The submarine sinks slowly below the surface, taking me into an icy, unknown world. It’s likely these waters off the Antarctic Peninsula have never been explored, the submarine pilot tells me. The sub slowly descends, revealing a seafloor that is adorned in colourful starfish of all shapes and sizes: there are puffy orange starfish whose fat arms look like chubby fingers; miniature white ones that are half the size of the palm of your hand; and a strange breed with three-dozen arms and bulbous, knobby body.
Even as an avid scuba diver, I have never seen anything like it. Then, a shadowy form darts in front of the glass. The pilot carefully steers us in a slow chase, the bright lights from the submarine in hot pursuit. The light catches on a squid, which passes right in front of the submarine’s glass, gracefully pushing itself through the cold water. The pilot posits that it might be a juvenile Antarctic squid, which can get up to 14 metres long when fully grown.
Soon it is time to ascend – the 30 minutes spent below have flown by. I feel as if I could stay below for hours more, but there are other guests on board the mothership above, the 77.4 metre explorer yacht Legend, who are raring to have a go on the sub. I return to the boat triumphant, brimming with excitement as if I was an explorer who had just discovered a strange new land. Other guests are in the hot tub on the yacht’s aft deck, admiring the scenery of snowy mountains and icebergs floating by in the distance. I quickly shed my layers and join them, ordering a glass of bubbly from the crew and toasting to one of many epic adventures we have had in this icy clime.
We talk about how travel has changed; today’s traveller isn’t satisfied to simply see the big-ticket sights, they want to go where no man has gone before. And they want to do it in style. Befitting the experiential travel trend is an adventure yachting holiday, with a boat able to take travellers to furthest flung places in total comfort – and, importantly, privacy – with the freedom to explore while your plush room and luggage travel right along with you.
There are many a locale that speaks to the adventurous spirit of an experientially minded traveler, from the frozen Antarctic to the sweltering Amazon, and everything in between. And there are many a yacht to aid these adventures, whether you rent the entire thing or just a cabin on board, the latter still being capped at a limited number of guests who are doted on by a crew providing six-star service. It surely beats a cruise ship any day of the week.
Antarctica is a haven for stunning, snowy vistas
Beyond exploring the icy depths in a submarine, Antarctica has an incredible variety of diversions to offer adventurous guests. Try heli-skiing down untamed mountains, hiking in the snow to stunning vistas, or take a polar plunge, diving right into the freezing water – before scampering into the spa tub, of course. There is also much to see from the comfort of an arm-chair, watching icebergs as tall as three-story buildings float by, some hosting a gathering of penguins. For nature lovers, Antarctica is a thrill a minute, with the opportunity to visit penguin breeding grounds with thousands of the tuxedoed birds covering a beach, or look out for seals and whales.
“There are now an extraordinary number of humpback whales in Antarctica – so much so that ships are even being asked to observe a speed limit in certain places,” says Ben Lyons of EYOS Expeditions. “Watching whales surface right next to your drifting yacht is one of the most amazing experiences. For people who want the ultimate in scenery and wildlife, Antarctica is hard to beat.” Pods of orcas – aka killer whales, despite the fact they are a type of dolphin – can also be found. One of the benefits of travelling by yacht versus cruise ship is the flexibility; when an orca sighting happens, EYOS can ask the captain to change course, load guests into the smaller boats and get you right up close to the action.
Best for: Whale watching, iceberg spotting, submarine dives and polar plunges.
When to go: December to February
Insider tip: Head ashore to visit the Ukranian scientists at the Vernadsky Research Base, which also has a bar where you can try a tipple of homemade vodka, sure to warm the cockles.
Yachts to take you there: 77.4 metre Legend is €490,000/week plus expenses to rent privately.
The Amazon River is a paradise for wildlife lovers
An expedition on the Peruvian portion of the Amazon takes guests on a cruise of two of the Amazon River’s tributaries, the Marañon and Ucayali rivers. Guests can swim, canoe and kayak in these clear waters, all part of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Excursions ashore take you on jungle walks to hidden lakes to spot the abundant wildlife.
“It’s unlike anything else on the planet, a unique biosphere with wildlife everywhere and absolutely fascinating culture, myths, cuisine and amazing people,” says Katya James, and charter yacht broker with IYC, who had just returned from Peru. “The bird watching is incredible, with giant macaws everywhere you look. We also swam with pink river dolphins anyone and went fishing for piranhas.”
Best for: Bird-watching, wildlife, eco-friendly exploration and connecting with local cultures.
When to go: “There are pros and cons to both rainy and dry season,” says James. “In rainy season (mid-December to mid-May) when the water level is higher, you can get into more places in a skiff and you are closer to the treetops to watch the monkeys. In dry season, there is better hiking and fishing.”
Insider tip: Meet the locals and learn about their fascinating culture and traditions. And try the food, from passion fruit pisco sours to an Amazonian dish called juane, a mix of rice, meat and spices wrapped up in bijao leaves.
Yachts to take you there: Step on board the 45 metre eco-friendly Aria Amazon, purpose-built for Amazonian exploration with floor-to-ceiling windows in each suite. Excursions are limited to a maximum of eight guests. Priced from $9,450 per adult.
Greenland is home to the world's tallest icebergs
In Greenland, a yacht can take guests to the heart of Disko Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to the world’s tallest icebergs. Visitors can bask in the spectacular fjord landscapes from the deck of their yacht, watching for whales. Head ashore for hel-skiing, but also make friends with the indigenous people.
“The local people are really friendly with respectful visitors and are happy to talk about their culture and their lives in the High Arctic,” says Kevin Murray of EYOS Expeditions. “Choose a guide who can get you in with the Greenlandic residents to experience their unique culture and way of life.”
Best for: Heli-skiing, big icebergs, whale watching and interacting with locals.
When to go: March to May for heli-skiing; May to September for cruising.
Insider tip: In the summer, sail into Scoredbysund, which requires a special permit – this is the largest fjord system in the world.
Yachts to take you there: The 77.4 metre Legend will move from Antarctica to Greenland to offer heli-skiing adventures in April. Cabin booking is offered from €25,000, including meals and drinks, heli-skiing, shore excursions and a visit to the on board spa.
Chilean Patagonia is a hidden, beautiful gem
“When most people think of Patagonia, they picture the gauchos riding horseback through the grassy hills of Argentina, but the Chilean side is another world, with innumerable fjords and glaciers, and staggering beauty,” says Carlos Miquel of SASYSS, an agency that helps yachtsmen organise trips in Chilean Patagonia, an area that’s best seen by boat.
In fact, 75 per cent of all glaciers in Patagonia are on the Chilean side and only accessed from the water. Your captain will take you as close as safely possible to these ancient glaciers, which shine from within in an electric blue. Scoop up some glacial ice to chill your drinks on board that evening. The area is also ripe for spotting whales, dolphins, penguins and seals, who play in a yacht’s wake.
Fortunately, Chile has protected most of its share of Patagonia, meaning it will never be developed. Much of the vast land hasn’t even been explored by man. “You might be stepping on a beach or piece of land that no human has stepped on before,” says Miquel.
Best for: Glacier viewing, hiking and rock climbing, kayaking and enjoying utter solitude.
When to go: November to March
Insider tip: Hire a helicopter and fly to a mountain-top lake for a picnic with no other soul in sight.
Yachts to take you there: Hanse Explorer, an ice-classed 47.8 metre expedition yacht, priced from €155,000/week plus expenses.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia has the healthiest reefs on our planet
“With more than 17,500 individual islands, Indonesia is the worlds largest island nation, and a largely unexplored paradise for yachts,” says Mike Moore of EYOS Expeditions. “Indonesia boasts some of the earth’s most active volcanos smoking above the Java Trench, the healthiest reefs on our planet, the most diverse cultural landscape, and meeting point for flora and fauna from east, west, north and south.”
Raja Ampat, Indonesia, is known for its diving, where divers can find tiny, colourful seahorses, majestic manta rays and giant but gentle whale sharks. “It is a diving and snorkelling wonderland, set in the heart of the “coral triangle,” a region named for the the area of the world with the highest underwater biological diversity that exists today,” says Moore. On shore, guests can get close to orangutans and spot the ever-elusive Bird of Paradise.
Best for: Diving and snorkelling
When to go: Between March and October, when the weather is generally less rainy. It is also the “fruiting season”, so it is easier to spot wildlife as it goes out foraging for food on shore.
Insider tip: Don’t miss seeing the giant manta rays pirouette through the water at the Manta Sandy dive site, a “cleaning station” for the rays, where small black fish come to nibble on their underbellies.
Yachts to take you there: The 65.2 metre Lamima – a modern take on the classic Indoensian Phinisi yacht – boasts its own PADI scuba diving centre, gym and a contemporary interior. Priced from $140,000/week plus expenses to charter privately.
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