The southernmost glaciated inlets in the world, cradled in the remote southern tip of Patagonia, the Chilean Fjords of Tierra del Fuego are a spectacular feast for the senses and a true splendour of nature. Stretching for more than 1,600km and encompassing an area brimming with not only fjords but also volcanoes, waterfalls and imposing glaciers, this stretch of harsh yet mesmerising coastline is an amazing destination for anyone who wants to get off the beaten travel path in South America.
This the awe-inspiring Andes, at their most dramatic best.
Chilean Fjords Highlights
Aside from the tremendous scenery, the Chilean fjords are home to a splendid array of wildlife. From migrating whales to endless colonies of penguins, cormorants and elephant seals, you’ll see all manner of fantastic creatures down here when you visit. You can drop in on small fishing villages seemingly cut off from the rest of the world and treat your taste buds to the freshest seafood delights. Unencumbered, unspoilt and uncrowded, the Chilean fjords are a treat for a busy, hectic and tired soul. This is where you come to rejuvenate your spirit and feel at one with nature again. If you’re searching for an ‘out there’ experience, one that has the potential to totally change your outlook on the world in which we live, then a trip to the Chilean fjords beckons with glee.
This is that secret wonder of South America you need.
For deeper explorations, you’ll be aboard Zodiacs, which are zippy little ‘dinghies’ used to explore inlets a ship can’t reach, and to take you to shore for a hike on foot.
A visit to the Chilean fjords also means you can enjoy all those bonus extras which come aboard a cruise ship. For some, going days on end without hearing traffic sounds, that ubiquitous noise of man, is a pleasure that’s often overlooked. Then there is the excellent dining aboard the ship, which comes stocked with some of the best wines of the region – because this is South America, of course – a continent where an exceptional drop of red is never too far away.
For a brilliant add-on, and to really make a trip an unforgettable affair, plan your Chilean fjord cruise to coincide with a cruise to Antarctica, the last pristine ecosystem left on our planet. The fjord’s proximity to the White Continent is one of the hidden highlights that shouldn’t be forgotten. The best Antarctica cruises start in Ushuaia, the end port for Chilean fjord cruises.
Combine a visit to the Chilean fjords with an Antarctica expedition and you’ll bag what is undoubtedly the best cruise experience in the world.
Best Way to Visit the Chilean Fjords
Visiting the Chilean fjords on a cruise is the best way to immerse yourself in the harsh and somewhat inhospitable environment. The landscapes are spellbinding and many are also impossible to reach by road. Aboard a Patagonia expedition ship you’ll have the invaluable chance to explore further, and with more ease, and indulge in the comfort of a warm and cosy ‘home’ whilst exploring some of the most extreme land on earth, where winds and cold temps can be overwhelming. You can reach uninhabited islands, untouched by man and unexplored, and visit settlements only reachable by sea.
Most short cruises ply the route between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, although longer stretches can also be arranged, starting from Santiago and even Buenos Aires.
How Long Should You Spend in the Chilean Fjords
The most popular cruises of the Chilean Fjords last for 5 days, and the great majority of visitors will book a couple of days at each end port. Both Punta Arenas and Ushuaia are formidable destinations of their own accord. Moreover, considering this is a bona fide ‘end of the world’ destination, many will include further tours around Patagonia at what is, without a doubt, the best time of year to visit.
For small group cruises, we suggest you book at least 6 months ahead, as these trips are immensely popular and spaces are limited. There is always the chance of a rare last-minute empty cabin, of course, and it’s certainly worth asking if you’re itching to go RIGHT NOW.
Ushuaia is a phenomenal hub for South America travel, and from here you can reach just about every corner of the continent. So if you’ve always dreamt of trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, partying with the locals at the Rio Carnival or absorbing the magic of the Atacama Desert and the Bolivian Altiplano, combining trips to create one utterly kick-ass South America tour (did we just write that? We did, because it would be!) is super easy.
Best Time of Year to Visit the Chilean Fjords
South America’s most extreme destination, its southernmost tip, is best visited during the ‘mild’ Austral summer months between September and April. Drastic climate change is a daily occurrence this far south, so you should always expect some harsh temps no matter what time of year you visit the Chilean Fjords.
In winter, cruise companies take a much-needed break, as ice formations make explorations by sea all but impossible. It’s also rather dark in the winter and the only creatures who really seem to thrive certainly don’t stand on two legs!
If whale migration is on top of your wanderlust wish-list then travel here in October, when the Valdez Peninsula overflows with sea lions and seals. By early November the penguins will have arrived, setting up their yearly summer rookeries. A most raucous creature, the penguin is as curious as he is loud, and is probably one of the most cherished sights in the Chilean Fjords. If you want to enjoy the most daylight hours then you should book your cruise to the Chilean Fjords for December, the absolute height of summer. The late summer period, from March onwards, is the best time to explore further south and inland, as ice drastically recedes. By then, all those adorable penguin chicks will be at their fluffiest best.
What to Pack When Visiting the Chilean Fjords
Much like a packing list for Antarctica, your Chilean Fjord suitcase ought to include a few must-haves which will make your life easy, comfortable and toasty warm.
Don’t be fooled by the ‘summer cruise’ tag, this ain’t no tropical island you’ll be visiting!
Here are a few essentials to pack when visiting the Chilean Fjords:
– Thin merino wool thermals: forget the bulky feather down coat, what you want down here is a set of warm but thin thermals.
– Woolly cap, scarf and gloves: make sure the gloves are waterproof yet not too bulky. If you must remove them to operate your camera, they may be a little counterproductive!
– Sunglasses and 50+ sunscreen: the sun can be brutal this far south, so protect your skin and eyes.
– Ziploc bags: to prevent all your important photographic gear and techy gizmos from getting wet and frozen.
Check out this handy Antarctica packing guide for more detailed tips and hints on what to expect aboard an expedition ship and how to pack like a pro. And when you’re ready to discover the secret wonders of the Chilean Fjords, contact us and let us plan your adventure of a lifetime.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”