The gentle rocking of the deck beneath your feet, the clatter of a gangplank being lifted, the whisper of wind in canvas overhead… Whether you’re crossing a city harbour or sailing to a palm-fringed beach, a voyage aboard a dhow, ferry, yacht or felucca is the most romantic way to travel. We’ve picked ten of the best boat journeys around the KQ network – so weigh anchor and prepare to set sail
Yacht charter, from Mahé or Praslin
Best for: Timeless Indian Ocean drifting
The experience: Just a few degrees south of the equator lie 115 islands scattered across the impossibly blue waters of the Indian Ocean: the Seychelles. Distances between the inner islands are small, so a week or two of sailing – navigating yourself with a bareback charter, or lazing aboard a luxurious crewed yacht – gives a taste of a variety of landscapes and natural spectacles. Mahé, the largest island, is the place to experience the Seychelles’ friendly Creole culture and spot rare plants in the mist forests. Praslin boasts the UNESCO-listed Vallée de Mai, where the curious coco-de-mer, the world’s heaviest nut, grows. La Digue’s shores, lined with distinctive folded rock formations, harbour fabulous birdlife including the endangered paradise flycatcher. Giant tortoises lumber across Curieuse. And the other 111… well, you’ll have to sail there and discover them yourself.
Need to know The official Seychelles tourism website has links to boat-charter companies (www.seychelles.travel/en/). Ferries between Mahé, Praslin and La Digue are operated by Cat Cocos (www.catcocos.com).
Fly KQ to Mahé three times weekly.
Nile cruise, Cairo to Aswan
Best for Incredible ancient monuments
The experience: The Nile, the planet’s longest waterway, has always been more than just a river to Egyptians – effectively the country’s lifeblood; its annual flood nourishes crops to feed the nation. The Nile was also the boundary between the land of the living on the east bank and the land of the dead on the west – hence the west bank is lined with the great pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and countless more tombs and monuments. Float past these ancient edifices on a two-week cruise from Cairo to Aswan, stopping at Tell el Amarna, the abandoned city of Akhenaten and Nefertiti; the temples of Karnak, Hatshepsut and Luxor, and the vast necropolis of the Valley of the Kings; and the shrines at Edfu and Kom Ombo. Whether you’re aboard a cruiser or a compact dahabiyya (luxurious wooden houseboats), you can drink in the atmosphere as you pass small villages and lateen-rigged feluccas, the traditional craft that have navigated these waters for centuries.
Need to know The most comfortable time to travel along the Nile is between October and April; temperatures in Luxor and Aswan can be searing in summer.
Fly KQ to Cairo five times daily via Khartoum, Dar es Salaam, Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
Thames river bus, London
Best for: A tableau of capital highlights
The experience: For centuries, the boats of watermen and wherrymen were as essential to London as the Tube is today – until the 18th century, only one bridge crossed the Thames, so trips across the river and through the city were mainly by boat. Today, Thames Clippers’ River Buses ferry commuters and visitors alike, providing a handy tour of the capital’s key sights. Hop aboard the RB1 at the London Eye for views back towards Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, and look left and right as the boat chugs eastwards to spot Cleopatra’s Needle, the Tate Modern, St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge and the old docks at Wapping on your way to the Cutty Sark and Naval Museum at Greenwich. From Westminster you can extend your trip west to Putney, past the white towers of Battersea Power Station and on to Kew Gardens and Hampton Court aboard a River Tour.
Need to know River buses run from about 7am (9.30am at the weekend) to 11pm; single fare is £6.50, with reductions for holders of Oyster cards and Travelcards. www.tfl.gov.uk
Fly KQ to London Heathrow daily.
Cruise, Wasini Island
Best for: Dolphin-watching and snorkelling
The experience: Head south from Mombasa and, just before the Tanzanian border, you’ll spy Wasini Island – an idyllic speck in the Indian Ocean. This coral islet is just a few kilometres long, populated by fishing communities and harbouring the ruins of an old Swahili settlement. The main attraction, though, lies offshore: Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, covering 28km of coral reefs and open water. Board a dhow at Shimoni village and sail to Wasini via the marine park, keeping an eye out for bottlenose and spinner dolphins and turtles, and slipping into the water for a spot of snorkelling before a slap-up seafood lunch on the island. Take time to stroll the boardwalk, built above the fossil coral garden by local women.
Need to know Kenya Wildlife Service (www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves/KMNP.html) manages Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park; conservation fees are KSh250/US$25 for Kenyans/non-Kenyans. Charlie Claw’s (www.wasini.com) operates dhow cruises and snorkelling trips.
Fly KQ to Mombasa 10 times daily.
Canal cruise, Amsterdam
Best for Running rings around the old city
The experience: Amsterdam is less a city laced with canals, more water broken up by land – the series of concentric channels excavated where the Amstel River meets the open water of the IJ lake, where the medieval town grew, still defines the city centre. So exploring those waterways by boat is a no-brainer: it’s the best way to understand what makes Amsterdam tick (or splash). Dozens of boat operators offer canal tours, many departing from outside Centraal Station, or you can hire a vessel to steer yourself. Whichever way you navigate the waterways, you’ll spy tall, narrow warehouses and historic churches, opulent 17th-century mansions and squat houseboats. And of course those famous brown cafes, tempting you to nip in for a warming nip of jenever (Dutch gin).
Need to know Amsterdam, the city’s official tourism organisation, lists canal tour operators and boat-hire outfits on its website www.iamsterdam.com. An hour-long cruise typically costs around €15.
Fly KQ to Amsterdam at least daily.
Rice barge, Kerala backwaters
Best for Palm-shaded peace
The experience: The necklace of palm-fringed rivers, canals, lakes and lagoons strung along the coast of Kerala has become a byword for relaxation. Hop aboard a bamboo-roofed kettuvallam (converted traditional rice barge-cum-houseboat), settle back and watch the world drift past on an overnight cruise between Alleppey and Kollam. And what a wonderful world: villagers load catches of fish and crops of cashews and coir (coconut fibre) onto dugout canoes to sell at market, women tend rice paddies, kids play at the lagoon’s edge, cantilevered fishing nets hang into the flowing water and livestock snuffle around houses perched on narrow islets. Wildlife abounds, too: watch for Brahminy kites, kingfishers and cormorants drying their wings on tree stumps.
Need to know Kerala is dry and most comfortable between November and March. For a shorter backwaters experience, take a state-run ferry – see schedules at www.swtd.gov.in.
Fly KQ to Mumbai daily.
Chao Phraya Express, Bangkok
Best for Temples and Thai river life
The experience: Modern Bangkok is a high-rise, hi-tech, high-octane megalopolis. But despite Skytrains, buses, tuk-tuks and honking road traffic, at heart the Thai capital is a waterside town, crisscrossed by khlongs (canals) and split from its twin, Thonburi, to the west by the relentless Chao Phraya River. The best way to get a feel for Bangkok, old and new, is aboard the Chao Phraya Express, a ferry that hops between piers from Nonthaburi in the north to Wat Rajsingkorn or Sathorn in the south. The local (no-flag) service offers water-level views of many of the major sights: Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn; Wat Pho, the temple of the reclining Buddha; and the Grand Palace. It also passes longtail boats, cross-river ferries and the entrances to bustling khlongs begging to be explored.
Need to know Express boats run at least every 20 minutes from around 6am to 7pm, and single fares start at 10 Baht. www.chaophrayaexpressboat.com
Fly KQ to Bangkok five times a week.
Star Ferry, Victoria Harbour
Best for Unforgettable city views
The experience: It takes only nine minutes to cross from the pier at Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon to Central on Hong Kong Island – but this brief commute, carrying around 60,000 people every day, is arguably the most iconic experience in the territory. The historic Star Ferry service was launched in 1880 to cross Victoria Harbour, and though the early steamboats are long since retired, the eight electric-diesel, white-and-green double-decker tubs operating today still carry a whiff of nostalgia. Take a seat on the top deck as the sun sets and the city lights start to glimmer like so many thousands of glow-worms all around – a unique and unforgettable micro-voyage.
Need to know Star Ferry vessels run at least every 12 minutes between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui; adult single fares are HK$2/2.50 on lower/upper deck. www.starferry.com.hk shopping.
Fly KQ to Hong Kong three times weekly.
Best for Louvre, Left Bank and Latin Quartier
The experience: The French capital owes its very monicker to the river – or, at least, to the Parisii, a Celtic tribe that settled on the Île de la Cité over 2000 years ago; their name is believed by some to mean ‘boatmen’. Today the banks of the Seine are lined with the city’s key attractions, easily visited via the Batobus boat service that links eight handy piers – notably those alongside the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées. It’s a hop-on, hop-off affair, so you can take your time and explore each area – or just go with the flow and watch Paris as it slides past.
Need to know Batobus boats depart at least every 25 minutes from 10am to 7pm (to 9.30pm April–August). One-day/two-day passes cost €15/18.
Fly KQ to To Paris four times weekly.
Dhow voyage, Zanzibar
Best for: Sundowners under sail
The experience: Ships from far afield – India, Persia, Arabia – have anchored at Zanzibar for centuries, even millennia, sailing up and down the East African coast to trade. The jahazis, traditional sailing vessels rocking at harbour in Stone Town, offer an evocative whiff of those heady days – and a trip aboard a dhow is the perfect way to explore the turquoise waters around the island. A day trip from Fumba might take you into the Menai Bay Conservation Area, among dolphins and turtles, where coral reefs and sandbanks offer fabulous snorkelling; elsewhere, you could hire a fisherman’s ngalawa (outrigger canoe) for a coastal voyage. But for true romance, hop aboard a dusk dhow cruise from Stone Town, lie back and drink in the sunset along with your sundowners.
Need to know The rainy season, from November to May, is best avoided.
Fly KQ to Zanzibar at least twice daily.