Five bucket-list destinations accessible by ship
While a cruise is often the best way to explore a far-away land, for Antarctica, it’s pretty much the only way. Since 1957, small-scale expedition travel has been available to the planet’s coldest, driest and windiest continent – but, as a destination, it has retained its mystery. While up to 5,000 people reside at research stations scattered across the 5,400,000 sq mile area, there are no towns, no cities and no permanent inhabitants. Just 100 years on from the likes of explorers Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen, between November and February, tourists are able to take in the icy wilderness, and see leopard seals, humpback whales and, of course, penguins (see p30), in safety, with trips approved by IAATO (the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators). Cruises often sail from Argentina – sometimes taking in the Falklands and South Georgia – and head to the breathtaking Antarctic Peninsula, the most northernmost part of the mainland.
One of the increasingly popular cruise destinations in the Far East, Japan is enduringly fascinating country and a bucket-list adventure for many. Its capital, Tokyo, is a huge city of remarkable contrast between ancient and modern, which, on many cruises, provides an unbeatable starting and finishing point. Cruises from here take in the likes of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a Unesco world heritage site, the bustling city of Busan and Nagasaki, which occupies one of the most important places in the story of modern history. Kobe, on the other side of the island, and found between the sea and the beautiful Rokko mountain range, and connected by the world’s longest suspension bridge, offers a remarkable alternative for itineraries to start and end in. Some cruises often offer the chance to visit South Korea and Taiwan, too.
#3 THE AMAZON
Running through Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru, the 4,000 mile Amazon river is the world’s largest by water flow and, perhaps, its most spectacular. Sat at the heart of a 1.4 billion acre rainforest, it provides access to one of the most biodiverse regions on earth – home to 2.5 million species of insect and 2,000 birds and mammals. Although the very embodiment of adventure, the Amazon is surprisingly accessible. Several mainstream cruise lines travel to Manaus, the city at the heart of the Amazon, home to 1.7 million people, some offering sailings from the US and even the UK. Smaller, river-going ships can get even further into the jungle – where passengers can meet Amazonian tribes and get close, but not too close, to meat-eating piranhas – meaning there are a huge range of itineraries ranging from days to months.
#4 THE ARCTIC
The Arctic Circle, like its southern equivalent, occupies an enormous territory on the globe. Marking the region above which, for at least one day a year, there is all-day sunshine in the summer and darkness in the winter, it passes through eight countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the US, Canada, Denmark and Iceland – with many cruises leaving from the UK. On top of the magical arctic scenery – made up of tiny Norwegian villages, expansive, glaciers and meltwater waterfalls – is the chance to see natives of the Svalbard archipelago: the polar bear and arctic fox. And then, of course, there is the aurora borealis – also known as the northern lights (pictured) – the enchanting natural lights show, which travellers consistently rank among the sights they’d most like to see.
Found 600 miles off the cost of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are home to a myriad of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, making a strong case for it being the world’s top destination for nature enthusiasts. Indeed, so diverse and unique is its natural life, Charles Darwin began to piece together his theory of evolution after visiting the region. Among the species visitors are likely to see up close and personal are marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, waved albatrosses and, perhaps most famously, giant tortoises. These bizarre beasts and the strange, lava-soaked lands give it an otherworldly feel; it’s a destination like no other. What’s most remarkably, perhaps, is how the wildlife differs between ports of call, be it Daphne Island – home to sea lions and pelicans – or Dragon Hill – where, as you may have guessed by its name, the iguanas rule.