Cruises allow nature lovers to get close to wildlife with small ships, unique itineraries and practical shore excursions. Here are six of the best places to see wildlife from the water.
Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Baja California, the aquarium of the world. Where the sea meets the Pacific Ocean tidal currents create an ideal environment for sea life and you’ll see everything from tiny fish right up to sperm whales. Watch huge Pacific manta rays leap out of the water or grab a snorkel and dive with playful sea lions. California gray whales are one of the biggest drawcards, coming to the region to calve during the winter, and you’ll have the opportunity to get up close in a Zodiac.
There’s nowhere in the world like the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago around 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Look out for giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins, seals, sea lions and a spectacular array of birds, including the dancing blue-footed booby, albatross, pelican, heron and egret. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835 and developed much of his evolutionary theory based on the adaptations of Galapagos bird species, especially finches.
America’s 50th state is a true wilderness with wildlife to be seen in the ocean, on the land and in the air. Humpback and killer whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters and leaping salmon can be found in the water, seen either from the main cruise ship or on Zodiac excursions. Grizzly bears wander the shore alongside caribou, moose, beavers and even wolverines. The American national bird, the bald eagle, is a regular in the sky with a population of more than 30,000 – in fishing towns like Ketchikan you’ll even see them swooping around the docks for fish.
Penguins, penguins, penguins. From the cute little rockhopper penguins in the sub-Antarctic islands to the huge, 1.15 metre tall emperor penguins in continental Antarctica, not a day will go by on a cruise here that you don’t see a penguin. If you get penguined out, there are also killer and sperm whales, elephant seals, leopard seals and a huge number of sea birds like albatross, petrels and skuas. For a close encounter, jump in a kayak and paddle amongst the wildlife in the freezing waters.
This is a safari with a difference. Small river ships cruise along the Chobe River through Botswana and Namibia carrying just a handful of passengers. The river runs through the Chobe National Park, which has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. Elephants and buffalo can be seen right from the decks, splashing along the edges of the river just metres from the ship. Cruises here include early morning game drives that take passengers further into the national park to see lions, giraffe, leopards, antelope and plenty of birds.
Think dolphins only come in grey? Think again. A very rare breed of pink freshwater dolphin swims in the waters of the Amazon River, one of only a couple of places in the world that they can be seen. Small, specially designed river ships sail along the Peruvian section of the river where squirrel monkeys swing through the trees, sloths laze about in the branches and brightly coloured macaws squawk from the canopy. Passengers even have a chance to catch and eat the flesh-eating piranha.
This article first appeared on Over60.