From Angola to the Ganges, the new wave of ocean and river destinations showcases some of the world’s most alluring natural and cultural wonders, says Deborah Stone
Canada’s rugged east coast is a revelation: a wilderness of mountains, fjords and forests with deserted beaches, lighthouses and fishing settlements. It’s a wild country of stunning countryside and a history rolling back to Viking settlers in the 11th century at L’Anse aux Meadows, the first Europeans to reach North America. Also in Newfoundland are the glacier-carved fjords of Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of towering cliffs, forests and waterfalls. Cruises off this Atlantic coast often start or finish in Quebec City, on St Lawrence River, a citadel of French Canadian culture and a sophisticated foil to the region’s extraordinary natural wonders.
Scenic’s 13-day Iceland & Atlantic Canada cruise from Reykjavik to Quebec City via Greenland on Scenic Eclipse departs 15 August 2019, from £8,635pp, two sharing, including drinks, gratuities and return flights from London (0808 149 1803; scenic.co.uk).
More than 20 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises can be spotted in the waters around Akureyri in northern Iceland, especially between May and September. Blue-fin, humpback, minke and sei whales are a common sight. But Iceland is an island of volcanoes, boiling mudpools and geothermal lakes, and Akureyri is well positioned for day trips. Visit Mývatn Nature Baths to warm up after stopping off at the thunderous Goðafoss – waterfall of the gods – an important national symbol.
Saga’s 16-night Norway and Iceland Exploration cruise calls at Akureyri on its return trip from Dover, departing 16 September 2018, from £2,649pp, based on two adults sharing, including UK mainland travel to Dover (0808 274 7069; saga.co.uk/cruiseint).
More than 1,000 coral islands make up the Republic of Maldives, basking under the sun in the Indian Ocean. It’s the perfect place for a small-ship cruise – especially a traditional wooden dhoni. There’s nothing to do all day but swim in the turquoise lagoons of uninhabited islands, snorkel or dive down to see the coral reefs and lie on the beach – unless you want to go hiking, biking, rafting or kayaking. There’s also a chance to meet native people on islands such as Dhiggaru and Felidhu Atholhu. A great place for a relaxed yet active holiday where you can do as much or as little as you like.
G-Adventures’ seven-day Male round trip cruises for a maximum of 10 passengers on traditional dhoni boats, departing twice a week, from £1,099pp, two sharing, cruise only (0344 272 2060; gadventures.co.uk).
Europeans have been sailing down the Nile to see temples and tombs since the mid-1800s, but those genteel colonial-era jaunts became a distant memory once mass tourism arrived. In recent decades Egypt has struggled to attract visitors but that is all about to change with a new dawn for river cruises. Several companies are investing in state-of-the-art ships, such as Viking River Cruises’s new 48-guest Viking Ra. Its eight-day itineraries will include privileged access to the tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens and an excursion to the Dendera Temple complex in Qena – further north than most cruise ships venture. The Temple of Hathor is unusual in still having its ceiling and has a panel carved with a picture of Cleopatra and her son Caesarion.
Viking River Cruises’ 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids cruise from Luxor to Aswan with three nights’ pre-cruise stay in Cairo departs regularly from May to December 2019, from £5,295pp, based on two sharing, including daily tours and return flights from London
(0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk).
This holy river is the lifeblood of India, flowing 1,560 miles from the Himalaya mountains through India and Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal. Hindus call it Mother Ganga and pilgrims bathe in it to purify themselves. It also provides a fascinating insight into Indian culture. River cruises on the Lower Ganges take passengers on a journey via the British colonial buildings of the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and intricate temples of Kalna’s Rajbari complex, all 108 of them dedicated to the supreme god Shiva. In Bengal the Hazarduari Palace of Murshidabad has 1,000 doors while Baranagar has one of Bengal’s finest 18th-century terracotta temples.
Uniworld’s 14-day India’s Golden Triangle & Sacred Ganges trip from New Delhi to Kolkata has hotel stays in New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and a seven-day round trip cruise on Ganges Voyager II, from £7,999pp, based on two adults sharing, including excursions, transfers, Titan’s VIP door-to-door travel service and return flights (0800 988 5175; titantravel.co.uk/cruiseinternational).
A gentle trickle of tourism has turned into a torrent since 2002 and the end of Angola’s bitter 27-year civil war. Now even high-end luxury cruise ships call into this southeast African country. It’s the continent’s second-largest oil producer and its capital Luanda has been named the world’s most expensive city. Once a Portuguese colony, there’s still a hint of its colonial past found in coastal towns such as Namibe, with its Baroque architecture and impressive churches. Lobito has a more Iberian feel but Luanda has been rebuilt with modern restaurants and hotels lining its ocean promenade.
Silversea’s 18-day Cape Town to Tema expedition cruise departs 28 March 2019, from £10,440pp, based on two sharing, including drinks, expeditions and gratuities (0207 340 0700; silversea.com).
Greenland was unknown territory to all except Arctic explorers until a few decades ago, but expedition cruises have opened up this frozen land to anybody with an appetite for adventure. This year Seabourn has added around half a dozen new landing spots to its northernmost itineraries, with the luxury expedition ship Seabourn Quest now calling at western Greenland settlements such as Paamiut, where the white-tailed eagle is plentiful; Nuuk, where the fjord is home to humpback whales and icebergs; and Maniitsoq, which has geographical features thought to have been created by a massive asteroid or comet. These are towns only small ships can visit but now is the time to go as Greenland’s unique cruise destinations continue to grow.
Seabourn’s 24-day Route of the Vikings II cruise, from Iceland to Canada calling at six Greenland ports, departs 6 August 2018, from £7,799pp, based on two sharing, including complimentary drinks and gratuities (0843 373 2000; seabourn.com).
Alter do ChÃo
Brazil’s Amazon territory is full of surprises, not least the white sand Island of Love that you can see from Alter do Chão – a laid-back village on the Tapajós River with one of the finest freshwater beaches in the world. The island is visible during the dry season and you can canoe out to it in Lago Verde, a pristine lagoon where you can get close to the wildlife – birds and turtles. Watch out for sloths while trekking up the hills outside the village. As you look back down on the river’s clear blue water and its white-sand beaches, you’ll see it’s not called “the Caribbean in Brazil” for nothing. A new cruise terminal here means it’s only going to get more popular.
Silversea’s 16-day South America cruise calls at Alter do Chão, Manaus and Santarém during its return trip from Barbados to the Amazon River, departing 10 November 2018, from £4,320pp, two sharing, cruise only (0207 340 0700; silversea.com).
Buenos Aires just got easier to get to thanks to budget carrier Norwegian Air’s new direct flights to Argentina’s capital. Choose a cruise with an overnight in port and you can not only experience life as a gaucho (South American cowboy) with a day on a ranch excursion but also watch an evening tango show at one of the city’s supper clubs. You’ll never eat a better steak than in Argentina and the red wine is pretty special, too: Malbec wine tours actually are a thing.
Oceania Cruises’ 12-day Radiant Rhythms cruise starts with an overnight in Buenos Aires and finishes with another at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, departing 6 April 2019, from 2,869pp, based on two sharing, including excursions, beverage package and onboard credit (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
French explorers were the first Europeans to see North America’s Great Lakes nearly 500 years ago, but now
there are new opportunities explore them by cruise ship. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises will send its 2019-launch expedition ship Hanseatic Inspiration there in summer 2020. The Great Lakes are a natural border between Canada and America and the world’s largest expanse of freshwater, as big as the UK. Only small cruise ships can get through the locks between the lakes to places with evocative names such as Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse near Duluth city, or Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. There are tiny islands where the Native American culture is still strong and major cities where the American culture was forged: Detroit and its Henry Ford Museum, for instance, and Chicago on Lake Michigan.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 13-day Great Lakes cruise from Toronto to Chicago departs 3 May 2020, from £6,745pp, based on two adults sharing, cruise only (0800 0513 829; hl-cruises.com).