- Navigate the Yangtze to explore rural and urban China within a week
- A trip down the Amazon offers sightings of wild pigs, jaguar and armadillo
- Kayak in the Florida Keys at sunset to make the most out of the scenery
Three quarters of the world's surface is water, but nearly all of our vacations are based on land. It stands to reason that we must be missing out.
Luckily there are some fantastic ways to see the wet face of the planet.
1. Explore the pristine coves of Tierra del Fuego
This journey around the foot of Patagonia is one of the most unusual experiences on earth. The expedition ships of Cruceros Australis bring passengers close to soaring condors, penguin colonies and glaciers.
Expert on-board briefings segue into party nights around the free bar -- that includes the whiskey waiting to welcome expeditioners back to their dinghy after an icy trek.
From US$899 for three nights, US$1,199 for four nights; www.australis.com
2. Navigate the Yangtze
There's much more to this great river than the spectacular Three Gorges dam. Victoria Cruises' American ships go all the way from Chongqing to Shanghai, stopping to explore cities like Nanjing and Wuhan.
They also offer shore excursions to scenic highlights like mist-shrouded White Emperor City and the Yellow Mountains of Huangshan -- allowing glimpses of a whole swathe of rural and urban China within a week.
From US$1,610 plus US$240 for excursions, www.victoriacruises.com
3. Break ice in the Antarctic
In its inaugural season, Compagnie du Ponant's new super yacht L'Austral is operating six voyages to Antarctica from the foot of Argentina. Naturalist guides will brief explorers on excursions to see extraordinary wildlife at close range against a backdrop of majestic glaciers and icebergs.
For the truly adventurous, Responsible Travel is organizing diving expeditions in the frosty ocean.
Ten-day voyage from US$5,164+US$540pp port taxes; www.ponant.com. 11-day diving expedition from US$6,685; www.responsibletravel.com
4. Ride Norway's coastal steamer to the Arctic Circle
The Norwegian Coastal Voyage is a trip is on a working steamer, not a cruise liner.
The ship travels up and down Norway's magnificent west coast from Bergen in the South to Kirkenes in the North calling at 34 ports along the way, most never visited by larger ships.
There's no dressing up for dinner and no fighting for the Captain's table -- just gruff locals to rub shoulders with.
From US$1,680 for the six-day voyage; www.hurtigruten.co.uk
5. Cruise the Mekong delta
The Wat Phou rice barge takes passengers down the Laos section of the Mekong, showcasing some of the finest sights on the river.
The hidden forest temple of Oum Mong, the largest falls in Southeast Asia at Khone Pha Pheng and a visit to the 4,000 Islands region are highlights.
A long-tail boat excursion to Khone Island followed by lunch on the mainland against a backdrop of colorful French-colonial houses is also included in the three-day tour.
From US$640; www.responsibletravel.com
6. Motor up the Amazon
The motor-yacht Tucano is the only vessel to penetrate the Central Amazon Ecological Corridor.
Navigating her way from Manaus up the Rio Negro against lush trees and blooms, with the call of toucans and howler monkeys reverberating in the trees, she stops daily to allow for sightings of wild pigs, jaguar and armadillo.
Up to 18 passengers can also look forward to pink dolphins and dining on provisions fresh from the rainforest.
From US$1,699 full board; www.gapadventures.com
7. Sail through the Alaskan wilderness
The Island Odyssey nudges deep into the narrow passages of southeast Alaska that giant cruise liners are too big to navigate.
Sights include bears tucking into salmon on the river banks, native totem poles and icebergs and glaciers at the end of mountain fjords.
Shore excursions between Prince Rupert, British Columbia and Petersburg get passengers up into alpine meadows and bring them to the feet of magnificent waterfalls.
From US$4,383; www.responsibletravel.com
8. Confront giant tortoises in the Galapagos
The Coral II is a spacious yacht offering the chance to get up close and personal with the endemic wildlife of the Galapagos.
Eight-day itineraries include sailing on a dinghy through the mangroves and checking out the islands' famous giant tortoises.
There are also sea lions, marine turtles and white-tipped reef sharks, plus a trip to the Charles Darwin Research Centre.
From US$3,040; www.ewaterways.co.uk
9. Ride the rapids in Nepal
Participants in this epic 15-day trip start in Kathmandu, and after acclimatizing to the dizzying altitude, trek for four days through scenic mountain passes from Pokhara to their river drop-off.
Then you brave high-grade whitewater accompanied by a world-class expert, and camp each night on virgin river banks before reaching the splendor of Chitwan National Park.
From US$17,199; www.epictomato.com
10. Watch whales off the coast of Mexico
Wintering in Baja California, where the desert meets the sea, can bring you really close to gray whales migrating south to rear their young.
National Geographic's Sea Bird cruises the breeding grounds of Bahia Magdalena and offers naturalist-guided walks on uninhabited desert islands as well as snorkeling and kayaking in the Sea of Cortez.
From US$5,240; www.expeditions.com
11. Float through the backwaters of Kerala
Nearly 1,000 kilometers of the lagoons, canals, estuaries and rivers draining into the Arabian Sea are navigable here, and one of the most relaxing experiences on earth is to float slowly past the villages along the banks on a beautifully kitted-out houseboat.
Most offer comfortable bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and fabulous vegetarian food cooked on-board, but you may have to bring your own beer and alcohol.
Full directory of options at www.houseboatskerala.co.in
12. Follow the trail of the pharaohs down the Nile
So many tourist boats ply the riverbank ruins of ancient Egypt, many decidedly rickety, it's worth researching a really good one to be sure of home comforts.
Ewaterways uses only five-star floating hotels with a maximum of 130 cabins.
They sail from Luxor to Aswan via Karnak, the Avenue of the Sphinxes, Valley of the Kings and Queens and one stupendous temple after another.
From US$465; www.ewaterways.co.uk
13. Raft the Zambezi's white water
The Zambezi Safari and Travel Company offers the thrill of pitting your wits against the top-graded rushing water below the Victoria Falls.
Trips lasting up to five days through a gorge cut into Africa over 300 million years are possible.
However, the one-day trip at low water between July and February is considered the best white-water experience.
From US$135 per day; www.zambezi.com
14. Kayak from sunset to moonlight in the Florida Keys
The tranquil waters of Hemingway's playground are gentle enough to be navigated by moonlight. But those who don't want to miss out on the scenery can get the best of both worlds by taking to their paddles before the sun dips below the horizon.
Sunset tours start from Big Pine Key and meander through the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.
Big Pine Kayak Adventure US$50 per person; www.keyskayaktours.com
15. Follow a rare canoe trail through Botswana
After a 30-year dry spell, the Selinda Spillway linking the Okavango Delta to the Linyanti and Kwando water systems is now flowing again.
Given the rate of climate change, there may only be a short window to explore this stretch of northern Botswana, with a meander into the magnificent 320,000-acre Selinda Reserve, by canoe.
Expect to see elephant, buffalo, wild dogs and a vast array of birds.
From US$1,760 for four days; www.greatplainsconservation.com