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12 Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations on a Cruise

Gina Kramer
Melinda Crow

Last updated
Oct 24, 2023

Read time
13 min read

Experiencing off the beaten path travel destinations are some of the best discoveries you'll find while on a cruise. You know which ones we're referring to: the picture-perfect towns that aren't packed with tourists or clean beaches free from clamor.

Here are 12 of the best off the beaten path cruise ports that take you away from the crowds and bring you closer to the life-changing experiences you desire. Read on to ace your next cruise vacation.

1. Anguilla: Beautiful Beaches and (Maybe) the Fountain of Youth

Legend has it that Anguilla is home to the original Fountain of Youth. The reality is this island, which is roughly 10 nautical miles from St. Maarten (St. Martin) is one of the Caribbean's best-kept cruising secrets.

Visit the port of call on a luxury, small-ship itinerary or book a day tour from St. Maarten. Regardless of how you get there, you're sure to enjoy the slower pace and the overall tranquility.

Best Things to Do in Anguilla on a Cruise: Independent shore excursions in Anguilla include hiking, golf and lounging or swimming at beaches far less crowded than those of neighboring St. Maarten. Available tours allow exploration of the island's rich history, caves in the interior of the island, scuba diving and snorkeling on nearby reefs and ATV rides.

How to Cruise to Anguilla: Anguilla is mainly visited by SeaDream Yacht Club, with occasional calls from Windstar and Star Clippers. Nearby St. Maarten, on the other hand, welcomes mainstream cruises like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America and Princess Cruises and provides an easy jumping-off point for Anguilla.

2. Koper, Slovenia: Living History and Underground Wonders

Don't let the quasi-industrial port stop you from going ashore in Koper. It's your chance to sample the beauty and charm of this country with a tiny slice of Adriatic coastline between Italy and Croatia. You'll see the influence of conquerors from varying cultures across the ages in the architecture and the food.

Things to Do in Koper, Slovenia, on a Cruise: Excursions or private tour guides can take you inland to some of the country's underground wonders. The UNESCO World Heritage Skocjan Caves are generally the least visited, where you'll find unbelievable underground cliffs and waterfalls.

The famous Lipizzaner stud farm, Lipica, is another possibility. There, you can admire over 300 white Lipizzan horses, which is a unique breed renowned for its remarkable beauty, strength and longevity.

For cruisers who prefer to connect with Slovenia through food, wine and people watching, take a ride share to the nearby village of Izola. Whether you're looking for fresh seafood, local wines, stunning views of the Mediterranean or just a cup of gelato, this is the spot to do it all.

How to Cruise to Koper: Viking, Seabourn, Silversea, MSC, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Azamara, Celebrity and NCL all offer occasional stops in Koper. Check out your itinerary options before booking.

3. Syros, Greece: Greek Islands Vibes Without the Crowds

You can't miss the iconic Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos when sailing the Aegean Sea. But if your cruise includes a stop in Syros, you'll find spectacular views with far fewer tourists and crowds in your way.

The picturesque port city of Ermoupoli, which was once the shipping capital of Greece, is a rare off the beaten path port in Greece. Ermoupoli welcomes visitors with quaint streets dotted with family-owned restaurants and shops selling locally handcrafted goods -- without the long lines (or higher prices) of Santorini or Mykonos.

Things to Do in Syros, Greece, on a Cruise: If dipping your toes in the blue Mediterranean waters is your goal, the nearest beach from the cruise port is Asteria Beach, which is not a beach in the traditional sense. It's more of a seawall with concrete steps down to the stone bottom and the crystal-clear waters, but it's certainly worth a visit and is just a moderate walk or a short taxi ride from the cruise pier.

History and archeology lovers can explore the Archeological Museum of Syros just a short walk away from the pier.

How to Cruise to Syros: Syros is a stop on many luxury cruises, like Oceania Cruises, Seabourn, Sea Dream Yacht Club, Azamara and Windstar.


4. Rostock/Warnemunde, Germany: Northern Beaches and Berlin Day Trips

Warnemunde Yes, Germany has beaches, and Warnemünde -- a district within the larger port city of Rostock on the northern coast -- is home to a few of them. Even more surprising is how this historic fishing village has managed to keep its quaintness, vibrancy and charm despite being near major cities like Berlin and Hamburg.

In fact, many cruisers head to Berlin when they call on Warnemünde/Rostock. However, the journey by bus or train can take over two hours. As an alternative, take advantage of this town's unassuming beauty, relaxed ambiance and lack of crowds.

Things to Do in Rostock and Warnemünde, Germany, on a Cruise: For getting to the beach, grab a quick taxi/ rideshare or even the local bus if you're adventurous enough and head to Warnemünde Strand.

There are chair and umbrella rentals in season for beachgoers. For those who'd prefer spending extra time on the water as opposed to in it, look for a variety of boating options, including harbor tours and speedboat rides.

If all you want is to stretch your legs and enjoy a bit of local flavor, try Karl's at Pier 7, which is a popular restaurant within walking distance of the cruise terminal.

In Rostock, go for a stroll on the serene promenade situated on Alter Strom, a channel that was dug in 1423. You can admire the shimmering waters and the charming shops and restaurants along the way.

How to Cruise to Rostock/Warnemunde: Among the lines that regularly visit are AIDA, Azamara, MSC Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Norwegian. Silversea and Disney Cruise Line offer more limited options.

5. Bequia, Grenadines: Picture-Perfect Caribbean Beaches and Underwater Life

Anyone who's cruised the Caribbean knows that crowded ports are often the name of the game. But then, there are the smallest islands frequented by sailing yachts that remain blissfully crowd-free. Bequia is a prime example of such a place.

Your ship will anchor then transport you to a tiny tender dock where an unspoiled tropical paradise awaits. Sip and snack your way through the village or just pack up your beach gear and spend the day playing in the sand and sea. Either way, it's the kind of island destination found only in dreams.

Things to Do in Bequia, Grenadines, on a Cruise: The local dive shop Bequia Dive Adventures makes it easy for scuba divers and snorkelers to enjoy the beautiful Caribbean waters filled with mesmerizing sealife.

If you're after some fun in the sun, turn right from the tender dock and follow the walkway past the shorefront businesses and homes. You'll eventually reach the Belmont Boardwalk and the Princess Margaret Trail which take you straight to Princess Margaret Beach, aka golden sandy heaven.

While there is rarely more than one ship in port, cruisers sometimes arrive on excursions from ships docked at nearby St. Vincent. No worries, though, there's enough room for everyone.

How to Cruise to Bequia: This off-the-beaten-path Caribbean port tends to draw smaller ships. Cruise lines with scheduled stops in Bequia include Silversea, Windstar, Sea Dream Yacht Club, Star Clippers and Seabourn.

6. Quepos, Costa Rica: Local Culture and Beaches for Days

Quepos, which is located on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, immediately welcomes visitors with a marina so peaceful that you can hear the sounds of the palm leaves rustling in the wind.

While you will notice some establishments along the harbor geared toward cruisers, it's still easy to find more authentic restaurants, shops and other attractions here, as well as in town (which is only a short walk away).

Things to Do in Quepos, Costa Rica, on a Cruise: Quepos is a great spot for water sports like snorkeling, kayaking, scuba diving and sport fishing. You can find all of these at the marina. Beaches, mangroves and parks line the shore in both directions; some are a short walk from the pier while others require a taxi ride to reach.

To say the coast and the beaches are stunning here would be an understatement. There are several indescribably beautiful beaches for you to discover, including Playa Manuel Antonio, Playa Espadilla Norte and Playa Biesanz.

How to Cruise to Quepos: Only a few cruise lines' Costa Rica and Panama Canal itineraries include a stop in Quepos. Those that have scheduled calls are Seabourn, Star Clippers and Windstar.


7. Cesme, Turkey: Cobblestone Streets and Warm Turkish Sun

Cesme is the kind of place that deserves to be on the tourist trail, yet seems to continuously get overlooked by most travelers. Cobblestone streets lined with shops and cafes, the enchanting Cesme Castle and seemingly untouched beaches are just some of Cesme's Turkish coastal charms.

Things to Do in Cesme, Turkey, on a Cruise: Cesme's streets are lined with blooming bougainvillea and the beaches are close enough to the pier to walk or grab a taxi. You'll also find scuba diving shops in town.

You can take a short walk up from the dock to admire the Cesme Castle and the view from its hilltop grounds. History and archeology lovers can enjoy the Cesme Archaeology Museum. It's also easy to walk over to the nearby (and equally charming) village of Alacati, which is fraught with blissful beaches and heart-warming old stone houses.

How to Cruise to Cesme: Seabourn is currently the only cruise line offering cruises to Cesme.

8. Nafplion, Greece: Greek History and Scenic Walks

Even though some mid-sized to large ships stop in Nafplion, rarely are there two ships in port at the same time. This small Greek resort town is a charming example of what Greek cruise ports can be without tourists crammed shoulder-to-shoulder along every passageway.

Nafplion has a fortress on a hill (Fortress of Palamidi), nearby wineries, a beach, a lighthouse, and more than enough things to do to pass a day in port.

Things to Do in Nafplion, Greece, on a Cruise: The most interesting thing to do in Nafplion is to take in the scenery by foot. Getting to the fortress is all uphill and up stairs, but the view from the top is worth the roughly 30-minute hike to get there.

If you'd prefer a less strenuous scenic walk, head south from the pier along the concrete bulkhead until you reach the Arvanitias Walkway. This half-mile stroll along the coast and around the Arvanitias Lighthouse is truly worth your while.

How to Cruise to Nafplion: Nafplion is a port of call on Adriatic cruise itineraries offered by Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar, Star Clippers, Holland America, Viking and SeaDream Yacht Club.

9. La Paz, Mexico: Incredible Wildlife Encounters and Baja-Style Eats

Nestled along the shimmering Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), La Paz takes visitors deeper into the country's culture than many other ports along Mexico's western coast. And, to cruisers' delight, it isn't nearly as crowded as nearby ports like Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta, making it one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path ports in Mexico.

La Paz has some of the world's best snorkeling and scuba diving sites, white pastel-colored Spanish Colonial homes, a gorgeous waterfront and beaches, which all collectively contribute to its unique appeal.

Things to Do in La Paz, Mexico, on a Cruise: From December to March, gray whale watching tops the agenda for most visitors. Whale sharks have an even longer season in the Sea of Cortez, arriving in October and staying until April.

Located in the heart of the Sea of Cortez just 22 miles off the coast of La Paz sits Isla Espiritu Santo, one of the most stunning islands for numerous reasons, ranging from spectacular views to awe-inspiring wildlife. The island was once remarked by the great Jacques Cousteau to be the aquarium of the world as it's frequented by whales, turtles, sea lions and more amongst the crystal clear waters.

The cruise port is a bit far from the city center, but once you are in town, Baja-style Mexican food is on offer along local beaches.

How to Cruise to La Paz: Holland America and Princess, which regularly sail the Mexican Riviera, tend to include La Paz on longer itineraries. You'll also find calls in La Paz on Regent Seven Seas.

10. Molde, Norway: Stunning Fjord Scenery and a Dose of Local Culture

Beyond the Norwegian fjords' geological magnificence, villages like Molde provide a glimpse into local life without the herds of sightseers you're likely to meet in bigger cities like Oslo and Bergen.

This charming town on the Baltic Sea is no secret to locals, but you won't find too many tourists here. That means more rose gardens, jazz clubs and breathtaking views for you.

Things to Do in Molde, Norway: Scenic views from town are the star of Molde's show, but a 45-minute drive to the Atlantic Ocean Road across the nearby islands is also a must-do. This road connects the mainland with the municipality of Averøy along with the eight islands between.

Some cruisers also opt for flightseeing tours of the nearby mountains and glaciers. Others prefer to make the hike up to Varden the Molde Panorama for a 360 view from the Varden viewpoint, which is 1,335 feet above sea level. From there, visitors can see Molde from above along with the islands, the Molde River, roughly 222 snow-clad peaks and the fjord.

How to Cruise to Molde: Several cruise lines visit Molde on Northern Europe itineraries (particularly Norwegian fjords and Baltic Sea cruises). However, only two ships are allowed at a time. Among them are Holland America, MSC, Viking, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Windstar, Princess and Costa.


11. Ilhabela, Brazil: Tropical Rainforest Hikes on the "Beautiful Island"

Residents of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo already know that Ilhabela is one of the best nearby escapes. Why? The island is home to a wealth of dreamy beaches, waterfalls, tropical rainforest, volcanic peaks and wildlife.

Ships call on Ilhabela, which literally translates to "beautiful island," anchoring off its coast and taking passengers to its coastline via a small tender boat.

Things to Do in Ilhabela, Brazil, on a Cruise: Visiting the beaches is among the best things to do in Ilhabela, which are most ideally accessed by taxi or pre-arranged tours. Some stellar beach options include Praia Do Bonete, Baía de Castelhanos Beach and Jabaquara Beach.

Other tours concentrate on the island's many waterfalls and hiking trails, including Trilha do Bonete, Trilha do Pico do Baepi and Cachoeira do Paqueta. If you're looking for a 30-minute, relatively easy hike with mesmerizing waterfalls in particular, then Cachoeira do Paqueta might be your best bet.

How to Cruise to Ilhabela: You can cruise to Ilhabela with MSC, Costa, Celebrity and Azamara.

12. Kaikoura, New Zealand: Watch Whales, Seals and More Wildlife at Its Greatest

Kaikoura is a nature-lover's dream. This coastal village on New Zealand's South Island is revered for its whale watching and chances are high that you'll spot one when you're in port here. You'll also find plenty of hiking opportunities with scenic views.

It's considered a quiet retreat, even among Kiwis, with no overcrowding; the cruise lines that do call in Kaikoura spread out their visits, so no more than one ship is in port at a time. Wide-open hiking trails and tranquil cafes serving up mouthwatering crawfish? Count us in.

Things to Do in Kaikoura, New Zealand, on a Cruise: Tours to watch giant sperm whales offshore operate year-round with sightings of orcas, Southern right whales, pilot whales, seals and several species of dolphins all common.

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a great way to get some steps in while taking in the unparalleled beauty of Kaikoura. This trail provides visitors with incomparable vistas of the village and the nature surrounding it. Two especially meritable stops along the way include the famed Peninsula seal colony and Point Kean Viewpoint.

If you're looking to hit the links, Kaikoura Golf Club has 18 holes of natural beauty at the edge of the sea -- and is certainly worthy of a round or two.

How to Cruise to Kaikoura: Among the cruise lines that visit Kaikoura are Holland America, Silversea and Seabourn.

Publish date July 22, 2022
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