If you’re dreaming of a vacation that includes feeling the wind in your hair and the spray of the sea on your skin while enjoying magnificent scenery, get ready to pack your bags. These 17 destinations offer the opportunity for the ultimate sailing escape.
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The “Spice Islands,” as the Grenadines are sometimes referred to, are a chain of 32 picturesque islands sprinkled across 60 miles of the southern Caribbean in the West Indies, offering a perfect blend of dramatic landscapes, culture, abundant marine life, friendly people and unspoiled white sand beaches. Known as some of the world’s greatest sailing waters, you’ll find the ideal sailing conditions and lack of crowds make it one of the best spots for a vacation on the water. Bequia, in particular, has been a favorite destination for seafarers for centuries. If you want to charter a boat, you’ll find a number of options in Port Elizabeth, along with scheduled and private boat excursions. There are also several crewed and bareboat sailing options, from the simply outfitted and reasonably priced to the expensive and luxurious.
Catalina Island, California
Catalina Island, located just 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, is a boating paradise. Divers, sailors and all types of other visitors love it for its close proximity to the mainland, yet with the feel as if you’re worlds away from the chaos of the city. The clear waters off the island are filled with an abundance of marine life as well as sunken ships and even a plane wreck. For those that prefer to stay atop the water, or explore both options, you’ll find many different ways to do just that, including everything from glass bottom boats and charter yachts to open ocean rafting, sailboats and more. You’ll also discover a big boating scene at Two Harbors, a small village home to lots of coves that provide moorings and anchorages.
Sometimes referred to as the “New Riviera,” Croatia has become an increasingly must-go destination for all types of travelers, but there is really no better way to experience it than upon the crystalline Adriatic, where the sun is almost always shining brightly and its tranquil waters gently lap more than 1,100 miles of coastline, including no fewer than 1,185 islands. That’s a lot of coastline to explore, which includes practically an endless number of picture-perfect beaches, lush green slopes and some of the most charming towns in all of Europe. The most popular spot to dock is at the island of Hvar, filled with well-heeled yachtsmen types. Be sure and explore the hidden coves, traditional fishing villages and remote island groups like Elafiti and Kornati too.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
This famous but tiny archipelago of islands in the eastern Pacific Ocean is remote, though it entices people from all over the world to see its legendary abundance of rare wildlife from blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises to penguins and sea lions. Demand for berths here is heavy, making expedition cruising the best way to explore the 19 islands while boning up on Darwin’s theory of evolution. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, fly in and take a week-long cruise, living aboard a boat. Snorkel or dive by day while sailing around the volcanic archipelago, occasionally coming ashore to play among the astounding wildlife.
French Polynesia is made up of five main groups of islands, including Tahiti, a landscape of jagged volcanic peaks dotted with lush vegetation and spectacular waterfalls. The islands offer an alluring mix of beautiful lagoons, traditional culture and exotic marine life, with lots to explore on land as well as at sea. This is truly the place that stereotypical ideas of a tropical paradise come from. The islands that are scattered across a massive expanse of the South Pacific stretch for over 770 miles, an area about the size of Western Europe. There are numerous options for islands on which to base your trip, including Raiatea, the ideal starting point for an unforgettable Tahitian sailing adventure for discovering the Society Islands, which include Tahiti as well as Moorea, Bora-Bora, Tahaa and Raiatea.
Newport, Rhode Island
New England offers all sorts of great seaside boating scenes, but Newport is surely one of the best as one of America’s premier yachting centers. After all, it is known as the “Sailing Capital of the World,” and washome to the America’s Cup for half a century with some of its winners offering the chance to charter a cruise on. The picturesque city attracts boaters from across the globe with its beautiful beaches and New England charm. Third Beach Newport is the best there is when it comes to easy access to sailing the sea, the ease of launching and ability to park near your boat. It’s also the home of the legendary New England Laser Masters Regatta. While you’re here, don’t miss touring the Newport mansions as well as the harbor and Narragansett Bay.
Port Townsend, Washington
Surrounded by water on three sides, with the spectacular Olympic Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop, Port Townsend is the ultimate place for sailing, boating and water sports of all types. Washington’s Victorian Seaport & Arts Community is situated right on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, meaning there’s almost always wind that provides ideal conditions for sailing. The region is also home to a wide array of marine life, including various types of whales like orcas, minke and gray whales as well as porpoise, otters, sea lions and harbor seals. Bald eagles can almost always be seen perched high in the tree tops along the shore, searching for their next meal. In town, you’ll find magnificent Victorian mansions set high up on a hill, while the historic downtown area is filled with unique period brick buildings and sandstone storefronts including interesting shops, cool cafes and great eateries. Port Townsend also hosts the annual Wooden Boat Festival the weekend after Labor Day, drawing boating enthusiasts from around the world.
Zanzibar, in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania, offers the chance to travel back through time, experiencing the ancient kingdom of Persia with Zanzibar once serving as a trading post for the Arab world as well as the chance to buy packets of saffron, coffee seasoned with ginger and cinnamon bar as well as fragrant vanilla pods. Of course, sailing through the surrounding turquoise waters and stopping at picture-perfect beaches are the trademarks of a Spice Island vacation. Cruising aboard a tradition dhow, an ancient Arabic sailing vessel, is one of the best ways to explore the region. Catch glorious sunsets from the deck and make stops for snorkeling or diving, with the average year-round water temperatures of slightly over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
With over 300 miles of waterways and more than 40,000 resident yachts, it’s really no surprise that Fort Lauderdale has been nicknamed the “Venice of America.” It not only borders the Atlantic, but it’s crisscrossed by the Intracoastal Waterway as well as a number of rivers, several lakes and hundreds of canals. This boater’s paradise also hosts the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, one of the largest of its kind. Whether you’ve got an extravagant yacht or an average-sized boat, Fort Lauderdale has something to offer – and, just about everything in the city is accessible via the water.
French Riviera, France
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more romantic spot to sail than the French Riviera. This stunning Mediterranean coastline along the southeast corner of France is packed with magnificent beaches, rocky inlets and unspoiled islands along with glitz, glamor and celebrity scandal. The large cosmopolitan resorts of Nice, Saint-Tropez and Cannes feature everything from hedonism aboard monumental yachts to billion dollar estates. If you don’t have the big bucks of a royal or a rock star – or, happen to be friends with one, you can always head to Marseille, Cannes or Antibes and hire a set of sails.
Key West, Florida
Stretching from Biscayne National Park in the north over 125 miles to Key West, the Florida Keys offer some of the best opportunities for sailing than any other place on the plane, and Key West is its crown jewel. This southernmost city is the ultimate sailor’s paradise, home to the best sunsets in the continental U.S. as well as Conch Harbor Marina which offers slips that can accommodate vessels of up to 195 feet. Of course, if you don’t have your own boat, there are a number of boat rentals and private charters available. From here, it’s just a 70-mile journey to Dry Tortugas National Park, renowned for its world-class snorkeling.
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
With pristine white sands, luxury waterfront resorts, outstanding restaurants and chic boutique shopping, the British Virgin Islands have it all as a true sailing fantasy land. There are more than 40 islands dotted across the glistening turquoise waters of the central Caribbean Sea, and hundreds of anchorages – all within sight of each other. The Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda, featuring luxurious cabins across the hillside overlooking North Sound, is a fabulous place to base your stay while enjoying these idyllic surroundings. You’ll find a variety of boats, including Lasers, Getaways and Hobie Waves. The island was named No. 1 in the entire Caribbean by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine for its abundance of natural beauty, indigenous plant-lined trails and the natural wonders of its protected national parks, as well as The Baths, a popular attraction where huge granite boulders create mysterious grottos, saltwater pools and a connecting trail enticing visitors to swim and snorkel.
Though it may be the smaller and lesser known of the Balearic Islands, Minorca is scattered with more spectacular beaches than Ibiza and Mallorca combined, including Cala Mitjaneta, Cala Pregonda, Cala Macarella and Macarelleta, Cala Turqueta and Cala Galdana, just to name a few. The rolling landscape is mixed with secluded coves and beaches along with a climate ideal for sailing, making it a true sailing paradise. You’ll also discover charming island towns with traditional, colorful houses and winding cobblestone streets. Minorca Sailing, operating on Fornells Bay is dinghy sailing heaven, providing the opportunity to learn sailing and receive expert coaching on any aspect of the sport.
The Whitsundays are what dreams are made of, with azure seas, cloudless skies and 74 stunning islands. The majority of this area belongs to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, known for its sea turtles, incredible array of colorful fish and kaleidoscopic coral gardens. Sailing here provides the opportunity to snorkel or dive all day, and never get tired of doing it. Boats and tours cater to everyone from beginners to the most experienced. The majority of services can be found in Airlie Beach, considered the gateway to the Whitsundays.
Greek Islands, Greece
Sailing has been a part of Greek life since prehistoric times. With some 6,000 islands in Greece, each with their own distinct character, you’ll find practically an endless number of ports to stop in, with each offering a different feel. Sailing is really the best way to experience these breathtaking islands, setting your own island-hopping itinerary, finding secluded spots or dining on octopus and ouzo. The deep-blue Mediterranean waters dotted with small islands are punctuated by traditional whitewashed villages and Greek ruins while warm sea breezes waft by as the sun shines continuously. There are several island groups to choose from, with some of the most popular including the Cyclades, home to Mykonos and Santorini, and the Ionians which include Skorpios, the private island of late shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis, Corfu and Lefkada.
Bay of Islands, New Zealand
New Zealand is a nation that’s spawned some of the world’s best sailors and has one of the highest per-capita rates of boat ownership on the planet, with the maritime reserves in the Bay of Islands in the country’s winterless north rated among the most beautiful sailing spots in the world. Punctuated by countless coves and filled with crystal clear waters that range from deep blue to turquoise, these roughly 150 islands that have escaped development, are usually the first port of call for hundreds of yachts that drop down from the tropics in the cyclone season. Nearly everywhere you look you’ll find secluded white sand beaches and an abundance of seafood, including mussels, kina, John Dory and snapper. These waters novelist Zane Grey once dubbed “the angler’s El Dorado,” are also famed for big game fishing.
Turkey's Southern Coast
Every sailor should sail the clear blue waters of the Lycian or Carian Coast in Turkey at least once. This timeless part of the world is one of the most relaxing spots on the planet, offering the chance to completely recharge among breathtaking surroundings. During the long, typically idyllic, summer, you’ll find moderate seas and good winds that make sailing the deep water bays and mountainous coastline a sublime experience. Visit sleepy fishing villages as well as bustling towns and historic sites for an unforgettable sailing getaway.