Few types of wildlife travel tingle with a greater sense of discovery or anticipation than an expedition cruise to some remote corner of the world’s oceans. A fleeting glimpse of an albatross riding the rollercoaster of a Southern Ocean swell; crouching quietly at the edge of a 100,000-strong penguin colony; meeting the gaze of a marine iguana that shows no fear of humans; hearing the sigh of breath as a whale surfaces, shattering reflections in some pristine bay... these are the kinds of moments that make wildlife cruises so special. And so addictive.
There is something of Darwin, Cousteau and Shackleton in all modern-day expedition voyagers – even if we’re used to more comfortable accommodation and rely on expert naturalist guides. From polar icebreakers to Amazon riverboats, wildlife cruise vessels follow in the wake of some of the most historically important voyages ever undertaken. Crossing the equator, reaching 80N or stepping ashore on Antarctica will always be milestones on these trips, but ultimately it’s the wildlife and wild places that lure us there.
Antarctica and sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia promise a heady cocktail of ice, mountains and penguins galore, while High Arctic regions like Svalbard and Baffin Island offer a polar extreme of ice bears, walruses and equally astonishing scenery.
In the tropics, the Amazon and Galápagos provide two very different wildlife cruise experiences – one a river journey, gleaning precious glimpses of secretive jungle wildlife; the other an oceanic island odyssey, tiptoeing around brazen colonies of seabirds, sea lions and marine iguanas.
Less well known, but just as rewarding to wannabe-Darwins, are wildlife cruises in Indonesia (sailing to the land of Komodo dragons), Baja California’s Sea of Cortez (a whale-watcher’s paradise) and the Coral Sea (visiting the reefs and rainforests of Queensland and Papua New Guinea).
Mark Twain’s misquoted, but impassioned plea ("...throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.") will strike a chord with any wildlife cruise-goer. Just remember to add ‘treasure’ and ‘preserve’. The places you'll be visiting are some of the most ecologically vulnerable on earth.
Wildlife Cruises Q&As
What is the wildlife cruise 'code of conduct'?
• Use filtered drinking water from the ship, rather than purchase disposable water bottles.
• Watch where you are walking. Even pebble beaches can be nesting sites for plovers, terns and oystercatchers, while burrows are used by puffins, penguins and shearwaters. Also try to avoid trampling delicate plant life in dune or tundra areas. Keep to established trails and follow your guide’s directions.
• Try to reduce the amount of packaging you take onboard with you. All non-recyclable items should be taken home.
• Do not leave behind litter or food scraps or throw anything overboard.
• Consider picking up one piece of rubbish from any beach you land on.
• Do not paint names or graffiti on rocks.
• Leave everything as you found it. Do not take souvenirs of rocks, fossils, bones, eggs or feathers.
• During close encounters with wildlife, remain quiet and avoid using flash when taking photographs.
• Do everything possible to avoid introducing alien species to island ecosystems. This can include anything from discarded fruit seeds to insects inadvertently carried in luggage.
How do you identify seabirds?
What's a day on a wildlife cruise like?
What should I look for when choosing a wildlife cruise?
What ferry trips are good for wildlife spotting?
Read the latest posts on Wildlife Cruises
HOW TO BE A RESPONSIBLE WILDLIFE TRAVELLER
When it comes to wildlife holidays, responsible tourism is not just an option – it should be considered an intrinsic part of the whole process. When planning your wildlife cruise, read these 10 steps to minimise your impact on the environment, reduce your carbon emissions and support wildlife conservation and the livelihoods of local communities.
Wildlife Cruises: Field Notes
EXPEDITION VOYAGING IN ANTARCTICA
The coast with the most – for many travellers, Antarctica is the ultimate expedition cruise destination. Getting misty-eyed over all that panoramic perfection is all well and good, but if you’re serious about wildlife you need to start focusing on details. Brown stains on distant snow-clad mountain slopes, for example, usually indicate large penguin rookeries (some are conspicuous enough to be visible from space). Check ice floes and bergs for seals and penguins hauled out to rest, and double-take any splash – it could be a leopard seal on the prowl, a whale surfacing or seabirds feeding.
GUIDING STAR: CATHY ITURRALDE DILLON
Most memorable wildlife encounter:
Watching orcas playing with a huge sunfish for an hour.
Top tip for travellers on a wildlife cruise:
Be prepared for unusual things to happen, like changing weather, rough seas and unpredictable wildlife.
Galápagos penguins are faithful and elegant, and amazingly fast swimmers.
What does responsible travel mean to you?
Our commitment to the Galápagos is to ensure that its natural resources are never damaged for future generations. We organise projects such as coastal clean-ups, recycling and diver training.
Metropolitan Touring, Ecuador