South America Cruises
There's so much to explore on a cruise around South America, from sun-drenched coastal resorts and cosmopolitan cities, to lush rainforests and UNESCO world heritage sites.
With such a vast number of itineraries to choose from, it can be beneficial to enlist the help of an expert to help you find the best deals. Our Cruise Concierge team can search through all the available cruise offers to help you book your South American cruise holiday at the very best price. Just give us a call.
Summary At 55 degrees latitude south, Ushuaia (pronounced oo-swy-ah) is closer to the South Pole than to Argentina's northern border with Bolivia. It is the capital and tourism base for Tierra del Fuego, the island at the southernmost tip of Argentina.Although its stark physical beauty is striking, Tierra del Fuego's historical allure is based more on its mythical past than on rugged reality. The island was inhabited for 6,000 years by Yámana, Haush, Selk'nam, and Alakaluf Indians. But in 1902 Argentina, eager to populate Patagonia to bolster its territorial claims, moved to initiate an Ushuaian penal colony, establishing the permanent settlement of its most southern territories and, by implication, everything in between.When the prison closed in 1947, Ushuaia had a population of about 3,000, made up mainly of former inmates and prison staff. Today the Indians of Darwin's "missing link" theory are long gone—wiped out by diseases brought by settlers and by indifference to their plight—and the 60,000 residents of Ushuaia are hitching their star to tourism.The city rightly (if perhaps too loudly) promotes itself as the southernmost city in the world (Puerto Williams, a few miles south on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel, is a small town). You can make your way to the tourism office to get your clichéd, but oh-so-necessary, "Southernmost City in the World" passport stamp. Ushuaia feels like a frontier boomtown, at heart still a rugged, weather-beaten fishing village, but exhibiting the frayed edges of a city that quadrupled in size in the '70s and '80s and just keeps growing. Unpaved portions of Ruta 3, the last stretch of the Pan-American Highway, which connects Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, are finally being paved. The summer months (December through March) draw more than 120,000 visitors, and dozens of cruise ships. The city is trying to extend those visits with events like March's Marathon at the End of the World and by increasing the gamut of winter activities buoyed by the excellent snow conditions.A terrific trail winds through the town up to the Martial Glacier, where a ski lift can help cut down a steep kilometer of your journey. The chaotic and contradictory urban landscape includes a handful of luxury hotels amid the concrete of public housing projects. Scores of "sled houses" (wooden shacks) sit precariously on upright piers, ready for speedy displacement to a different site. But there are also many small, picturesque homes with tiny, carefully tended gardens. Many of the newer homes are built in a Swiss-chalet style, reinforcing the idea that this is a town into which tourism has breathed new life. At the same time, the weather-worn pastel colors that dominate the town's landscape remind you that Ushuaia was once just a tiny fishing village, snuggled at the end of the Earth.As you stand on the banks of the Canal Beagle (Beagle Channel) near Ushuaia, the spirit of the farthest corner of the world takes hold. What stands out is the light: at sundown the landscape is cast in a subdued, sensual tone; everything feels closer, softer, and more human in dimension despite the vastness of the setting. The snowcapped mountains reflect the setting sun back onto a stream rolling into the channel, as nearby peaks echo their image—on a windless day—in the still waters.Above the city rise the last mountains of the Andean Cordillera, and just south and west of Ushuaia they finally vanish into the often-stormy sea. Snow whitens the peaks well into summer. Nature is the principal attraction here, with trekking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife spotting, and sailing among the most rewarding activities, especially in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (Tierra del Fuego National Park).
Summary Glamorous and gritty, Buenos Aires is two cities in one. What makes Argentina's capital so fascinating is its dual heritage—part European, part Latin American. Plaza de Mayo resembles a grand square in Madrid, and the ornate Teatro Colón would not be out of place in Vienna. But you’ll know you’re in South America by the leather shoes for sale on cobbled streets and impromptu parades of triumphant soccer fans. Limited-production wines, juicy steaks, and ice cream in countless flavors are among the old-world imports the city has perfected.
Summary Approaching from Ruta 3, it's hard to believe that the horizon line of buildings perched just beyond the windswept dunes and badlands is the most successful of all coastal Patagonia settlements. But once you get past the outskirts of town and onto the wide coastal road known as the Rambla, the picture begins to change. Ranged along the clear and tranquil Golfo Nuevo are restaurants, cafés, dive shops, and hotels, all busy—but not yet overcrowded—with tourists from around the world.Puerto Madryn is more a base for visiting nearby wildlife-watching sites like Península Valdés and Punta Tombo than a destination in its own right. The town's architecture is unremarkable, and beyond a walk along the coast there isn't much to do. Indeed, even the few museums serve mainly to introduce you to the fauna you'll see elsewhere. The exception is the beginning of whale season (May through July), when the huge animals cavort right in the bay before heading north—you can even walk out alongside them on the pier. During these months it's worth the extra expense for a room with a sea view.The many tour agencies and rental-car companies here make excursion planning easy. Aim to spend most of your time here on one- or two-day trips exploring the surroundings. Note that competition is fierce between tourism operators in destinations such as Puerto Madryn and Puerto Pirámides on Península Valdés. Take information that tour operators and even the tourism office give you about these with a grain of salt: they often exaggerate Madryn's virtues and other areas' flaws.
Summary Puerto Deseado (Port Desire) is a city and fishing port located along the estuary of the Deseado River in the Patagonia region of Argentina. The estuary is a natural reserve and was visited in 1833 by Darwin, who described the area as one of the most secluded places he had ever seen, a “rocky crevice in the wild plain.” Puerto Deseado has a population of 15,000, with an economy based primarily on the fishing and tourism industries. Tourists come to Puerto Deseado mostly to view the estuary’s diverse fauna. Among other sea birds, there are two types of penguins (Magellanic and Rockhopper) as well as the incredible black and white Commerson’s dolphins that may be spotted jumping out of the water during mating season. The port is also a spot from which Isla Pinguino (the Island of Penguins) can be easily reached, just over 12 miles south/southeast from Puerto Deseado. On land, visitors can visit the rail museum (Estación del Ferrocarril Patagónico) or study the examples of Spanish and English architecture and sailing artifacts that remain from both countries attempting to settle here in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Summary Cute penguins waddle and skip in the waves that roll ashore near the sleepy, unspoiled town of Camarones. Life here is lived well and truly in the slow lane, but this fishing village has plenty of joy to offer intrepid visitors. ‘Camarones’ translates as ‘prawns’ and, as the name suggests, this is a great place for seafood – with the octopuses and clams that are scooped from the city's waters proving to be some of the most mouth-wateringly delicious available. You'll be welcomed in to restaurants, like the Indalo Inn, like long lost friends, before sitting down to dine on delicious slabs of salmon, and wine pressed from the grapes of the renowned Río Negro region of Patagonia. February's Salmon Festival provides a particular treat for seafood lovers, if you happen to be in town for it. The Cabo Dos Bahías nature reserve is a glorious expanse of sweeping coastline and the place to see the colony of 30,000 Magellanic penguins, who play and fish in the waves, wandering ashore as the sun begins to set. With a vast array of wildlife on full display, you can enjoy walks along the frothing, broody shoreline, cowering as waves clatter ashore along wide, open beaches. Punta Tombo Reserve is another spot to find some of nature's cutest birds. Visit to perch on a rocky outcrop, and watch as penguins dash in and out of the waves that fizz ashore on the scenic sands. From the harbour, head out across the water on excursions to find curious dolphins and whales breaching the surface of the ocean. Or, Plaza San Martin offers a small square to relax in and catch some shade. The small Museo de la Familia Peron gives an interesting insight into the area's wool heritage, meanwhile.
Isla de los Estados
San Antonio Este
Summary Isla Pinguino (Penguin Island) is a tiny island less than a mile across located off the coastline of Santa Cruz province in Argentina. The island was previously known as an “island of the Kings” for ships traveling on their way to the Magellan Strait; from the 16th to the mid-19th century, sailors and travelers knew this location was a supply point of food. While several bird species live on this island, none are so numerous and distinctive as the southern rockhopper penguins, with their yellow-plumed eyes and squat stature. The island used to house an Argentinian naval station, and a lighthouse from this installment is still in service on the island, powered by solar energy.
El Edén Island, Galápagos
Baltra Island, Galápagos
Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz
Punta Suarez, Isla Española, Galápagos
Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, Galápagos
North Seymour Island, Galapagos
Gardner Bay, Española Island, Galápagos
San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos
Tagus Cove, Isabella Island, Galapagos
Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island, Galápagos
El Barranco, Genovesa Island, Galápagos
Summary Paramaribo is the capital of Suriname and is located on the Suriname River, just inland of the Atlantic Ocean. Often referred to as the Wooden City because of its colonial architecture, Paramaribo is a hub for nightlife. Test your luck at one of the casinos, relax on a boat trip, or learn about the heritage and culture of the area.
Rio de Janeiro
Summary Welcome to the Cidade Maravilhosa, or the Marvelous City, as Rio is known in Brazil. Synonymous with the girl from Ipanema, the dramatic views from Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain, and fabulously flamboyant Carnival celebrations, Rio is a city of stunning architecture, abundant museums, and marvelous food. Rio is also home to 23 beaches, an almost continuous 73-km (45-mile) ribbon of sand.As you leave the airport and head to Rio's beautiful Zona Sul (the touristic South Zone), you'll drive for about 40 minutes on a highway from where you'll begin to get a sense of the dramatic contrast between beautiful landscape and devastating poverty. In this teeming metropolis of 12 million people (6.2 million of whom live in Rio proper), the very rich and the very poor live in uneasy proximity. You'll drive past seemingly endless cinder-block favela, but by the time you reach Copacabana's breezy, sunny Avenida Atlântica—flanked on one side by white beach and azure sea and on the other by condominiums and hotels—your heart will leap with expectation as you begin to recognize the postcard-famous sights. Now you're truly in Rio, where cariocas (Rio residents) and tourists live life to its fullest.Enthusiasm is contagious in Rio. Prepare to have your senses engaged and your inhibitions untied. Rio seduces with a host of images: the joyous bustle of vendors at Sunday's Feira Hippie (Hippie Fair); the tipsy babble at sidewalk cafés as patrons sip their last glass of icy beer under the stars; the blanket of lights beneath the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain); the bikers, joggers, strollers, and power walkers who parade along the beach each morning. Borrow the carioca spirit for your stay; you may find yourself reluctant to give it back.
Summary Around two hours from Rio de Janeiro, Búzios is a string of beautiful beaches on an 8-km-long (5-mile-long) peninsula. It was the quintessential sleepy fishing village until the 1960s, when the French actress Brigitte Bardot holidayed here to escape the paparazzi and the place almost instantly transformed into a vacation sensation. Búzios has something for everyone. Some hotels cater specifically to families and provide plenty of activities and around-the-clock child care. Many have spa facilities, and some specialize in weeklong retreats. For outdoor enthusiasts, Búzios offers surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, diving, hiking, and mountain biking, as well as leisurely rounds of golf.
Salvador de Bahia
Summary According to Salvador's adopted son Jorge Amado, "In Salvador, magic becomes part of the every-day." From the shimmering golden light of sunset over the Baía do Todos os Santos, to the rhythmic beats that race along the streets, Salvador, while no longer Brazil's capital, remains one of its most captivating cities. A large dose of its exoticism comes down to its African heritage—at least 70% of its 2,675,000 population is classified as Afro-Brazilian—and how it has blended into Brazil's different strands, from the native Indians to the Christian colonizers. Salvadorans may tell you that you can visit a different church every day of the year, which is almost true—the city has about 300. Churches whose interiors are covered with gold leaf were financed by the riches of the Portuguese colonial era, when slaves masked their traditional religious beliefs under a thin Catholic veneer. And partly thanks to modern-day acceptance of those beliefs, Salvador has become the fount of Candomblé, a religion based on personal dialogue with the orixás, a family of African deities closely linked to nature and the Catholic saints. The influence of Salvador's African heritage on Brazilian music has also turned the city into one of the musical capitals of Brazil, resulting in a myriad of venues to enjoy live music across the city, along with international acclaim for exponents like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Daniela Mercury. Salvador's economy today is focused on telecommunications and tourism. The still-prevalent African culture draws many tourists—this is the best place in Brazil to hear African music, learn or watch African dance, and see capoeira, a martial art developed by slaves. In the district of Pelourinho, many colorful 18th- and 19th-century houses remain, part of the reason why this is the center of the tourist trade. Salvador sprawls across a peninsula surrounded by the Baía de Todos os Santos on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The city has about 50 km (31 miles) of coastline. The original city, referred to as the Centro Histórica (Historical Center), is divided into the Cidade Alta (Upper City), also called Pelourinho, and Cidade Baixa (Lower City). The Cidade Baixa is a commercial area—known as Comércio—that runs along the port and is the site of Salvador's indoor market, Mercado Modelo. You can move between the upper and lower cities on foot, via the landmark Elevador Lacerda, behind the market, or on the Plano Inclinado, a funicular lift, which connects Rua Guindaste dos Padres on Comércio with the alley behind Cathedral Basílica. From the Cidade Histórica you can travel north along the bay to the hilltop Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. You can also head south to the point, guarded by the Forte Santo Antônio da Barra, where the bay waters meet those of the Atlantic. This area on Salvador's southern tip is home to the trendy neighborhoods of Barra, Ondina, and Rio Vermelho, with many museums, theaters, shops, and restaurants. Beaches along the Atlantic coast and north of Forte Santo Antônio da Barra are among the city's cleanest. Many are illuminated at night and have bars and restaurants that stay open late.
Summary A hidden metropolis inside of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, this city is both modern and exciting, yet untouched by the world beyond the jungle. Visit its historical Rubber Museums or stop by the Park of Mindu and catch glimpse of the endangered Pied Tamarin.
Summary Though founded in the early 18th century, Itajai only started to develop during the mid-19th century when surrounding parts in the Brazilian southern state of Santa Catarina began to see an arrival of European immigrants who generated business for the port. Toward the close of that century, the town itself received a considerable influx of Italian, German and Polish immigrants, whose descendants now make up the bulk of the population. Out in the countryside, neat farms and distinct European architecture are still evidence of these early immigrant settlers. Despite its early beginnings, Itajai looks fairly new, with few buildings dating from before 1950. And while it may be short on “must sees,” the town benefits from nice beaches and its close proximity to Camboriú, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Santa Catarina state. In addition to white sand beaches, Camboriú boasts a busy commercial centre and the only cable car in the world to link two beaches. A day trip away is Blumenau, settled by German and Italian immigrants. Evidence of their heritage can still be seen in the town’s traditional style architecture and memorials. Pier Information The ship will be docked at the Itajai commercial pier, within walking distance to the town center. Taxis are generally available by the pier entrance, but you are advised to establish the fare before setting out. There are few English-speaking drivers. Shopping A variety of shops line the downtown pedestrian street. Most of them carry items of interest to the local population rather than tourists. The currency is the real. Cuisine As a busy port with freighters and tankers calling from around the world, Itajai offers a number of good but basic eateries, offering regional dishes as well as international fare. A bar and eatery, located just across from the pier entrance, is a popular attraction due to its seafaring clientele who have decorated the walls of the establishment over the years with interesting slogans and drawings. Other Sites There are few “must-see” sites in Itajai, but taking a stroll along the pedestrian street or having a look inside the cathedral may offer an interesting look at local lifestyle and activities. Beaches About a 10-15 minute drive away one can find Itajai’s beaches of Atalaia and Geremias, or still a bit farther the Praia Cabecudas. Beaches do not offer any tourist facilities, but are popular with locals. More upscale beach facilities can be found at Camboriú, a 6-mile (10 km) drive from Itajai. Private arrangements for independent sightseeing are limited in this port and subject to the availability of English-speaking guides.
Summary This vibrant metropolis has a spirit that's halfway between that of the modern cities of Brazil's South and of the traditional northeastern centers. It offers both insight on the past and a window to the future.It was in Pernambuco State, formerly a captaincy, that the most violent battles between the Dutch and the Portuguese took place. Under the Portuguese, the capital city was the nearby community of Olinda. But beginning in 1637 and during the Dutch turn at the reins (under the powerful count Maurício de Nassau), both Olinda and Recife were greatly developed.The city has beautiful buildings alongside the rivers that remind many visitors of Europe. Unfortunately, huge swathes of 19th-century buildings were razed to make way for modern structures. As a result, the center of the city has pockets of neocolonial splendor surrounded by gap-toothed modern giants. Today Recife is a leader in health care and has benefited from significant government investment in recent years, resulting in a boom in infrastructure and construction industries. It's also Brazil's third-largest gastronomic center—it's almost impossible to get a bad meal here.Recife is built around three rivers and connected by 49 bridges. Its name comes from the recifes (reefs) that line the coast. Because of this unique location, water and light often lend the city interesting textures. In the morning, when the tide recedes from Boa Viagem Beach, the rocks of the reefs slowly reappear. Pools of water are formed, fish flap around beachgoers, and the rock formations dry into odd colors. And if the light is just right on the Rio Capibaribe, the ancient buildings of Recife Antigo (Old Recife) are reflected off the river's surface in a watercolor display.
Summary The Costa Verde's main attraction, the coastal village of Parati, is about 180 miles south of Rio de Janeiro. Inhabited since 1660, this small town has remained fundamentally unaltered since its heyday. It was a staging post for 18th-century trade in Brazilian gold from Minas Gerais to Portugal. Raids and pirate attacks necessitated the establishment of a new route linking Minas Gerais directly with Rio de Janeiro. A decline in Parati’s fortunes resulted; being off the beaten track, it remained quietly hidden away. Today, the entire town has been declared a national historic monument by UNESCO as one of the most important examples of colonial architecture. With its newly acclaimed status, Parati has become a popular destination. Its beautifully restored colonial buildings line narrow, cobbled streets which are closed to vehicular traffic. Parati's population of some 15,000 people depends on fishing, farming and tourism for its livelihood. Local artists display their attractive crafts in galleries and souvenir shops. The town, reached via a long pier from the tender landing, must be explored on foot. Among Parati’s attractions is the 1722 Church of Santa Rita de Cassia, a classic example of Brazilian baroque architecture. The surrounding area boasts a scenic backdrop with green-clad mountains and numerous islands are scattered across the bay.
Summary Georgetown is the capital of Guyana, the only South American country with the native language of English. Located on the mouth of the Demerara River, the city is interlaced with canals and streets lined with palm trees. It embraces its mixed cultural history in the architecture that has Dutch and Victorian influences.
Summary Uruguay’s capital city hugs the eastern bank of the Río de la Plata. A massive coastal promenade (malecón) that passes fine beaches, restaurants, and numerous parks recalls the sunny sophistications of the Mediterranean and is always dotted with Montevideans strolling, exercising, and lounging along the water. Montevideo has its share of glitzy shopping avenues and modern office buildings, balanced with its historic old city and sumptuous colonial architecture, as well as numerous leafy plazas and parks. It is hard not to draw comparisons to its sister city Buenos Aires across the river, and indeed Montevideo strikes many as a calmer, more manageable incarnation of Argentina's capital.When the weather's good, La Rambla, a 22-km (14-mile) waterfront avenue that links the Old City with the eastern suburbs and changes names about a dozen times, gets packed with fishermen, ice-cream vendors, and joggers. Around sunset, volleyball and soccer games wind down as couples begin to appear for evening strolls. Polls consistently rate Montevideo as having the highest quality of life of any city in Latin America. After one visit here, especially on a lovely summer evening, you probably will agree.
Punta del Este
Summary Often likened to the Hamptons or St-Tropez, Punta del Este is a flashy destination where parties run nonstop in peak season. But it is also a destination that draws a range of beachgoers to its shores, from summering families to the celebrity jet-set. There's a bustling city on the beach downtown, as well as quiet countryside populated solely with upscale ranches called chacras or estancias, and creative, buzzing hamlets like La Barra and José Ignacio. Though it's pricey and at times a logistical challenge to get around, everyone finds something about Punta to love.The resort takes its name from the "east point" marking the division of the Río de la Plata on the west from the Atlantic Ocean to the east. It also lends its name to the broader region encompassing the nearby communities of Punta Ballena and La Barra de Maldonado. These days even José Ignacio, some 20 miles away, is grouped in. It's usually a given that Argentina’s upper class spends at least part of the summer in Punta, soaking in the ample rays.
Isla de Lobos
Summary Arica boasts that it is "the land of the eternal spring," but its temperate climate and beaches are not the only reason to visit this small city. Relax for an hour or two on the Plaza 21 de Mayo. Walk to the pier and watch the pelicans and sea lions trail the fishing boats as the afternoon's catch comes in. Walk to the top of the Morro and imagine battles of days gone by, or wonder at the magnitude of modern shipping as Chilean goods leave the port below by container ship.Arica is gaining notice for its great surfing conditions, and in 2009 hosted the Rusty Arica Pro Surf Challenge, a qualifying event to the world series of surf.
Summary Impenetrable forests, impassable mountains, and endless fields of ice define Chilean Patagonia, and meant that the region went largely unexplored until the beginning of the 20th century. Located in the southernmost part of the country, this area is still sparsely inhabited, though you will find a few populated places—like the colorful provincial city of Punta Arenas, which looks like it's about to be swept into the Strait of Magellan. Some unique wildlife, particularly colonies of elephant seals and penguins, call this breathtaking topography home. To the north is Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the country's most magnificent natural wonder, and whose snow-covered peaks seem to rise vertically from the plains below. The vistas, such as the fantastic Avenue of the Glaciers, are breathtaking; along this stretch of the Beagle Channel, you can pass six tremendous glaciers all within a stone's throw of each other.Cruise SightsPunta Arenas. Founded a little more than 150 years ago, Punta Arenas (Sandy Point) was Chile's first permanent settlement in Patagonia. Plaza Muñoz Gamero, the central square, is surrounded by evidence of that early prosperity: buildings whose then-opulent brick exteriors recall a time when this was one of Chile's wealthiest cities. The newer houses here have colorful tin roofs, best appreciated when seen from a high vantage point such as the Mirador Cerro la Cruz. Although the city as a whole may not be particularly attractive, look for details: the pink-and-white house on a corner, the bay window full of potted plants, parking attendants wearing the regional blue and yellow colors, and schoolchildren in identical naval pea coats that remind you that the city's fate is tied to the sea.The Museo Naval y Marítimo extols Chile's high-seas prowess, particularly concerning Antarctica. Its exhibits are worth a visit for anyone with an interest in ships and sailing, merchant and military alike. Part of the second floor is designed like the interior of a ship, including a map and radio room. Pedro Montt 989. Admission charged.Housed in what was once the mansion of the powerful Braun-Menéndez family, the Museo Regional de Magallanes is an intriguing glimpse into the daily life of a wealthy provincial family at the beginning of the 20th century. Lavish Carrara marble hearths, English bath fixtures, and cordovan leather walls are among the original accoutrements. The museum also has an excellent group of displays depicting Punta Arenas's past, from the first European contact to the town's decline after the opening of the Panama Canal. The museum is half a block north of the main square. Magallanes 949. Admission charged.The resplendent 1895 Palacio Sara Braun is a national landmark and an architectural showpiece of southern Patagonia. Designed by a French architect, the house was built from materials and by craftsmen imported from Europe during the four years of construction. The city's central plaza and surrounding buildings soon followed, ushering in the region's golden era. Noteworthy are the lavish bedrooms, magnificent parquet floors, marble fireplaces, and hand-painted ceilings. Don't miss the portraits of Braun and her husband José Nogueira in the music room. Afterwards, head to the cellar for a drink or snack in the warm public tavern (a good portion of the mansion is leased to a hotel). Plaza Muñoz Gamero 716. Admission charged.Commonly referred to simply as "El Salesiano," the Museo Salesiano de Maggiorino Borgatello is operated by Italian missionaries whose order arrived in Punta Arenas in the 19th century. The Salesians, most of whom spoke no Spanish, proved to be daring explorers. Traveling throughout the region, they collected the artifacts made by indigenous tribes that are currently on display. Av. Bulnes 398. Admission charged.Isla Magdalena. Punta Arenas is the launching point for a boat trip to the Isla Magdalena to see the more than 100,000 Magellanic penguins at the Monumento Natural Los Pingúinos. A single trail, marked off by rope, is accessible to humans. The boat trip to the island, in the middle of the Estrecho de Magallanes, takes about two hours. Make sure to bring along warm clothing, even in summer; the island can be chilly, particularly if a breeze is blowing across the water.Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Some 12 million years ago, lava flows pushed up through the thick sedimentary crust that covered the southwestern coast of South America, cooling to form a granite mass. Glaciers then swept through the region, grinding away all but the ash-gray spires that rise over the landscape of one of the world's most beautiful natural phenomena, now the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (established in 1959). Snow formations dazzle along every turn of road, and the sunset views are spectacular.Among the 2,420-square-km (934-square-mi) park's most beautiful attractions are its lakes of turquoise, aquamarine, and emerald green waters. Another draw is its unusual wildlife. Creatures like the guanaco (a woollier version of the llama) and the ñandú (resembling a small ostrich) abound. They are used to visitors and don't seem to be bothered by the proximity of automobile traffic and the snapping of cameras. Predators, like the gray fox, make less frequent appearances. You may also spot the dramatic aerobatics of a falcon and the graceful soaring of the endangered condor. The beautiful puma is especially elusive, but sightings have become more common. Admission charged.Pingúinera de Seno Otway. The road to this penguin sanctuary begins 30 km (18 mi) north of Punta Arenas. Magellanic penguins, which live up to 20 years in the wild, return to their birthplace here every year to mate with the same partner. For about 2,000 penguin couples—no single penguins make the trip—home is this desolate and windswept land off the Otway Sound. In late September, the penguins begin to arrive from the southern coast of Brazil and the Falkland Islands. They mate and lay their eggs in early October, and brood their eggs in November. Offspring hatch between mid-November and early December. If you're lucky, you may catch sight of one of the downy gray chicks that stick their heads out of the burrows when their parents return to feed them. Otherwise you might see scores of the ungainly adult penguins waddling to the ocean from their nesting burrows. They swim for food every eight hours and dive up to 100 feet deep. The penguins depart from the sound in late March. Note that the sanctuary is a 1-km (1/2-mi) walk from the parking lot. It gets chilly, so bring a windbreaker. Admission charged.Reserva Nacional Laguna Parillar. This 47,000-acre reserve lies west of Puerto Hambre, a tranquil fishing village, and is centered around a shimmering lake in a valley flanked by hills. It's a great place for a picnic, and there are a number of well-marked paths that offer sweeping vistas over the Estrecho de Magallanes. About 2 km (1 mi) west of Puerto Hambre is a small white monolith that marks the geographical center of Chile, the midway point between Chile's northern port Arica and the South Pole.Cruise ShoppingWool may no longer be king of the economy, but vast flocks of sheep still yield a high-quality product that is woven into the clothing here. Leather products are also common, but the prices are not necessarily low. About 3 km (2 mi) north of Punta Arenas is the Zona Franca (Av. Bulnes). This duty-free zone is where people from all around the region come for low-priced electronics and other consumer items.
Summary For most of its history, windy Puerto Montt was the end of the line for just about everyone traveling in the Lake District. Now the Carretera Austral carries on southward, but for all intents and purposes Puerto Montt remains the region's last significant outpost, a provincial city that is the hub of local fishing, textile, and tourist activity.Today the city center is full of malls, condos, and office towers—it's the fastest-growing city in Chile—but away from downtown, Puerto Montt consists mainly of low clapboard houses perched above its bay, the Seno de Reloncaví. If it's a sunny day, head east to Playa Pelluco or one of the city's other beaches. If you're more interested in exploring the countryside, drive along the shore for a good view of the surrounding hills.
Summary Valparaíso's dramatic topography—45 cerros, or hills, overlooking the ocean—requires the use of winding pathways and wooden ascensores (funiculars) to get up many of the grades. The slopes are covered by candy-color houses—there are almost no apartments in the city—most of which have exteriors of corrugated metal peeled from shipping containers decades ago. Valparaíso has served as Santiago's port for centuries. Before the Panama Canal opened, Valparaíso was the busiest port in South America. Harsh realities—changing trade routes, industrial decline—have diminished its importance, but it remains Chile's principal port. Most shops, banks, restaurants, bars, and other businesses cluster along the handful of streets called El Plan (the flat area) that are closest to the shoreline. Porteños (which means "the residents of the port") live in the surrounding hills in an undulating array of colorful abodes. At the top of any of the dozens of stairways, the paseos (promenades) have spectacular views; many are named after prominent Yugoslavian, Basque, and German immigrants. Neighborhoods are named for the hills they cover. With the jumble of power lines overhead and the hundreds of buses that slow down—but never completely stop—to pick up agile riders, it's hard to forget you're in a city. Still, walking is the best way to experience Valparaíso. Be careful where you step, though—locals aren't very conscientious about curbing their dogs.
Hangaroa, Easter Island
Summary Discovered (by the Western world) on Easter Sunday, 1722, Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most isolated places on the face of the Earth, some 2,300 miles from the Chilean mainland. Although more Polynesian than South American in character, the 64-square mile island was annexed by Chile in 1888, and is now famous as the world’s largest ‘open air museum’ on account of the Moai, or human-like stone statues, that can be found on the island. The Moai remain very much a mystery, which archaeologists are still trying to unlock by interpreting an ancient language of the Rapa Nui, which is the key to understanding this culture, and is written on the so called ‘rongo rongo tablets’. The island owes its origin to three volcanoes which erupted some three million years ago: Poike, Rano Kau and Maunga Terevaka. It is not known when or how the island was first populated, but the most credible theory suggests that the Rapa Nui people came from other Pacific islands in the 4th century AD. In addition to the cultural and archaeological interest, there are the beautiful beaches, transparent waters, and coral reefs that might be expected of a Pacific Island.
Summary The name Coquimbo is derived from a native Diaguita word meaning 'place of calm waters'. In fact, Charles Darwin had noted that the town was 'remarkable for nothing but its extreme quietness'. Since then, Coquimbo has developed into a bustling port and the region's major commercial and industrial centre from which minerals, fish products and fruits are exported. Used during the colonial period as a port for La Serena, Coquimbo attracted attention from English pirates, including Sir Francis Drake, who visited in 1578. Visitors enjoy strolling around the town, admiring some of the elaborate woodwork handcrafted on buildings by early British and American settlers. These wooden buildings are among Chile's most interesting historical structures. Out of town, the area offers some fine beaches in a desert-like setting. Coquimbo serves as a gateway to the popular resort town of La Serena and trips farther into the Elqui Valley, known as the production centre for Chile's national drink, pisco sour. The valley is also home to several international observatories that take advantage of the region's exceptional atmospheric conditions.
Summary The drive from Coyhaique to the town of Puerto Aisén and its port, Chacabuco, is beautiful. The mist hangs low over farmland, adding a dripping somnolence to the scenery. Dozens of waterfalls and rivers wend their way through mountain formations. Yellow poplars surround charming rustic lodges, and sheep and cattle graze on mossy, vibrant fields. The picture of serenity terminates at the sea, where the nondescript town of Puerto Aisén and its port Chacabuco, Coyhaique's link to the ocean, sits, a conduit to further beauty. This harbor ringed by snowcapped mountains is where you board the ferries that transport you north to Puerto Montt in the Lake District and Quellón on Chiloé, as well as boats headed south to the spectacular Laguna San Rafael.
Summary Bright, wooden huts teeter on stilts over Castro's estuary waterfront, inviting you into a patchwork of colour that’s sure to brighten any day. These traditional palafitos give the warmest of welcomes, as you prepare to experience Chile at its most vibrant. Castro has faced something of a tumultuous past, having been hit by a by a succession of earthquakes and fires - the most recent a devastating earthquake in 1960. But this city is incredibly resilient, and today the capital of Chiloe Island makes for a fantastic base for exploring the archipelago that surrounds it.
Summary Cartagena's magnificent city walls and fortresses, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, enclose a well-restored historic center (the Cuidad Amurallada, or walled city) with plazas, churches, museums, and shops that have made it a lively coastal vacation spot for South Americans and others. New hotels and restaurants make the walled city a desirable place to stay, and the formerly down-at-the-heels Getsemaní neighborhood attracts those seeking a bohemian buzz. The historic center is a small section of Cartagena; many hotels are in the Bocagrande district, an elongated peninsula where high-rise hotels overlook a long, gray-sand beach.When it was founded in 1533 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was the only port on the South American mainland. Gold and silver looted from indigenous peoples passed through here en route to Spain and attracted pirates, including Sir Francis Drake, who in 1586 torched 200 buildings. Cartagena's walls protected the city's riches as well as the New World's most important African slave market.
Utría National Park
Summary The Utria National Park, located on Colombia’s Pacific Coast, is set in one of the most beautiful and unique natural settings of the country. It is a natural landmark of Colombia with striking thick rainforest, endless beaches, lush mangroves and steep mountains. During the breeding season, humpback whales raise their new-borns in the coastal waters. The park is a biodiversity “hot spot”, with a huge diversity of wildlife including monkeys, frogs, and more than 400 species of birds.
Summary Isla Gorgona is a beautiful tropical island and a national park. Packed with lush green rainforest, palm trees and beaches full of black volcanic rocks, this little island off the Colombian coast was used by Pizarro and his thirteen followers before they eventually went south to inspect and later conquer Peru. The island is named after its plentiful supply of snakes, which might have been one of the reasons to utilize the island until the 1980s as a prison. Today only limited amounts of visitors are allowed ashore to explore the prison ruins, hike in the rainforest or snorkel.
Summary Bahía Solano is located in splendid isolation; connected to the outside world by a single, small local airport. Tucked inside a bay, the small Columbian town is lined by the Pacific Ocean on one side and thick, impenetrable jungle flush with waterfalls on the other. The majority of the 10,000 residents work in local industries, which are predominantly fishing, agriculture and eco-tourism. In addition to a quaint town with its local schools, shops, businesses, church, and library, there is a small fishing port here with a display of the locally caught fish, which are flown out daily to the main cities of Colombia. The village also supports a regional botanical reserve that is dedicated to the protection and conservation of local wildlife through education and recovery.
San Andrés Island
Summary The San Andres and Providencia archipelago comprises Colombia's Caribbean islands, lying some 290 miles north of the South American coast. Palm-dotted San Andres is only eight miles long and two miles wide. It is noted for beautiful sand beaches, crystal-clear waters and good diving sites. At one time the island belonged to Britain and, according to local lore; it was a favorite hideout for the legendary pirate Henry Morgan. In 1822, San Andres came under the control of Colombia. In recent years the original population has greatly increased due to unrestricted immigration from the mainland. There are also Chinese and Middle Eastern communities. The official language is Spanish but English is widely spoken, especially in shops and hotels. The island is best seen via the scenic ring road that offers views of coves, beaches and palm groves. In the interior stands a Baptist church dating from 1847, and the attraction at the southern end is the Hoyo Soplador, a geyser-like hole where the sea shoots jets of water intermittently into the air during the right wind and sea conditions. On the island's northern tip lies the main town and commercial center, known by the same name as the island. San Andres Town is surrounded by beaches, with small hotels lining the waterfront. Being a duty-free zone, the town often gets crowded with Colombian shoppers who come from the mainland looking for foreign-made goods at duty-free prices. To reach the town from the tender landing requires an approximate 20-minute taxi ride. However, it is not uncommon for drivers to choose the longer way around the island for a higher fare. From the downtown waterfront, boats offer trips to Johnny Cay, a tiny island just a stone's throw across from town and known for its powdery white sand beach and rustic, laid-back atmosphere. San Andres Island’s main attraction is its location off the beaten track, as well as pretty scenery, sandy beaches and clear, warm waters. Tourism infrastructure is limited. Pier Information The ship is scheduled to anchor off El Cove. Guests will be taken ashore via the ship's tenders. The landing site is about a 20-minute drive from San Andres Town. There are plenty of taxi drivers offering their services. Please be sure to agree on the fare before setting out (the one-way fare should be around $30). Keep in mind that not all taxi drivers speak English. Shuttle buses are not available. Shopping Most shops in town carry duty-free imports. At New Point Plaza you will find shops selling local souvenir items and jewelry including emeralds. Some stores close between 12:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The local currency is the peso. Many shops will accept U.S. dollars and major credit cards. Cuisine Outdoor cafés are available in town if you fancy a cold drink or a quick snack. Other Sites All of the island’s sights are covered on the San Andres Island Drive. Beaches Swimmers, snorkelers and sun seekers will find beach facilities right in town. One of the hotels also features water sport rentals. Johnny Cay can be reached via local boats departing from the waterfront. However, be aware that winds are fairly strong between November and January, which may cause delays for your return boat ride. There are no tourist facilities on Johnny Cay. Private cars/vans are not available in this port, except for taxis.
Rada El Cove, Isla San Andres
Archipelago of San Bernardo
Cabo de la Vela
Summary When people discuss great South American cities, Lima is often overlooked. But Peru's capital can hold its own against its neighbors. It has an oceanfront setting, colonial-era splendor, sophisticated dining, and nonstop nightlife.It's true that the city—clogged with traffic and choked with fumes—doesn't make a good first impression, especially since the airport is in an industrial neighborhood. But wander around the regal edifices surrounding the Plaza de Armas, among the gnarled olive trees of San Isidro's Parque El Olivar, or along the winding lanes in the coastal community of Barranco, and you'll find yourself charmed.In 1535 Francisco Pizarro found the perfect place for the capital of Spain's colonial empire. On a natural port, the so-called Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings) allowed Spain to ship home all the gold the conquistador plundered from the Inca. Lima served as the capital of Spain's South American empire for 300 years, and it's safe to say that no other colonial city enjoyed such power and prestige during this period.When Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the declaration was read in the square that Pizarro had so carefully designed. Many of the colonial-era buildings around the Plaza de Armas are standing today. Walk a few blocks in any direction for churches and elegant houses that reveal just how wealthy this city once was. But the poor state of most buildings attests to the fact that the country's wealthy families have moved to neighborhoods to the south over the past century.The walls that surrounded the city were demolished in 1870, making way for unprecedented growth. A former hacienda became the graceful residential neighborhood of San Isidro. In the early 1920s the construction of tree-lined Avenida Arequipa heralded the development of neighborhoods such as bustling Miraflores and bohemian Barranco.Almost a third of the country's population of 29 million lives in the metropolitan area, many of them in relatively poor conos: newer neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. Most residents of those neighborhoods moved there from mountain villages during the political violence and poverty that marked the 1980s and ’90s, when crime increased dramatically. During the past decade the country has enjoyed peace and steady economic growth, which have been accompanied by many improvements and refurbishment in the city. Residents who used to steer clear of the historic center now stroll along its streets. And many travelers who once would have avoided the city altogether now plan to spend a day here and end up staying two or three.
Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve
San Jose de Sarapanga Forest
Summary Located about nine hours north of Lima, Trujillo was founded in 1534 by the Spanish conquistador Pizarro. The attractive, colonial city retains much of its original charm with elegant casonas, or mansions, lining the streets. Nearby is Chan Chan, the ancient capital of the Chimú, a local Indian tribe who came under the rule of the Incas. The area has several other Chimú sites, some dating back about 1500 years. The region is also famous as the home of the Peruvian Paso horses, as well as excellent beaches offering world-class surfing and other water sports.
General San Martin
Summary Matarani is located on the south-western coast of Peru and gives access to the colonial city of Arequipa, 75 miles (121 km) inland. From here it is a 200 mile (322 km) drive to Lake Titicaca and 400 miles (644 km) to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. This major port is an important element in the current plan between the governments of Peru and Brazil to afford easy commercial movement between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans by both countries. Matarani is the gateway to Arequipa, where you discover its very interesting prehistory that spanned over 10,000 years, ending with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1530s. Arequipa is rich with not only Inca archaeology, but also various pre-Inca cultures, and even earlier nomadic hunter-gatherers. Arequipa is also known as the 'Ciudad Blanca' (White City) for the numerous and magnificent constructions of temples, convents, big houses and palaces sculpted in white ashlar. It also possesses an excellent climate with almost 300 days of sun a year, with transparent blue sky.
Summary Tiny Stanley, capital of the Falklands, seems in many ways like a British village fallen out of the sky. Many homes are painted in bright colours, adding visual appeal to this distant outpost. Not far offshore, the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth, is one of the many vessels remaining as a silent testimonial to the region's frequent harsh weather conditions.The islands, also known by their Spanish name of Islas Malvinas, are home to arguably more tuxedo-clad inhabitants of the penguin variety than human residents. Various species, such as Gentoo, Magellanic and the more elusive King penguins, either live here permanently or use the Falklands as a stopover on their migration route. Darwin found the islands' flora and fauna fascinating - no doubt you will, too.
Summary The remarkable beauty of the remote Falkland Islands can best be seen on New Island. The westernmost of the inhabited islands of the archipelago, it is a wildlife and nature reserve, and an environmental conservation group protects its many birds and animals. There are rookeries where Rockhopper Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags share the same nesting area. Black-browed Albatrosses can be seen going about their daily routines and it is easy to spot Upland Geese. More than 40 species of birds breed on the island. Near the landing site is ‘Barnard’s barn’ — a restored stone structure going back to the early 19th century. Lying in the sandy shallows in front of the barn is the wreck of Protector III, an old minesweeper used for seal hunting.
West Point Island
Summary Located slightly northwest of West Falkland, West Point Island is used for sheep farming and nature observations. Peale’s dolphins and the distinctive black and white markings of the Commerson’s dolphin can usually be seen in the waters around West Point Island. Rolling moorland and steep cliffs make for great photographic opportunities, but the main attraction is the Devil’s Nose, a cliffside colony of Black-browed Albatrosses nesting side-by-side with feisty Rockhopper Penguins. Magellanic Penguins and Magellanic Cormorants can also be found on the island.
Summary Saunders Island is the fourth-largest of the Falkland Islands in the western portion of the archipelago. The island’s topography is unusual, being made up of three peninsulas linked by narrow necks, and three big upland areas. Today the island is run as a sheep farm, but has historical importance as the location of the first British settlement in the Falklands. Saunders’ wildlife is also impressively varied. It is possible to see Gentoo and King Penguins in the open dune and sand-flat area, while Rockhopper Penguins (with the odd pair of Macaroni Penguins in between them), Imperial Shags and Black-browed Albatrosses frequent Mount Richards, the highest point on the island at 457 m (1500 feet). Other key bird species are the Black–throated Finch, Ruddy-headed Goose and Falkland Steamer Duck.
Summary Named after the ship, the Volunteer, Volunteer Point is located in the northeast of East Falkland. The peninsula boasts a stunning, long, white, sandy beach and is home to a variety of birdlife. It is a privately owned Nature Reserve and an Important Bird Area. You can also find the largest breeding group of king penguins.
Summary Bleaker Island is privately owned, with sheep and Hereford cattle grazing on its extensive greens, yet it is also an excellent site for birding. The Bleaker Island Group is recognized as an Important Bird Area and its northern part is a National Nature Reserve.
Steeple Jason Island
Summary Steeple Jason Island, part of the Jason Islands, is one of the Falklands most impressive destinations. You will be able to find the world's largest colony of black-browed albatross who soar gracefully in the sea breeze, making it the perfect opportunity for keen photographers to capture an unforgettable shot.
Sea Lion Island
Summary As the name suggests Sea Lion island was and is home to southern sea lions, but it also holds some 95% of the Falklands southern elephant seal population. Although the breeding season ends in November, yearlings and non-breeders come ashore in late November and can be seen until April. Because of the penguins and the seal populations and the deeply shelving coastline, this island is one of the best places in the Falkland Islands to see orcas (killer whales) –there are two resident pods.
Summary Discarded off the coast of French Guiana, lies an ominous, key-shaped island of sharp rocks and swaying palm trees - Devil's Island. As the site of one of history’s most infamous and feared prisons, the island's reputation as hell on earth was well earned, having been used to brutally imprison, torture and punish the French Empire's most notorious criminals. Closed down in 1953, it now lies in an eerie purgatory, and the sense of unease as you approach it is hard to avoid, with its laden-coconut trees duplicitously waving you ashore.
Iles du Salut
Ile Royale, Salvation Islands
Summary Blessed with an abundance of wildlife, the first thing visitors to Ile Royale will notice will be the sea turtles feeding along the pier, the iguanas basking on rocks, and perhaps even the peacocks strolling along the road. At first glance, the island seems like paradise but scratch the surface and a much sombre past becomes clear. In fact, French Guiana was not always the tropical holiday destination it is today – far from it. During its penal colony days, being sent ‘en Guyane’ was the ultimate form of punishment, reserved primarily for the worst of France’s criminals (many will, of course, know the story of Henri Charriere aka Papillon, played by Steve McQueen in the film of the same name). Thankfully, Ile Royale – part of the three islands known as The Devil’s Islands (the smallest of which still retains the name today) has thrown off the shackles of its past and today embraces visitors in a rather more welcoming manner! If you decide to venture beyond the picture postcard long beach with swaying palm trees, historians will no doubt enjoy visiting the beautiful French colonial buildings, once home to the prison officers. Besides the officers’ quarters sits one of the highlights of Ile Royale – the prisoner-built chapel, dating from 1855. The most striking features, inside the wooden church, are the murals painted by convicted forger, Francis Lagrange. Other remains include the House of the Sisters, the military hospital and of course, the prison itself. Interestingly, in 1971 the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (or CNES, France’s equivalent to NASA) purchased the islands. As they sit in the flight path of most rocket launches, the islands must be evacuated on launch days.