A cruise is one of the best ways to see South America. Cruise ships visit in the austral summer (the UK’s winter), when the weather is at its best on the continent and the ice in Antarctica has receded enough for cruise ships and exploration-style vessels to sail in the polar region.
Two-week cruises between Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and Valparaiso, the port for the Chilean capital of Santiago, are among the most popular as they take ships round Cape Horn – an unmissable experience for keen cruisers.
There are sailings along the west coast that call at Cusco in Peru and Guayaquil in Ecuador, and they often offer the option to add on a cruise in the Galapagos. East coast itineraries visit Montevideo in Uruguay and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and sail up the Amazon River as far as Manaus.
Long voyages that circumnavigate South America are a great way to see much of the continent. These usually include a cruise up the Amazon and a day transiting the Panama Canal.
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Buenos Aires maybe known as the Paris of South America but the language is Spanish and around half the inhabitants are of Italian descent. It’s a vibrant city with lively bars, wonderful steakhouses and tango in La Boca. The cruise terminal, on the Rio de la Plata, is half a mile from the city centre so it is best to recommend that visitors take a taxi. Attractions include the pink palace in Plaza de Mayo – it was here Eva Peron addressed the nation; the Recoleta Cemetery where she is buried and the colourful district of La Boca.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
A favourite on South American cruise itineraries. Ships dock at Pier Maua, walking distance from downtown Rio and about 20 minutes by taxi from the famous Copacabana Beach. Along with the city’s Ipanema Beach, it is worth a visit, but don’t miss a trip to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for views across the city. A cog railway goes up Corcovado to the Christ the Redeemer statue.
From the port, passengers can cross the Rambla Franklin D Roosevelt and they will be in the 18th-century Spanish old town (Ciudad Vieja). The gateway is all that remains of the old city and Plaza Independencia marks the point where old meets newer downtown. Montevideo is a small city with plenty of restaurants and shops. For those who want to go further a field there are excursions to working estancia (ranch) or perhaps a beach trip to Punta Del Este.
Muelle Prat Port is walking distance from town, but most visitors want to see Santiago, the capital of Chile, which is a 90-minute drive away.
Plaza de Armas is the historic centre of Santiago and dates from 1541 with grand Spanish colonial architecture and the splendid Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built in 1745. A funicular train takes guests to the top of San Cristobal Hill for a view of the city and cross the Andes.
Lima, the capital of Peru is seven miles from the port of Callao. It’s about 20 minutes by taxi, depending on traffic but do advise passengers to agree the cab fare before heading off). A ship’s shuttle might be the best option. Attractions in Lima are Plaza Mayor and the cathedral, the archbishop’s palace and city hall.The San Franciscan Monastery and Church, and the Gold Museum, which contains priceless artefacts from pre-Columbian Peru are also well worth viewing.
The San Franciscan Monastery and Church, and the Gold Museum, which contains priceless artefacts from pre-Columbian Peru are also well worth viewing.Lucky passengers can enjoy
Lucky passengers can enjoy overnight tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu and rejoin the ship at a different port. It is always good to highlight this wonderful option when passengers are choosing a cruise.
Welcome to the ‘town at the end of the world’. Cruise ships head south and next stop is Antarctica, 1,000km across the Drake Passage. Ships dock in the centre of town and the most exciting tours are to Tierra del Fuego National Park or catamaran cruises through the Beagle Channel. For those staying Ushuaia, there is a Maritime Museum in the former prison and a display dedicated to Antarctica.
Ships tie up to a floating dock next to the city because Manaus is the end of the cruise for most vessels sailing up the Amazon.
Being so close to the rainforest, visitors must be urged to experience the sights and sounds of this fascinating and bio-diverse part of the world.
A Meeting the Waters tour takes passengers to where the brown, muddy waters of the Rio Solimoes meet the black water of the Rio Negro – they do not mix because water temperature and flow rates are so different. There are jungle hikes, canoe rides and piranha fishing tours by day but by night there are late-night expeditions in search of caiman, an Amazonian alligator. Sailing under the Milky Way, listening to the frogs’ chorus while the fire-flies twinkle like fairy-lights and looking for the sometimes elusive caiman is an experience to highlight.
Cruising is the best way to experience the Galapagos, 21 islands some 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador. It was here Charles Darwin began formulate his theories about evolution and the protected islands are still teeming with wildlife. Passengers fly in from Quito via Guayaquil. If time allows they should build in a few days to also enjoy these historic cities and their surrounds.
Cruise ships sailing in the Galapagos National Park are allowed to carry up to 100 passengers and visit a couple of islands a day. Visitors can go on walks ashore with park naturalists and get close to the wildlife that have no fear of humans. Each island has differing wildlife and geology so guests can expect to see blue-footed boobies, marine and land iguanas, lava lizards, sea lions, giant tortoises, frigate birds and Darwin’s finches.
Landings are by inflatable zodiacs or dinghies and those thinking of visiting the islands need to be fairly agile and ready for adventure on these beautiful, remote islands.
Visitors numbers are tightly controlled by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) ; last year saw 36,686 visitors to the region, compared to around one million who ventured to its northern counterpart in Alaska. Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing travel trends and has witnessed an increase of 195% in two years.
These expeditions are an incredible way to witness the Great White Continent’s majestic landscape and venture into the unknown; to marvel at gigantic white-blue icebergs and watch whales break the icy silence.
The IAATO helps protect the continent and ships’ captains are obliged to follow strict rules to minimise human impact. A maximum of 100 people at a time are allowed ashore. There is also a restriction on the time they are allowed to stay on the ice.
Useful websites include the British Antarctic Survey (bas.ac.uk) and the IAATO (iaato.org).
1.The cruise season for the region usually runs from late spring in November to mid-autumn in early May. Nevertheless, customers cruising from Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires on the east coast to Santiago on the west (or vice versa) should pack for all weathers.
2.Cape Horn is a bucket-list destination but it’s not a place to stop – apart from on small-ship expedition voyages.
3.Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires are are easy to fly to (in about 12 – 14 hours). It’s worth encouraging customers to book pre-cruise hotel stays.