Arrive in Buenos Aires and board the National Geographic Explorer. Settle in to your cabin as the ship sets sail.
Your ship navigates southward along the Argentine coastline. Head to the Bridge to watch for marine life, and gather in the lounge for presentations from onboard staff.
Cruise up the expansive estuary, a maze of channels and islands, hoping to view the rarely observed Franciscana, or La Plata dolphin, as well as the local and rare Olrog’s gull. From this port city set on the edge of vast grasslands called the pampas, venture into the countryside flanked by the mountain range of Sierra de la Ventana. Visit an extraordinary private estancia (ranch) which offers great hiking possibilities in the countryside, along with a barbecue lunch and a chance to learn about the workings of the ranch. The ranch protects a variety of native habitats and plant and animal species.
Enjoy the ship’s amenities: have a massage, work out in the gym, savor time in the library, and listen to talks by the staff on photography and the marine environment of the Patagonia Shelf.
A UNESCO Site, Peninsula Valdés is a wildlife haven where endangered southern right whales come to mate and calve their young. October is the peak of the migration season, and at this time of year the cows and newborn calves can be seen, often in water as shallow as 15 feet. When you come to Peninsula Valdés you must have a keen eye and an open mind, as things aren’t always as you imagine they should be. Unlike most whales species, which lift their tail flukes temporarily out of the water to make a dive, these right whales choose instead to hover vertically with their heads and bodies underwater, lifting their massive flukes high above the sea to catch the wind. Imagine it if you can: a whale tail sail!
Leaving the whales behind, journey further into the peninsula, stopping to look at guanacos (a wild relative of the llama), maras, armadillos, and a Magellanic penguin colony. Even the familiar form of penguins seems so out of place here in this strange and exotic peninsula. (B,L,D)
One quickly understands the term “vast” while traveling in Patagonia. Today visit a private estancia (ranch), which has been in the hands of the Soriano family for 50 years. With 210,000 acres, the estancia still operates as a sheep ranch and also as a nature reserve. Fifty miles of its coastline is included in Argentina’s Marine National Park Austral Patagonia, and most of the vegetation and wildlife of the Patagonia steppe lives on the property. Over 100 species of birds are found in the area, officially declared an Area of Importance for the Conservation of Birds. See colonies of Magellanic penguins, and rock and royal cormorants. Southern sea lions and elephant seals breed here and look for whales offshore. Inland, keep an eye out for the guanacos, rheas and other steppe wildlife.
For a small port village isolated along a rugged coast, Puerto Deseado has a distinctive maritime history. First discovered by Magellan in 1520, other explorers followed including Sir Frances Drake, Thomas Cavendish and Charles Darwin. See a remnant of the port’s past at the local museum, where remains of the Swift, a British war ship sunk in 1770, is displayed. Deseado is actually a submerged estuary designated Reserva Natural Ria Deseado by the Argentine government. Board small boats to view the steep cliffs and visit colonies of four species of breeding shags and other seabirds, including the only rockhopper penguin colony in Patagonia. Dolphins often escort the boats and hope to spot the distinctive black and white Commerson’s dolphin.
The remote Argentine coast has been visited by countless expeditions through history, including Charles Darwin aboard HMS Beagle. The southern coast has sandy beaches and impressive geological formations with dramatic arches and caves, perfect for exploring.
Discover the special charm of the extreme southern city of Punta Arenas. Begin at Cerro de la Cruz for panoramic views of the Strait of Magellan then travel the main plazas, stopping at two unique museums: the Maggiorino Borgatello Museum, with its natural history exhibits, and the Braun Menendez Museum, an opulent mansion testifying to the wealth and power of sheep farmers in the 1800s. There is also an opportunity for a nature hike on the rolling hills above the town. Visit Magdalena Island, seen by Magellan, and home to a large Magellanic penguin colony and seabirds.
Cruise deep into the western Strait of Magellan to see tidewater glaciers and one of Patagonia’s crowned jewels, Tierra del Fuego is a beautiful island known as the ‘Land of Fire’ at its most southern tip — home to remarkable wildlife. Your destination is the newest and largest protected area on Tierra del Fuego: Karukinka Natural Park. Since 2004, it has been owned and managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, who are thrilled to have been offered permission to explore their park. Spanning 1,160 square miles, this protected area is a bountiful reserve of sub-Antarctic woodlands, peat bogs, windswept steppes and snow-covered mountain ranges. Karukinka is a showcase for the unique wildlife of Patagonia, sheltering small breeding colonies of black-browed albatross and Southern elephant seals. Weather permitting, choose to kayak, surrounded by spectacular scenery and soaring Andean condors.
The renowned fjords of southern Chile rival those of southeast Alaska in their raw beauty. The protected fjords and inlets of the honeycombed Chilean coastline are home to dolphins, whales, seals, and Magellanic penguins, with awesome views of the Cordillera Darwin as a bonus. See gigantic glaciers and snowcapped peaks, thousands of islands covered with vegetation, lakes and waterfalls and come to appreciate (in the words of Herman Melville) “all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonia sights and sounds.” Your Captain and Expedition Leader are constantly on the lookout for memorable places to explore by ship, Zodiac and kayak.
After sailing through the famous White Narrows yesterday, arrive at Puerto Natales to begin your three-hour drive through Chilean Patagonia to the monumental Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere World Reserve. The landscape is big, wide and sprawling, with miles of grazing land, snow-capped mountains and razor-backed ridges. Look for Andean condors, flamingos and rheas, the flightless birds that are cousins of the emu and the ostrich.
It is hard to imagine that the park could top the drive, but the Torres del Paine are an amazing sight, a cluster of jagged granite mountains topped with a thick layer of dark slate. The park is one of the most spectacular and wildlife-rich areas in the Americas, covering about 450,000 acres of glaciers, mountains, forests, rolling hills and grasslands, colorful lakes, rivers and lagoons, and explore and hike in the company of your Naturalists and local guides.
Have another opportunity to explore the Chilean Fjords’ myriad islands and maze of channels. Andean condors soar overhead, while humpback whales, Peale’s and the rare Chilean dolphins utilize the productive marine waters. The Andes mountain range is an ever-present and inspiring backdrop. Myriad fjords, or senos, indent the coast of Tierra del Fuego along the western Strait of Magellan: Seno Angostini, Seno Martinez, Seno Chico to name a few. Many are punctuated with tidewater glaciers at the end and you can cruise deep into one of the senos to explore by Zodiac and kayak.
Your transit of the scenic Beagle Channel takes you through protected waters in view of the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Darwin, which makes up the Western Peninsula of Tierra del Fuego. Huge condors may be seen against a background of enormous glaciers. It was here in the 1830s that naturalist Charles Darwin explored aboard HMS Beagle.
Your focus today is on Yendegaia, a stunning piece of wild nature that stretches more than 95,000 acres. Your ship has received special permission to explore here from friends and wilderness advocates Kris and Doug Tompkins, who first saw its outstanding conservation potential in 1998 and worked to preserve it. A former cattle ranch on Tierra del Fuego, it boasts southern beech forests, expansive grasslands, mountains and wild rivers.
Today round the southernmost tip of the continent, named in 1616 by Dutch navigator Willem Schouten. He called the cape “Hoorn” after his birthplace while he was searching for a trade route to the Orient. Weather permitting, take Zodiacs ashore for a panoramic view from the southernmost tip of South America, and visit the family manning the weather station on top of the island.
Following breakfast on board, disembark in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, with time to explore before your private LAN charter flight to Buenos Aires. Connect to your independent overnight flight home.