X marks the spot: great travel treasure hunts
The concept of treasure hunting has long captivated our collective imagination, whether it’s Long John Silver unearthing buried chests, Robert Langdon piecing together Da Vinci’s code or Tintin, the world’s favourite travelling teenager, recovering another priceless antique before hitting puberty. But why should such adventurous quests be limited to the pages of fiction?
Searching for one of these fabled treasures — from a sapphire-laden shipwreck to a gold-encrusted city — might not result in the discovery of a fortune. But exploring the intriguing, lesser-visited landscapes where they reputedly reside makes for its own rich reward.
So, what are you waiting for? Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.
Flor de la Mar, Straits of Malacca
Undiscovered since: 1511
Estimated worth: £2 billion
Revered as the holy grail of plunderable shipwrecks, the Portuguese Flor de la Mar was returning from a successful siege on the rich Malaysian port of Melaka when it was caught in a storm and sank somewhere off the coast of Sumatra — taking its estimated £2 billion spoils down with it. Several serious expeditions have taken place to find what’s touted as the world’s most valuable sunken treasure, but the wreckage has never been found.
Anyone with hopes of coming into a watery windfall should head to the paradisiacal isle of Pulau Weh at Sumatra’s northern tip, which offers exceptional diving in little-explored turquoise waters patrolled by sharks and rays. While chances of stumbling upon the wreckage are marginal, travellers are guaranteed a glimpse of the famous galleon in the sleepy city of Melaka, where a life-size replica stands in the midst of fantastic food stalls and kitsch antique shops.
Authenticity: The ship was real and first-hand accounts documenting its lucrative cargo exist — though these may be exaggerated. Some of the treasure may also have been looted by sailors fleeing the wreckage or opportunist scavengers in the aftermath of the incident.