Clients – and agents – should not be put off by distance or challengingly long cruises as South America is hot, hot, hot.
South America has become the fastest-growing destination in the cruising world and interest is set to soar next year as Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2016 Olympics. Yet while Brazil might be the hot ticket, there’s so much else to see on this vast continent.
According to Dan Townsley, managing director of Cruise1st.co.uk, “South America is becoming a popular cruise destination because it has so much to offer. It’s a stunning continent of extremes; from the snow-capped Chilean Andes to the wild beaches and rainforests of Brazil. “Generally, cruises to South America are longer than seven days and at first glance, the distance can seem daunting. The entire continent is so vast it can really only be experienced during long voyages, but shorter cruises from Brazil to Argentina are on the rise. Cruises around Cape Horn typically sail between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, taking in the wild beauty of Patagonia.
“The beauty of a cruise to South America is that the region is simply too vast and too undeveloped in terms of a road or public transportation network, so to explore comfortably, cruise ships can go where very few hotels exist and guests have the assurance of rejoining their floating home each evening.”
Scott Anderson, general manager for The Luxury Cruise Company agrees: “South America is growing in popularity as seasoned travellers look for new destinations to avoid overcrowded Mediterranean and Caribbean ports. Cruise durations tend to be longer. There’s even a 77-day circumnavigation of the entire continent aboard Crystal Symphony, from Puerto Rico to Miami. Shortest cruises tend to be 10 nights from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro.
“The big cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Valparaiso are the main draw for passengers, but off-the-beaten track destinations such as Buzios, Ilhabela, Recife, Puerto Madryn and Arica are the real gems. And of course, you get to the Galápagos from South America, while Ushuaia on the southern tip of the continent is the gateway for Antarctica cruises.”
When asked if there are any issues agents need to be aware of, Anderson highlights the problem with pickpockets in Rio, while Townsley recommends that clients should not organise their own tours or venture off independently unless they are very experienced South America travellers. Having said this, independent shore excursion provider cruisingexcursions.com has just added a whole range of South American tours aimed at the cost-conscious, more independent traveller so the choice is there.
Political tensions occasionally result in some cruises being unable to visit the Falkland Islands if Buenos Aires is on the itinerary. But as Philip Ordever, vicepresident of international sales and marketing at Crystal Cruises points out, “As foreign-flagged ships we can visit both Argentina and the Falkland Islands without experiencing any issues with the Argentinean authorities.”
Ordever also comments that South America is on most ultra-luxury cruisers’ bucket list. Rio’s famous Carnaval is a big draw and a cruise that includes this world-famous spectacular is a perfect solution for savvy cruisers. This fact is not lost on Jo Rzymowska, managing director UK & Ireland for Celebrity Cruises. “For the 2015/16 season, Celebrity Cruises will be visiting 34 different South American destinations in 15 countries, but the sailing which coincides with the Rio Carnaval is a firm favourite year on year,” she says.
Having said that, South America is not the preserve of wealthy cruisers. Royal Caribbean, for one, offers sevennight itineraries taking in Argentina and Uruguay, or Brazil, and even three and five night mini-cruises out of Santos (the port for São Paulo) to the beach resort of Buzios. Given that these cruises are aimed at the local market, Brits joining in can expect one long party.
When to Go
The peak season lasts from December to February when the warm climate in South America mirrors that in Britain. There are daily flights from Heathrow with British Airways to both Rio de janeiro and Buenos Aires taking 11½ and 13½ hours respectively. Flights to Valparaiso take over 14 hours as routings are via Madrid or Sao Paulo. The best option for flying from the regions is via Amsterdam with KLM, which has flights six times a week to Rio and four times weekly to Buenos Aires.
“Expedition-style cruising in South America comprises voyages through remote and challenging environments,” says Stuart Whittington, head of product for Journey Latin America. “Increasingly, we are finding luxury, exclusivity and fine dining are being incorporated into the cruise experience. “We see steady demand from customers wishing to experience a different way of visiting the continent. In the ever-popular region of Patagonia, we offer cruises to the fjords of southern Chile and Argentina operated by Cruceros Australis and Skorios Cruises. One of the most exciting new cruise opportunities in Patagonia is sailing on Lago Argentina with a backdrop of dramatic glaciers and wild, untouched nature. Other key areas for expedition cruising are the Amazon regions of Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.”
The White Continent, otherwise known as Antarctica, is a cruise destination unlike any other. Ships visit the ice-free coastal areas and sub-Antarctic islands during the Austral summer season which runs from November to March. The weather is variable but it’s generally cold, dry and windy, with up to 20 hours of daylight.
Expedition-style ships offer a comfortable cruise experience with expert onboard guides. Cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers sail past sub-Antarctic islands as part of some South American itineraries but no landings are made. Only smaller vessels carrying fewer than 500 passengers can land passengers and then no more than 100 at a time. According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO, iaato.org), Brits accounted for 9% of the total number of visitors in the 2014/15 season.
Conrad Combrink, director of expedition cruises for Silversea Expeditions knows the destination well. “I believe the draw of Antarctica is because it is unique in so many ways,” he says. “Our incredibly successful 18-day Explorer’s Antarctic voyages feature three days in South Georgia – a destination that should be on everyone’s wish list. If you ask most members of our expedition team they will tell you their favourite place is South Georgia. When you step off a zodiac and see hundreds upon hundreds of King Penguins, it’s one of the most aweinspiring sights in the world.”
Celebrity Cruises has recently launched a series of new shore excursions in South America. Ryzmowska believes guests who travel to the continent are keen to explore the rich history of the region. “We have a new excursion offering an evening at Huaca Pucllana in Peru which allows guests to get under the skin of the lima culture that ruled between 200 and 700 AD, uncovering the treasures and tombs of the adobe pyramid rising seven levels into the Peruvian sky. In Colombia, guests can indulge in a coffee-themed excursion, ‘Café San Alberto Coffee Tasting & Historical Cartagena’; or follow the journey of the emerald from mine to jewel with an excursion entitled ‘Inside Circle: Romancing the Stone – Emeralds’.”
Fred. olsen Cruise Lines has also introduced new excursions on its exSouthampton cruises which range from 46 to 77 nights. Director of sales and marketing Nathan Philpot highlights new excursions for 2015: “We have introduced new tours such as ‘Kayaking on Lake Los Palos’ or the ‘Rio Simpson on Horseback’ adventure, both from Puerto Chacabuco in Chile. We also have a new three-night overland tour from Callao in Peru which involves travelling by train through the magnificent Andes.” Shore excursions are, though, non-commissionable.
Land extensions can be a very lucrative add-on for agents selling cruises to South America. regent seven seas Cruises offers a four-night ‘Culinary Creations’ pre-cruise package in Buenos Aires as part of its extensive South America cruise programme. This trip allows clients to immerse themselves in Argentinean cuisine and wine by participating in cooking classes and sampling the region’s distinct vintages in Buenos Aires and Mendoza, although it’s not cheap, at £2,357. Another popular precruise tour is the three-night visit to Iguassu Falls – one of the great natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (£1,274). There’s also a three-night pre-cruise ‘Cusco and Machu Picchu’ land and air programme which offers the unique chance to delve into the sacred and mysterious landmarks of the Inca Empire (£1,210). princess Cruises offers add-ons to the Iguassu Falls and Machu Picchu, as well as hotel options in Buenos Aires, Rio and Santiago, while oceania Cruises, which has two ships, Regatta and Marina , in South America this winter, offers a three-night ‘Ultimate Rio’ precruise extension from £1,097 including B&B accommodation, sightseeing and transfers.