Avid Cruiser Voyages: Rounding the Horn

Of all the South American voyages you can take, few are as memorable as a journey ‘round the horn of South America.

Most of these voyages span more than two weeks in length, and typically sail from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile – though voyages that embark as far away as Los Angeles or Fort Lauderdale are sometimes offered.

Ushuaia, Argentina is the southernmost city in the world, an a major feature on cruises rounding the tip, or horn, of South America. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Typically, ports of call include a mix of destinations in both Argentina and Chile, and many voyages will also call on Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. But the real adventure lies further south.

Crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean or vice versa typically involves a stop in Ushuaia, Argentina — the southernmost city in the world. Here, surrounded by the Martial mountain range and the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia functions as the gateway to the famous Tierra del Fuego National Park and Lapataia Bay. The town’s rail service is even known as “The End of the World Train.”

Less than 2,500 miles from the South Pole, Ushuaia also offers numerous possibilities for outdoor exploration, with many cruise lines offering off-road Jeep excursions and trekking journeys through the Tierra Major Valley Natural Reserve, gateway to the pristine Fuegian Forest.

But besides the thrill of being able to say you’ve set foot in the southernmost city in the world, a voyage around the extreme tip of South America offers its own reward. After all, the journey that is completed today in relative comfort haunted even the bravest mariners just a few hundred years ago. The journey owes its notorious reputation to the body of water that lies between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans known as the Drake Passage.

Named after explorer Sir Francis Drake, the first recorded passage through these waters occurred in 1616. While the passage is a nature lover’s paradise (whales, dolphins and seabirds are plentiful in these waters), the weather conditions here could be so ferocious that sailing ships, at times, barely made headway against it. The current of nearby Antarctica carries an immense volume of water with it — more than 600 times that carried by the Amazon River.

Today, crossing the Drake Passage is routinely done on voyages around the horn and on sailings to and from Antarctica. The act of sailing around the southernmost tip of South America is a veritable rite of passage for any cruiser, and, for many, the experience of a lifetime.

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