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.

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