Winning tip: the Caribbean’s Antigua in a day
Antigua, the island of beaches, is best seen from the sea. For an exciting and downright hair-raising trip try circumnavigating the island on an offshore powerboat. You’ll be swimming with stingrays, snorkelling at the Pillars of Hercules, then lunching on a remote beach, Robinson Crusoe style. You’ll sail into Nelson’s Dockyard as old-time sailors might have done; and see the Shirley Heights lookout as it towers 150 metres above the sea. The excellent guides point out so many things that you’d never have the opportunity to see from land. You’ll come back from an unforgettable day windblown and wet but exhilarated.
• $170 with adventureantigua.com
Longtail it around Inlé Lake, Myanmar
Taking a long-tail boat from the nearby town of Nyaung Shwe offers a serene view of the mirror-flat waters of Myanmar’s Inlé Lake. A protected wildlife zone, the marshy shores are home to a variety of birds, and a ban on new hotels in the area allows the lakeside villages to remain peaceful and authentic. Cruise around the expansive waters and charming stilt villages, stopping off at Phaung Daw Oo pagoda with its gold-covered Buddha statues, or visit a floating market or workshop demonstrating local crafts like weaving and boat building. Stay until sunset to see the Intha fisherman at work displaying their distinctive one-legged rowing technique.
Kayaking in India
Although most tourists take the large straw houseboats when visiting the backwaters of Alleppey in Kerala, south India, there is a far more attractive and cheaper option. Avoid the polluting chugging houseboats that cruise along the motorway-like larger canals and take a kayak for a tenth of the price through the smaller, unexplored waterways. Paddle past women washing their colourful saris in the waterways, farmers herding their swimming ducks to pastures new and see wildlife that would otherwise have been scared away, before taking a dip to cool off. Kerala Kayaking offers good-value tours around the backwaters, taking you to try traditional chai and sweet paratha in floating cafes with friendly eagles that sit on your shoulders, and the guides explain the culture of the area. They initially use a small motorised boat to escape the crowds, and tow your kayak along to rest weary arms in between independent adventuring which is great fun.
Ethical junk boat tours, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
The Indochina Junk Tour around Ha Long Bay is in a beautiful boat and the staff are kind and welcoming. You can choose the length of your stay; we had two nights and wish we’d booked more. There was so much to see and do, including visits to local floating villages, watching traditional Vietnamese puppet shows, kayaking around the bay and just sitting on the deck looking at the stunning scenery. The food on board was excellent and we were able to try a range of Vietnamese favourites. The tours are also great as Ha Long Bay is a Unesco heritage site, and the company ensures its trips help keep the bay clean, with schemes like rubbish removal and supporting the local floating villages. One of the best moments was when the boat had stopped for the night, gently turning in the current, allowing us to look up to see beautiful star-lit skies. Definitely the best boat trip I’ve ever been on – I recommend you book for more than two nights!
Copenhagen to Oslo ferry
Take a mini cruise between Copenhagen and Oslo, it’s a great way to approach both capitals. Leaving Copenhagen you sail out past the Little Mermaid, along the coast by the Louisiana Art Gallery and Elsinore Castle, where you may glimpse the ghost of Hamlet’s father stalking the battlements. Waking in Oslo fjord is just spectacular, because, although you are on a large ship, the sides of the fjord tower above you and you get a real sense of its scale. You can have a smorgasbord breakfast with great views as you sail up towards Oslo, and head for the city past the Viking ship museum.
Dolphin and whale watching in Madeira
My partner has always wanted to swim with dolphins and after booking a holiday to Madeira for last November, we contacted Madeira Wind Birdsmadeirawindbirds.com. The boat we sailed in was small, with only 10-12 people, so you can see dolphins and whales up close. We saw lots of small dolphins hunting, which was an amazing sight, and we saw whales too. Unfortunately my partner couldn’t swim with the dolphins as they weren’t in a playful mood, but we had a great experience nonetheless.
Boat to Italy’s Borromean Islands
The best way to travel around Lake Maggiore is by boat. This part of Italy is home to many beautiful gardens, the most famous of which is found on Isola Bella, one of the Borromean Islands. Buy a rover ticket and take the boat from Stresa to visit all three islands. The boat first approaches Isola Bella and the enchanting Palazzo Borromeo comes into view. Then, as it turns, you have your first awe-inspiring glimpse of the tiered gardens and their sculpted walls. Before exploring the third island, Isola Madre, home to another wonderful garden, spend time on the tiny Isola dei Pescatori, named after its fishermen. Explore the main cobbled street and look out for the colourful fishermen’s cottages. The gardens are open from 18 March–23 October.
The Swedish archipelago
Not many people would think of Sweden as a country that is ripe for exploration by boat but in fact the coast has an abundance of small islands. Both Stockholm and Gothenburg have nearby archipelagos that can be reached very easily, often by inexpensive public transport. Although the sea can be cold, even in the warmest months, the islands are incredibly unspoilt by mass tourism or development of any kind. On our trip we visited Branno, a short ferry ride from West Gothenburg (easily reached by tram from the town centre). There are beaches on the island and the granite rocks make an excellent place to lie out in the sun and bake like a lizard. There are places to eat and drink on some of the islands and an almost inexhaustible supply of locations to explore. The country’s reputation for being costly is undeserved, with prices fairly similar to average prices in England (at least for Gothenburg).
SS Walter Scott on Loch Katrine, Scotland
Sometimes the best boat trips don’t have to be the most expensive. On a beautiful autumn morning, we boarded the SS Walter Scott to take a very scenic boat trip along Loch Katrine to Stronachlachar. The air was crisp and clear, and the water still in the gorgeous autumnal sunshine. We sat the back of the boat with a hot choc and whisky, and the scenery just kept on and on, with ripples making arty reflections on the loch. Majestic mountain views, mirror reflections of the trees, glimpses of an eagle even, it’s a lovely inexpensive trip that stirs the soul. We steamed into Stronachlachar on an eerie, misty October morning, and as she slowly came into view, it made for a lovely photo, capturing the tranquillity of lovely Loch Katrine.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
If you’re travelling in Cambodia, a great way to get from the temple-strewn paradise of Siem Reap to big-city Phnom Penh is along the Tonlé Sap river. Fast boats follow this route when the water level allows, taking around six hours. Although comfortable inside the spacious cabin, intrepid passengers prefer to sit on the roof of the boat, enjoying the thrill of hurtling along a palm-fringed waterway, like in a scene from Apocalypse Now. The journey can be noisy, and the boat old, but it’s an adventure and it beats taking the bus.
Explore Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay surely is the most stunning region in Thailand and it is so easy to explore its hundreds of islands by boat. It’s best to stay on one of the bigger islands between Phuket and Krabi and rent your private longtail boat from there. The boat will take you along high limestone cliffs and beautiful lagoons to simply breathtaking beaches with crystal clear waters full of colourful fish. There are enough islands to spend a week or more finding your perfect little paradise. Avoid the crowds by arriving on the better-known islands in the afternoon.
Cruise the Kimberley, Australia
A cruise is the most comfortable way to explore Australia’s remote Kimberley region. Trips usually start in Broome or Darwin. The small boats take guests along the stunning gorges with swooshing waterfalls. You will spot wildlife such as crocodiles and turtles and explore indigenous Australian art on hiking tours. To get an even more breathtaking view of the stunning scenery, guests can book scenic flights and helicopter tours. It is a very unique experience in a small group away from the modern world.