You’ve decided to go on a yacht charter. Congratulations! No doubt it will be an amazing and unforgettable experience. But how do you choose where to go? Today’s charter operations trace a constellation of stunning and unique destinations all over the world. In the end, your pick depends on what you want — relaxation or adventure, history or luxury, far-flung or closer to home. Here’s a look at 12 of the best yacht charter spots, who will enjoy them and why.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS
For those who favor rugged terrain and access to outdoor activities
With a wide selection of safe anchorages around numerous islets and marine parks, these waters are a yachting favorite. The San Juans are ideal for those who favor U.S. waters and delight in breathtaking wood-and-stone landscapes with access to activities like mountain biking, kayaking and fishing. Wildlife abounds here — eagles, loons, whales, dolphins, seals and otters — and quaint seaside towns offer a welcoming respite. Learn how peace trumped war at the American and English Camps on San Juan, overnight in a quiet site near the beach on Shaw, or hike deep forests and rocky shoreline trails on Lopez. There is a bounty of history and beauty to keep you amazed here.
For those seeking both over-the-top and off-the-beaten-path options
Made up of more than 700 islands and cays in the Atlantic Ocean, the Bahamas pose a “best of both worlds” scenario. New Providence and its next-door neighbor Paradise Island are home to iconic resorts like Atlantis and Baha Mar. Both resorts boast luxe shopping, haute restaurants, glitzy casinos and all the tourist trappings imaginable (and some unimaginable). Other island groups like the Abacos and Exumas present simpler attractions like beautiful white-sand beaches, picturesque villages and vibrant sea life for snorkeling and diving. So, pick your pleasure! The fact that the Bahamas is close to home means easy accessibility and peace of mind.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
For those attracted to natural beauty, with a side of national pride
A short flight from the U.S. will land you in St. Thomas, a dynamic tourist destination with fashionable shopping, gorgeous beaches and world-class snorkeling and diving. It is also the jumping-off point to visit the two other main islands in the USVI: St. John and St. Croix. The former is two-thirds national park, a true biological beauty with first-rate water sports as well as hiking, horseback riding and fascinating hand-carved petroglyphs and ruins. The latter is home to one of only three underwater national monuments in the U.S. — the Buck Island Reef National Monument — in addition to a stylish casino, rum distilleries, several golf courses (including miniature) and multiple museums. The USVIs are accessible, welcoming and family friendly.
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
For those seeking the archetypal Caribbean charter vacation
The four main islands here — Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola and Virgin Gorda — and the 60-plus smaller ones are the world’s top cruising destination for a reason: superb sailing and services, protected waters, stunning anchorages, distinct ports and eclectic attractions. Anegada offers solitude and seclusion, with white-sand beaches and rare wildlife like rock iguanas and flourishing orchids. For sun and fun, hit up Jost Van Dyke and its infamous Foxy’s Tamarind Bar. Virgin Gorda is home to The Baths (you’ve surely seen the pictures), while Tortola has superb shopping, splendid beaches and endless tasty cuisine. Between the islands, stop and dive the famed shipwrecks and caves. There’s no shortage of reasons to come back again and again.
For those chasing a Caribbean charter with distinctly different islands
The Windwards are for those desiring an exotic Caribbean charter, one typified by exciting (but not too challenging) passages between islands rich with culture and nature. The main draws consist of Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada, each with a unique flavor. Martinique, an overseas territory of France, offers colorful townhouses and sidewalk cafes in the chic capital of Fort-de-France — plus a lush and mountainous countryside. St. Lucia boasts a mix of gold- and black-sand beaches, expansive plantations and charming “Old Caribbean” harbors and hamlets. St. Vincent is famous for its British heritage, steep mountain ridges, waterfalls and active volcano, La Soufriere. Grenada is rolling and verdant, with rare plants and rum distilleries befitting the name “The Spice Island.”
For those wanting a stunning European setting that blends old and new
The Adriatic Sea along the west coast of Croatia is one of Europe’s most scenic cruising grounds, featuring the ruggedly beautiful Dalmatian Islands as well as centuries- old towns with ancient castles and vibrant entertainment districts. Come here for the variety: pristine beaches, bustling nightlife, excellent cuisine, secluded coves, fascinating historic sites, appealing anchorages and blue-green waters. The passages between the islands and the coast, to cities like Dubrovnik and Split, can be long or short, sheltered or open — whichever you desire.
For those wishing to discover “the cradle of Western Civilization” first hand
We like to think we know all about Greece from history class, but you’ll come back from a charter vacation here understanding so much more. This is the trip for you if you love immersing yourself in ancient philosophy, culture and the arts. Visit the mythic sites of Athens in the Sardonic Gulf, or start on Greece’s northwestern shores in the lively port of Corfu. You’ll navigate the same waters that mariners have sailed for centuries, crossing between the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Sporades and Ionian isles on calm azure waters or open wine-dark seas. Greece is a one-of-a-kind destination, with majestic vistas and rocky coasts crowned with white stone villages that will leave you pondering bygone eras.
For those in search of a timeless destination with alluring history and culture
Bordering the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, Turkey is a place where east meets west, a treasure chest of timeless wonders and modern indulgences. The coastline charms charterers with pristine islands and white stone cliffs pitted with coves and beaches, ideal for anchoring and secluding yourself from the rest of the world. Archeological sites and sleepy fishing villages provide a rich cultural experience, one contrasted by active towns with sensational cuisine and great opportunities for swimming, diving, touring and shopping. Come here if you want a charter that’s off the beaten path and different from anything you’ve experienced before.
For those wanting to experience a legendary, romantic tropical paradise
Just the name conjures images of a secret paradise set amid cobalt blue seas, bursting with exotic wildlife and spectacular landscapes — not to mention legends with characters like Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian. And the images aren’t too far off. Tahiti and its sisters in the Society Islands (Bora-Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa) retain their inherent splendor, Polynesian influence and warm hospitality, while also incorporating frills like overwater villas and fine cuisine. The golden beaches and extraordinary sea life— more than 500 species of fish — attract visitors from the world over, and line-of-sight navigation accommodates even those skippers with basic skills.
KINGDOM OF TONGA
For those who want palm-fringed shores and warm island traditions
Situated midway in the Pacific Ocean between Tahiti and Fiji, the Kingdom of Tonga is comprised of 60 islands in four distinct groups: Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Vava’u, and Niuas. The wooded and often hilly coral islands are lined with pristine white-sand beaches ideal for snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing. Picturesque anchorages well protected from ocean swells are usually no more than a couple miles apart, but there’s also clear water for South Pacific sailing at its best. There are a handful of resorts and restaurants on the islands, but the principle attractions are the spectacular sea life (including the Humpback whale) and welcoming people, who cherish hospitality and engender a sincere desire to make visitors feel at home.
For those who prefer a living paradise paired with a laid-back vibe
A charter “down under” usually means a visit to the Whitsunday Islands, a group of 74 landmasses located off the coast of Queensland in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. A charter here is uncrowded and unspoiled — you can swim in a secluded bay, bushwalk through a vine-strewn forest, climb an emerald mountain or camp in a secluded park. Snorkelers and divers will wonder at the myriad species of fish in the fringe reefs and deeper coral gardens. When you’re ready for some pampering, pull into one of the island resorts for fine food, drinks and amenities. Other Australian charter opportunities include the cosmopolitan highlights of Sydney and the historic ports of Tasmania.
For those wishing to visit Middle-Earth by charter boat
Famed for its otherworldly splendor, New Zealand offers spectacular sailing and three distinct regions to explore. Auckland City is the gateway to the Hauraki Gulf cruising grounds, featuring some 76 islands, 200 anchorages and miles of stunning coastline stretching north. The Bay of Islands, a day trip from Auckland, combines early New Zealand history with stunning sub-tropical scenery and great fishing and diving. At the top of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds are more remote, with dramatic environs including deep sunken river valleys, sheltered bays and bush-clad hills. A charter here will reveal why New Zealanders have more boats per capita than any other country.