Discover the beauty of the rugged Chilean coast on this 14-day cruise from Ushuaia to Valparaiso. Follow in the footsteps of great sailors and explorers: round Cape Horn, cruise the Strait of Magellan, and sail deep into the soaring fjords of Chile. Visit tiny fishing villages and meet the people who have made their livelihoods from the sea. Stop in charming Puerto Natales and explore the rugged Torres del Paine National Park, world-famous for its soaring granite spires and glacial lakes. Marvel at calving glaciers and spectacular birdlife, watch for whales in the open seas, and enjoy the discovery of this beautiful region of the world.
Sail around the notorious Cape Horn
Cruise through the striking fjords of Chile's coast
Visit the stunning Torres del Paine National Park
Stop in charming fishing villages built into the steep fjords
Arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost town. Explore the quaint city or local countryside, or consider a day trip off the beaten path to the raw, natural archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. It's a hiker's paradise with rugged snow-capped mountains, glaciers, flower-filled meadows and boggy quagmires. In the afternoon, board your ship, the 5-star Ocean Victory. Sail toward Puerto Williams on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel. The channel has rich wildlife with cormorants, penguins and sea lions on virtually every rocky outcrop, and dense temperate rainforest reaches from shore to tree line.
Today see the famous "horn", Cabo de Hornos. It is difficult to predict the day’s program, as the waters south of the horn are unpredictable at best. Conditions permitting, take Zodiacs to go ashore on Isla Hornos at the memorial for sailors who lost their lives rounding the notorious cape. Although the ship is very stable, you may get a brief impression of what the old sailing ships were going through in Magellan's and Darwin's time, and rejoice in the advancement of shipbuilding technology! The first European sailor to navigate the race was the Dutch captain Willem Schouten in 1616, but Indigenous peoples had expertly navigated these waters long before.
Today's highlight is sailing into the narrow and unbelievably beautiful Garibaldi fjord in Alberto de Agostini National Park – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its spectacular soaring glaciers and rich plant and wildlife. It is not uncommon to see a group of killer whales in these waters feasting on the seafood.
Day 4: Fort Bulnes, Chile | Strait of Magellan Park
As the ship leaves the islands of Tierra del Fuego, head into the Strait of Magellan and reach Fort Bulnes. The fort was built in 1843 on the rocky shores of Punta Santa Ana under the command of President Bulnes Prieto to maintain control of the Magellan Strait and the ships that sailed through it. Today, it's restored to its original form, and the area around included in the fascinating Strait of Magellan Park.
The day is set for cruising the legendary Strait of Magellan, which divides Tierra del Fuego, the “Land of Fire,” from the South American continent as well as the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean. Ferdinand Magellan, for whom the strait was named, was a Portuguese explorer on commission of Spain's Charles I and the first to navigate the strait in 1520. Chile annexed the Strait under President Bulnes in May 1843, emphasizing Chile's supremacy through the construction of the previously visited fort.
The climate is sub-Antarctic and the coast is rugged and vegetation-poor. Yet these coasts have been home to a highly developed and populous Indigenous culture, consisting primarily of maritime, nomadic hunter-gatherers. The tribes lived isolated and unaffected by Western civilization until about 1800, after which they quickly became extinct as a result of new diseases and radical eradication campaigns initiated by the governments of Chile and Argentina. Unfortunately, today, our overall knowledge of these many different peoples is extremely sparse.
Day 6: Puerto Natales, Chile | Torres del Paine National Park
Through the night, the Captain will have navigated the vessel more than 200 kilometers east across Chile through the world’s most complicated fjord system. Disembarking in the town of Puerto Natales, take a bus into Torres del Paine National Park. Crowned by the three majestic granite towers and encircled by huge lakes, calving glaciers and open grasslands where guanacos feed, it is fair to say that this is among the most beautiful national parks in the world. "Paine" is a word for "blue" in the local Indigenous language, and today's excursion into the national park shows why the landscape bears that name. Drive through the park and enjoy the view of the mountains throughout the day, with occasional short hikes to reach stunning vantage points.
By now, the ship is deep in the archipelago and navigates through the many narrow waterways, almost all of which are called canals. The route follows the canals Sarmiento, Esteban, Angostura, Inocentes and then into the long narrow Canal Messier. It is incredibly beautiful no matter what direction the eyes are turned, with rugged, often snow-capped mountain peaks, glaciers, and lots of wildlife both above and below the water. The canals have all been shaped and extended during the recent ice ages, when they were filled with glaciers from the Andes to the east. Look for small fishing villages in the 250km-long Canal Messier, and plan for Zodiac landings along the way where appropriate.
The goal this morning is to reach the 60 km long Brüggen Glacier, slowly flowing down from the huge Patagonian Ice Fields. Cruise in safe distance from the active glacier front – and continue north through the Messier for more adventures. It is a must to visit the small, completely cut-off town of Puerto Edén, which, with less than 200 inhabitants, lies on the banks of the Canal Messier. The sea is the only access because neither roads nor paths lead to Edén. The city also has no roads between houses and shops, only wooden promenades or boardwalks. The population lives primarily on fishery and seafood collection, which is picked up once a week by a cutter.
Today reach the northern end of Canal Messier, where another typical Chilean village can be found. Caleta Tortel was built in 1955 to utilize the area's cypress trees for timber production. The village is located where rivers, meltwater and the sea coalesce into a mossy subsoil, which is why all houses are built on stilts and the roads are, like in Puerto Edén, built of wood.
The trip continues along the coast of Chile, and you have time to enjoy the ship's facilities, perhaps a little massage, a visit to the shop or an interesting lecture on the nature or culture of the area. You can also relax in one of the hot tubs on the deck or take a dip in the small pool.
On the outskirts of the Chilean Lake District, visit yet another city on stilts: Castro. It is the county’s third-oldest city, founded in 1567. The area has been hit by earthquakes and tsunamis several times, and in 1837 the city was effectively leveled. Castro is an exciting city to stroll around. The famous wooden churches of Chiloé, of which four are in Castro, are one of Chile's largest cultural treasures and were added to UNESCO's list of cultural heritage. Many of the churches are built entirely with wood joinery techniques, without using so much as a single nail.
Today’s landing is on the small island of Mocha, of which half is designated as a national park. Originally the island was inhabited by the Lafkenches people. Francis Drake visited the island during his world circumnavigation, but had to leave after being seriously injured by the island's residents. In 1685, the governor forced the entire island population to what is today the city of Conception. Conditions permitting, utilize the ship's Zodiac fleets to make the landing and learn about the national park and the local flora and fauna.
This was our first trip to South America and we were a little nervous. But Adventure Life made things so easy! All our questions were answered before we left, and our guide, Vidal, was amazing! He gave us enough space to explore without rushing us along. He also knew where the best picture taking opportunities were, which was great.