Very often, the classical yacht charter is about shoreside villages, towns and urban networks; about the sights, services, activities and luxuries of highly developed infrastructures that have honed their tourist offerings to accommodate the premium expectations of solvent clientele. But if you want to enjoy the more simplistic, elemental pleasures of the local wildlife, where do you go?
Well happily, the vast global penetration of the yacht charter industry means there are plenty of places that can furnish the wildlife lover with memories that will last a lifetime. Places like Nicaragua and Thailand; like the Maldives and the Galapagos Islands; like Norway and Patagonia; and like the rustic, unpretentious islands of Turks and Caicos in the northern Caribbean, all deserve consideration. But for simple, unaffected access to wildlife in a place that will provide some thrilling charter opportunities in its own right, the following six destinations are among the finest in the world.
Despite its growing renown, ecological sustainability and ‘Pura Vida’ (the pure life) remain at the heart of the Costa Rican experience – and this enduring approach to life (and to tourism) delivers an intensely wild and unpasteurised form of yacht charter. Hemmed in by the Caribbean on one side and the Pacific on the other, with as little as 70 miles between the two, more than a quarter of the country continues to enjoy ‘Protected Landscape’ status and it’s easy to see why. The tropical jungles between these two coastlines have a higher biodiversity density than anywhere else in the world and the wildlife highlights come thick and fast. Expect everything from spider monkeys to crocodiles, butterflies, iguanas and toucans – all set against a backdrop of big surf beaches and active volcanoes. With yellowfin tuna, blue marlin and sailfish in abundance, the big game fishing here is superb – and surfing, horse riding and white water rafting are also on hand for the adventurous tourist.
Alaska is a charter destination of truly epic scale. This largest and least populated American state has more coastline than the rest of the USA combined, as well as more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes. It’s a place of vast virgin landscapes and creeping ice sheets; of pristine isolation, humpback whales, bald eagles and roaming orca pods. It is of course highly inhospitable for the most part, but in the far south, between Tongass National Park and Glacier Bay, a sheltered interior passage puts you on course for a very special experience. You can watch brown bears, fish for wild salmon, kayak the lonely shores, explore the region’s maze of islands, fjords, bays and glaciers or visit charming towns that are accessible only by yacht or seaplane.
The Cayman Islands
Just a few miles south of Cuba, the Cayman Islands (Little Cayman, Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman) are basically the limestone peaks of a trio of subsurface mountains. They perch precariously among some of the deepest seas in the world and that brings with it some very rewarding benefits for the wildlife lover. The crystal clear water is perfect for diving and its proximity to steeply plunging oceanic drop-offs, like the famous Bloody Bay Wall at Little Cayman, brings you into close contact with dolphins, whale sharks, giant turtles and stingrays. Big game fishing is also a major draw, with wahoo and barracuda, as well as blue marlin and yellowfin tuna. And if you happen to find yourself in need of something more urbane and indulgent, the vibrant bars, alfresco cafés and designer boutiques of Grand Cayman make it a major draw for charter yachts.
Spread out across more than 600 nautical miles in the remote western reaches of the Indian Ocean, the 115 equatorial islands that make up the Seychelles are extraordinarily rich with natural attractions. Even on Mahe, the largest island in the group and home to the capital city, you can watch giant turtles, swim with dolphins and hike the tropical mountains of a National Park. And when you deviate from the three primary islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, things get even better. The region is littered with granite islands, coral reefs, sandy bays and sheltered salt lagoons, making it the perfect venue for surfers, divers and kayakers – and for the wildlife tourist, the options are almost too plentiful. Silhouette Island is great for walking, diving and fishing. As an important place for bird and bat colonies, as well as Hawksbill and Green Turtles, the private resort of Fregate Island is also a great place to watch the wildlife. And the protected island of Curieuse offers mangrove forests, turtle breeding grounds, glorious dive sites, excellent fishing and the spectacle of giant tortoises sunbathing in the harbour.
Made up of more than 7,100 islands in the South China Sea, the Philippines is home to the world’s most bio-diverse reef system and remains famous in scientific circles as a place with a higher rate of new species discovery than anywhere else on the planet. While Mindanao in the south and Palawan in the west are among the most famous island destinations, the sheer proliferation of cruising options makes the Philippines a great place for a tranquil and thoroughly private week of charter – and the range of active pursuits is also first-class. In addition to mountain hiking and reef diving, you can swim with huge, docile dugongs off Palawan or snorkel with whale sharks in the waters around Cebu Island. You can head inland on jungle adventures or you can time your charter to coincide with the hatching season and see various types of turtles right across the Philippines.
It may seem like a slightly mainstream and highly developed destination for our final entry but, in addition to being one of the globe’s premier superyacht hubs, Florida is in fact tailor made for the charter guest in search of easy access wildlife. While Miami and Fort Lauderdale provide all the bracing urban diversion you could want, it’s well worth heading a touch inland and booking a wildlife tour by iconic airboat among the Everglades National Park. Further south, the subtropical archipelago of the Florida Keys also offers some spectacular ways to engage with nature. You can dive the pristine reef systems of Key Largo’s National Marine Sanctuary; you can check out the turtles or swim with dolphins among the Marathon Isles; or you can head out on big game fishing adventures in Islamorada. Whatever you do, the yacht-friendly climate and year-round warmth of the Sunshine State make it one of the most accessible and rewarding charter destinations in the world.