5. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
This jungle-clad easternmost Indonesian province crowns the Coral Triangle, the planet’s most biodiverse marine habitat stretching from the Philippines to Timor and Papua New Guinea. At the Indian and Pacific Oceans’ intersection, the archipelago’s waters are fed by deep-sea currents channelling rich nutrients into its coral reefs, blue water drop-offs and mangrove flats, sustaining a spectacular diversity of marine life. Raja Ampat’s 1,500 small white-sand fringed islands, cays and shoals house three-quarters of the world’s coral varieties and some 1,000 species of tropical fish — these are most visible to snorkellers, such is the high-definition visibility of its crystal waters. The four main islands, Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool have a modest scattering of hotels, largely catering to divers, but nothing beats exploration by pinisi, a traditional Indonesian wooden sail ship.
How to do it: Regional specialist SeaTrek offers 10-day sailings between October 2023 and January 2024 led by expert naturalists aboard two pinisi (sleeping just 12 and 24 passengers), from $6,850 (£6,110) per person. seatrekbali.com
6. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The remotest islands in this uniquely biodiverse archipelago — some 600 miles from Ecuador’s mainland — are an endemic wildlife bonanza. Little Genovesa and Pinta are the northernmost, home to the elusive fur seal and abundant avian life including several species of booby. Waters around Fernandina and Isabela islands, fed by the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current, are populated by sea lions, penguins and sea turtles. Floreana is perhaps most altered by humans: this southern outpost has seen convicts, pirates and colonists reside here since the 1700s, and is today home to a significant farming community.
How to do it: The annual Galapagos Conservation Trust cruise takes in the remote Galápagos including Floreana, where its work aims to restore such endemic species as the Galápagos petrel and Floreana mockingbird. Dates and price TBC for 2023; the 18-day 2022 sailing departed in June and cost £10,790 per person, with a shorter option from £5,845 per person. galapagosconservation.org.uk
Published in the Cruise 2023 guide, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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