Looking for an exceptional cruising destination? The Must-Do Cruises in South America offer the best of the continent: luscious rainforests, imposing glaciers, exotic wildlife and sensational scenery.
You’d certainly be hard-pressed to find a more diverse cruising destination than South America. This immensely varied continent is home to some of the most enigmatic wildlife on earth as well as some of its most dramatic landscapes, each with its own distinct enticement and each offering a unique cruising experience. From the exotic treasures in the Amazon to the enticing creatures of the Galapagos and the mesmerizing frozen horizons of Antarctica, South America offers the avid cruiser a world of possibilities. What’s more, South America is the queen of small ship cruising, the ideal choice if you crave a more intimate, more in-depth and more luxurious cruising experience in your chosen destination. The best of both worlds, one might say.
Or, as we say, the best in the world. Period.
Here are the Must-Do Cruises in South America:
The Galapagos Islands: The World’s Premier Wildlife Cruising Destination
It may sound like a long call to those who haven’t been but if a place has the ability to make you rethink your belief on the evolution of this wonderful planet of ours, surely a superlative is in order? The Galapagos Islands are South America’s premier cruising destination and one of the most renowned the world over. This cluster of dramatic volcanic islands, boasting ethereal landscapes and super dreamy beaches are literally overflowing with some of the most distinctive animals on earth. From ancient giant turtles the size of small cars to impressive iguanas, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, sea lions and so much more, the Galapagos are a cruising haven bar none.
What: Galapagos cruise itineraries range from four to 12 days and follow predetermined itineraries as stipulated by the government. As opposed to many other cruising destinations, Galapagos cruises must abide by a few restrictions given the protected status of the islands and their wildlife inhabitants but most of this regards numbers of visitors and cruise ships allowed to visit simultaneously. Avoid disappointment (and increase your array of choice) simply by booking way ahead of time. Read our Travel Around the Galapagos guide to understand more about cruising this mesmerizing region and visit our Galapagos Archive to find out more about the islands’ interesting history and wildlife.
Where: The Galapagos lie just off the coast of Ecuador and all cruises depart from the main island of Santa Cruz, only an hour’s flight off the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. Quito is well connected to all major South American cities, including Santiago and Buenos Aires which are the two most popular entry point into the continent for Australians and New Zealanders. For all our Galapagos cruise itineraries currently on sale, click here.
The Amazon Rainforest: Exploring Pure Wilderness in Cruising Luxury
Delving into the dark deep heart of the Amazon Rainforest isn’t necessarily something that appeals to everyone. Yet offer them the superb chance to do so aboard a luxury river cruise ship and what they eyes sparkle. Formidable anacondas, sloths, monkeys, birds and an entire universe of insects, all hidden behind a façade of luscious jungle wilderness. For a stupendous cruising escapism experience, the kind that makes you forget the rest of the world even exists, an Amazon cruise is on point.
What: Amazon River cruising is divine at its best and sensational at its worse: it allows you to experience one of the wildest and most inhospitable ecosystems on our planet from the sublime comfort of a luxury vessel, where gourmet dining, excellent service and sumptuous interiors (even Jacuzzis on the luxe options). You can still get up close and personal with all the jungle creatures if you wish, by partaking in all the daily excursions on offer, really offering you the best of both cruises and lodge-based trips. Soak up all those intrinsic Amazonian elements whilst still enjoying a marvellous sleep in an air-conditioned suite. If you’ve ever dreamed of playing 21st Tarzan and Jane in the jungle, then you’ll find an Amazon cruise option with your name all over it. If you’re still unsure whether cruising the Amazon is right for you, go ahead and read our Amazon Lodge or Cruising article where we detail the pros and cons of each travel method. It should help you determine which choice is best for you.
Where: The best and most luxurious Amazon cruises depart from Amazonian hubs of Manaus in Brazil and Iquitos in Peru. Three, four and seven night cruises are the most popular options, with vessels ranging from the luxury Delfin II to the more economical but equally gorgeous Manatee. Visit our Amazon Archive Page to discover more about the wildlife you’ll encounter, what you should pack and when you should visit to get the best out of your trip. For all our cruising options in this spectacular part of the world, visit our Amazon tours page.
Antarctica: The Ultimate South America Cruising Experience
Antarctica is the cruising destination all intrepid adventurers dream. Aboard a luxurious ice-strengthened vessel, you can head off to explore the last untainted continent on earth, the most hypnotic one and, without doubt, the most unforgettable. Channel your inner seafaring explorer and set forth on the adventure of a lifetime, in search of icebergs, whales, penguins and seals, all the while casting your eyes on magnificent landscapes seemingly frozen in time.
What: Antarctica cruises vary in length from just a few days on a fly+cruise tour to mammoth 3-week jaunts which include the infamous and exhilarating Drake Passage, the Antarctic wildlife haven of South Georgia, King George Island and the enticing South Shetland Islands. For more information on all the amazing things to see, do and experience in the White Continent, planning advice and the kind of cruise ships you can choose from, check out our extensive Antarctica Resource Centre, brimming with a wealth of useful info. When you’re ready to take your polar plunge, visit our current Antarctica cruises page to see the options available for cruising to the end of the world.
Where: The most popular springboard port town for Antarctica cruises is Ushuaia, at the very southern tip of South America. However, a select few cruises depart from Australia and New Zealand each year which, although longer and more expensive, do offer a superbly unique cruising experience. You can find out more detailed info about this option here and peruse our collection of Cruises to Antarctica from Australia and New Zealand to get an idea of costs and time-frames involved.
Patagonia: Glistening alpine lakes, imposing glaciers and outstanding wildlife
If ever there were a link between the exotic wildlife-enriched Amazon, and the startling icy frontiers of Antarctica, then Patagonia would be it. This extensive southern region of South America, renowned primarily as a trekker’s mecca, boasts some of the most impressive highlights in the entire continent and is as rewarding to discover by ship as on foot. Awe-inspiring glaciers combine with verdant forests to offer what is, perhaps, the most diverse cruising experience in all of South America. Marine and land faring wildlife vie for your attention, as you follow in the wake of ancient seafaring explorers, discovering remote coves brimming with seals and penguins and snow-capped peaks every which way you look.
What: From single day jaunts on an Andean Lake Crossing between Argentina and Chile, a multi-day Glacier Expedition through the astonishing Chilean fjords and eight-day adventure retracing Darwin’s Route through the Beagle Channel, Patagonia offers a multitude of affordable and unforgettable and cruising options. This is also the one region of South America that allows for seamless and convenient compromise between cruising and land-based touring, given all the excellent national parks, and wine regions, located near the coast and en route. Our Lakes Adventure tour, for example, offers you a little of everything that makes Patagonia so incredibly special. Visit our Patagonia tours page to see the most popular tour itineraries.
Where: During the cruising season (summer months from November to March) multiple flights connect all major capitals to the main Patagonian cruising hubs of Ushuaia, Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt. To learn more about this fascinating region, make yourself comfortable, grab a cuppa and visit our comprehensive Patagonia Archive.
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.”