guin pop­u­la­tions, or even scur­ry­ing af­ter the is­lands’ pre­his­toric-look­ing ma­rine igua­nas (‘imps of dark­ness’, Dar­win la­belled them), the Galá­pa­gos Is­lands host an in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of en­demic wildlife.

Li­censed cruises here in­clude a nat­u­ral­ist guide in tow and fol­low a set 15-day course around the is­lands. This can typ­i­cally be bro­ken up into smaller itin­er­ar­ies but it’s worth tak­ing the max­i­mum amount of time to ex­plore, not least be­cause there’s so many dif­fer­ent habi­tats and species to see – and also be­cause the longer route tends to reach the lesser-seen west­ern is­lands. Yet whether you’re spot­ting gi­ant tor­toises munch­ing on cacti on Es­pañola (rein­tro­duced there af­ter they all but died out) or blue-footed boo­bies over North Sey­mour, you’ll see won­ders here. Also try... South Ge­or­gia: this sub-antarc­tic isle is home not only to Ernest Shack­le­ton’s grave but some of the largest colonies of king pen­guins on the planet.

13 Best for the Ama­zon Peru

When to go: Wet sea­son (De­cem­ber–may) al­lows for greater ex­plo­ration of the Ama­zon’s trib­u­taries. Du­ra­tion: 4–10 days Why go? At 6,992km long, no river on the planet matches the Ama­zon for size let alone sights, yet it’s not im­mune to traf­fic. The main stem of the river flows through Brazil, where boats can choke the noisy wa­ters in and around the rain­for­est city of Manaus

That’s not to say qui­eter stretches don’t ex­ist, though, and it’s in Peru’s up­per reaches where you’ll find them. Here, shal­low­bot­tomed skiffs slip among its slim trib­u­taries (Ucay­ali, Marañón, Tahuayo) to ex­plore where larger ves­sels can’t; it makes for a more in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence as you wind the river all the way to its head­wa­ters.

Glide past gi­ant lily pads, black­wa­ter streams and the ‘mir­rored for­est’ of PacuyaSamiria, with side trips via kayak to search out pink river dol­phins and en­dan­gered macaws as howler mon­keys bar­rack the canopies. An un­fil­tered close-up of one of the most bio­di­verse places on Earth. Also try... Brazil: it might be busy in parts, but it still has some of the best sights, in­clud­ing cruises among the largest river archipelago in the world, Anav­il­hanas, where dry sea­son (Sept–feb) makes spot­ting its jaguars and man­a­tees eas­ier.

14 Best for frozen won­ders Antarc­tica

When to go: Trips only run dur­ing the Antarc­tic sum­mer (late Oc­to­ber–march). Du­ra­tion: 6–25 days (west); 26–30 days (east) Why go? There are count­less ways to reach the White Con­ti­nent, but only two ap­proaches: east or west. The for­mer is qui­eter, though trick­ier to reach (6–10 days), with sturdy ice­break­ers set­ting out from New Zealand (In­ver­cargill/bluff) and Aus­tralia (Hobart). Only a few hun­dred trav­ellers make it each year, and visits to ex­plor­ers’ huts (Scott, Shack­le­ton, Maw­son) and the mighty Ross Ice Shelf make for a fine scalp.

The west­ern route is busier but has more op­tions; the whole trip can even now be squeezed into a week, with flights drop­ping trav­ellers off on South Shet­land to pick up a ship. Other­wise, it’s a min­i­mum four-day sail from Ushuaia (Ar­gentina) across the in­fa­mous Drake Pas­sage – a rite of pas­sage in the eyes of many – on any­thing from ‘ice-strength­ened’ cruise ships to sail­boats.

But no mat­ter which route you choose, you’ll find your­self weav­ing gi­ant ’bergs, vast pen­guin rook­eries and whale-rid­den wa­ters on a frozen ad­ven­ture you won’t soon for­get. Also try... The North­west Pas­sage: fol­low in the foot­steps of the ex­plorer Roald Amund­sen in con­nect­ing the At­lantic and Pa­cific through the frozen wa­ters of the Cana­dian Arc­tic. ⊳

15 Best for ad­ven­ture Mekong River, South-east Asia

When to go: Year-round, though it’s far cooler in win­ter (Novem­ber–fe­bru­ary) Du­ra­tion: 7–24 days Why go? From the melt­wa­ters of the Hi­malaya via the jun­gle-clad stilt vil­lages of Laos, all the way down to the fox­holes of Viet­nam’s south­ern cap­i­tal Ho Chi Minh City, de­vel­op­ment along the Mekong is pretty min­i­mal – un­like other rivers across Asia – mean­ing you still feel like an ex­plorer in parts.

Sadly though, it’s very dif­fi­cult to fol­low the whole route across the six coun­tries it passes through. Most cruises typ­i­cally still drift the tail end on fort­night-long trips through Cam­bo­dia, Viet­nam and Thai­land, with side jaunts to the vil­lages of Tonle Sap (a trib­u­tary), the tem­ples of Angkor Wat and Bangkok and be­yond. Qui­eter – and no less dra­matic – routes can be found amid the jun­gles of Laos via Bud­dhist caves, jun­gle pools and ele­phant camps, with the op­tion of now flow­ing over the bor­der into China and Yun­nan. Also try... Kam­chatka: fort­night-long cruises to the vol­ca­noes, tun­dra and wildlife of Rus­sia’s Siberian coast puts you face-to-face with na­ture at its rawest.

16 Best for pad­dling Ya­sawa Is­lands, Fiji

When to go: Trips tend to run be­tween June and Novem­ber. Du­ra­tion: 3–11 days Why go? For those who pre­fer the splash of wa­ter on their aching arms to lean­ing over a guard rail or Zo­diac, kayak­ing is the way to go. For open-wa­ter ad­ven­tures, there are few destinations more tran­quil (and beau­ti­ful) for be­gin­ners than Fiji’s Ya­sawa Is­lands. A chain of 20 vol­canic is­lands, you can pad­dle their en­tire length in around eight days, though it pays to take it slow.

They may be less off-the-radar than they used to be but it’s still a rare nat­u­ral gem, its wa­ters teem­ing with manta rays and its lime­stone Sawa-i-lau caves – only ac­ces­si­ble via a submerged tun­nel – a rite of pas­sage. Best of all, af­ter a hard day’s pad­dling you can just tum­ble into the cool South Pa­cific wa­ters. Also try... The Lower Zam­bezi River: guided ca­noe trips along the bor­der of Zam­bia and Zim­babwe run down­stream of Vic­to­ria Falls, through the deep gorges of Kariba and sa­fari spots of Mana Pools, Sapi and Che­wore as you spy end­less big game from the wa­ter.

King of the desert ( clock­wise from this) The Abu Sim­bel tem­ple at sun­rise; drift­ing towards Puerto Princesa; a house­boat on the Ker­ala back­wa­ters

Hot spots The Dal­ma­tian coast is full of gems like Kor­cula; ( above) tiki statue on Poly­ne­sia

Junk bonds A junk sail­ing in Phang Nga Bay; ( be­low) watch­ing the aurora over the Nor­we­gian coast from the deck

Shore pa­trol ( clock­wise from this) A group of seals and sea lions over­look the Bea­gle Chan­nel, Ushuaia; Shivadol tem­ple, Sib­sagar; moored at Peso da Regua on the Douro

Slow travel A gi­ant tor­toise over­looks Is­abela Is­land; ( be­low) a skiff cruises along the Ama­zon river

Cav­ing in At the en­trance of the Mekong River’s Pak Ou Caves; ( be­low) Yaroma Is­land, Fiji

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