Reaching Paradise By Boat: Top Yachting Destinations

Although Boat Trader is America’s largest boating marketplace, once you’ve purchased your boat the freedom of life on the water opens up new worlds, stretching far beyond the borders of the U.S. and into international waters. Whether you’re circumnavigating the globe on a sailing catamaran or cruising along the coast, you’re bound to discover some some truly amazing places. After days, and sometimes weeks, on passage on a yacht there is something magical about watching your boat’s destination materialize on the horizon. Nearing land the focus shifts from sailing seemingly endless seas to suddenly exploring unknown lands. There is an excited anticipation about all that will be found ashore – from hidden beaches to lush, untouched tropical gardens and palm tree groves. Of course not every landfall is a remote tropical destination but when it is, the stress of being on passage melts away with the promise of a protected anchorage boasting tranquil blue water, swaying palm trees and Instagram worthy beach views #paradisefound.

Many of the places on this list are still pristine largely because without a nearby airport getting to them is not easy for the traditional tourist. The advantage of exploring the world by sailboat or motoryacht is that even the most far-flung islands can be added to the bucket list. It might take a little effort to get to these exotic destinations but it worth the trouble to enjoy your very own private slice of paradise. Let’s take a look at some of the best hidden gems accessible only by boat in the world.

Tuamotu Atolls, French Polynesia

The South Pacific island paradise of French Polynesia has been popular with sailors since Captain Cook sailed through in the 1700’s. However, until recent years the Tuamotu Islands were dubbed the “Dangerous Archipelago” because the low-lying islands and the numerous hazardous reefs were a navigator’s nightmare. For hundreds of years they were staunchly avoided, but modern GPS and improved charting has made these islands accessible to any sailor with a keen eye and a steady hand.

Polynesia Hidden Beaches

Above: An aerial view of atoll and reefs in French Polynesia. Photo by Ikpro on Pond5.

Situated 200NM northeast of Tahiti, the Tuamotu are 78 islands dotted across some 1100NM of Pacific Ocean, that together they make up the largest atoll chain in the world. The “islands” of the Tuamotu are coral atolls, the remnants of a group of ancient, sunken volcanoes. Each atoll is made up of a collection of small islets, or “motu”, that string together to encircle a lagoon.

Coral reef beach on an atoll in Polynesia

Above: Coral reef beach on an atoll in Polynesia. Photo by Ikpro on Pond5.

The large breaks between these motu allow boats to pass into the lagoon where they find shelter from the roar of the open ocean and paradise outside every port hole. A favorite activity is to snorkel or dive these passes, riding the fast running currents and effortlessly enjoying being surrounded by what looks like a giant aquarium tank, full of colorful corals, fish, sharks and dolphins.

Sharks swimming in Tuamotu Atoll Polynesia

Above: Three sharks swimming in a protected cove on a pink and white sand beach in Tuamotu Atoll Polynesia. Photo by Ikpro on Pond5.

Suwarrow Atoll, Northern Cook Islands

Another favorite stopping place among sailors in the South Pacific is the Suwarrow Atoll. This remote atoll encompasses a lagoon that is 50 miles in circumference and lies just 800 miles south of the equator. A part of the Cook Islands, and a protectorate of New Zealand, this area has been a National Park since 1978.

Tropical Beach Paradise

Above: A tropical beach paradise on Suwarrow Island in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Photo by mvaligursky on Pond5.

Suwarrow has long intrigued people and before it gained National Park status several people tried to live there. Perhaps the most well known was Tom Neal, a New Zealander who managed to survive there by himself not once but on three occasions, totally 16 years. His book, An Island to Oneself, published in 1966 is a much beloved account of his life ashore.

Now home to an assortment of sea birds and marine life big and small – including manta rays, sea turtles, sharks and humpback whales – there are no human inhabitants other than a couple rangers who are stationed there seasonally. If you’re looking for a tropical beach to call your own, you can find it here.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

The islands of Indonesia are no secret when it come to tropical vacation destinations. But if you are arriving by boat, Bali probably isn’t number one on your must-see list. The islands of Raja Ampat, on the other hand, are so well loved by sailors there is an annual rally you can join.

Raja Ampat, or Four Kings, is an island archipelago in New Guinea, Indonesia.

Above: Raja Ampat, or Four Kings, the island archipelago in New Guinea, Indonesia. Photo by Shunga_Shanga on Pond5.

Raja Ampat, which translates into Four Kings, straddles the equator in the waters around West Papua, on Indonesia’s eastern border. The island chain has close to 1800 islands, cays and shoals but it is the four largest islands, the kings, that the area is named after. The islands are steep rock formations crusted in lush, tropical vegetation that jut from crystal clear, aquamarine water. Rugged and beautiful, Raja Ampat is where the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet.

Bamboo hut on stilts over the water in Rajat Ampat

Above: Bamboo hut on stilts over the water in Rajat Ampat, Indonesia. Photo by Shunga_Shanga on Pond5.

Steeped in mythology this area is thought to have been formed 25 million years ago. Famed for its marine diversity and dubbed a “species factory” most of Raja Ampat is a protected marine area and is only accessible by boat. It is believed that Raja Ampat is home to 75% of all the known species of hard corals, along with more than 1700 species of reef fish, several kinds of whales, dolphins and the endangered dugong. If you are a keen diver or snorkeler Raja Ampat should be on your bucket list.

Cocos Islands, Costa Rica

This small island is only 5 miles long by 2 miles wide but has a big reputation thanks to it being a filming location for the 90’s Hollywood blockbuster, Jurassic Park. Its dramatic mountains, thick tropical forests and awe-inspiring waterfalls were the perfect backdrop for the opening helicopter scene.

Located just 340 miles west of the Costa Rican mainland this island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. A Ranger Station and Visitor Center is found ashore, but otherwise this photogenic island is uninhabited. Frequently referred to as a little Galapagos, Cocos Island stands alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is only accessible by boat.

Coco Island National Park

Above: Coco Island National Park lies 340 miles west of the Costa Rican mainland and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo by Mathes on Pond5.

The drama of the island is reflected in surround seas as the ocean bottom drops off steeply into the nutrient rich and very clear water. This perfect combination of visibility and marine life is exactly why divers flock to this island. Famed as one of the few places in the world where hammerhead sharks regularly assemble in the thousands it is also a great spot to sea whale sharks and giant manta rays. And, if all that doesn’t pique your curiosity, then perhaps the promise of ancient treasure buried ashore might.

Ha’apai Islands, Kingdom of Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is located between French Polynesia and Fiji and is a popular stop for the seasonal migration of boats across the South Pacific. However, most boats simply stop in the northern Vava’U group of islands where there is a thriving tourist sector ready to great them. Although the island of Vava’U are beautiful, it’s hard to get away from the crowds. If you’re looking for some place a little more off the beaten track while in Tonga, then the Ha’apai Island just a few miles south is where to point the bow.

aapai, Haapai Islands, Tonga

Above: Little island with a white sand beach in Haapai, Haapai Islands, Tonga. Photo by rharding on Pond5.

Dubbed the “Friendly Islands” by passing sailors over two centuries ago the 51 islands, islets and shoals in the Ha’apai group are as ruggedly beautiful as they are remote. The island group stretches north-south directly west of the deep-water Tongan Trench and about 127 miles north of the capital of Tongatapu. Only the largest 17 islands have settlements on them, which means there are plenty of deserted anchorages to explore.

Vast underwater coral scapes that are vibrant with colour and teaming with reef fish await snorkelers and divers. While the many fine sand beaches are a perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. Tonga attracts not only boaters but a healthy population humpback whales who migrate to the temperate, protected waters to calve each year. It is not unusual to hear whales singing through the hull of your boat, or to spot a Mother and calf frolicking at the surface while out in the dinghy.

Rock Islands, Palau

Tucked in between the densely populated Philippines and the well-known island of Guam in the North- West Pacific, the Rock Islands of Palau are a haven for sailors heading to or from Asia. Although there is an airport outside the main town of Koror that caters to Asian fly-in tourist, the outer Rock Islands are only accessible by boat.

The uninhabited Rock Islands are a string of almost 300 oddly-shaped, limestone islands that dance across 25 sq. miles of protected lagoon. Imposing, monolithic stone arches protrude dramatically from the sea as tiny islets fringed with tropical foliage stand silent. Steep cliffs, pocked with caves, weave through a maze of bays which provide a seemingly endless choice of sheltered anchorages. It is the perfect place to escape.

The Rock Islands of Palau, also called Chelbacheb, are a collection of several hundred small limestone or coral uprises in the Southern Lagoon of Palau between Koror and Peleliu. Photo by RWBrooks on Pond5.

Above: The Rock Islands of Palau, also called Chelbacheb, are a collection of several hundred small limestone or coral uprises in the Southern Lagoon of Palau between Koror and Peleliu. Photo by RWBrooks on Pond5.

Like many islands in this part of the Pacific, Palau a part of the Pacific theatre during WWII. Abandon anti-aircraft guns still hid in the cliffs, as do covert lookout posts, and abandon ordnance. Peleliu, a small island at the southern end of the lagoon, was host to one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific in WWII and is open to visitors.

The Rock Islands not only provide comfortable anchorages they are perfect for anyone who enjoys kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. With miles of protected coves and waterways it is an ideal place for beginner paddlers. For the more advanced who crave a little adventure, the limestone islands are full of arches and narrow passage ways that reveal themselves as the tide turns.

Chagos Archipelago

This small island group has been a welcome respite to many sailors on what can be a long and difficult passage across the vast Indian Ocean. The island chain is made up of 60 islands and islets that run along a submarine mountain range around 1000 miles south of the Indian subcontinent. Although the total land mass is only 22 sq. miles the totally area, including the lagoons within the atoll, is over 9000 sq. miles.

As protected as it has been contested – the islands have been under French and British control in recent history – this area is considered a refuge for many threatened marine species. Home to the largest atoll in the world, The Great Chagos Bank, this tropical ecosystem supports as many as 800 varieties of fish and more than 50 different species of sharks.

Tropical Beach Paradise in Chagos Islands

Above: Salomon Atoll is an above water feature in the Chagos Archipelago, a hotspot for biodiversity in the Indian Ocean. Photo by Molbert on Pond5.

Like other atolls the islands themselves are low-lying slivers that seems to barely break the surface of the jewel-toned ocean that surrounds them. However, once inside the lagoons a boat will find instant reprieve from the rigors of the open ocean. Its incredibly remote location ensures clean, clear water and great visibility for snorkeling or diving and plenty of photo opts for Instagram.

Seychelles Islands

The Republic of Seychelles is another island group in the Indian Ocean, located about 930 mile east of mainland Africa. Uninhabited until being settled by European sailors in the 16th century, these islands are still home to a thriving sailing community. Many of whom call the big island of Mahe, and the capital Victoria, home.

There are 115 islands in the Seychelles. Unlike many other remote destinations, many of the 41 inner islands in are mountainous and covered tropical rainforest. In fact, they are believed to be the oldest granite islands on earth. The steep cliffs and lush forests make for a dramatic backdrop for the powder-fine white sand beaches that are plentiful across the islands.

Seychelles beach

Above: Located in the Somali Sea within the Indian Ocean, Seychelles Beaches are among the most spectacular in the world. Photo by Aleksandra Matveev on Pond5.

The relatively shallow water between islands, the consistent trade winds and its location outside the cyclone belt mean that sailing is a year around activity in the Seychelles. If you don’t have a yacht, or aren’t quite ready to cross the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles are one of the few far-flung tropical destinations where you can charter a boat.

Mopion Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The Caribbean is probably not the first place most people think of when looking for unspoiled paradise due to large crowds of tourists and crowded resorts. Yet, just a stone’s throw away from the beaches packed with tourist is a special little spot called Ile Mopin, often referred to as “the hidden beach”. Located at the southern tip of the island chain of St. Vincent and the Grenadines this little gem can be a bit tricky to find. That’s because Mopion Island truly disappears at high tide as it is submerged under a few feet of water!

Mopion Island St Vincent Grenadines

Above: An aerial view of Mopion Island, in St. Vincent and The Grenadines. Photo by BaseCampVegas on Pond5.

This tiny white sand island is really a sand cay surrounded by a coral reef. The cay breaks the surface of the jewel-toned turquoise ocean that surrounds it on all but the highest of tides. Only a few wide, it is a perfect spot to have a picnic on a sunny afternoon. Afterwards enjoy snorkeling on the surrounding reef, build a sand castle or just kick back and relax on your own private Caribbean island until the tide comes in.

Do you have a favorite remote yachting destination or a local beach accessible by boat? Share it with us on social media, tag @boattrader and tell us the story!

Written by: Heather Francis

Heather Francis is from Nova Scotia, Canada. She has worked and lived on boats throughout the world since 2002. In 2008 she and her Aussie partner, Steve, bought Kate, their Newport 41, in California and have been sailing her fulltime since. They are currently in the Philippines looking for wind and you can follow their adventures at www.yachtkate.com.