Kayak Tours Explore the Sites Ships Miss

If paddling alongside whales in Baja or exploring caves in the Mediterranean sound like dream vacations, it's time to try sea kayaking.

Kayaks help travelers experience the coastal regions and remote islands that cruise ships often zip past. Paddling is easy to learn and most outfitters don't require previous experience. Here are five of the world's top kayaking destinations, and how you can explore them:

Creatures from marine iguanas to giant tortoises can be found along the shores of the Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean some 600 miles west of Ecuador.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico: The Sea of Cortez's Baja coast has all the ingredients of a sea kayaker's paradise: warm water, abundant wildlife, miles of beach and calm conditions. It's a great place for first-timers and expert paddlers alike. Baja Outdoor Activities in La Paz offers an eight-day trip around the uninhabited Isla Espiritu Santo. The tour costs $990 to $1,040 and includes motorboat support for those who want to travel light or take a break from paddling. You can knock $200 off the trip if you're willing to carry your own gear. While you're out on the water, keep an eye out for towering cacti, soaring frigate birds and the occasional breaching whale.

Vancouver Island; British Columbia, Canada: The gray whales you'll see in Baja during the winter migrate to the cool waters off British Columbia during the summer. To see them, head to Vancouver Island, where you'll also find orca whales, bald eagles and a vast temperate rainforest. A six-day tour with the Tofino Sea Kayaking Co. will take you across Clayoquout Sound, home to Pacific Rim National Park and dozens of mountainous islands. You'll spend your last day in coastal hot springs before riding a motorboat back to the small port of Tofino. The trip costs about $1,350 CAD, or $1,050 in U.S. dollars.

Elba, Italy: The island of Elba lies in the turquoise waters between the Italy's Tuscany region and the French island of Corsica. Cruise operators like Royal Caribbean ( RCL) pass the island on their Mediterranean voyages, but you`ll get a much better view by kayak. Sea Kayak Italy leads a seven-day trip around the island for 400 euros, or about $500. You'll explore sea caves, learn how to fish from your kayak and improve your paddling skills with help from expert instructors. Some kayaking experience is required to battle potentially strong winds on this trip, but the company also offers beginner tours.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, waved albatrosses and other rare species lives along the shores of the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean 600 miles west of Ecuador. Explorer's Corner offers an 11-day tour for $4,490 to $4,990 that allows you to see these animals up close. You'll kayak during the day and spend nights on a catamaran, where you'll enjoy gourmet meals and a private cabin. You can also snorkel, hike and visit cultural and educational sites during the trip.

Maine: The 3,500-mile coastline of this New England state is dotted with rugged islands and rustic harbours, where you'll find fresh lobsters and scenic views. Frugal adventure-seekers looking for a weekend trip should consider Maine. Midcoast Kayak, based in Damariscotta, takes groups of three or more on three-day trips in beautiful Muscongus Bay for $350. Paddlers camp on a remote island at night and scout wildlife by boat during the day. Maine Island Kayak Co. on Peaks Island, a two-hour drive and a short ferry ride from Boston, also offers tours and courses. Consider spending a night at a bed and breakfast on Peaks Island before taking a day-long tour of Casco Bay for $110.

Zack Anchors is a freelance writer from Portland, Maine.

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