No TVs. No internet. No cell reception. If you truly want to connect, you must first disconnect. And for that, there is no place like THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD. It is here, like nowhere else, that you can connect with nature and other adventurous travelers. And it is here that no one pauses, every few minutes, to update their Facebook status. You couldn’t even if you wanted to. There is no wi-fi. And for a few days, it’s magical.
Experiencing Patagonia isn’t easy. But, your efforts will be rewarded with incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences and memories that will be cherished forever. Our own adventure took us on a 4-night cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile.
At Ushuaia, we boarded the impeccably clean 200 passenger Ventus Australis (Latin for Southern Wind). Australis is a Chilean based expedition cruise line with a multi-national client base. On our cruise, we met guests from Spain, Germany, and Holland. However, the majority of the guests were from the United States.
When it came time for the shore excursions, the Expedition Staff did a great job of breaking the groups out by language. Each language group had an expedition guide that was fluent in that language. The shore excursions are the reason you choose this itinerary. Australis exceeded excursion expectations at every stop.
The highlight for many guests is the possibility of visiting Cape Horn. The reason I say “possibility” is that due to weather (mostly high winds), zodiacs can only be launched about 30% of the time. While it wasn’t a trip for the faint of heart, or anyone who prefers to stay dry, our group was one of the lucky ones who made a successful call to Cape Horn. Standing at the edge of the cliffs where the Pacific meets the Atlantic, you can quickly understand why so many ships never made it around what is known to seafarers as the “sailors graveyard”. The albatross-shaped Cape Horn monument honors the seafarers who were not successful in their attempt to sail around the cape.
While Cape Horn is the highlight for many, every stop was filled with jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring moments. Sailing through the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan provide some of the most scenic cruising you will ever find on earth. Spectacular glaciers extend from the mountaintops to the sea. In the Patagonian waters magnificent whales, playful dolphins and sunbathing sea lions are plentiful.
Flying above, over 460 species of birds call Patagonia home. Be on the lookout because the iconic Andean Condor may be seen swooping high above you. Another highlight of the journey is a stop at Magdalena Island, home to more than 100,000 nesting penguins. Penguins are surprisingly fearless of humans, so visitors are required to remain on designated walkways.
Nature is the star of this cruise. The ship is beautiful, and was built specifically for this type of journey. What you won’t find on this cruise is nightly entertainment, a casino, or a spa. Evenings consist of an informative lecture about the next days activities, or a movie or documentary specific to the area. Or perhaps maybe the evening can be filled with good conversations among new friends while sharing a cocktail (the bar is always open and there is no extra charge). And then there is always the option of turning in early and calling it a night. The cabins offer oversized windows that provide ever changing breathtaking views.
The overall experience aboard Australis exceeded expectations and I highly recommend this itinerary and cruise line.
Since the beginning and end of your cruise will be in the ports of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas, I highly recommend spending at least two nights in each city. We found fabulous places, and amazing hosts, by using Airbnb. The highlight of Ushuaia was a guided day hike and paddling adventure through Tierra del Fuego National Park. We even got up close and personal with a sea lion having a meal (providing new meaning to the term “dinner show”!) In Punta Arenas, our Airbnb hosts provided a dual role and also served as our local tour guides for the day. There is no comparison in the experience you will find by staying with a local, as compared to what you will experience by staying at a hotel.
Getting to Patagonia is a challenge from most parts of the US. Unless you can catch a nonstop to Buenos Aires or Santiago you are going to have a minimum of three flights to reach “the bottom of the world”. Many guests we met chose to spend a few days in Argentina, Chile or both.
This remote area has so much to offer from unique sights, sounds and smells. Patagonia should be at the top of your travel list.
About the Author:
John Layton and Albert Vigo know travel. John has had three “careers”: Cruise Director, Flight Attendant and Travel Agent. Alberto is lucky to be married to him! (yes, John wrote this part!) Between the two of them they have been around the globe several times. They are passionate about sharing their experiences. If you have any questions or want additional information about their trip to Patagonia, you can reach them at JohnLayton155@gmail.com