From Buenos Aires To Valparaiso, South America Surprised Us

Cape HornThe continent below the equator loomed large for many of us aboard a two-week sailing on Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium in 2006. 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.

Falkland IslandsAt 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.

Our 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.

Ship and penguinOur 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.

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  • Love Me Tender? On our two week cruise from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, we were required to tender in only three of the eight ports we visited — Falkland Islands, and the Chilean ports of Punta Arenas (which has a pier for small ships) and Puerto Montt.
  • Embarkation/Disembarkation: Buenos Aires featured a modern terminal, only minutes by taxi from the city center. In Valparaiso, our ship was required to dock about 10 minutes by bus from the terminal, where most passengers boarded busses for Santiago’s International Airport, about 90 minutes away.
  • Getting There: Ten hours after departing Atlanta, my flight touched down at Buenos Aires international airport. Fortunately, I flew overnight, slept well and arrived refreshed at around 8 a.m., giving me plenty of time for sightseeing on the day of arrival. And because of only a two-hour time difference between the East Coast and Buenos Aires, I had no jetlag to overcome.

Read more about South America on Avid Cruiser.

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