As the colder months approach in Europe, sailors are increasingly unwilling to accept that the yachting season is coming to an end and are changing tack in search of sailing opportunities in warmer climes. If this is you, we highly recommend exotic locations, such as the Caribbean, the Seychelles and Thailand, where pristine beaches and bays, stunning natural beauty and a magical underwater world await. And there's no need to be apprehensive about trying out exotic destinations — our guide has everything you'll need to know before setting sail.
The most popular exotic sailing destinations
So, what countries do we mean exactly when we say exotic? When it comes to our clients, they often head to the untouched Seychelles, the picture-perfect islands in the Caribbean (such as St. Lucia, Martinique and the British Virgin Islands), Cuba, the Bahamas, or to the edge of the earth in French Polynesia. Looking towards Asia, Thailand and the Maldives are popular, while in Africa it's Cape Verde.
Cape Verde will enchant you not only with its beautiful sea, but with its breathtaking natural beauty
Why set sail in exotic countries?
Why are more and more sailors willing to endure the long flights to exotic destinations? Here are just a few of the reasons.
Unspoilt natural beauty
Nowhere else will you find bays this deserted, beaches with such fine sand and spots where you won't run into a soul. Forget the crowds and it will be just you, the coconut palms and the occasional seagull, crab or fish.
There's a reason people go on about Caribbean-like beaches
Longing for clear blue waters, white sandy beaches and gorgeous scenery? Cruising in an exotic destination gives you the opportunity to stop off at a stunning cove with a beach every single day.
Snorkelling: the natural aquarium
For snorkelling or scuba diving enthusiasts, exotic locations are perfect for exploring the underwater world. What you'll discover beneath the surface in these countries is incomparable to any European destination. In some spots, you can rent scuba diving and snorkelling equipment, but if you have your own fins and a snorkel, don't hesitate to throw them in your bag.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Ask the locals what sealife to be on the lookout for, but no matter what, you're guaranteed a wonderful experience. If you're headed to the Caribbean, for example, it is best to pack a snorkel, fins and a mask but even without, the fascinating underwater life is vibrant and varied at shallow depths. The Caribbean coral reefs are abundant in colourful fish and fauna, where you can catch a glimpse of manta rays, sea turtles and various species of sharks. Just pick a spot with clear shallow water, anchor and go exploring.
The sailing season in exotic countries
In Europe, the season is limited to the period from around April to October or November. In exotic destinations you can sail pretty much all year round although particular destinations have slight constraints due to rainy or hurricane seasons. For example, it is recommended to visit the Caribbean between February and May or November and January.
Weather and sailing conditions
Generally speaking, people go to exotic countries for holidaying and relaxation more than for adrenaline-fuelled sailing across the waves. Of course, you can enjoy some good sailing here, but it is more of a leisurely cruise without conditions being too challenging. Expect the weather here to be sunny and winds to be mild to moderate and steady with no gusts. One exception, of course, is during monsoons, hurricanes and similar weather formations, which are best avoided.
In the Seychelles, for example, there are light to moderate winds, but waves are very modest. In the Caribbean, the weather is generally stable throughout the season. In Thailand, winds are around 5 to 15 knots and temperatures are about 30 °C all year round.
Compared to yachting in Europe, you will find fewer marinas and harbours in these exotic countries and don't expect moorings or buoy fields around every corner like in Croatia. It's much more common to anchor in bays, but as these are often shallow and sandy, the anchor holds firm, providing a secure spot to moor for the night.
What type of boat is best for exotic sailing? And how to choose
Because of the shallow waters and the possibility of taking a boat almost right up to the beach, we generally recommend a catamaran for an exotic holiday. This is a safe bet. In addition to having a shallow draft (around one metre), catamarans are well equipped, spacious and comfortable. Also equipment, such as solar panels, fresh water generator, electricity generator and a barbecue come as standard. Cruising exotic regions is mostly about relaxing, swimming and sunbathing, so the large deck and trampolines (nets) between a catamaran's floats are perfect.
Lounging on the nets between a catamaran's hulls is simply amazing, both when sailing and at sunset
What boats do we recommend in exotic destinations?
Of course, the fact that we recommend catamarans to our clients does not prevent you from renting a conventional sailing boat here too. Either way, we think these boats are worth your consideration — the beautiful Lagoon 380 in the Seychelles, the spacious Leopard 40 in French Polynesia, the classic Sun Odyssey 419 in Phuket, Thailand, the Athena 28 catamaran with its atypical interior design in Cuba, the elegant Oceanis 42 in St. Lucia, the sun-drenched Sunsail 40 in Martinique, the modern Lagoon 42 in the British Virgin Islands.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Are you thinking about going on an exotic yachting vacation, but still hesitant about where exactly and which boat to choose? We've selected 10 catamarans and sailboats of various sizes in the most popular exotic destinations that are well worth a look — Top 10 yachts in the most popular exotic destinations.
What to look out for in exotic seas: 3 possible dangers
We obviously don't want to worry you but there are a few things to be aware of while cruising in exotic countries. So, what should you watch out for or avoid?
1. Shallow waters
We hate to say it, but you'd better not blindly trust charts or plotters here. Local shallows and reefs are not always found on charts or sailing apps. If you're unsure and you're passing through an area with coral reefs, send a crew member to the bow to visually observe what's below the surface and don't sail after nightfall.
You can take a catamaran almost right up to the beach and not have to worry much about coral reefs
YACHTING.COM TIP: Speaking of yachting apps. Have you read our article on the 10 best smartphone apps for sailors? Which ones have you already downloaded?
2. Night sailing
In general, it is not recommended to sail in unfamiliar waters and exotic destinations after dark. In the Caribbean, it is even forbidden. Don't expect the navigation lights, beacons or the marked hazards you're used to in Europe. Many of the rocks below the surface are either completely unmarked or only a wooden post serves as a warning. However, this is easy to miss in the dark. So once it gets dark, drop anchor and admire the magical star-filled sky.
3. Sea creatures
Humans are naturally afraid of the unknown. This is also true of marine wildlife. In exotic destinations, you may encounter all kinds of fish, chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fishes), crustaceans or jellyfish. We recommend getting a guidebook or animal atlas for the specific destination you're headed to.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Action movies have taught us to be naturally afraid of sharks and big fish, and you may encounter one of these animals while sailing or swimming. Don't be too afraid of them, try to keep calm and don't deliberately approach or touch them — always remember that we are not part of a shark's food chain and most do not attack people for no reason. If you are afraid of sharks, take a look at our article — Overcome your fear of sharks: learn to love them instead!.
Who are exotic sailing holidays recommended for?
Exotic holidays are ideal for families with older children or groups of friends who want to unwind and disconnect from work to enjoy a holiday as it should be — in comfort and warmth.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Consider whether or not to visit exotic destinations with your baby. After all, it is more difficult to get to a specialist hospital with care for infants in case of complications, and small babies should generally not be exposed to direct sunlight, which is very difficult to escape here.
Equipment to take with you
If you go on a catamaran, as most sailors in these parts do, you'll have plenty of room for sports equipment. Feel free to bring snorkelling gear, fishing equipment, paddleboard, jetsurf... well just about anything to keep you and your kids entertained during the day.
Snorkelling is simple and fun for the whole family
YACHTING.COM TIP: We recommend using insect repellent in the evening. At certain times of the year there are large numbers of mosquitoes and if you want to avoid scratching yourself for the rest of your holiday, invest in some repellent and perhaps cooling gel for the bites. Check out the products sold in pharmacies or sports shops that are specifically designed for exotic regions. If you're susceptible to bites, consider bringing a mosquito net.
What kind of skipper's license do you need in exotic countries?
If you are the owner of an international skipper's licence, there should be no problem with renting a boat. Sometimes charter companies require a document with proof of sailing and references, but this is basically a copy of your sailing book or a reference from someone who has sailed with you.
It's nothing complicated, and when you book a boat, our sales representative will always tell you upfront what the charter company requires and help you make the arrangements. To get your RYA, Croatian Brodica Leader and other licences accepted, you'll need to contact the charter company and ask specifically if they will rent you that boat on that licence. And whether they will pay your insurance.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you're not quite ready to sail on your own, hire a skipper. At yachting.com, we can arrange for a local English-speaking captain.
All destinations in exotic regions can be reached by air. Either by direct flight from major European cities or by changing at one of the major transport hubs such as Frankfurt, Munich, Dubai, Doha or London. The specific destination then depends on where you are sailing from. In the Seychelles, for example, larger airlines fly to the main island of Mahé, while smaller islands can only be reached by local flights or by boat. Similarly, in Tahiti, you fly directly from San Francisco, and from there you can take a local flight to the island of Raiatea, where most charters depart from.
Flights to exotic destinations are unfortunately not the cheapest. Their price depends on many factors, the main ones being when the flight is (on or off-season), when you actually purchase it (well in advance or at the last minute), on the comfort class (economy, business or first class) and whether you will be taking oversized luggage (fishing rods, surfboards, etc...). It's worth keeping an eye on airline tickets for a while to watch out for any discount promotions.
Not only can you get amazingly fresh food at a local market, but you can also save a lot of money.
As we just mentioned, you'll pay more for a trip to an exotic destination than for a trip to Europe. On the other hand, you will save significantly on mooring costs. Compared to Mediterranean destinations, where mooring prices in Croatia have skyrocketed to 1,200 Kun (around 160 Eur), it is more common in exotic destinations to anchor in a bay for free. In addition, most boats in these spots are equipped with a freshwater generator and solar panels, so you'll hardly need to head to a marina at all.
Food is also cheaper in exotic countries, especially at local markets, which are a great treat for Europeans. The markets offer the freshest food at very low prices. Many sailors also find it advantageous to approach local fishermen directly.