The southern tip of South America—part Chile, part Argentina—is a wilderness untamed. A tapestry of lush archipelagos…soaring mountainous massifs reaching to the heavens…hulking glaciers spilling into the sea…a lacework of channels, rivers, inlets, and streams. Much of it remains as pristine as when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan came upon it in 1520. Our small-group Discovery Tour, South American Glaciers, Forests & Lakes, explores its spellbinding beauty just as he did—by ship—on a four-night cruise.
Of course, you’ll enjoy a few more comforts than Magellan did. We’ve arranged your passage on a small expedition ship, the M/V Stella Australis. This technically sophisticated vessel was designed specifically to explore these waters, equipped with sturdy Zodiac craft that can take us ashore to experience the wilderness up close. What’s more, its crew is intimately familiar with local conditions and currents, knowing the most magnificent spots to drop anchor. On board, a private cabin provides homey comfort with large picture windows, so you won’t miss a thing. The restaurant and three lounges are perfect gathering places to compare your discoveries with fellow travelers and to sit in on a lecture by one of the onboard naturalists.
After our 8-day exploration by land, we head to Punta Arenas, embarkation point for the cruise of a lifetime into the breathtaking Strait of Magellan and the vast unspoiled archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.
Viewed on a map, the Strait is a wide, V-shaped spine connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Countless other waterways stretch and splinter off of it to form narrow fjords, channels, and bays. One of its most breathtaking spots is the spectacular Almirantazgo Sound, an astonishing deep-cut fjord that leads to the pristine Ainsworth Bay.
As you might imagine, the waterways of Patagonia are fed from many sources. The two most significant are the tides of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Countless tendrils of rivers and streams also feed the channels and bays as they cascade down mountainous slopes and through sub-polar forests. But in Ainsworth Bay, there’s ample evidence of a glacial source. The Marinelli Glacier, part of Alberto de Agostini National Park, spills down from the Darwin Mountain Range, its ice melt feeding the bay. It’s a majestic and pristine sight akin to glimpsing the Ice Age, made all the more wondrous and primitive by the colony of elephant seals that sometimes whiles away the days here.
Elephant seals aren’t the only residents in the neighborhood. Back on the Tuckers Islets, Magellan Penguins waddle and mingle and dive into the chilly waters for lunch. This species is only found in the southern hemisphere, as our onboard naturalists are sure to tell us. Our Zodiac craft brings us closer to their perch so we can have a look and say hello.
Our expedition ship also takes us into the legendary Beagle Channel. Only small ships like ours are allowed in this narrow strait named for the HMS Beagle, which surveyed these waters in the 1800s under the supervision of Charles Darwin. In his notebook, Darwin wrote of the “many glaciers beryl blue.” He may well have been referring to Pia Glacier, a massive tongue of ice weaving through its eponymous fjord. Or perhaps he had the entirety of Glacier Alley in mind, a spectacular stretch lined with towering walls of ice.
At Wulaia Bay, which tucks into Isla Navarino, some fascinating stonework remains from the Yamana people. These aborigines called this area home for millennia. It’s fascinating to explore their archaeological site and be reminded that humans once eked out a life in this deep and remote wilderness. And speaking of remote, there is perhaps no more far-flung place than Cape Horn National Park, the “end of the earth.” Its fantastic setting—1,394 feet high on a rocky promontory overlooking endless ocean that stretches all the way to Antarctica–takes the breath away.
Sailing through the Chilean fjords and Tierra del Fuego affords sweeping vistas of some of the world’s most spellbinding natural treasures. Of course, broad-stroke views—like an epic canvas—only reveal so much. A closer, more examined look can inspire just as much wonder, which is why we’re so excited that the crew of our ship accompanies travelers on several walking excursions into this incredible wilderness. It’s an enchanting way to experience Patagonia, putting foot to earth and following pastoral pathways. Everywhere, the shores around us are blanketed by Magellan Forests, the southernmost forests in the world. These sub-polar forests are young, a mere 10,000 years; their clusters of lengas, canelos, ferns, and other endemic flora has been growing since glaciers began their retreat.
An enriching and educational cruise into the wild, stunning vistas of soaring mountains and “blue beryl” glaciers, unforgettable wildlife, and invigorating walks to a Patagonian wonderland. You can see why we’re so thrilled to offer this incredible itinerary with this fantastic cruise at its centerpiece!