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15 Places Better Explored by Boat

Jump on board, drop into a deckchair, and experience a whole different world from the water.

Many of us can’t wait to get from A to B so we train, fly, or drive to our next destination. But, consider this: boats. How about taking a boat for a change? Some of the most beautiful, remote, and pristine places on this planet can only be accessed by boat so turn off the phone, sit back, and let time slow down around you while you follow in the footsteps of explorers and seafarers on the world’s most amazing journeys on water.

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PHOTO: gustavofrazao/Shutterstock
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The Amazon

WHERE: Brazil / Peru

From its humble beginnings in the Peruvian highlands to the wide mouth in Brazil at the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon in South America is one of the world’s largest, longest, and most diverse rivers. Relax in a hammock on a slow boat and watch the tropical rainforest, an almost untamed ecosystem with one-third of the planet’s animal species,  go by. You might encounter river dolphins, mystical native communities, and natural wonders while cruising leisurely through the lush green jungle. If you’re happy to rough it, catch a ride on a  local cargo boat which could carry anything from livestock to farm machinery.

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PHOTO: Visit England
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Canals

WHERE: England, UK

There’s something very soothing about traveling through England’s green and flat countryside on a canal boat. Once thronged with cargo ships, a network of 2,000 miles of peaceful waterways complete with operating locks and swing bridges crisscrosses the country. Let life slow down to walking pace while you navigate your rented canal boat past riverside pubs, pretty cottages, weeping willows and green paddocks. It’s easy to hire a barge, many of which have simplified controls for landlubbers, and you’ll be an experienced seaman in no time!

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PHOTO: Mattias Fredriksson
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Fjords

WHERE: Norway

Chase the sparkling Northern Lights (winter) or the Midnight Sun (summer) on a cruise through Norway’s impossibly steep-sided fjords or keep your eyes closer to the ground and marvel at remote, coastal villages and Art Nouveau towns that line the shores. Year-round cruise ships head north from Bergen to Kirkenes past rugged coastlines, tumbling waterfalls, and sheer rock walls that rise 4,500 feet up and drop 1,600 feet below the surface. The highlight of the trip which takes around ten days is larger-than-life Geiranger, Norway’s most spectacular fjord.

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PHOTO: Jesse Bowser on Unsplash
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Grand Canyon

WHERE: Arizona, USA

Most travelers only experience the Grand Canyon by peering over the rim and looking down into the Colorado River. A boat journey through this natural wonder evokes quite a different feel as the walls of the mighty canyon tower several hundred feet high on either side. Boat tours through the Grand Canyon range from short (15 minutes) and smooth on a pontoon boat to long (3-18 days) and wild through the rapids. The drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon takes several hours, so consider a helicopter ride to save time (though not money).

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PHOTO: Carl Jasper Yu
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Milford Sound

WHERE: New Zealand

Once called the “8th wonder of the world” by Rudyard Kipling, it’s easy to see why Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most popular tourist attraction. Weathered rock walls rise from the deep blue waters, waterfalls cascade like giant showers especially after heavy rain, and in the middle of it all towers snow-covered Mitre Peak. Boat trips into the glacier-carved fjord take 1-2 hours but there are also overnight cruises, scenic flights, and kayaking trips on offer. Don’t miss the underwater observatory at Harrison Cove to encounter the rare black coral.

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PHOTO: Vladimir_Timofeev/iStock
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Island-Hopping

WHERE: Greece

Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes – these are only some of the more than 1,400 islands of Greece, and hopping around them by ferry has been a guilty pleasure for many years. It doesn’t matter if you like secluded islets or grand harbors, lush green trees or bare rocks, the Greek islands have it all not to mention the countless ancient temples, a warm climate and the delicious cuisine perfected with smooth red wine.  The bigger islands are connected by super ferries but cruise ships and private sailboats operate in the turquoise waters as well.

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PHOTO: Fré Sonneveld on Unsplash
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Halong Bay

WHERE: Vietnam

More than 3,000 tiny limestone islands rise in the emerald waters of Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s biggest attractions. A designated World Heritage Site since 1994, the scattered islands vary in shape and size but many feature small sandy beaches, wind and water eroded grottos, idyllic bays, and sparsely growing rain forest.  There are plenty of boats to choose from at Bai Chay Tourist Wharf, the main gateway. Day tours are available, though overnight cruises are the more popular choice as sunset and sunrise create a mythical atmosphere especially in the foggy season (December to February).

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PHOTO: Autoridad de Turismo Panamá
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Panama Canal

WHERE: Panama

Ready to take the world’s greatest shortcut? The Panama Canal, one of mankind’s most impressive engineering wonders, stretches fifty miles allowing ships to cross from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. Known locally as the “Big Ditch” the canal is “held” by a system of locks that lift ships up at artificial Gatun Lake, then lowers them again at the other end. You’ll be surprised by the tropical wildlife like sloths and howler monkeys, indigenous villages, and the wide range of outdoor adventure activities.

INSIDER TIPCruising the Panama Canal is a sunny journey all year round, so don’t forget to buy one of those iconic hats!

 

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PHOTO: Calin Stan/iStock
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Nile River

WHERE: Egypt

For thousands of years, the Nile has been the source of all life in Egypt as annual flooding irrigated the crops which fed peasants, priests, and pharaohs alike. The world’s longest river was of such importance that the ancient Egyptians thought it to be a god. There’s no better way to see the wonders of the Old World than from the water just like its rulers did for millennia. Nile cruises operate between Luxor and Aswan and time will stand still as you journey past 5,000 years of history.

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PHOTO: Tourism India
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Kerala Backwaters

WHERE: India

India’s southern-most state, Kerala, is a network of lagoons, rivers, lakes, and canals which create the languid maze-like backwaters along the western coastline. Old barges with thatched roof covers have been used on these waterways for centuries, but in more recent times, many of these were converted into houseboats called kettuvallam (which can be rented).  Watch rural life unfold while floating on a basic wooden boat under swaying coconut palm tunnels and observe India’s vast cultural diversity–from Hindu temples to Christian churches.

INSIDER TIPThe main entry point is Alleppey, and if you don’t want to be your own captain, you can also hop on a guided day cruise.

 

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Galápagos Islands

There’s no place on earth quite like the Galápagos Islands and cruising their unrivaled beauty is truly the trip of a lifetime. Located more than 500 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, the islands’ isolation has led to a vast array of species that can be found nowhere else on the planet. No, but seriously–wildlife is everywhere and you might just trip over iguanas along the beach, whistle a tune with the famous finches, or swim by a baby sea lion underwater. Annual visitor numbers to the islands are restricted so get in early!

INSIDER TIPWhile the animals are incredible to observe, remember to not actually disturb them in any way.

 

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PHOTO: kwest/Shutterstock
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Murray River

WHERE: Australia

The Murray River covers one-third of the Australian continent and is the world’s third-largest navigable river (after the Amazon and the Nile). Cruising this Outback river as it carves its way through a sun-kissed landscape dotted with koalas, emus, and kangaroos is a quintessentially Australian experience. You will utterly relax, maybe aboard the country’s largest inland paddle wheeler, the PS Murray Princess, or even on your own rented houseboat. Manoeuvering and steering these is easy, and as the Murray River is a gentle waterway, you’ll have a nice and easy time for sure.

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PHOTO: Wildnerdpix/Shutterstock
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Quetico Provincial Park

WHERE: Canada

Canada is famous for its great outdoors, and a weekend of canoeing, camping, and fishing in Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, puts you right in the middle of the country’s iconic wilderness. The park is not only famous for its towering rock cliffs, gushing waterfalls, and spruce forests, but also for the remote canoe routes on more than 2,000 lakes. Stay for two days or two weeks, catch some fish, observe the moose, rent a rustic cabin, go cross-country skiing in winter – this is Canada at its best!

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PHOTO: RobertH82/iStock
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Disko Bay

WHERE: Greenland

Known as the birthplace of icebergs, the Ilulissat Icefjord in Disko Bay produces twenty million tonnes of ice per day. On a polar expedition, you’ll cruise among the largest icebergs to be found in the Arctic as well as whales, seals, and sea birds.  Furthermore, you’ll visit calving glaciers, explore remote settlements and learn about the history of whale hunting in the area.  Traveling to Greenland, a country covered to 80% by ice and home to some of the most pristine waters on this planet, is an unforgettable adventure.

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PHOTO: Oesterreich Werbung Popp Hackner
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Danube

WHERE: Germany to Hungary

Originating in Germany’s Black Forest, the 1,770 mile-long Danube flows through more countries (10!) than any other river in the world before draining into the Black Sea. On Europe’s most culturally diverse river you’ll be dazzled by one highlight after another: Explore hipster-style Budapest, walk through Belgrade’s Bohemian Quarter, follow in Mozart’s footsteps in Vienna, munch on a piece of cake in Linz, or climb up the rocky outcrop to the 11th Benedictine Abbey Melk. It takes around two weeks to travel the entire length of the river but time will pass quicker than you can whistle the Blue Danube Waltz!