South America Cruises and Cruise Lines

South America Cruises and Cruise Lines - from Galapagos to Antarctica

Celebrity Cruises in South America From the Galapagos to Antarctica, cruises in South America offer a variety of experiences not often found in other cruise regions.

From Buenos Aires, Argentina, around Cape Horn to Valparaiso, Chile, or in the reverse direction, “Round Cape Horn” cruises are among the most popular South America cruises. On such itineraries, you’ll typically spend two weeks on your South American cruise. Some ships overnight in the embarkation/disembarkation ports so that you’ll have time to tango in Buenos Aires or visit the wineries between Valparaiso and Chile’s capital, Santiago.

Voyages to the ice-capped fjords of South America treat guests to some of the most impressive scenery in all of travel. As albatross soar over the water, guests marvel at the unearthly beauty of the Chilean fjords via the Darwin Channel and Strait of Magellan.

Another “once-in-a-lifetime” adventure awaits those on the Chilean Fjords sailings — scenic cruising past historic Cape Horn. Passable at only certain times of the year due to fierce weather conditions, journeying to the Cape remains a milestone in sailing cultures.

Where To Cruise
Big Ship Cruises. From Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro either north to (and up) the Amazon River or south around Cape Horn to Valparaiso, Chile. Round-the-horn cruises are the most popular.

Explore Antarctica on Silversea Cruises; Silver ExplorerBlue-footed Boobies courting. Photo taken on a Celebrity Xpedition cruise.Antarctica: A cruise to Antarctica ranks for many as the best cruise of their lives, a voyage to a place unlike any other on earth. Sailing through perilous Drake’s Passage, arrive in a magical place of icebergs a mile across, whales, elephant seals, albatross and penguins upon penguins. Excursions on Zodiacs take you ashore to penguin rookeries of 300,000 birds. Note that the big ships only do a "scenic cruise", without the possibility of going ashore. Choose a smaller expedition ship, such as Hurtigruten, Lindblad Expeditions, or Silversea's Silver Explorer for a real Antarctica experience.

Galapagos: Expedition ships offer cruises to these nature islands. A "Must-Go" for nature lovers. Here one will actively explore the islands, with professional naturalist guides explaining the animal sightings along every step of the way. The guided tours are included (you cannot wander off on your own), and offered at different levels of activity, but it should be noted that getting ashore on some of the islands does require some agility.

When To Cruise?
Remember that South America’s seasons are reverse from North America’s, so the South America and Antarctica summer cruise season is staged during the North American winter.

The Galapagos Islands are situated close to the Equator, and you can cruise the Galapagos yearround. Note that the albatross migrates; it arrives at the islands in April for courtship, and leaves in December.

Scintillating South America

It Takes Two To Tango - Buenos Aires, Argentinaby Ralph Grizzle - The Avid Cruiser.

Done the Caribbean? Try South America on a cruise.
Weeks before my South America cruise, I tried to form mental pictures of the places our ship would visit: Buenos Aires, Montevideo, the Falkland Islands, Ushuaia and Valparaiso. My resources were sorely lacking. I could not recall having studied South America in high school, and my only exposure to Latin America had been jaunts to Mexico, Guatemala and a handful of other Central American countries.

South America, in my mind, was similar — a destination for intrepid travelers. Wearing dusty boots, worn jeans and shouldering their belongings in sturdy backpacks, they endured bumpy bus rides, sharing space with caged chickens and goats destined for local markets.

In the late 1980s, I had made a similar journey from Belize City to Guatemala City. An hour or so after crossing the border into Guatemala and bumping along dirt roads at a snail’s pace, an armed rebel group stopped our bus and ordered us off. After a lengthy inspection and interrogation, we were waved on, but the young men brandishing weapons made a memorable impression.

The little that I thought I did know was that, like Central America, South America was not a place for safe or salutary travel. If a rebel group did not get you, then the food and water would. A bout with Montezuma’s Revenge in Mexico in the early 1990s made me pay particular heed to the U.S. Department of State’s warning about food in Latin America: “Boil it. Cook it. Peel it. Or forget it!”

Celebrity Penguin, a.k.a. the King PenguinDuring our cruise, my fellow passengers told me they had shared similar preconceived notions, not so much that South America was a dangerous or unsalutary place, but that it was a primitive one. While regions of the vast continent certainly are largely untouched by the broader aspects of civilization, we were surprised by the European overlay on cities that fooled us into thinking we had somehow made landfall on the other side of the Atlantic — in Europe.

South America was nothing like I had imagined it would be, and two weeks cruising the bottom half of the world’s fourth largest continent dispelled all that my mind could conjure.

South America Surprised Us
The continent below the equator loomed large for many of us aboard a two-week sailing on Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium. En route from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, by way of legendary Cape Horn and the Straits of Magellan, I heard choruses of praise for a place that caught many of us by surprise.

“South America reminds me of the most beautiful places I have been,” one passenger told me during a shore excursion where we stood among mountains that resembled the Swiss Alps. At times, the landscape reminded us of Alaska, Norway, New Zealand and Iceland, while cities, especially cosmopolitan Buenos Aires and sophisticated Santiago, resembled Paris or Madrid.

At Port Stanley, the remote British outpost that reigns over the Falkland Islands (and other British territories in the South Atlantic), Anglophiles and British passengers on our cruise sipped pints of stout and dined on fish and chips in a place that can only be described as an English fishing village.

Santiago is the gatweway to Chile's Wine CountryOur round-the-horn cruise took in a variety of landscapes, cultures and climates. We departed blazing hot Buenos Aires to sail around frigid Cape Horn past snow-capped peaks that formed the backdrop to Ushuaia, and up the Chilean fjords to skirt glaciers on the way to sunny and colorful Valparaiso. Packing for so many climates was challenging. I stuffed my suitcase with clothes appropriate for any season — and used them all.

Our days were filled with excursions to see penguins and seals, leisurely passages along dramatic coastline, visits to estancias (ranches) and strolls along the central avenues and waterfronts of the eight ports we visited during two weeks. It is difficult to imagine another cruising region that offers such variety as South America.

Alternative To The Caribbean
At least part of the region’s popularity as a cruise destination is driven by passengers who are looking for warm-weather options to the Caribbean. They’ve simply “been there, done that” too many times. There’s less congestion at South America ports than at Caribbean ones, arguably more variety and something of a surprise for Caribbean-weary cruisers: good value, particularly in Argentina, where dining ashore, shopping and getting around by taxi costs only a pittance.

“This suits me better than the Caribbean — the barren landscape, the stormy weather and snow-capped peaks,” a fellow passenger said during a port call in Ushuaia, at Argentina’s southern tip. “I’d much rather be wrapped in a warm sweater than getting sunburned by the pool.”

Of course, the days that followed were warm as we made our way north, and there were plenty of people poolside under a bright sun. We put away our sweaters for good on the final days of our cruise and along with them, our outdated notions of what surely must be one of the world’s most surprising cruise destinations.

Ask me now what South America is like, and I will tell you from recent experience that it is beyond what you might imagine.