How does that old adage go? New year new cruising grounds? We did an online poll to find out what the most sought-after cruising destinations for 2023 are according to our readers.
And, as we always suspected, our readers do not just have great taste in boats but also great taste when it comes to where they want to sail around on said boats. We narrowed it down to the top 5 destinations for cruising around in your Leopard this year.
Coming in at number 5:
With no surprises as to why this destination made it on the list, it is the ever-popular British Virgin Islands.
Now, if you have somehow managed to find yourself under a rock whilst owning a boat and you have no idea why the BVI consistently ranks among one of the most popular cruising grounds in the world, get ready to point your sails towards the northern Caribbean in 2023.
With over 50 islands and cays, of which only 15 are inhabited, there is no shortage of spectacular bays to drop anchor and explore.
That said, be prepared to fight off the crowds during the peak winter and spring holidays, as this tiny island nation of just under 30,000 locals receive about 880 thousand visitors annually. And according to the BVI Director of tourism, Clive McCoy, the BVI is finally set to bounce back to its pre-pandemic tourist numbers in 2023.
If you do happen to find yourself in this Caribbean paradise during peak season, the influx of tourists does have its perks if you want to enjoy a bustling party scene on one of the main islands.
Party like a local in the capital island of Tortola or explore the iconic and mesmerizing ‘baths’ on Virgin Gorda before heading to the western point of the island for sundowners at the Bitter End Yacht Club.
If kite surfing, deserted beaches, conch graveyards and feasting on fresh Caribbean lobster is more your speed, sail on over to Anegada. After you have had your fill of pristine beaches and arguably the best sunsets in the BVI, sail back down to Jost van Dyk, anchor in White Bay and swim on into the birthplace of the painkiller cocktail and find out firsthand why they call it the Soggy Dollar Bar.
As the stars come out, head to the bay next door to the infamous Foxy’s, or party like a pirate on the Willy - T at Norman Island.
As most tourists tend to crowd around these popular spots, you can rest assured that even during the busiest months, there is always a secret spot to drop anchor where you will be astounded to find yourself completely alone, snorkeling with dolphins or watching spotted eagle rays majestically fly out of the water as you paddleboard into the sunset.
And not just can you snag a secluded bay to spend the night, but if you time it right, you could even have the most popular tourist attractions all to yourself. Looking to explore the baths all alone? Then make sure to head there the early morning before the cruise ships pull in or the partygoers wake up – I am talking about being there by 7 am- the same goes for such popular snorkeling and diving spots like the caves on Norman Island, The Indians or the Wreck of The Rhone on Salt Island.
And this is what makes the BVI so special and keeps cruisers and landlubbers coming back again and again; It truly offers the best of both worlds. You could be anchored in a completely secluded secret bay with spectacular snorkeling and not another soul in sight. Yet, if you take your dinghy around the corner, you will find a grocery store, beach bars, and all the creature comforts you need.
If you are looking for easy sailing and the ability to island hop within minutes through the St Francis Drake Channel to numerous picture-perfect Caribbean Islands, then make sure to add the BVI to your itinerary this year.
Heading north for number 4:
We leave the tropical palm trees and white sandy beaches of the Caribbean behind to soak up some culture, dine on Paella and sip sangrias till it’s time for a well-deserved siesta. This is the gateway to the Mediterranean -The Spanish Balearic Islands.
The Spanish Balearic Islands are made up of three main islands - Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza, each with its own very distinct appeal.
Starting off with the westernmost island in the Balearics, it’s the infamous boho party island of Ibiza. Renowned for its hippy culture and undoubtedly the clubbing capital of the world in the summer months, sailing around Ibiza means you can head for the party in style from your boat or leave the crowds far behind and explore the 155-mile coastline at your own leisure.
The western Balearics offer easy sailing with little to no navigational challenges, and there is no need to plan your cruising around the tides either. The mostly predictable weather patterns and light to moderate winds also make this island perfect for less experienced sailors.
Cruising along the almond, olive and fig tree-lined coast of Ibiza, you will encounter UNESCO worlds heritage sites, such as Ibiza old Town, alluring Mediterranean beaches, secluded anchorages and hidden coves, charming villages and even vineyards. All surrounded by sparkling turquoise waters.
And thanks to the island’s small size - a mere 25 x. 9 miles - you can sail around Ibiza in just a couple of days before you head 67 nautical miles east to the main island of Mallorca.
Your first stop on the main island will undoubtedly be the capital of Palma, with its imposing gothic cathedral and numerous marinas dotted around the heart of the city. There’s always a berth available for the night, although booking in advance during the bustling summer months is highly recommended.
If you love to shop, eat and feast your eyes on some of the most well-preserved gothic architecture in all of Europe, then you have certainly come to the right place.
As you leave the city life behind, head north along the 344 miles of rugged coastline to Cala Formentor for stunning cliffs and green mountain-lined turquoise waters. Keep sailing to the northernmost point of the island at Cabo Formentor to drop the hook for the night and treat yourself to dinner and spectacular views across the bay at the famous Barcelo Hotel.
The small village of Porto Cristo is on most sailor's must-see list, as the sleepy fishing village is home to the stunning Dragon Caves (Cuevas del Drach), which boasts one of the largest underground lakes in the world.
You really can’t go wrong anywhere you go along this historical Mediterranean coastline, and with so much to see and do, it would take you at least 2 weeks to sail around the island and take it all in.
But if your itchy feet and itchy sails get the better of you, 60 nautical miles to the northeast lays the last, and mostly overlooked, of the Balearic Islands, Menorca.
Menorca is still relatively untouched and loved by many for its tranquility and charm. Mahón is a great starting point for a sailing trip here, and its impressive harbor is a must-stop on any sailing expedition to the region.
Then head north to Cala Grao, where you can wander through olive groves, hike along the cliffs or admire the huge variety of bird species.
Even further north on the island lies the beautiful bay of Fornells, where the surrounding nature is still completely unspoiled. And while you are in this quintessential Spanish fishing village, do yourself a favor and sample the exquisite local seafood. You can’t go wrong with the local favorite of ‘Caldareta de Langosta,’ a seafood casserole prepared with fresh lobster.
If you are planning to sail around the Balearics, it is best to do so during the sailing season that stretches from April to October.
Back in the Caribbean, for our number 3 cruising destination for 2023:
It's the United States Virgin Islands. The USVI’s consistently maintain their popularity, partly thanks to its numerous direct flights from the US mainland and ease of travel – short flights, no need to put your phone on roaming, learn a new language or exchange money, and of course, its picture-perfect Caribbean palm-lined beaches.
The USVI consists of the three main islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. St. Thomas is the main port of entrance, either by plane or boat, as this is most likely where you will be clearing customs if you have just sailed in from one of the neighboring islands of Puerto Rico or the British Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas offers the classical hustle and bustle of a big Caribbean city and has all the expected amenities to go along with it. Numerous resorts, upscale hotels, beach bars, fine dining to cheap local hamburgers and the typical cruise ship dock trinkets and tours. And for the most part, cruisers only use St. Thomas as a convenient spot to provision and fuel up before moving on to more idyllic locations. And with St. John a mere 6 nautical miles away, no one is going to blame you for glancing over St. Thomas.
St. John offers a more laid-back atmosphere, with the most popular anchorages along the north of the island, including Honey Moon Beach, Trunk Bay and Maho Bay Beach. These idyllic anchorages are also popular with day sailboats, so be warned, the beaches and anchorages can get very crowded during the days but mostly clear out in the late afternoon.
If you are looking for secluded anchorages, St. John might not be your ideal spot, but if it’s a floating taco bar you are after, you will not be disappointed. Make your way to Coral bay to enjoy some swim-up tacos at Lime Out. And if a floating Italian restaurant sounds more appealing, well, you are in luck again, as Pizza Pi is a floating takeout pizza restaurant in Christmas cove, located between St. Thomas and St. John.
St. John also offers great hiking and numerous old ruins to explore. Make sure to grab a mooring ball at Waterlemon Cay for an easy hike to 18th-century sugar mill ruins.
If you looking to get in some excellent sailing, snorkeling and diving, then the 37 nautical mile sail over to St. Croix is definitely for you. Be warned that the sail to the southernmost US Virgin Islands can get pretty rough, so make sure to check the weather before setting off.
Once in St. Croix, drop anchor at Buck Island for a full day of snorkeling and diving. Once you have had your fill of the underwater world, take your dingy to the mainland and either rent a car or grab a taxi to the main town of Frederiksted to explore the somewhat sleepy culture that only seems to spring to life once a cruise ship has docked. And if you happen to find yourself in town with no cruise ship, count yourself lucky, as surprisingly, some of the best snorkeling around St. Croix is actually at the cruise ship pier. Sightings of big schools of tropical fish, tarpon, barracudas and even seahorses abound between the rafters.
Still keeping it in the Caribbean but just heading a little bit north, is our number 2 spot:
Where do we even start when it comes to the Bahamas? The Bahamas consists of over 700 islands and 2400 cays, covers 5,358sq miles and extends 760 miles from the coast of Florida in the northwest almost all the way to Haiti on the southeast.
With so much to explore, you could easily spend years cruising the Bahamas, but most people tend to stick to the two main cruising grounds of the Northern Exumas and Eleuthera. And for a good reason. It is between these two island chains that you will find the quintessential Bahamian experience with the bulk of its tourist attractions.
The starting point for most cruises to the isolated Exumas is the capital of Nassau. Here you will find excellent provisioning, cosmopolitan dining, pristine beaches and the world-famous Atlantis resort and marina.
Leaving civilization behind as your travel south across the formidable yellow bank, you will find yourself in hardly more than 10 feet of water for the rest of your time in the Exumas. And although this can be a bit nerve-racking at times, it does make for spectacular ‘snorkeling’ without even getting in the water, as you will clearly see a variety of sharks cruise by, along with turtles, rays, barracudas, tropical fish and even the occasional pod of dolphins.
As you head down the Exumas, you will no doubt stop at such attractions as the (somewhat) friendly iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay, snorkel Pablo Escobar’s sunken drug plane on Normans, explore the isolated Exumas Land and Sea Park and marvel at the sun-bleached bones of a washed-up sperm whale. And no trip to the Exumas would be complete without swimming with the docile nurse sharks at Compass Cay or feeding the pigs at Big Major Cay before unwinding with a sunset cocktail at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
And what about that famous Instagram pink sand beach that everyone keeps talking about in the Bahamas? Well, that is located in the second most visited island chain of Eleuthera, on Harbor Island.
A lot of cruisers are a little bit intimidated by the thought of going to Harbor Island, as you have to traverse the aptly named ‘Devil’s Backbone.’ This infamous channel winds through shallow rocks and takes you mere inches from the beach and twists and turns through bottom-crunching spiny corals. It is also prone to big swells and rough seas and has ripped the bottom out of more vessels than any other reef in the country, which is pretty impressive, given the massive size of the Bahamas.
But thankfully, you can always contact a local pilot who will safely navigate you through this treacherous passage to the pristine pink sands that lay just ahead. As an added bonus, some pilots bring homemade local favorites, such as carrot cake, Johnny cakes and pineapple jam, to help calm your nerves, as you undoubtedly will clench in all the wrong places, imagining how one wrong move could suddenly land you on a rocky beach.
If these two popular Bahamian cruising regions don’t tickle your sails, then there are almost 700 different islands to explore! Making the Bahamas an absolute must-see for any sailor.
Now, if you thought that the Bahamas had an overwhelming number of islands, you have clearly never been to our number 1 readers’ choice for 2023.
Finally, our number 1 cruising destination for 2023:
With a staggering 6,000 islands and inlets, of which an impressive 227 are inhabited, it’s no wonder Greece is what cruising dreams are made of.
With an estimated 30 million international visitors descending to the coastal regions each year, your odds of finding peace and quiet and a bay all to yourself is still pretty good. Here’s a look at the four main island regions that offer the best cruising in all of Greece.
The southern Aegean is the most famous island chain of all of the Greek Islands and is where the bulk of tourists flock during the summer. This region is home to the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Ikaria and Samos sailing regions, but in simple layman’s terms, this is where you will find the famous islands of Mykonos and Santorini.
The islands of this region feature the classic Greek image of bleached rock landscapes and a cobalt sea dazzling under the Mediterranean sun.
But this pristine Greek beauty does not come without a price, as this area makes for the most demanding sailing out of all the Greek island regions, as the open Aegean Sea can sometimes be a little, uhm, boisterous, to put it lightly. This is also the windiest region of Greece. So be prepared to take the good with the bad when cruising these magnificent waters.
Most of these islands are purely seasonal, and very little is open between the end of October and Easter. Although off-season sailing can be very rewarding, you will need to be well-stocked and carefully plan ahead if you want these islands all to yourself.
Just south of Athens, you will find the Argo Saronic sailing region. The islands in this region are a lot closer together, with the prevailing weather also being a lot gentler than that of the open seas of the Aegean region. This means that the Argo Saronic is perfect as an introduction to sailing the Greek islands and is preferred by beginners, families and simply those looking for some relaxed sailing.
This region is also known for having some of the best food in all the Greek islands. Enjoy freshly roasted pistachio nuts, wine, lamb, seafood, and some of the world’s best olives as the scent of pine sap wafts in the summer air between harbors filled with fishing boats.
In the Ionian Sea and Gulf of Corinth, you will find vastly different islands with a distinctly more Italian influence, not just in the culture and food but also in the landscapes, as you will find Roman and Greek ruins side by side.
The Ionian Sea is also known for its easy sailing conditions, which means the area is quite busy in the high season of July and August, making June and September more favorable if you are looking to escape the crowds.
And if you really want to escape the crowds, then the fourth major sailing area of the northern Aegean is your ideal Greek Island paradise. Although the cruising is just as great as in the other Greek island regions, the northern Aegean has simply been overlooked due to its distance from the major jumping-off point of Athens.
Northern Greece is also extremely hospitable, even by Greek standards, and the nightlife and food scene around Thessaloniki are even highly rated by Greeks from other areas. Some might even say that the Northern Aegean Islands are the best of all the Greek islands. But you will have to be the judge of that after ticking off all these islands on your 2023 bucket list!
Let us know if you are heading to any of these destinations in 2023 and if you have any travel tips and tricks. Here’s to happy cruising in 2023!