South American cruises are for people with plenty of vacation time. The average sailing runs a week and a half to two weeks, and Holland America even has a 66-nighter round-trip from Florida. Because of the lengthy itineraries and long flights from the U.S., a majority of South American cruisers are retirees or rather well-to-do.
November through March is the main South American cruising season. A few cruise lines do sail into April. If you’re cruising around the southern tip of the continent, you’ll want to sail in the warmer months of January and February. This area is extremely close to Antarctica and average highs don’t get above 60 degrees. And, be prepared for dramatic temperature changes. In January, Buenos Aires can be 90 degrees while Punta Arenas is in the 50s.
Although most cruise lines only base one or two ships in South America during the winter, you’ll still find a variety of itineraries across the various companies. Some cruises sail all around South America, often between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso/Santiago. Others sail from these ports and cover the western or eastern coasts of the continent, either in round-trip or one-way journeys. Occasionally these sailings include stops in Antarctica. Still other itineraries focus on Brazil and the Amazon River. Cruises that cover long distances often have several days at sea, so you may want to choose an itinerary based on both destinations visited and number of sea days.
Where you’ll go and what you’ll do
The two main types of South America cruises are the “round the Horn” and Amazon/Brazil itineraries, which focus alternately on the southern and northern areas of the continent. On the southerly cruises, the big attractions are natural beauty—such as the Chilean fjords and Patagonia—and penguins. In the north, travelers choose to cruise through and around Brazil for the cultural opportunities and breathtaking beaches.
If you want to see penguins, Puerto Madryn and the Falkland Islands are the major destinations to view the colonies. Although the birds are cute, visitors should realize that they don’t always smell so pleasant. Another southern port, Puerto Montt, is a German-influenced town with lots of outdoors activities. Montevideo is a walkable city with plenty of shopping; tours include visits to a Uruguayan winery or farm. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, and a jumping-off point for excursions into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Buenos Aires is a major European-style city with plenty of historic and cultural sites, shopping opportunities, urban parks, and restaurants. Valparaiso is the former home of poet Pablo Neruda and its historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also the gateway to the capital city of Santiago.
Cruisers with the desire and cash can try their luck at a day excursion to Antarctica from Punta Arenas. Excursions with landings cost around $3,000 per person, and even flyovers cost more than $1,000. The weather needs to be just right to visit the last continent, and many trips do get canceled due to weather or lack of interest.
Cruises around and through Brazil are completely different from the more southerly sailings. The weather will remain hot and humid as you travel from Manaus to Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. Brazilian cities are known for their beaches, so be sure to pack your swimsuit. Manaus is located in the heart of the Amazon, and is a base for canoe trips down the river or learning about Amazonian tribes. Along the river, Boca da Valeria and Santarem are good places to learn about area life or purchase local crafts. Rio de Janeiro and Recife are cities with beautiful beaches. In many of the Brazilian cities, travelers should be careful with their valuables and refrain from wearing expensive jewelry or watches.
Which cruise lines sail to South America?
Here’s what the cruise lines are offering:
Celebrity: Celebrity offers 12- to 15-night cruises on the Celebrity Journey and Infinity departing from Buenos Aires, Santos/Sao Paulo, and Valparaiso/Santiago.
Crystal: Crystal offers 15- to 18-night cruises on the Crystal Serenity departing from Buenos Aires, Miami, and Valparaiso/Santiago.
Holland America: Holland America runs 12- to 66-night cruises from Buenos Aires, Callao/Lima, Ft. Lauderdale, Rio de Janeiro, and Valparaiso/Santiago aboard the ms Prinsendam and ms Rotterdam.
Norwegian: Norwegian runs 14- to 18-night cruises from Buenos Aires and Valparaiso/Santiago aboard the Norwegian Crown and Norwegian Dream.
Oceania: Oceania runs 10- to 20-night cruises from Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and Valparaiso/Santiago aboard the Insignia.
Princess: Princess offers 12- to 36-night cruises from Buenos Aires, Callao/Lima, Ft. Lauderdale, Manaus, New Orleans, San Juan, and Valparaiso/Santiago aboard the Golden Princess, Regal Princess, Royal Princess, and Star Princess.
Regent: Regent Seven Seas offers 11- to 19-night cruises from Buenos Aires, Callao/Lima, Ft. Lauderdale, and Manaus aboard the Seven Seas Mariner.
Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean sails six- to 15-night cruises departing from Buenos Aires, Santos/Sao Paulo, and Valparaiso/Santiago aboard the Splendour of the Seas.
Seabourn: Seabourn sails seven- to 72-night cruises departing from Buenos Aires, Ft. Lauderdale, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, and Valparaiso/Santiago aboard the Seabourn Pride.
Silversea: Silversea sails seven- to 16-night cruises departing from Barbados, Buenos Aires, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso/Santiago, and Ushuaia aboard the Silver Wind.
For more information about any South America cruises, contact the cruise line or a travel agent.