Kayaking is often the best and most scenic way to see a destination. You’ll be nimble enough to discover nooks, crannies and deserted beaches, avoiding typical tourist traps. On top of that, it’s an enjoyable way to get or stay fit on holiday.Paddle through the sun-dappled, forest-fringed rivers of southern France, drift in the jade waters of Halong Bay in Vietnam, or embark on an adventurous white-water tour in the mountains; the following destinations have been rated most highly for kayaking by global travellers.
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- Cát Bà in Hai Phong, Vietnam
- Bovec in Littoral, Slovenia
- Bacalar in Quintana Roo, Mexico
- Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche in France
- Crystal River in Florida, USA
- Kaiteriteri in Tasman, New Zealand
- Isla Grande in Bolivar, Colombia
Most tourists don’t leave Vietnam without seeing Halong Bay, while Cát Bà Island remains relatively secret. It’s the largest island in the Lan Ha bay, with three tiny beach coves lapped by balmy, jade waters. Almost half the island is a protected national park; a largely untouched haven of jungle, waterfalls, caves and quiet fishing villages. Cát Bà Island can either be visited as an extended Halong Bay trip, or on its own.
The mountain town of Bovec in northwestern Slovenia will be a welcome discovery for keen kayakers. It lies in a wide valley in the Julian Alps, with the turquoise water of the rapid river Soča flowing through. An unspoiled region of forests, glacial lakes and wildflower meadows, it’s a fabulous place for an active holiday.
At the bottom of the Yucatán peninsula, the town of Bacalar is famed for its freshwater lagoon of seven colours. The clear water and shifting, white sandy lake bed create a colour-changing effect depending on the depth or time of day. You can swim, kayak or paddleboard to the middle of the 50km-long and 2km-wide lake, admiring the water morph from turquoise to deep indigo. For views of the lagoon’s mirage of colours from your bedroom window, stay in a thatched bungalow at the Hotel Sun Ha Bacalar.
The medieval town of Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche is the finish line for kayaking trips through the 30km-long Gorges de l’Ardèche. This region’s colossal limestone cliffs and snaking, green rivers have earned it the moniker ‘the European Grand Canyon’. Stop to take a photo at the Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, a statuesque, natural stone arch with small, pebble beaches on either side for passers-by to pull up their canoes and have a picnic. Les Chambres De Caïre Noù is a property only a 2-minute walk from the beach, with a sun terrace draped in flowers and overlooking the Ardèche river.
Florida’s multitude of freshwater springs makes the state something of a subtropical Eden. The warm, clear water that turns teal blue when light hits the deeper pools is bordered by tall palm trees and vines. If you want to explore by kayak, visit outside the winter manatee season, when the waters are filled with these gentle creatures and boating is restricted to protect them. Crystal River is relatively short but there are plenty of waterways to explore, including the Chassahowitzka River and National Wildlife Refuge.
The spotless, ochre sand and blue-green waters of Kaiteriteri beach can be found at the southernmost tip of the Abel Tasman National Park. You can take a sea kayaking tour along the coastline or into the national park, which provides plenty of deserted coves, lagoons and creeks to paddle through. On a typical sunny day, the natural beauty of the region will leave you reeling. In Split Apple Lodge, just a short drive from the beach, you’ll find open, modern rooms with soft touches like roaring fireplaces, wooden rocking chairs and warm lighting.
One of 27 miniature coral islands of the Rosario Archipelago, Isla Grande is one of Colombia’s finest treasures. Pearly white sand, inland forests, lagoons and a feeling of total privacy make this island particularly special. Kayaking is the perfect way to explore under your own steam, taking in the vibrancy of the reef and its schools of fish.