Thirty years ago, when Nasa published its iconic “Pale Blue Dot” image taken from the orbiting spacecraft Voyager 1, people were amazed and humbled by the unique perspective on Earth – a tiny speck in an unfathomably vast cosmos. Even more striking was the colour, demonstrating that most of our planet’s surface is sea. Five distinct bodies of water swirl, swell and constantly shape our continents, connecting to create one giant ocean that influences nearly everything we do. At its greatest depths, the abyss is more alien than Mars, but even dipping a few feet beneath the surface is like a voyage into another world.
From colossal whales to psychedelic micro-organisms, its charismatic inhabitants are ceaselessly fascinating, while its topgraphy – a playground of submerged caves, sinkholes and mountain ridges – is exhilarating to explore. Above all, the ocean can heal and soothe through the sound of waves crashing on the shore, the taste of salt spray and the sensation of floating weightlessly underwater.
Today is World Oceans Day, a celebration of the marine environment that also serves as a rallying cry to global leaders to increase protection of the world’s seas to 30 per cent by 2030. By learning to care about the ocean through an appreciation of it, we can play our part, too. Activities such as surfing spectacular waves, snorkelling on coral reefs and sailing in Arctic sea ice may ultimately ensure that our vibrant blue dot never fades away. Here are 20 travel ideas to tempt you.
Thirty miles off Santa Barbara, the five uninhabited Channel Islands form one of North America’s least-visited national parks, home to a host of endemic flora and fauna. Hike through brittle, twisted forests of caliche (cement-like rock), kayak into sea caves daubed with garish lichens, or observe 30,000 pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and lumbering elephant seals) sprawled along golden sands – the original California beach babes.
Abercrombie & Kent (01242 547760; abercrombiekent.co.uk) is offering a 15-night trip from £5,995pp, including flights.
Polynesia is mostly made up of ocean and is home to the world’s largest multi-use marine park, Marae Moana (Sacred Ocean), covering 734 square miles. Glamp in tropical surroundings at Ikurangi Eco Retreat on Rarotonga, or explore the coral reef at low tide on the new Arii Moana walking tour.
Turquoise Holidays (01494 678400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers a 12-night trip from £3,995pp, including flights.
The narrow geography of this central American country makes it possible to sample swells from the Atlantic and Pacific in a single day, surfing secluded beach, reef and point breaks with few other enthusiasts present. Occupying its own jungle-swathed archipelago in the Gulf of Chiriqui, the eco-conscious Islas Secas resort can arrange surfing tours.
Scott Dunn (020 8682 5020; scottdunn.com) offers a five-night stay from £5,385pp full-board, including international flights.
Muck in with ‘critters’, Papua New Guinea
Some of the oceans’ most fascinating animals live among rubbish and detritus. At Observation Point on Milne Bay, marine curiosities emerge from scraps of rusting debris and black volcanic sand. Vibrantly coloured Spanish dancers (a type of nudibranch, or sea slug) flounce like a ripple of flamenco skirts, while shape-shifting mimic octopuses impersonate a variety of creatures. This is “muck diving”, a branch of scuba that began here and counts macro photographers among its fans.
Regent Holidays (01174 534356; regent-holidays.co.uk) can tailor-make an 11-day itinerary from £3,650pp, excluding international flights.
Find your inner explorer, Indonesia
Next year marks 500 years since Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan completed his circumnavigation of the globe, ending in the Spice Islands and finally proving that the Earth was not flat. Retrace his final nautical miles on a cruise of the time-warped archipelago, stopping at Halmahera Island to pay history another nod; this is where Welsh naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace proposed his theory of evolution by natural selection, later joining forces with Charles Darwin.
Original Travel (020 3582 4990; originaltravel.co.uk) can tailor-make a 13-night trip from £8,850pp, including all flights.
Kayak among icebergs, Canada
Migrating south on a funeral march from Greenland’s glaciers, about 2,000 icebergs drift slowly along the coast of Labrador towards their watery grave. From mid-May to mid-June, bergs the size of cruise ships float along a route known as “iceberg alley”, stretching to Newfoundland. Join a guided kayak tour to witness their farewell voyage, often flanked by whales and accompanied by seabirds.
Abercrombie & Kent (01242 547760; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a five-night trip from £2,495pp, including flights.
Dive into the blue, Belize
Colours drain as you descend into the Great Blue Hole, leaving surface life behind to gaze in awe at a stark cathedral of stalactites. Applauded by Jacques Cousteau, this topographical oddity tells the story of our planet’s changing climate. Originally formed as a limestone cave, it was transformed by rising sea levels during the last ice age into the world’s biggest ocean sinkhole. Snorkel with myriad marine life at the opening, which connects to the 186-mile Belize Barrier Reef, or scuba dive into the abyss if certified.
Dive Worldwide (01962 302087; diveworldwide.com) offers a 10-day Belize Liveaboard boat trip from £3,475pp, including flights.
See underwater art, Caribbean
Man-made sculptures add an extra dimension to the underwater world – especially when they double up as coral nurseries. Destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria, three plane wrecks have been refashioned to resemble sharks for non-profit Beyond the Reef’s “Sharkplaneos” project, then sunk off Great Dog Island in the British Virgin Islands. Divers can delve into the fuselages, filled with sergeant majors and damsel fish. A $5 (£4) donation supports local projects.
Dream Yacht Charter (02380 455527; dreamyachtcharter.com) is offering a seven-night all-inclusive cruise from £976pp; flights extra.
Find fossilised monsters, England
Marine animals are entombed in rocks along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, evidence of Britain’s underwater existence 185 million years ago. Lyme Regis is packed with spiralling ammonites and occasional fragments of ichthyosaurs – early aquatic reptiles. The Etches Collection museum in Kimmeridge features hundreds of items amassed by enthusiast Steve Etches, who offers private fossil-hunting tours.
Dorset Hideaways (01386 702655; dorsethideaways.co.uk) offers three-night cottage stays from £794.
Photograph deep sea tigers, Bahamas
Like their terrestrial namesake, tiger sharks sport vertical stripes, and their ferocity commands both respect and fear. Tiger Beach’s dive site is a prime habitat for these apex predators, and even newly qualified divers can swim with them – and often lemon sharks, too. Attracted by chum (fish blood and offal), the tigers have become accustomed to humans, and any circling behaviour is benign. Dives give sharks economic value through tourism, helping to slow their decline.
Dive Worldwide (01962 302087; diveworldwide.com) can tailor-make an 11-day trip from £3,475pp, including flights.
Swim with sailfish, Seychelles
Sailfish are the Usain Bolts of the ocean, capable of speeds of 68mph. Off remote Alphonse Island, guides from Blue Safari boat tours use hookless bait to lure the streamlined predators to the surface, inviting guests to snorkel alongside them. Encounters can be fleeting, but the sight is more exhilarating than any Olympic race.
Reef & Rainforest (01803 866965; reefandrainforest.co.uk) can tailor-make a 12-day outer islands of the Seychelles holiday from £9,995pp, excluding flights.
Sleep with the fishes, Maldives
Fancy spending the night in a bed beneath the sea? Big enough to accommodate families, two new Aqua Villas at Pullman Maldives Maamutaa provide 24-hour live-screen animation of life on Gaafu Alifu Atoll. Go diving to spot up to 13 species of shark, or join beach walks designed to educate children about marine biology.
Best At Travel (020 3993 6948; bestattravel.co.uk) is offering a seven-night all-inclusive stay from £8,969pp, including flights.
Join the migration, South Africa
Between May and July, the waters between Cape Point and KwaZulu-Natal seethe as million-strong shoals join the great sardine run, attracting predators from sea and sky. Get in the water to witness a bait ball, with feeding more furious than at a breakfast buffet.
Scuba Dive Adventures (0113 4681100; scubadiveadventures.co.uk) offers seven-night trips from £2,400pp, excluding flights.
Tag a turtle, Kenya
Of the seven endangered species of turtle, five breed in Watamu Marine National Park. At the Hemingways Watamu hotel, you can join a night watch to protect nests, nurse turtles with fishing-related injuries and witness a release back into the wild.
The Luxury Safari Company (01666 880111; theluxurysafaricompany.com) can tailor-make a seven-night trip from £3,500pp half-board, including flights.
Dive into the black, Maldives
While Elon Musk is on a mission to conquer Mars, the rest of us can have alien encounters closer to home on a “black water” dive. Divers drift in open water at night, guided by a string of LED lights that attract curious, luminous creatures up from the depths. Try it at Six Senses Laamu, which plans to offer the activity to snorkellers, too.
Scott Dunn (020 8682 5020; scottdunn.com) offers a seven-night stay from £3,500pp B&B, excluding international flights.
Snorkel with sea giants, Sri Lanka
Blue, Bryde’s and sperm whales are a formidable sight. During a short weather window between mid-March and mid-April, there is a chance to observe all three species on a trip out of Trincomalee, guided by the team that supported the BBC’s Blue Planet film crew.
Reef & Rainforest (01803 866965; reefandrainforest.co.uk) can tailor a 13-day north Sri Lanka tour from £3,083; flights extra.
Dive with dragons, Australia
Resembling a seahorse in kelp fancy dress, the leafy sea dragon is a magical beast. At Rapid Bay jetty, on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, divers have tracked 30 breeding pairs for a decade and given them nicknames. Snorkel with the fairy-tale creatures as they breeze past in a flurry of rococo frills.
Spot albatrosses, New Zealand
They glide through air and nest on land, but albatrosses spend 85 per cent of their long lives at sea. Some 14 species breed in New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, more than anywhere else in the world. Heritage Expeditions (heritage-expeditions.com) runs voyages through the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, favoured latitudes for these birds, taking in Campbell Island where southern royal albatrosses nest.
Arcturus Expeditions (01837 840640; arcturusexpeditions.co.uk) offers an eight-day “forgotten islands” trip from £6,570pp, including flights. Departs Dec 23.
Sail in sea ice, Norway
As the deep freeze thaws, the coast of Svalbard becomes accessible, allowing sailors to search for polar bears and walruses. The onset of spring brings a chorus of terns, kittiwakes and guillemots, but at times only the sound of wind and melting ice breaks the silence. Sail there on a three-masted schooner built 100 years ago, with a hands-on opportunity to learn the ropes.
Swoop Arctic (0117 369 0296; swoop-arctic.com) offers eight-day trips from £2,458pp in April 2021, excluding international flights.
Sing with sea canaries, Canada
The dulcet tones of singing belugas can be heard when super pods of these pale, melon-headed whales enter Hudson Bay in summer. Join in and they show an interest, spy hopping or twisting their flexible necks. Lazy Bear Lodge in Churchill runs kayak trips to see them; float past the ghostly apparitions, which surface to give boats a playful nudge.
Magnetic North Travel (01664 400103; magneticnorthtravel.com) offers a seven-day trip from £2,995pp B&B, excluding international flights.