How to sail to the ends of the Earth, like the world's first explorers

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hurtigruten northwest passage cruise - Hurtigruten
hurtigruten northwest passage cruise - Hurtigruten

Sailing to the ends of the Earth has lost none of the hypnotic thrills that captivated the first explorers hundreds of years ago.

A new generation of sleek mega-yacht ships offering butler service, gourmet dining and panoramic suites guarantee off-grid luxury, bolstered by glamorous high-octane toys to make James Bond proud, with mini submarines and on-board helicopters.

Underpinning this is new revolutionary technology incorporating cleaner fuels to reduce emissions and strict environmental practices designed to cut each ship’s carbon footprint.

This renaissance in expedition cruising, sparked by growing demand from travellers looking for authentic life-affirming experiences, has unlocked more of the world’s natural hideaways.

Indonesian idyll

The jungle-topped isles of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago are the hot new stars of expedition cruising. Limpid emerald waters and abundant coral reefs teem with vibrant marine life and mind-blowing encounters with whale sharks that make this the ultimate snorkelling fantasy. Spot vibrant birds of paradise on rainforest treks and follow the centuries-old routes of Dutch spice traders and Portuguese explorers on this island-hopping voyage towards West Papua, where shipwrecks and abandoned Japanese fighter planes are battle-weary relics of the region’s wartime past.

A 13-night cruise, Bali to Darwin, from £7,730pp. Departs September 21, 2022 (0808 189 2005; auroraexpeditions.co.uk). Read our complete guide to the best hotels in Indonesia.

raja ampat, indonesia - Getty
raja ampat, indonesia - Getty

Negotiating the Northwest Passage

Retreating sea ice has made the transit of this Canadian Arctic route possible during a short summer window, prompting Norwegian line Hurtigruten to plan a 26-day voyage on its hybrid-powered expedition ship Roald Amundsen, named after the Norwegian explorer who first sailed the Northwest Passage more than a century ago. Weather conditions and sea ice will determine the precise route through the High Arctic’s ice floes and islands enroute to Greenland.

From £15,473pp, Vancouver to Halifax (flying to Nome, Alaska, to board the ship), departing August 18, 2023. Flights included (020 3993 5578; hurtigruten.co.uk). Read more: a complete guide to the best hotels in Vancouver.

Hurtigruten MS Roald Amundsen - Hurtigruten
Hurtigruten MS Roald Amundsen - Hurtigruten

Patagonia to Antarctica

This voyage combines the wild, untouched beauty of the Chilean fjords in Patagonia with the Antarctic Peninsula, where untamed seascapes are corralled by snowy mountain peaks, frozen cliffs and the rumbling spectacle of calving glaciers. Visitors will be drawn into the icy embrace of towering icebergs aboard new expedition ship Seabourn Venture as it passes rocky shores thronging with thousands-strong penguin colonies. Its two mini submarines promise further thrills on dives of nearly 1,000ft into Antarctica’s icy depths and even come equipped with champagne chillers to let guests toast their submersion in style.

From £16,999pp for an 18-night voyage from Santiago, Chile, to Ushuaia, Argentina, departing November 7, 2022 (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com). Discover the best hotels in Chile, as recommended by our experts.

anarctica cruise - Getty
anarctica cruise - Getty

Wet and wild in the Sea of Cortez

If you dream of splashing around with sea lion pups, marvelling at thousands of flying rays soaring above the waves, or paddling past calving grey whales on kayaks, then snap up this UnCruise Adventures voyage to Baja California. The Mexican peninsula, south of California, juts into the Sea of Cortez, famously dubbed the “world’s aquarium” by renowned French explorer Jacques Cousteau in recognition of the rich biodiversity of its marine life. The ochre shades of the desert landscape form a striking backdrop, best explored on hikes through cacti forests and along craggy cliffs.

The Baja’s Bounty nine-night package, including the one-week round-trip cruise from La Paz, Mexico, and flights, departs January 28, 2022. From £4,895pp (020 7399 7630; mundyadventures.co.uk). See our pick of the best hotels in California.

grey whale, baja california - Getty
grey whale, baja california - Getty

Icelandic wonders

Nature calls the shots in the Land of Fire and Ice, where rumbling volcanoes and vast glaciers compete with the explosive power of geysers and waterfalls. This circumnavigation of Iceland aboard Crystal Cruises’ new expeditionary ship, Crystal Endeavor, lets guests soar through the skies in two helicopters for panoramic views of rugged terrain and seabirds nesting along its western cliffs. Alternatively, dive beneath the waves in a mini submarine to spy minke and humpback whales, or join shore tours of historic settlements with a foot-tapping backdrop of folk music and local beers.

iceland helicopter - Getty
iceland helicopter - Getty

From £12,021pp for a 10-night round-trip from Reykjavik, departing August 7, 2022 (020 7399 7601; crystalcruises.co.uk). Read more: a complete guide to the best hotels in Iceland.