Set sail on a safari at sea. We short-list the boat journeys that pass through the world’s wildlife hotspots, from the Antarctic to the Arctic.
You don’t have to don safari gear to spy an elephant or go all Jacques Cousteau to commune with a whale shark. Natural habitats that are hidden or inaccessible on land can often be easily reached by boat. And meandering the world’s waterways are cruise ships offering travellers a seriously extravagant way to observe all kinds of creatures, from three-toed sloths to pink dolphins. Here are our top picks of wildlife cruises in 2017.
Flamingos, sea lions, blue-footed boobies. Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution based on the flora and fauna of Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands. Modern-day explorers can make their own discoveries during a 10-day cruise aboard Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Islander. The ship navigates between the islands nightly so each morning brings new sights and experiences for its 48 guests. Enjoy the surrounding views from a hammock or hike, kayak or snorkel to meet some of the islands’ inhabitants face to face. After a day discussing the merits of monochrome with Galápagos penguins and diving with marine iguanas, exchange stories with fellow passengers over cocktails on deck.
Set off from steamy Sri Lanka aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverer, bound for Bangladesh. Each of the 16 days of the Colombo-to-Kolkata cruise is a feast for the eyes; each meal is simply a feast. On day three, for example, after marvelling at the elegance of Yala National Park’s leopards, guests enjoy a Champagne brunch. There’s snorkelling in India, where parrot fish flock around dugongs and spiny lobster, and glimpses of rare Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh. With their memory cards and hearts full, the ship’s 120 guests return to gorgeously appointed suites after the day’s activities.
All the way down
Reaching the furthest ends of the earth via luxury cruise is surreal. Imagine: you depart on the Seabourn Quest from vibrant Buenos Aires – where the steak is rare and the tango hot – only to be gliding past massive Antarctic glaciers just days later. Navigate the Lemaire Channel in an inflatable boat, accompanied by a low-flying albatross, or watch humpback whales breach in the Gerlache Strait. After a day in the bracing weather, all that any of the 450 passengers need do is ask their suite attendant to organise a soothing massage.
It takes 25 nights to cruise from Miami through the Caribbean, along the coast of Brazil, down the Amazon River and back to Miami. But it would take a lifetime to beat the experience of seeing three-toed sloths snoozing in trees, marmosets leaping from branch to branch and caimans materialising from a moonlit river. Stopping in exotic locales such as St Barts, Barbados and Antigua, the luxurious 490-guest Seven Seas Navigator has all the comforts expected of a big ship. We especially love the informative lecture series The Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys, which covers the regions’ natural diversity.
Elephants, leopards, buffaloes… Zambezi Queen takes the safari experience off dry land, with Adventure World and APT both offering three-day journeys. Less a cruise liner, more an enormous houseboat; the luxury ship has 14 suites, all with private balconies from which to watch elephants splashing in the shallows as you have your morning coffee. We love the interiors – think leopard-print chic. The boat drifts along the Chobe River from Namibia into Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Along the way, spot zebras and lions, fish for bream from the deck or just gaze up at the incredibly bright constellations in the African night sky.
The first sighting of a polar bear is a highlight for the 199 travellers aboard Abercrombie & Kent’s Arctic-bound Le Boreal. Average temperatures in summer range from -10°C to 10°C – positively balmy for a place that gets down to below-50 in winter. The 15-day journey departs from Oslo before the exploration begins in earnest, passing remote Norwegian islands that are home to reindeer and walrus. Then on to Greenland, with its musk ox and arctic foxes, and finally Iceland, spotting seabirds and whales along the way.