by Murray Garrard, The Telegraph, April 17, 2019
World heritage doesn’t have to mean trekking through jungles, hiking up mountains or traipsing through towns. Some of the world’s most spectacular Unesco-listed treasures can be viewed from the top deck. Here are eight great cruises that will whisk you to the wonders of the world.
The 5.5 million square kilometres that make up the Amazon drainage basin pack in over 390 billion trees, 1,100 Amazon River tributaries, countless species of fish and bird, over 2.5 million insect species, and over 350 different ethnic groups – some still uncontacted. In this land of superlatives, it is the world’s longest river – the Amazon officially stretches 4,345 miles – that attracts bucket-list cruisers.
While the debate rages over the best port from which to embark (Brazil? Colombia? Ecuador?) it is the upper Amazonian launch pad of Iquitos in northeast Peru that is seeing some of the most inspired cruise itineraries. The three ships in the Delfin fleet – the first Relais and Châteaux cruises in the world – are among the most spectacular Amazon experiences currently on offer.
Delfin I, II and III depart from Iquitos, Peru for a three to four night itinerary in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. From US$2,800/£2,175pp, departing frequently (0051 171 90998; delfinamazoncruises.com).
For fans of Jonathan Raban’s Passage to Juneau, Alaska’s Inside Passage is nothing short of a pilgrimage. The cruise – which surely must rank as America’s finest – between Vancouver and Seward (stopping off in the eponymous Juneau) and passing along America’s greatest maritime ice shelves in the world heritage-listed Glacier Bay National Park is by far the best way to take in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Silversea sails between Vancouver and Seaward (from which Anchorage is a two hour drive), offering a seven-night itinerary. From £3,960pp, departing 23 July, 2020 (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).
Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest living structure and the centrepiece of any trip down under, the 1,429 miles of coral reef off the coast of Queensland comprises the most spectacular underwater scenery found anywhere on earth. Although it is the world heritage site most affected by climate change – in 2016, large sections of the reef suffered from bleaching caused by warming ocean temperatures – the reef remains an essential stop off for all scuba and snorkelling enthusiasts. P&O Cruises' classic voyage from Brisbane to Cairns and back again with a stop at one of the world’s most beautiful beaches – Whitehaven in the Whitsundays – is a great family option.
P&O’s Barrier Reef Discovery departs Brisbane for a seven-night itinerary. From AU$649/£360pp, departing monthly (pocruises.com.au).
Charles Darwin wasn’t alone in being captivated by the Galapagos Islands. With close to 250,00 people now sailing around the world’s most famous wildlife refuge each year, choosing a cruise that gets you close to the animal action but away from the tourist traffic is essential. The 18-guest Camper & Nicholson M/Y Grace, formerly Grace Kelly’s honeymoon yacht, is nimble enough to take you off the tourist trail while also being one of the most salubrious ways to sail around this dream destination.
The M/Y Grace departs from either San Cristobal or Baltra in the Galapagos frequently for two different seven-night itineraries. From US$7,200/£5,600pp, departing frequently (001 415 689 8509, quasarex.com).
The world’s second longest river is also its most historic, lined by many of Egypt’s most enchanting sites. The time-honoured cruise between Aswan and Luxor takes passengers to the most awe-inspiring collection of archaeological treasures the world has to offer: the temples of Luxor and Karnak, and the beguiling Valley of Kings and Queens. Perhaps the most majestic boats to the sail the Nile, Oberoi’s Zahara and Philae, take three nights to drift along this historic stretch.
The Oberoi’s Zahara and Philae sail between Aswan and Luxor, offering a three-night itinerary. From €1,905/£1,682, frequent departures (0203 198 0769; oberoihotels.com/nile-cruise-zahra; oberoihotels.com/nile-cruise-philae/).
Rapa Nui National Park
There can be few world heritage sites as magnetic as Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island. One of the world’s most remote inhabited islands, settlers first set foot on Rapa Nui around 1200AD and rapidly set about creating one of Polynesia’s most complex cultures. Misuse of resources is generally believed to have caused societal crash, the remains of which are close to 1,000 moai – monolithic figures – scattered across the island. Most visitors fly here from either Santiago or Tahiti, but Regent’s epic Polynesian adventure stops off at Easter Island after sailing around French Polynesia, before making its way to Lima, Peru.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises 18-night itinerary runs between Papeete, Tahiti and Lima, Peru. From £7,669pp, departing April 7, 2020. (02380 682 280; rssc.com).
If you could single out a stretch of coast to sail in the vastness of the Mediterranean, you would be hard pushed to beat the Adriatic. With the Italian peninsula encasing some of the most evocative relics of southern Europe’s rich history, this generally calm stretch of water is studded with more world heritage sites than you can shake a stick at. Ponant’s aptly named Cultural Jewels of the Adriatic, which cruises from Athens to Venice, takes in the world heritage sites of Delphi, Kotor and Ravenna in this most quintessential Mediterranean cruise.
Ponant’s nine-night itinerary runs between Athens and Venice. From £2,592pp, departing 14 August, 2020 (0808 2343 802; en.ponant.com).
Komodo National Park
For a country with over 17,500 islands, Indonesia should be far more on the cruise radar than it currently is. That said, the country’s signature sailing route between Bali and Flores is beginning to boom. Traditionally traversed by rickety junks with a habit of capsizing, more recently upmarket vessels have started to ply this extraordinary stretch of water. One of the best is operated by Responsible Travel, whose seven-night cruise meanders along Nusa Tenggara and back, the highlight of which is the island of Rinca in world heritage-listed Komodo National Park, home to the largest population of Komodo dragons on earth. It also happens to be the location of several of the best diving sites in Asia.
Responsible Travel’s Bali and Komodo Small Ship Cruise operates a seven-night itinerary departing from Bali. From £1,755pp plus £380 port fees, departing frequently between June and October. (01273 823 700, responsibletravel.com).