The Most Beautiful Charter and Cruising Destinations

For Cruising World's 40th anniversary, we asked friends, cruisers, and long time contributors to share the most amazing spots they discovered in their travels.

Thunder Bay, Gulf of Alaska
Pelagic Solitude is one of the treasures of the sailing life, and those who venture into the Gulf od Alaska are rewarded by coastline that gets lonelier and lonelier. The locals you do meet are likely to be overwhelmingly friendly — and thats the real beauty of Alaska. We think of mountains and glaciers and bears walking on the beach, but it's the people who choose to live there that make the place unique. —Mike Litzow Click here to read more about cruising in Alaska and Canada. Click here to find a charter in the Pacific Northwest.
Courtesy of Mike Litzow
spring commissioning
The Caribbean
Maupiti You can’t beat the Caribbean for chartering. Puerto Rico has some wonderful areas to cruise and among them are the nearby islands of Vieques and Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. I enjoy tucking in behind the reefs. Anchor off Simpson Bay on St. Maarten for a spectacular sunset in paradise, despite the hustle and bustle of this Leeward Island in the Caribbean chain. One of the best places in the Caribbean to forget about the noise and crowds is Tobago Cays, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. There’s great holding ground, you can swim with the turtles, snorkel and relax. –Bob Grieser Click here to find out more about cruising the Caribbean. Click here to find a charter in the Caribbean.
Courtesy of Bob Grieser
Port Circumcision, Antarctica
Aventura III I was once told by an explorer that if you wanted to experience nature at its rawest, I should go to Antarctica. I took his advice and sailed there, not once but twice. Much more than being my favorite destination, Antarctica is not just a continent, but a different world … In every sense of the word, there is no other place like it. –Jimmy Cornell Click here to read more about cruising the Antarctic.
Courtesy of Jimmy Cornell
South Minerva Reef, Tonga / Savai'i, Samoa
Elan South Minerva Reef, Tonga: South Minerva Reef comprises a sunken atoll between New Zealand and Tonga, with a navigable pass and shallow lagoon featuring good holding ground in deep sand. Cruising sailboats transiting between the tropics and temperate, cyclone-free latitudes in this region occasionally stop in here for a rest, to shelter from bad weather, or simply to enjoy the splendor of a pristine tropical reef environment with an abundance of sea life. Visiting South Minerva Reef was one of the top highlights of our years cruising the South Pacific aboard Elan, our 41-foot Beaujolais 12.25m, an aluminum centerboard sloop. The sunken atoll has no permanent land, although sections of the reef crest may become exposed at low tide. At higher tide stages, the anchorage can be fairly rolly. Snorkeling and fishing is outstanding, but the dinghy should be kept close at hand due to the healthy shark population, which includes numerous tiger sharks. Spiny lobsters can be abundant under coral heads, and in holes and ledges, in the lagoon shallows. Yellowfin tuna, wahoo, blue marlin, dogtooth tuna, and many other game fish species are numerous around the outside drop-offs. Savai'i, Samoa: We spent one cyclone season on a mooring in Pago Pago, Tutuila, American Samoa and then headed west to less-industrialized and independent Samoa. Our last stop in this traditional Polynesian island nation was Asau Harbour, located on the northwest end of the island of Savai'i. The harbor offers a secure anchorage, clear water, and excellent snorkeling, all against a classic high-island backdrop of a cloud-wreathed, heavily forested mountain. Ashore, Asau is a small, relaxed town with a quaint general store. We rented a vehicle and circumnavigated the island, drinking in breathtaking beaches, towering coconut palm groves, and waterfalls. When it was time to move on, we found the quick trip west to the leeward side of the island offered a tranquil start to the sail southward towards Niuatoputapu, Tonga, another lovely and remote outpost. —Scott Bannerot Click here to read more about cruising Polynesia and the South Pacific Islands. Click here to find a charter in the South Pacific.
Courtesy of Scott Bannerot
Las Aves de Sotavento / Las Aves de Barlovento, Venezuela
Zora The two tiny archipelagos off the Venezuelan coast, which in English mean "The Windward Birds" and "The Leeward Birds," are the closest to paradise we've yet sailed aboard Zora, our 39-foot Mariner sloop. Remote and difficult to reach, the islands and undersea life are nearly pristine. Above the water, our eyes and souls feasted on a breathtaking tapestry of watercolor blues and greens, outstanding light effects with passing weather, a boundless night sky utterly devoid of light pollution, and a kaleidoscope of unconcerned birds. Below, the healthy reefs were bristling with bigger and more varied sea life than we'd ever seen, and provided another kind of feast at dinnertime. It’s not an easy place to visit: ever-changing immigrations regulations and a lack of any nearby food, water, fuel, or hurricane shelter keep the crowds away and require a satisfying level of self-sufficiency. Somehow I think this even deepens the pleasure of being there. In the weeks our family spent in the Aves, life slowed to something as close to a truly human pace — deeply fulfilling and fully lived— as I can imagine. One watches the weather closely, plans meals carefully, lives very close to nature. For our family, that’s perfect cruising. —Stacey, Neil and Olivia Collins Click here to read more about cruising in South America.
Courtesy of Stacey, Neil and Olivia Collins
Pond Inlet, Baffin Island
Ocean Watch After three months and several thousand nautical miles, on a late August morning in 2009, we dropped the hook off the open roadstead of a tiny Inuit village called Pond Inlet, on the northern, Arctic shore of Baffin Island, Canada’s largest. Ahead lay a 1,800-mile voyage to St. John’s, Newfoundland, what would become the most eventful and gnarly trip in our entire journey around North and South America. But we didn’t know that yet, and it hardly mattered anyway. The important bit was what was behind us. Aboard our 64-foot cutter, Ocean Watch, we’d finally made it, all the way from Seattle. A rare, eastward transit of the fabled Northwest Passage was in our wake. For most of the summer we’d enjoyed perpetual, 24-hour daylight, which was most welcome as we negotiated the pack ice, which three times had halted our progress completely and left us wondering if we’d get stuck in the stuff for the entire winter. But each time, new leads opened up and we continued onward. With fall impending, darkness had returned, and the previous night had been wild and wooly as we made our way down Navy Board Inlet, flanked by tall, craggy peaks and no less than nine impressive glaciers visible through the murk. More ice, yes, and nothing less than surreal. There isn’t much to Pond Inlet, and I was still in a sleep-deprived haze that morning when I launched my kayak, found a lonely stretch of beach, and pulled it ashore to drink in the surroundings. Off in the distance, the Byam Martin Mountain range was a visual treat after the low, desolate Northwest Passage lunar-like terrain. But what kept me blinking was the flat, calm, ice-free water, as far as the eye could see. It was the prettiest sight I’d ever seen. —Herb McCormick Click here to read more about cruising in Alaska and Canada.
Courtesy of Herb McCormick
Scotland
Bonnie Lynn The most beautiful harbor my husband, Earl, and I have anchored in is Loch Duich in the highlands of Scotland across from the castle Eilean Donan Castle. Having ancestral ties to the castle, we decided to take Earl’s elderly mother to see it in 2001. From the castle we gazed out at the loch, and agreed to pursue our dream of sailing our schooner Bonnie Lynn to Scotland and anchor directly across from this famous castle. In 2005 we fulfilled that dream. Two of our crew who accompanied us on our trans-atlantic voyage had been married in that very castle 10 years before. It was a very emotional moment when we again gazed out at our beautiful schooner at anchor. We did indeed fulfill our dream. –Bonnie MacKenzie Click here to read more about cruising in the United Kingdom. Click here to find a charter in the British Isles.
Courtesy of Bonnie MacKenzie
Gulfo de California
Que Tal The stunning desert mountains of Baja California Sur, Mexico, are the backdrop for cruising Que Tal, our Tayana 37, around the islands off Loreto, a small port town situated on the coast of the Golfo de California (also called the Sea of Cortez). My husband, Dave, and I particularly enjoy late summer to early fall. If you can stand the heat, there’s great hiking on the islands, the snorkeling is fantastic (and a great way to cool down) and the sunsets are amazing. If you like solitude, you’ll find stunning anchorages with no other boats, although there are other boats nearby when you feel like socializing. Puerto Escondido, a nearly landlocked harbor at the southern end of this area, is an exceptional hurricane hole. —Carolyn Shearlock Click here to find a charter in Mexico and Central America.
Courtesy of Carolyn Shearlock
Pitcairn Island / San Juan Islands
White Raven / Alaska Eagle Pitcairn Island: Spotting the storm-tossed speck of Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific Ocean after weeks of rough seas brands an indelible impression on sailors fortunate enough to visit. I've made several voyages there. This 1-by-2 mile — near to nowhere — landfall is made more precious by the difficult passage from Easter Island, precarious anchorages and the knowledge that one has to leave at a moment's notice when the wind changes. Sheer, brooding cliffs, deep blue-green swimming holes and dense tropical foliage give the island a dramatic, savage beauty — a fitting backdrop to the tragic story and final resting place of Fletcher Christian and the H.M.S. Bounty. The 49 Islanders waste no time befriending you. The friendships last a lifetime. San Juan Islands: The San Juan Islands, dense fir-forested islands scattered across the Pacific Northwest of the United States, offer countless protected coves for the cruising sailor. I've sailed this wonderful region as skipper of the 45-foot sloop White Raven. Eagles and shorebirds entertain as they dine on abundant sea life. Summer sunsets linger pink and orange well past 10 p.m. The splash of a dolphin, cackling laugh of an oyster catcher or the calming, rhythmic exhale of an orca whale often punctuate the sounds of silence. A calm seems to descend on even the most stressed-out sailor after a few days at anchor as the islands work their special magic. Many mariners, after sailing around the world, end up moving ashore in the fabled archipelago. Others use the islands as a gateway to awaiting adventure along the Inside Passage to Alaska. —Barbara Marrett
Courtesy of Barbara Marrett
Cape Town, South Africa
Zephyrine The place is stunning — ask any sailor who’s rounded the Cape of Good Hope in a blow and then landed here. From the blustery southeaster that can blow 45-60 knots for days on end, the "table cloth" on Table Mountain, to the waterfront with all its great seafaring tales and bars and the bikini beaches of the suburb of Clifton, Cape Town has it all. The weather is like Southern California; you can stay active in the great outdoors year round. The best sailing I knew aboard Zephyrine, my 30-foot Miura, was in Table Bay and around the Cape Peninsula, in winter. I love the Cape, grew up there, and love to go back. Cape Town is in my blood! —Oone van der Wal Click here to find out more about sailing in Africa.
Courtesy of Oone van der Wal
Rapa Iti
Sea Quest Exhausted, twenty days out from New Zealand, we made the decision to duck into the Austral Islands, the southernmost group in French Polynesia. It had been a brutal winter passage, with just the two of us aboard to weather the series of lows that had swept us eastward. Although Rapa Iti was reputed to be a difficult anchorage with williwaws in windy weather, a big high promised us calm. Sea Quest, our 47-foot Colin Child designed ketch, sailed into the crater that was etched into the very center of the island. Anchored on one of the few shallows in the deep bay, a series of towering needle-like peaks surrounded us. It was a magnificent and violent beauty that hinted at a turbulent past. At the summit of each peak rose fortifications known as "pas", built hundreds of years ago by the remnants of the fleeing Rapa Nui (Easter) Islanders after the slaughter of its men in its last war. At a celebration for the homecoming of their vacationing high school students, their descendants warmly welcomed us, adorning us with leis. —Tere and Michael Batham Click here to find out more about cruising in Polynesia and the South Pacific Islands. Click here to find a charter in the South Pacific.
Courtesy of Tere and Michael Batham
Port Davey, Tasmania
Sunstone Port Davey on the west coast of Tasmania has almost all the qualities we look for in a perfect cruising destination. It is remote, uninhabited and relatively unvisited. Its landscape is ruggedly beautiful, but invites hiking opportunities with magnificent views from the summits. Though the weather there in the Roaring Forties can be fiercely volatile at times, the anchorage offers great shelter, snugly tucked into a one-boat hidey-hole. Beauty can be emotional as well as sensual. The emotional reason for our attachment to Port Davey is that it is where we started and finished our circumnavigation. Port Davey is only a few miles from Southwest Cape, one of the five great southern capes which we rounded to circumnavigate. As serendipity would have it, our earliest long-term cruising friends, Jeanette Denby and Jim Forrest on Dancer, were there with home brew and lobster to celebrate with us in this remote corner of the world. We think that perhaps Sunstone, our 39-foot Sparkman & Stephens one-off, is the only yacht ever to start and finish a circumnavigation from Port Davey. — Tom and Vicky Jackson Click here to find out more about cruising the South Pacific. Click here to find a charter in the South Pacific.
Courtesy of Tom Jackson
Larsen Harbour, South Georgia
Wanderer III Our favorite place is Larsen Harbour, in South Georgia. There is beauty, wilderness and the feeling of smallness in powerful nature. There is risk and ever-changing reward. It's sailing on a tightrope with all your accumulated skills within the natural poetry of a winter-island. It's Weddell seals, fur seals, wind and birds – and just us, aboard Wanderer III, a 30-foot wooden boat built in 1952. –Thies Matzen Click here to read more about cruising the Antarctic.
Courtesy of Thies Matzen
St. George's Harbour, Bermuda
Sweet Spot St. George’s Harbour, Bermuda, has been the crossroads of the North Atlantic Ocean since sailors started making the voyage. The Town of St. George was settled by shipwrecked sailors in 1609, and has been a safe and welcoming haven for seafarers for the 400 years since. The genuinely quaint town forms the harbour’s north shore and offers almost anything a sailor needs, including friendly smiles and “Hellos.” To the south are numerous channels and islands, small and large, inhabited and otherwise. A protected anchorage can be found for almost any weather. Wildlife is abundant, including Longtailed Tropicbirds, sea turtles, and parrot fish. I built a house in St George's 16 years ago and moved ashore. I now love the harbour for the boats and people that pass through, year round. I can view the boats from the top of Barracks Hill on my morning jog, or more closely in my latest favorite, the 12'6" Sweet Spot. I meet the sailors on the streets, and in the grocery store. It's sort of like cruising, very slowly, with the comforts of home. As Bermudians say, "It suits me right down to my toes." –Danny Greene
Courtesy of Danny Greene
Golfo di Napoli, Italy
Ranger The looming presence of Naples' Vesuvio, still occasionally belching, serves as a backdrop to one of Italy's most beautiful cruising grounds, the Gulf of Naples. You can join the beautiful crowds on storied Isola di Capri, or anchor, as I did aboard Ranger, my 35-foot Allied Seabreeze, just south off Il Faraglioni, with its picturesque hole in the rock. Or explore Isola d'Ischia, where I anchored beneath the looming Aragonese Castle and snapped a photo that remains my Italy icon/screensaver. Just to the south, the Amalfi coast is dotted with giant rocks, many of them said to be home to the Odyssey's mythic sea characters, including the Sirens. –Jim Carrier Click here to find a charter in the Mediterranean.
Courtesy of Jim Carrier
Lowcountry, South Carolina The Intracoastal Waterway can be a busy, maddening, hazard-and-wake filled ditch for sailors seeking safe passage north and south along the Southeastern U.S. Maybe that’s why I find the marsh grass wetlands of the South Carolina coast between Charleston and Beaufort such a beautiful refuge. Quiet, peaceful and gorgeous anchorages abound. Known as the ACE Basin, for three rivers (Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto) that weave a braid of water around Edisto Island, it is protected by private, state and federal wildlife preserves, and is mostly uninhabitable except for birds and fish. I was just beginning my life aboard when I nosed into a deep cleft in tall grass, dropped anchor, and watched the setting sun bathe the marsh islands with warm kisses. The tides were deep, but the sound of the moving water, and shifting anchor chain was a balm. For my money, this is one of the most unheralded anchorages in the world. And its quiet beauty will never be developed. –Jim Carrier Click here to find a charter in the United States.Courtesy of Jim Carrier
Lake Superior
Persistence At what was once America’s last outpost of civilization, marked by a palisaded log fur fort in the shadow of Minnesota’s Sawtooth Mountains, Grand Portage is the jumping off place for one of the most spectacular cruising destinations on earth. It’s Lake Superior’s rugged and wild northernmost trek and the gateway to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Over the Canadian border toward the Sleeping Giant Mountain, this splendid isolation of clear blue water, rocks and sky makes you feel like the last sailboat on earth, and maybe you are. You follow the watery trail of the ancient voyageurs’ birch bark canoes as you sail by islands remote and beautiful, like little castles in the water. Keep a weather eye peeled because like Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Even with your VHF tuned to NOAA weather, storms can sneak up on you, as they did when a derecho hit my 20-foot cedar/epoxy centerboard sloop, Persistence, with 134 mph downbursts. But scenic little harbors beckon that you can wriggle into, if you keep a sharp eye out and your GPS at hand, including Thompson Cove (not to be missed), Silver Islet (once the world’s largest underwater silver mine) Loon Harbor, and CPR Harbor. On the northernmost edge, Rossport, Ontario, is a tiny beacon with a modern dock and several fine restaurants catering to cruising sailboats. Then sail out the Schreiber Channel to the remarkable Slate Islands, whose tiny harbors you can spend days exploring. Superior’s northernmost trek filled me with adventures and memories — and best of all, I never thought of the office once. –Marlin Bree
Courtesy of Marlin Bree
Kimberley Coast, Western Australia
Oddly Enough My husband, Tom Bailey, and I had negotiated the Panama Canal and were celebrating on a boat with a bunch of Australians. I was talking to a woman I barely knew. “You must visit our northwest coast,” she said. “We have fjords unlike anything I’ve seen in the world.” Yeah, yeah, I had no idea what she was referring to. Australia was an unknown country, and between us lay thousands of miles of rolling ocean and tropical islands. Four years later, Oddly Enough, our Peterson 44, entered Darwin, Australia's northern city. Everyone talked about the Kimberley region to the west. "It's a bunch of red rock, no beaches, and you either love it or hate it." To me it was gorgeous; it was also a place where you could pit yourself not only against the sea, but against a coastline so uninhabited, so unforgiving, that after climbing cliffs and hacking your way ten yards inland you'd give up. Birds followed food trails on vast tides, humpback whales swam in from the Antarctic to breed. Crocodiles. Fish. Isolated anchorages, but next morning motoring out a boat would be visible in the next creek floating in lonely splendor. Someday, you'd meet up for drinks and conversation; just not yet! –Ann Hoffner Click here to find out more about cruising the South Pacific. Click here to find a charter in the South Pacific.
Courtesy of Ann Hoffner
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Taleisin We'd been sailing close-hauled for over a week in brisk easterly tradewinds bound from Southern Brazil towards Ireland. When we spotted the peaks of Fernando de Noronha, I was elated. Not only did this isolated island offer a good place to stop and settle on an even keel for a few nights, a chance to get some fresh fruit and vegetables, it also marked the point where we should soon be able to ease sheets, hopefully for the rest of our 5,000 mile long voyage. Neither of us was prepared for the beauty of the actual anchorage. It wasnt just the stunning vista of the towering volcanic peak, nor the calm of the anchorage, it was also the large pod of resident dolphin which frequently swam around Taleisin, then rushed away to provide us a fine display of acrobatics only to return a few hours later as if to invite us to jump in the water and play with them. During subsequent passage we returned twice to this beautiful anchorage — and unlike so many of our European favorites, it never seemed to change. –Lin Pardey
Courtesy of Lin Pardey
French Polynesia: Marquesas and Society Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago
Varuna / Shangri La I have to name French Polynesia as my all-time favorite destination. During my first visit in 1986 as a nineteen-year-old on Varuna, a Contessa 26, the Marquesas and Society Islands offered a blend of French and Polynesian culture in landscapes that often took my breath away. Unfortunately for the rest of the planet, no other landfall has ever come close to evoking the same feelings of appreciation for wonderful people and awe for the arrangement of such spectacular natural beauty—with cheap, fresh baguettes everywhere. More recently, I've been back several other times to lead charters in the leeward Societies — Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Huahine — and am blown away again and again. Returning in 2008 on Shangri La, a Devilliers 36, with my teenage sons, we stopped in the Tuamotus, a low-lying group of achingly blue, palm-fringed atolls between the Marquesas and Society Islands that I bypassed on the first go. We were introduced to the vibrant life and scenery below the sea's surface. –Tania Aebi Click here to find out more about cruising in Polynesia and the South Pacific. Click here to find a charter in the South Pacific.
Courtesy of Tania Aebi