When most people think about adventure travel images of trekking through the Himalaya or going on safari in Africa are typically what come to mind. But sailing just might be the original form of adventure travel, sending intrepid explorers off to the far corners of the globe with little more than the wind at their back and the open ocean in front of them. Today, sailing the ocean isn't quite so dangerous, although it does remain quite adventurous. There is nothing quite like sitting on the bow of ship with the wind blowing through your hair and the sound of the surf crashing against the hull.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of great places for adventurous travelers to experience this feeling for themselves. To help you do just that, we've selected the ten best sailing destinations for those who would never consider a cruise but are still looking for a waterborne adventure of a lifetime.
South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean
Located in the Southern Ocean, South Georgia Island is probably best known for the crucial role it played in Ernest Shackleton's doomed Endurance expedition to the Antarctic. But the place is also a pristine environment that is home to thousands of penguins and numerous rare sea birds, including a variety of albatross that are only found there. Visitors also get the chance to see elephant and fur seals by the hundreds, while exploring the remains of long-abandoned whaling stations left over from a bygone era. Those stations have been inactive for decades, and as a result, whale populations have rebounded nicely. It is not uncommon to find humpbacks, sperm whales, southern right whales, and even blue whales just off shore, along with dolphins, and an array of other sea life.
Sailing the Southern Ocean is an adventure in and of itself, taking travelers across some of the most turbulent waters on the planet. The team at Classic Sailing are an experienced crew who have made that voyage many times however, and offer one of the best opportunities to visit South Georgie in a tall ship. If you're looking for a grand adventure out on the high seas, this is one that should certainly be near the top of your list.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands have long been a popular adventure travel destination, offering exceptional opportunities to view wildlife that simply can't be found anywhere else on the planet. Visitors can spot giant tortoises, sea lions, blue footed boobies, and the archipelago's famous aquatic iguanas. Snorkeling and diving in the Galapagos are favorite pastimes, as are kayaking and stand up paddle boarding, making this a great destination for those who like to stay active on their vacations.
Most visitors to the Galapagos stay aboard a small cruise ship while visiting the islands. But when Charles Darwin first arrived there back in 1835, he came aboard the HMS Beagle, a sailing sloop that was part of the British Royal Navy. Intrepid travelers can capture a similar experience by sailing the Galapagos too. Andando Tours offers excellent opportunities to explore this magnificent place, with tall ships and catamaran itineraries available.
The Whitsunday Islands, Australia
When visiting Australia most travelers have the Sydney Opera House, the Outback, or the Great Barrier Reef on their bucket lists. Most have never even heard of the Whitsunday Islands, let alone considered visiting them.
Located off the coast of Queensland—not far from the Great Barrier Reef—the Whitsundays are a chain of 74 islands that are the Australian version of paradise. With spectacularly beautiful beaches, an abundance of wildlife, and waters that are a shade of blue that isn't found anywhere else on Earth, this is a place that visitors will never want to leave. The diving and snorkeling are practically unmatched and the scenery is simply awe inspiring.
Setting out from Airlie Beach, the so-called "gateway to the Whitsundays," you'll find plenty of sailing ships that offer everything from single-day escapes to three-day adventures on the open ocean. Visit Sailing-Whitsundays.com to sort through all of the choices.
Zanzibar Island, Tanzania
Tanzania's Zanzibar Island is a destination that offers history, culture, adventure, and a chance to relax all in one amazing place. For centuries the island was a nexus of a trade and commerce for the Arab world and the remains of that heritage can still be found there today. But the azure-colored Indian Ocean also offers excellent snorkeling and diving, chances to go fishing, or just soak up the sun. Travelers will also find ancient villages to visit, markets to explore, and beaches to wander too.
A visit to Zanzibar is a perfect extension after finishing up a Tanzanian safari or as a destination in its own right. Sailing options include single day outings or week-long excursions, with Intrepid Travel offering one of the most affordable and full-featured options, including a seven-day journey aboard a modern catamaran that somehow manages to be both active and restful at the same time.
The Greek Isles
The Mediterranean is filled with great opportunities for sailors, but few options compare with island hopping off the coast of Greece. Places like Mykonos, Santorini, and Paros make for the perfect escape for those seeking a dash of culture and history to go along with their adventure. Sea kayaking is a great way to explore these islands, and day-excursions to wander the villages and landscapes are a must-do as well. As you would expect, the food is exquisite and the locals are accommodating, making this sailing destination one that will stay with you long after you've returned home.
Options for sailing out of Athens or Mykonos abound, with opportunities to travel for just a day or two or more than a week if your schedule permits. You'll find affordable options for Greek Islands excursion from G Adventures, with more upscale offerings coming from National Geographic Expeditions.
The Adriatic Coast, Croatia
In a country filled with opportunities for adventure, Croatia's Adriatic Coast just might be the most breathtakingly beautiful destination of them all. With more than 1100 miles of coastline, not to mention a dizzying number of islands to explore, Croatia has seemingly endless miles of beaches and crystal clear waters to snorkel and dive. And when you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the vibrant Croatian cities, try sailing into some of the remote fishing villages that can be found in the numerous hidden lagoons that dot the shore.
If you're looking for a truly active escape while sailing the Croatian Coast, try REI Adventure's Croatia Island Hopper tour. This trip not only mixes great sailing and snorkeling opportunities, it also gives travelers the chance to go hiking, cycling, paddle boarding, and kayaking too. You'll also have the opportunity to tour the UNESCO heritage site of Dubrovnik, while enjoying local food and wines while en route.
The Bay of Islands, New Zealand
New Zealand has long had a rich sailing culture, which is due in large part to its amazing coastlines which offer epic scenery and plenty of places to explore. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Bay of Islands, a place that has launched countless sailing adventures.
The Bay is the perfect spot to go sea kayaking or fishing, but it is especially well known for its diverse wildlife. Seagoing travelers can spot penguins, whales, and dolphins all in a relatively small area. And when they're ready to spend some time on dry land, they can go ashore one any one of the 144 islands from which the bay gets is name. There, they'll have the chance to walk in pristine environments that are virtually untouched by man.
There are literally dozens of options to choose from when it comes to sailing the Bay of Islands. Thankfully, there is a website built to help adventurous travelers sort through them all. Start planning your trip here.
French Polynesia, Tahiti
French Polynesia is the name given to a wide swath of islands and section of sea that is located in the South Pacific. There are a number of fantastic places to sail here, but Tahiti and its surrounding islands –– which include Huahine, Bora Bora, and Moorea –– may just be the best. You'll find crystal-clear and warm seas all year long, with great diving and snorkeling across the entire region. You'll also witness plenty of sea life, as the oceans are teeming with colorful creatures at every turn. The region also boasts some of the most pristine beaches found anywhere on the planet, many of which can only be reached by ship.
More experienced sailors can charter a ship in Tahiti and spend their days sailing completely on their own. Those of us who aren't seasoned enough to do that on our own will have to book with someone else instead. As you would expect, there are plenty of options to choose from, with the Offshore Sailing School being chief amongst them.
The British Virgin Islands
The Caribbean has long been a mecca for sailors looking to navigate between its numerous islands, each with its own culture, history, and attractions. But the British Virgin Islands just might offer the best sailing in the entire region, giving visitors a chance to combine luxury and adventure into one epic excursion.
Some of the very best beaches in the entire Caribbean can be found in the BVI, many of which are in hidden coves strung out across the various locales. These secluded spaces make for stunning places to drop anchor, providing great opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, or just lounging in the sand. And when you're ready to go ashore, you'll find beautiful resorts, delectable restaurants, and some surprisingly great hiking trails to wander too.
Once again, G Adventures offers one of the best options for sailing in the British Virgin islands. The company's seven-day excursion out of Tortola is a good mix of activities and relaxation at a solid price.
Lycian Coast, Turkey
For a sailing adventure that combines time both on sea and on land, travel to Turkey and take on the Lycian Coast. This beautiful destination features quaint fishing towns, beautiful and secluded beaches, and miles of rocky cliffs. Most visitors split their time on the open ocean with visits to a number of intriguing archaeological sites, many of which are found not far from shore.
To experience this amazing location for yourself, join one of Peter Sommer Travels' departures for Turkey. All excursions are aboard a traditional tall sailing ship known as a Gulet, which serves as a comfortable and accommodating vessel for adventurous travelers.