One of the great things about travelling by ship is that it opens up a whole host of remote and inaccessible destinations around the world, places with little or no tourist infrastructure that even the most intrepid independent traveller would struggle to reach.
From isolated tribal communities to decaying Soviet outposts, from windswept isles in the South Atlantic to whole countries that you may never have even heard of, here are 13 of the most unusual places that you can visit on board an expedition cruise…
1. Western Sahara
Classified by the United Nations as a 'non self-governing territory', Western Sahara is something of a post-colonial anomaly. Formerly ruled by Spain, the territory is now claimed and mostly controlled by Morocco, though this is contested by the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which seeks to establish an independent state. You can learn more about this intractable dispute on Silver Cloud's 2019 voyage between Tema and Lisbon, which calls at the cities of Dakhla and Laayoune.
2. The North Pole
Polar specialist Quark Expeditions offers an Arctic adventure like no other, taking you all the way to the North Pole itself on board the Russian nuclear icebreaker 50 Years of Victory. This epic voyage begins with a night in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, before flying north to the Russian port of Murmansk to board the ship. From here you will head as far north as it's possible to go, breaking through the pack ice to reach a place where few people will ever step foot, quite literally the top of the world.
3. Japan's tropical islands
Think of Japan and you probably picture trees pink with cherry blossom, neon-lit megacities or snow-capped Mount Fuji. But the southern reaches of the Japanese archipelago are an altogether different proposition, a string of sub-tropical islands blessed with beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear waters that are perfect for snorkelling. Hapag-Lloyd's alluring September 2018 voyage, from Kanazawa to Koror, offers the opportunity to explore islands including Okinawa and the Yaeyama archipelago.
In 2017 Silversea Expeditions became the first luxury cruise line to visit Bangladesh, with two voyages exploring this fascinating country wedged between India and Myanmar. If you missed out the first time round then you'll be excited to hear that Silver Discover is returning to Bangladesh in February 2019, with a fascinating 14-night voyage from Chennai to Yangon which will explore the wildlife-rich UNESCO World Heritage site of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest.
Ponant's groundbreaking October 2019 voyage to the Bijagos Archipelago is a true off-the-beaten-track adventure. These idyllic (and mostly uninhabited) islands belong to the little known West African nation Guinea-Bissau, and are renowned for their wildlife. Explore palm-fringed beaches and mangroves by zodiac, with the chance to spot crocodiles, turtles, monkeys and the rare saltwater hippo. You'll also visit the local Bidyogo people, whose way of life has barely changed in thousands of years.
The island of Tanna is part of the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, and is notable for its spectacular and easily accessible active volcano, Mount Yasur, its beautiful beaches, and fascinating cargo cults such as the Prince Philip Movement, which venerates our own Duke of Edinburgh as a divine being. You can visit Tanna as part of Ponant's Brisbane to Lautoka cruise in September 2018, an in-depth exploration of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji.
The little known country of Benin is the birthplace of voodoo, a fascinating and frequently misunderstood religion that plays an important role in much of West Africa. Benin was also an important hub for the transatlantic slave trade, and the connection with the Americas can still be felt. Silversea Expeditions offer the opportunity to explore this intriguing country on their March 2019 sailing from Cape Town to Accra, which calls at the Beninese city of Cotonou, as well as ports in Angola, Cameroon and Togo.
8. Faroe Islands
Marooned in the North Atlantic, midway between Scotland and Iceland, the windswept Faroe Islands archipelago is a self-governing Danish territory with its own unique culture and language. Breathtaking coastal scenery, quirky turf-roofed houses and a fascinating Viking heritage have begun to put the islands on the tourist map, as has the distinct Faroese style of knitwear, modelled so memorably by Sarah Lund in 'The Killing'. Several cruise lines visit the Faroes, but we particularly like the look of Silversea's June 2019 itinerary from London to Reykjavik, which makes two stops in the archipelago and also visits the Isles of Scilly, the Isle of Man and some of Iceland's more obscure ports.
9. Sepik River
The legendary Sepik River takes you into the remote and unspoilt heart of Papua New Guinea, a place where headhunting and cannibalism existed within living memory. The region is also known for its remarkable art, and for the ceremonies where young men are ritually scarred so that their skin resembles that of a crocodile. True North Adventure Cruises offers some truly unique voyages to this part of Papua New Guinea on their intimate 36-guest mega-yacht True North, which is able to penetrate deep into the jungle.
10. Kamchatka Peninsula
The remote Kamchatka Peninsula is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Russian Far East, characterised by towering volcanoes, bubbling mud pools and gushing geysers. It's also a wildlife paradise, home to species including bears, wolves, reindeer, Arctic foxes and majestic Steller's sea eagles. Silversea Expeditions operates a number of itineraries in the Russian Far East which include Kamchatka and the Kuril islands, sailing between ports in northern Japan and Alaska.
11. Tristan da Cunha
The British territory of Tristan da Cunha is the world's most remote inhabited island, situated way, way out in the South Atlantic Ocean. To reach the nearest human settlement you have to travel over 1,500 miles to St Helena, and there is no airport on Tristan da Cunha, so this really is a destination that you can only reach by ship. If you're looking for splendid isolation, and the bragging rights that go with visiting such a remote part of the globe, then we recommend Ponant's epic 21-night voyage from Buenos Aires to Cape Town in March 2019, which also includes the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
12. Easter Island
The enigmatic moai statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) remain one of the world's most intriguing archaeological mysteries. Descendants of the Polynesian settlers who carved them still live here, though these days the island belongs to Chile, despite being separated from the mainland by over 2,000 miles of Pacific Ocean. Hapag-Lloyd's November 2018 voyage from Tahiti to Santiago includes an overnight call at Easter Island, allowing you plenty of time to explore this fascinating place.
Last but not least, a destination that we never expected to turn up on an expedition cruise itinerary, the much maligned city of Kingston-upon-Hull. Silversea have included Hull on their May 2019 Dublin to London itinerary due to its proximity to York, a more orthodox tourist destination, but this perhaps does a disservice to Hull, which has been undergoing something of a renaissance since being named UK City of Culture in 2017.