Nigel Marven’s top cruise routes for spotting nature

The TV naturalist says holidays at sea take you closer to nature

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Filming his latest show, wildlife expert Nigel Marven has become quite the cruise expert. On a series of classic routes he tries to unearth extraordinary creatures – from humpback whales to baby penguins – in well-known tourist destinations. “You can spot nature in the short time you’re in the ports of call,” he says.

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Marven recalls a cruise to Mumbai in India: “I realised that only 20 miles from the ship there was the highest density of leopards in the world, and you could see blue whales on the same day.” With more than two million people cruising the world from the UK each year, he reveals which routes are best for spotting wildlife…

1. Antarctica Cruise 
“The circular route starts and ends in Buenos Aires,” says Marven. “It goes to the Falklands – best place in the world to see penguins; you can see up to six species very close. We had good fun there because we took the Azamara Club Cruises band to play a concert for the penguins. Initially they ran away, which was surprising because their colonies are so noisy, but when we turned down the music they gathered around. “Then the cruise heads for Antarctica. On a big ship you can’t get off there but you can cruise through the icebergs. We went to a place called Paradise Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the bay was full of humpback whales. All cruise passengers want to see whales and that’s a great place to do it. I’d say there’s a 100 per cent chance of seeing them. You can’t believe how big they are and how beautifully they move through the water – and on a cruise ship you have a great vantage point. “Next it’s onto Ushuaia, at the tip of Argentina. I took some passengers on an expedition to see the largest woodpecker in South America – the Magellanic woodpecker. It’s as big as a crow, with a bright red head – it’s spectacular. We had a local guide helping us, who knew how to mimic the bird’s drumming and communicate with it. “The last port of call is Puerto Madryn, Patagonia – where killer whales come up on the beach to attack sea lions. I was only there for one day and saw the whales hunting in the surf for elephant seals. Huge herds of guanacos live there, too, wild ancestors of the llama, as well as amazing animals called mara. A cross between a rabbit and a deer, they can only be found in Argentina. If the passengers know what to look out for, they can see all these creatures.”


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“Naturalists have to take a cruise around Central America. Ours began in Miami travelling to Costa Rica and a place called Puerto Limón. It has an amazing sanctuary where they look after baby sloths. They’re orphaned because their mothers fall victim to hunting or are electrocuted from touching cables. Visitors can get up close and personal with them. “Then there’s the Panama Canal, which is on every cruise route in the region. I thought it would be boring, but going through the canal was amazing; the locks are 100 years old, it’s a real experience. There’s a flooded part of the canal called Gatun Lake, where I went on a boat trip and found wonderful little tamarin monkeys and long-nosed bats. At night the bats leave their roost and fly over the canal. “In Panama City, there’s an amazing birdwatching spot, Canopy Tower. Formerly a US military base, it’s been converted into a high-end natural history lodge. At the top you’re at eye level with toucans, howler monkeys and parrots. “From Panama we went to New Orleans, where we could try chicory coffee and beignets [fritters] and experience the jazz in Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter. I also went to a swamp on the edge of town, which is filled with thousands of peculiar salamanders called amphiumas. Not many people in New Orleans realise they’re there. I caught one with a scientist’s help and took it on the ship to give a talk about it. From New Orleans it was on to Key West. A short drive away, is the smallest deer in the US. Critically endangered and extremely tame, the Key deer will come up and chat to you.”

Tune in to Nigel Marven’s Cruise Ship Adventures, 8pm, May 5 on Watch


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