It's an exhilarating feeling disembarking a cruise ship or hopping off a tender on a remote island to have a new world reveal itself. Whether it's the sunny isles of the South Pacific, the pine forests of the Canary Islands or the endless sunshine of the Arctic summer, exploring on foot during a hiking excursion is a great way to discover fascinating landscapes while adding excitement and exercise to your cruise vacation. Bring your boots, a day pack and a healthy dose of enthusiasm and venture to these cruise ports known for some of the best hiking on the planet.
Moorea, French Polynesia
Moorea makes a remarkable first impression as your tender makes its way toward the verdant mountains of this idyllic French Polynesian island, located just 12 miles across a brilliant blue lagoon from Tahiti. Moorea is a crowd-free, more relaxing alternative to Tahiti, and hiking here presents stunning views of a green jungle that covers the iconic mountain range.
One of the most popular shore excursions available in Moorea is hiking the Three Coconuts Trail from the Belvedere Lookout point. The scenic lookout offers sweeping vistas of the spiky peak of Mount Rotui, as well as Opunohu Bay and Cook Bay, which give Moorea its heart-like shape. The hike takes approximately four to five hours on a trail winding through Tahitian chestnut and banyan trees, towering bamboo and ferns, over uneven terrain and switchbacks that ascend to the caldera of Mount Mou'a Roa.
In the distance, you'll find the sheer face of Moorea's tallest peak, Mount Tohiea, soaring 3,960 feet, as well as the pierced peak of Mount Mou'a Puta. According to legend, a powerful deity hurled a spear and formed the hole of Mou'a Puta. The trail also leads to ancient marae (archaeological) sites and vanilla and coffee plantations. The ideal time to start the trek is early in the day before the mist sets in. If you have only a half-day on the island, try a moderate-level hike to Afareaitu Waterfalls on the southeast coast of Moorea. It's abundant with forest ferns, tropical fruit fields and a waterfall that glides down the side of a cliff before settling into a serene pool perfect for an afternoon dip.
Maui, the second-largest Hawaiian island, is famous for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, courtesy of the golden shores of Wailea and Ka'anapali. This "Valley Isle" also contains the imposing 10,000-foot Haleakala Volcano on one side and the rugged West Maui Mountains on the other.
Haleakala National Park, home to one of the world's largest volcanos, offers opportunities to admire its lunar-like landscape with more than 30 miles of hiking trails. The Sliding Sands Trail (8 miles), located near the visitor center, is a barren, wind-swept path that travels from the summit through the south base of the crater, descending to 300 feet above sea level. This trail provides panoramic views of the surrounding islands and is challenging enough for experienced hikers. If you don't have an entire day, take the first 2.5 miles to the Ka Lu'u o ka O'o cinder cone before turning back, or take a leisurely half-mile hike from the summit of the Pa Kaoao Trail to the cinder cone of Pa Kaoao, which features stone shelters built by the early Hawaiians.
Maui also offers varying levels of hiking to its cliffside waterfalls. The East Maui Waterfall Hike is an easy excursion that leads to a variety of falls ranging from 10 to 40 feet. The Hana Waterfall Hike requires a full day, as you make your way on the "Road to Hana" to the popular Pipiwai Trail (4 miles round trip) at Oheo Gulch. At the nearby Seven Sacred Pools, you are likely to find more than the promised quantity of glistening pools for swimming. The highlight is the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. (Be sure to reapply sunscreen after frolicking in the water.)
Halfway between Norway and the North Pole lie the islands of Svalbard, captivating cruisers with their otherworldly arctic beauty and a dense population of polar bears. Spitsbergen is the largest and only permanently populated island in the archipelago. It gets frosty in the wintertime, but visitors and prospective hikers can experience four months of midnight sun as the weather warms up.
On the three-hour hike up to the 1,300-foot Plateau Mountain, start at the central station of the historical coal transport system in Longyearbyen. On this moderately demanding hike over rocky landscape, take breaks to admire the wildflowers and spot animals, such as the Svalbard reindeer and arctic fox. At the top, enjoy views of Longyearbyen and the nearby Isfjorden fjord.
Higher temperatures also attract migrating birds and marine life. The majestic polar bear, the world's largest terrestrial carnivore, can be spotted almost anywhere in the arctic tundra from May through September. In case of a close sighting, make noise to try and scare the bears away. Despite higher temperatures, you'll still need to bundle up with layers and windproof clothing and wear hiking shoes with ankle support.
Dominica is nicknamed "nature island" for a reason. With some of the best hiking in the Caribbean, it lures adventurous cruisers with its many natural wonders, including its Boiling Lake, rainforest-shrouded volcano and the Caribbean's first long-distance hiking trail that extends the length of the island. The Waitukubuli National Trail covers 115 miles, has 14 segments and traverses mountains, rivers, rainforests and communities. Though it takes about two weeks to complete, you can experience parts of it on much shorter walks.
One of the most popular hiking excursions in Dominica goes from the village of Laudat to the steaming, 206-foot-wide Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This flooded fumarole (an opening from which hot gasses vent) is the second largest of its kind on the planet. A round trip to the lake takes about six to eight hours; the muddy trail follows a thin ridge and certain parts involve scrambling over rocks. Novice hikers are encouraged to go with a guide.
If you are short on time, opt for the 45-minute intermediate hike to Middleham Falls, also located within the park. It's the Eastern Caribbean's tallest waterfall at 150 feet and is accessible on foot through a fern- and orchard-filled rainforest. Be advised that the pool can be a bit chilly and the rocks around it can get slippery. From here, head over to Titou Gorge (five minutes), where you can wade or swim between rock formations to a waterfall shimmering with light filtered from the canopy above. Some shore excursions include a trip to the nearby Trafalgar Falls, graced with a natural pool that can be reached by climbing over boulders.
Juneau is the only capital city in America that can't be reached by car. It has more hiking trails than roads, so a cruise to this Alaskan city shouldn't be without taking a walk in the woods.
The mighty Mendenhall Glacier, carving its way between mountains in the Tongass National Forest just 12 miles from Downtown Juneau, is a must-see. While kayaking up to its 70-foot-high edge is a popular activity, its sheer magnitude can be witnessed on nearby trails. The Steep Creek Trail is an easy, half-mile paved road that's recommended for spotting bears during July through September; you might even come across a black bear by a stream catching salmon. (Make sure to read up on bear safety and bring bear spray and bells for your shoes in case of close encounters.) A short, 2-mile hike from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center brings you to the 400-foot roaring Nugget Falls.
One of the most popular hiking excursions in Juneau is on the southern side of the city on the way up to Mount Roberts. This provides an eagle's-eye view of Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and the forest below on varying levels of trails. Hop on the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tram to the paved and ADA-accessible Alpine Loop, which affords views all the way up to the Glacier Bay mountains in British Columbia. Those willing to venture further can head uphill on the moderately difficult trail to Gold Ridge (2.4 miles round trip) or the Mount Roberts summit (5 miles round trip). For a more challenging trek, forgo the tram and opt to do the 4-mile round trip hike up and down the mountain, which goes through a temperate rainforest and alpine landscape (splendid with wildflowers in the summertime).
La Palma, (Canary Islands) Spain
La Palma, known as La Isla Bonita (the Pretty Island), is considered to have the best hiking in the Canary Islands. This small, relatively unspoiled cruise port features imposing volcanoes, massive craters and a combination of thick Canary pine forests and desertscapes. UNESCO declared La Palma a World Biosphere and Starlight Reserve in 2002. Its highest peak, Roque de los Muchachos, with a height of 7,949 feet, makes La Palma one of the planet's tallest islands relative to its surface area. At the top, you'll see the white silhouettes of the international observatories, situated ideally to study the skies. Though the position of the island in the Atlantic attracts cloud cover and rain, it also makes it all the more appealing with lush, abundant vegetation.
Caldera de Taburiente National Park is home to the breathtaking abyss of its eponymous caldera, considered the largest erosion crater in the world. With a 5-mile diameter and 14 miles of towering peaks, you'll find a magical world unfold with deep ravines, waterfalls, freshwater streams, impressive rock formations and flowering plants on the slopes. There are several hiking trails from the Mirador de la Cumbrecita lookout point, offering the premier seat in the natural auditorium that is the caldera. Take a short walk to Mirador de los Roques, and an easy 90-minute hike to Loma de Los Chozas and back to La Cumbrecita. Be advised that the higher you go, the fiercer the winds.
Hobart is the capital of Australia's least-visited and smallest state, Tasmania. This once-sleepy town under the shadow of Mount Wellington is experiencing an influx of cruisers seeking to experience its pristine wilderness. Tasman National Park, located on the rugged Tasman Peninsula an hour's drive from Hobart, is known for its soaring sea cliffs and extraordinary rock formations. Hikers are rewarded with dramatic vistas and sightings of brushtail possum, Australian fur seals and penguins. Dolphins and migrating whales can be seen from the shore.
There are several trails within the park, from an hourlong stroll to multiday adventures, but when you've got just a day in port to explore the beauty of Tasmania, make the most of it by visiting its top sights: the Tasman Arch, Remarkable Cave, Devil's Kitchen, the Blowhole and Waterfall Bay.
For entirely different scenery, head to Mount Field National Park, part of Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area -- a one-hour drive west from Hobart. Here, you'll find yourself mesmerized by Russell Falls, which can be reached via a 20-minute walk through a cool, temperate rainforest on a well-maintained boardwalk. Along the way, you are likely to spot the swamp gum, the tallest flowering plant on Earth. Take a short, steep climb to the secretive Horseshoe Falls, a much smaller waterfall but nevertheless a picture-perfect escape.
Espanola Island, Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are paradise for animal-lovers. A day on the unpopulated island of Espanola will yield sightings of some of the most exotic creatures on earth, from adorable blue-footed booby birds and red-and-green marine iguanas to wandering albatross. The 23-square-mile island, located on the southeastern corner of the archipelago, is considered one of the oldest in the chain and a coveted port of call for cruisers.
Gardner Bay, the island's most popular spot for sunbathing sea lions, provides a stretch of white sandy beach unlike anything you've ever seen. One of the most unforgettable hikes is at Punta Suarez, a rocky point with black cliffs replete with sea lions and colonies of seabirds. Spy the delightful courtship dance between the endemic waved albatrosses, with their massive wings fluttering as their yellow beaks touch lovingly. A 2-mile trail passes colonies of blue-footed and Nazca boobies and toward the nesting sites of albatross. The trail ends at a plateau overlooking the blowhole known as "El Soplador" (the blower), which shoots water 75 feet into the air.
The port of Ushuaia is located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the tip of South America. This aptly named "End of the World" region acts as the gateway to Antarctica cruises and the penguin colonies of nearby Isla Yecapasela. It's also where you'll find many cyclists beginning or ending their North and South American voyages. Ushuaia is surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel, with plenty of fantastic hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park at the tail end of the Andes.
The park features jagged snow-capped mountains set against clear blue skies, rushing rivers, glacial valleys, peat bogs with a reddish glow and a dense Patagonian forest. The park offers three major hiking trails to experience its beauty: Hito XXIV (6 miles) traverses the forested northeastern shore of Lago Roca to the Argentina–Chile border, Pampa Alta (3 miles) provides views of the Beagle Channel and the Costera Trail (5 miles) follows the shoreline. They are all moderately difficult and take between two to four hours.
A must-do in Ushuaia is to walk the relatively easy 6-mile trail (round trip) to the Emerald Lagoon or Laguna Esmeralda, where glacial waters sparkle with the gem's green color under the sunlight. The hike takes around four hours and can get a bit muddy, so be sure to bring rubber boots. Other highlights include Panoramic Point in the Beagle Channel and Lapataia Bay in the park. The latter has easy walking paths and the main attraction is the beavers that were once imported from Canada some 70 years ago.
Weather at the End of the World is unpredictable, especially around the glaciers and lakes, which can get icy even in the summer. Always wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days, as the depleted ozone layer is right over Ushuaia.