When the beaches become boring and the cities have been seen, the urge to explore some of the world’s more isolated regions can become very tempting. Fortunately, it is easier to do than you may think.
Intrepid travellers don’t always wear backpacks and harem trousers. They don’t always bed down for the night in questionable hostels, unpacking their belongings upon arrival and stuffing them away again each time a new destination beckons. And they don’t always live on bowl after bowl of Vietnamese pho.
Sometimes they wear dinner jackets and, dare we say it, heels. Sometimes they spend their nights in staterooms, having unpacked just once on arrival. Sometimes they eat al fresco in the sun and sometimes they choose fine dining in great restaurants. And they always let the destinations come to them.
Adventure travel has become one of tourism’s fastest growing sectors in recent years and adventure cruising has quickly followed suit. Venturing off the beaten track and into the unknown is no longer reserved for gap year students blowing the last of their student loans. A new way to see the farthest flung corners of the world has emerged and it is seeing more cruisers leave their comfort zones, and the beaches, behind.
Venturing to destinations experienced by only a fortunate few is one of life’s greatest luxuries and a week on the sand doesn’t quite cut it anymore for those who seek to trade their precious annual leave for an insight into a life far removed from their own. And now, as more travellers look to walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands or stroll beneath the rainforest canopies of the Amazon, the cruise lines are lining up
If you thought cruising was all about beaches and black ties, think again; adventure awaits.
Like their passengers, adventure cruise ships thrive on exploration. They’re designed to carefully tread through invaluable biospheres and delve deep into the Amazonian rainforest, their destination at the heart of their design long before they even arrive in its waters.
Contemporary cruise ships may have grown to dizzying heights in recent years, battling it out to become the most technological or most luxurious, but adventure cruising doesn’t bother itself with such competition. You won’t find 600-thread count Egyptian cottons, marbled spas and grand ballrooms bedecked with crystal on board, but that’s just fine; such luxuries are quickly forgotten once Mother Nature shows her hand.
That being said, if you’re willing to splash the cash it does become possible to blur the line between luxury cruising and exploration, although this is barely a consideration for those who seek adventure in destinations that render modern luxuries wholly inferior to the natural wonders they pursue.
Naturalist Charles Darwin spent five years studying plants and wildlife on a voyage around the world, yet it’s his five weeks in the Galapagos Islands that are credited with ultimately inspiring his ground-breaking theory of evolution by natural selection.
Darwin’s source of inspiration is hardly surprising; for such a tiny cluster of isolated islands, the volcanic Galapagos archipelago sure packs a punch. Not only is it a living museum of natural history but also a living, breathing reminder of just how small we are in the grand scheme of things.
More humans live here than you’d think but it’s the wildlife which plays a starring role. Prehistoric iguanas bask beside you, completely undisturbed and uninterested by your presence. Sea lions appear alongside you in the water mid-snorkel and rainbow-coloured Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttle into the sand as you emerge onto the beach. As far as endemic species go, few places in the world compare to the Galapagos Islands; over 2,000 different species are found here and only here. Visit independently and you’ll do little but observe, visit via a cruise and you’ll share your voyage with a team of leading naturalists and ecologists, all of whom know the region and its wildlife like the back of their hand. What’s more, a Galapagos cruise with the likes of Celebrity Cruises or Silversea allows you to tread carefully in this incredibly delicate biosphere, preserving the fragile ecosystem whilst showing you sights few will be fortunate enough to see in
Welcome to the jungle. The largest in the world in fact, so big that the UK and Ireland would squeeze beneath its rainforest canopy an incredible seven times.
Adventures don’t come much more offbeat than in the Amazon, yet a cruise to the region combines days spent exploring with nights spent on crisp white linens as opposed to tents and hammocks. Sail during the dry season and you’ll delve deep into the jungle in search of its countless species and settlements. Visit in rainy season and the action will come to you; the rising rivers tempting wildlife out of the forest and onto the water’s edge as plant life, and therefore food sources, flourish.
Ten percent of all the world’s known animal species make their home in the Amazon. Squirrel monkeys watch you inquisitively from the branches that reach across the river, pink river dolphins cavort beside your ship and hyacinth macaws swoop close enough to ruffle your hair. Evening excursions see torchlight reflected in the eyes of caimans and the silence of the night broken by a soundtrack of bird squawks and frog croaks, as the nocturnal residents rise and shine.
Many think that Amazonia is largely unpopulated but this isn’t the case; a cruise of the region will take you to thriving cities including Parintins and Santarem. Manaus is the Amazon’s largest city and is famed as the starting point for excursions to the ‘Meeting of the Waters’. Found six miles outside the city, this natural wonder intrigues many with its waters; the sandy-hued Rio Solimões and the dark Rio Negro meet but do not mix for over six miles, flowing alongside each other in a spectacle caused by differences in their temperature and consistency.
Beyond the cities are the indigenous civilisations; 350 different ethnic groups live in the realms of the rainforest, with 60 of them still completely isolated from the outside world. Whilst some of the rainforest’s most elusive wildlife can take some searching for, the Amazonians will often come to you, though their interactions are often apprehensive. Tribesmen glide past gleaming ships in their wooden canoes, river children gaze out from their stilted homes and, on occasion, you may even find yourself welcomed into the rainforest abodes of a local tribal village.
For one of the world’s most exotic regions, the Amazon is surprisingly within reach for cruisers; Fred Olsen, P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises all offer Amazon itineraries, whilst the smaller ships of Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn can take you deeper into the jungle to explore some of the Amazon River’s most remote tributaries.
South America is a hotbed of adventure and after flying so far to join your ship, it only makes sense to supplement your Galapagos or Amazon cruise with a land tour to some of the destination’s most notable natural attractions.
Whilst Niagara Falls may be more famous, Iguazú Falls is undoubtedly its more spectacular counterpart and is not only taller, but also wider than Niagara, its two miles spread across the borders of Argentina and Brazil. Fifty-percent of Iguazú’s estimated 300 waterfalls culminate in an area known as Devil’s Throat, their waters plunging 80 metres into the misty, roaring cauldron of Rio Parana. Various footbridges have been installed along the Argentine stretch of the falls, putting you close enough to their brink to wash the sweat of your hike from your hair and skin.
Crystal Cruises offers guests in its Verandah and Penthouse categories a complimentary two-day pre-cruise land program to Buenos Aires and the Iguazú Falls as part of its 22-day ‘Amazon Expedition’ itinerary, departing from Rio de Janeiro on 12 March 2017.
As if the thrill of the Galapagos Islands isn’t enough, those who visit the archipelago are but a hop, skip and a jump from another of South America’s most notable sites. Machu Picchu, or the ‘Lost City of the Incas’, has intrigued the modern world since its discovery in 1911. The Inca had no written language, meaning that no records exist to explain why the sprawling hilltop citadel was created in the 15th century and abandoned less than a hundred years later. Its ridges, carved into the slopes of the Andes, house the ruins of palaces, temples and homes, along with more than a few llamas and alpaca.
The isolation of Machu Picchu has contributed to its almost perfect state of preservation and steps are being taken to ensure that this remains the case. In the past, many explorers arrived at the site via the Inca Trail, however you can no longer negotiate this well-trodden path independently. Fortunately, cruise lines including Celebrity Cruises have a tendency to combine pre and post-cruise tours to Cuzco – the centre of the former Inca Empire – alongside their Galapagos cruises. Celebrity’s 13-night ‘Best of Ecuador & Peru Package’ bookends a Galapagos Cruise aboard Celebrity Xpedition, with a 2-night pre-cruise stay in Quito and a 4-night Peru post-cruise expedition focused on exploring the region around Machu Picchu.