For travelers wanting an active and immersive vacation, kayaking through some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes can’t be beat. From paddling beneath awe-inspiring glaciers in the world’s polar reaches to visiting sun-drenched beaches lapped by Mediterranean waters, it’s an incredible way to get a completely different perspective on our globe’s natural and cultural wonders.
In this guide, we’ll introduce some of the top sea kayaking destinations in the world to help inspire your next vacation.
1. Sea of Cortez, Baja Peninsula, Mexico
The Sea of Cortez off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula has garnered a reputation as an outstanding wildlife watching destination and was famously referred to by Jacques Cousteau as the “world’s aquarium”. Around 900 fish species and more than 30 types of marine mammals gather here to feed and breed, making for some incredible wildlife encounters while kayaking. Spend your days slowly paddling between Baja’s beautiful beaches while enjoying unparalleled views of its red rock canyons and dramatic ridges. The Islands of Loreto Bay National Marine Park and Isla Espiritu Santo are two iconic kayaking locations; however if you're looking for something a little more off the beaten path check out Isla San Jose.
2. Northern Vancouver Island, Canada
The wild landscapes of Northern Vancouver Island are a kayaker’s dream, with a rugged coastline fringed by dense forests that attract migrating whales, dolphins and Pacific harbor seals. Kayaking expeditions around Johnstone Strait are particularly memorable, with magnificent views towards mainland British Columbia and regular sightings of orcas who actively feed on the salmon run between mid-July and September. Further west lies Blackfish Sound, a large moving water passage between Hansen Island and Swanson Island whose island-dotted waters are ripe for wildlife sightings, specifically humpback whales.
3. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Hugging the Adriatic Sea from the island of Rab to the Bay of Kotor, the Dalmatian Coast is the jewel in Croatia’s tourism crown. It’s home to UNESCO-listed cities like Dubrovnik and Split, as well as gorgeous islands frequented by luxury yachts. But if you want to get off-the-beaten tourist track, a kayaking tour is the way to go, with unspoiled coastlines, historic ruins, and crystal clear waters to explore. Visit the timeless islands of the Kornati archipelago to discover its stone-built towns and Venetian palaces, as well as sun-dappled olive groves and vineyards.
4. Na Pali Coast, Hawaii, United States
Famed for its towering sea cliffs carved by narrow valleys, the Na Pali Coast is a protected wilderness area in the northwest of Kauai. While a steep footpath known as the Kalalau Trail winds through this spectacular landscape, the best way to appreciate it is from the water. Embark on a 17-mile paddle beneath its soaring cliffs and lush valleys where guavas and mangos thrive while exploring wave-sculpted caves and waterfalls spilling into the Pacific Ocean.
5. Haida Gwaii, Canada
Also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is a wildlife-rich archipelago off British Columbia’s west coast that boasts a rich First Nations history. Its densely forested islands have been inhabited for around 13,000 years by the Haida people, with centuries-old totem poles testament to their long-established culture. Aside from discovering its indigenous heritage sites, a kayaking expedition to Haida Gwaii offers exceptional seabird sightings and unforgettable nights spent fireside at wild base camps. The intertidal zone is pretty spectacular too!
6. Kenai Fjords, Alaska, United States
Encompassing the Harding Icefield (one of the largest of its kind in the United States), the Kenai Fjords National Park is an area of natural beauty that’s best explored by kayak. It’s named after its glacial-carved fjords that are blanketed in forests and provide a rich habitat for moose, brown and black bears (to name just a few). While paddling, keep your eyes peeled for harbor seals, sea otters and even humpback and killer whales that are known to frequent these protected waters.
7. Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
Considered one of the world’s premier destinations for wildlife viewing, the Galapagos Islands need no introduction. While you can explore the archipelago on boat and land-based tours, a kayaking expedition offers a completely different perspective. Paddle beneath soaring cliffs and rock formations inhabited by breeding bird colonies and get up close to the spectacular lava flows that have created its landscapes while spotting wildlife seen nowhere else on Earth.
8. Disko Bay, Greenland
When you consider that kayaking was invented by the Inuit of the Arctic (many of whom still hunt for food by kayak today), there’s no better destination to head for a paddling adventure than Greenland. Most cruises around this massive island include kayaking excursions as part of their itinerary, with destinations such as Disko Bay among the most popular. Imagine slowly paddling amidst immense icebergs and exploring fascinating sea caves before visiting the local settlement of Qeqertaq.
9. Corsica, France
With its craggy peaks jutting out from the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Corsica has a special allure. Its hidden coves, glittering bays, and sun-drenched beaches make it a stunning kayaking destination, particularly around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Reserve Naturelle de Scandola. Most kayaking trips in Corsica include short hikes to visit the island’s historic fortifications and authentic villages, which offer a fascinating insight into the region’s unique customs, cultures, and cuisine.
10. West Coast, Scotland
Scattered with countless islands, spectacular sea stacks and rock formations, the western seaboard of Scotland offers some of the finest sea kayaking in the world. Aside from its majestic natural scenery, the region boasts storied historic landmarks and a fascinating whiskey culture that combine for an unforgettable adventure. Spend your days paddling between remote islands, tranquil inlets and deserted beaches while spotting seals, otters and seabirds.
Cuba is the largest island of the Caribbean and has thousands of miles of coastline. It also has the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean and an abundant and diverse marine ecosystem. This alone would make it a fascinating sea kayak destination, but the icing on the cake is the fabulous culture, art and music of the island. There are several regions that are ideal for sea kayaking, including the northeast coast, where you can paddle in the wake of Christopher Columbus' journey 500 years ago. Or along the southern coast where Zapata National Park is located, which is Cuba's largest national park. Paddle through mangroves and over shallow white-sand bottoms where you can also snorkel and birdwatch. Nearby is the Bay of Pigs, location for the failed US invasion of 1961 and another fascinating paddling area.