Chris Moss, The Daily Telegraph, January 06, 2014
Passenger cruise ships are a familiar sight in many parts of the world, yet they are still a novelty in some regions of Latin America and Africa. Whether it be an ocean voyage, a cultural river trip or a coastal hopper, cruises in these parts of the world are largely nature-themed. Cruising along the coastlines of Kochi or Cape Horn aboard a mid-size vessel can still feel like an uncharted adventure. Here are some of the best for this year.
The spice route
The port of Kochi is one of the prettiest towns in southern India and has been an important trading centre since the 14th century. A cruise from the Andaman Sea across the Bay of Bengal and round to the Arabian Sea still has the whiff of a spice-trading voyage about it.
The trip combines tropical islands and beaches with Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples, colonial outposts and a visit to an orang-utan rehabilitation centre on the Indonesia island of Sumatra. The itinerary is bookended by Singapore and Mumbai, two booming international cities that provide a dizzying contrast to the journey’s more serene ports of call.
Azamara Club Cruises (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.com ) offers a 12-night Spice Route cruise from Singapore to Mumbai aboard Azamara Journey, departing on April 3 2014 and calling at Sumatra, Phuket (Thailand), Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Kochi. From £2,198 per person.
Madagascar and the Indian Ocean
Thanks to its isolation and its exotic flora and fauna, 90 per cent of which is endemic, Madagascar is perhaps the most enthralling of all the Indian Ocean islands.
Anakao, peopled by the semi-nomadic Vezo community, is a fishing village with a stunning beach but notoriously awful access roads. Arrival is best by pirogue (traditional fishing boat) or ship. Wildlife in the area includes ring-tailed lemurs, tortoises, chameleons and geckos. Tôlanaro, aka Fort Dauphin, was Madagascar’s first French settlement, and its colonial architecture, forts and museums recount the human side of the island’s story.
MSC Cruises (0844 561 1955; msccruises.co.uk ) offers a seven-night South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar round trip from Durban, in South Africa, aboard MSC Sinfonia, departing on March 1 and calling at Portuguese Island (off Mozambique) and Anakao and Fort Dauphin in Madagascar. From £529 per person excluding flights.
The tiny Pacific islands east of Oceania are populated by some of the world’s most fascinating indigenous cultures. New Caledonia, for instance, is the home of the Kanak people, a tribal community proud of its unique culture, cuisine and creed (ceremonial dancing is still used to unify bonds in the local clans) and is currently on the road to achieving full independence from France.
Fiji has links with the Dutch, was a British colony from 1874 until 1970 and is, relatively speaking, something of a regional powerhouse. All these island nations have seafaring in their blood, and a cruise is the best way to see several in one trip.
Holland America Line (0843 374 2300; hollandamerica.co.uk ) offers a 14-night Pacific Treasures round trip from Sydney aboard Oosterdam, departing on March 2 and calling at Ile des Pins, Easo, Lifou and Nouméa (New Caledonia), Port Vila and Luganville (Vanuatu), and Lautoka and Dravuni Island (Fiji). From £2,379 per person including a pre-cruise hotel night.
The best way to see the renowned Galapagos wildlife is to combine a cruise with overland treks and a couple of stays on the islands.
Cruise vessels vary from small luxury yachts to medium-size expedition ships, and while almost all voyages visit the larger islands of Isabela and Santa Cruz, itineraries vary.
Whichever route you choose you will encounter giant Galapagos tortoises, blue-footed boobies, land and marine iguanas, and lava lizards. Without budging from the ship’s deck you can see magnificent frigate birds while on terra firma you will have Darwin’s finches and gregarious mockingbirds flapping about you.
Kayaking around the bays is recommended and snorkelling takes you closer to sea turtles, Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants and even hammerhead sharks.
A good time to visit is between February and June when the air is warm, the sun is shining and any rain usually short-lived.
Audley Travel (01993 838650; audleytravel.com ) offers an 11-day trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands including seven days’ sailing around the archipelago on board the 20-berth yachts Eric, Flamingo and Letty, with departures year-round. From £4,600 per person.
Heart of south-east Asia
International Rivers, a conservation organisation, describes the Mekong as the “heart and soul of mainland south-east Asia”. More than 60 million people rely on the river and its tributaries for food, water and transport, and the system supports the second most diverse fishery in the world (after the Amazon).
The Mekong is home to many species of rare bird, including the white-shouldered ibis and red-headed vulture. Temples, pagodas, Khmer monuments, bird sanctuaries and national parks line the banks of the river and the delta’s floating markets peddle everything from coconuts and mangoes to turtles, pigs and fish.
The French colonial legacy lingers in both the architecture and cuisine of the region – Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in Vietnam hold much in store for gastronomes and both are fascinating repositories of the region’s turbulent history.
Viking River Cruises (0808 252 3207; vikingrivercruises.co.uk ) offers a 15-day Magnificent Mekong cruise-tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (and in reverse) including seven nights aboard Viking Mekong with departures from July to October. From £3,549 per person.
West Africa made simple
Have you ever considered visiting Togo, Sierra Leone or São Tomé and Principe? Or caught a glimpse of gorillas? The African continent’s western flank is the least visited, but now that peace and security have come to most of its coastal nations a cruise offers the opportunity to see some fine port cities, still bustling with street life, as well as some of the huge tracts of protected bird and mammal reserves that lie in between.
Modern Africa is very much on show too, but Namibia’s German heritage, Benin’s voodoo traditions and Ghana’s slavery sites will fascinate and enthral.
G Adventures (0844 272 2040; gadventures.co.uk ) offers a 31-night West Africa cruise from Cape Town to Marrakesh aboard MS Expedition, departing on April 6 and including two hotel nights in Cape Town. Port calls include Namibia, Angola, Congo, São Tomé and Principe, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia. From £9,095 per person (valid if booking before January 31) excluding flights.
Almost all of the cruises that depart from South America visit the 808-mile peninsula that juts out north towards Argentina and Chile. After the sometimes lively Drake Passage crossing, cruises enter the ice-free bays of the peninsula and its islands to observe adelie, chinstrap, emperor and Gentoo penguins, Weddell, leopard and huge elephant seals, and seabirds, including skuas, terns and several species of petrel.
Most of Antarctica’s plant species are found here as the climate is generally warmer and wetter than elsewhere in the continent.
The majority of research stations are also in this area and most cruises make at least one stop at a scientific or weather base.
Quark Expeditions (0808 120 2333; quarkexpeditions.com ) offers an 11 or 12-day Antarctic Explorer round trip from Ushuaia, visiting east and west flanks of the peninsula, departing until March 1 and resuming on November 4. From £3,400 excluding flights. Some voyages will feature talks by Jonathan Shackleton (cousin of Ernest Shackleton) and Falcon Scott (grandson of Robert Falcon Scott).
Telegraph Cruise Show
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-timer, our three-day event in January 2014 will answer your questions and give you a taste of life on board. Click here to find out more .
The best cruises for 2014
Cruise holidays for first-timers
Panama Canal: happy birthday to the 'big ditch'
New cruises for Latin America
Danube cruises: five of the best
Confusion over Venice cruise ship ban
D-Day anniversary cruises
Avoiding cruise ship extras