South America expedition cruises – Everything you need to knowShaun Edmond - Product & Marketing
- What makes South American cruises special
- The Galápagos Islands
- The Amazon Rainforest
What makes South American cruises special
South American cruises are an adventure.
Trips along South America’s rivers and coastlines follow in the wake of early explorers and indigenous tribes, to the continent’s wildest, most remote, locations. Forget going off the beaten track – cruises will take you to places without any track to speak of, to places only reachable by boat.
South American cruises are intimate.
It’s not uncommon for vessels to have a staff-to-guest ratio of 1 to 2 and a capacity for fewer than 50 guests. With cosy common areas and like-minded passengers, it’s quite likely you’ll make a few companions.
South American cruises take you to isolated communities.
Whether it's indigenous Amazonian villages where sustainable tourism is helping to keep customs and cultures alive, Antarctic research stations or a lighthouse at the southern tip of South America, cruises provide visitors with a window into how these communities survive and thrive away from the modern world. Though, the supplies they often deliver certainly help!
South American cruises are great for wildlife spotting.
Heading into pristine wilderness will give you plenty of chances to spot South America’s unique wildlife, whether from the deck or from guided excursions on small boats. Because you’ll be in the company of expert guides and (oftentimes) other nature enthusiasts, your chances of spotting something iconic are better than ever.
South American cruises can be luxurious.
Escape the heat of the Amazon in an air-conditioned room, enjoy a spell in a spa after a breezy penguin colony visit, enjoy a glass of bubbly in a Jacuzzi or head to an onboard cocktail bar for a sundowner – South America has vessels providing five-star experiences even when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
The Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands first made a name for themselves in London thanks to Charles Darwin’s island-hopping adventures in the Beagle, so it’s fitting that these islands are where you’ll find the widest range of options for cruises. While cruises aren’t the only way to experience the Galápagos anymore, they do remain the quintessential way to explore these islands – plus, they’re the only way to reach certain ones.
Generally speaking, each day involves a bit of snorkelling, kayaking or paddle-boarding, sometimes straight from your vessel itself and sometimes with sea lions, marine iguanas or penguins. There are also walking excursions, led by onboard guides, to spot the islands’ unique wildlife, before re-embarking for meals or a spell of relaxation. During the downtime, the vessel will be on the move, taking you to the next secluded location for your next excursion.
The cruising industry has been active here for a long time, so you’ll be spoilt for choice with which ship to take – and some new and unusual options are setting sail. WiFi, while still patchy, is becoming more commonplace, some vessels have glass bottom boats for those who prefer not to get wet and with the Galápagos’ increasing popularity with families, one ship even does pirate-themed voyages.
Wildlife you’ll spot
The Galápagos are known worldwide for their fearless wildlife, and you’ll already have spotted some before you even board the vessel: frigatebirds, pelicans, sea lions and marine iguanas can often be seen in the harbours of Puerto Ayora and San Cristóbal, and it’s not unheard of for buses from the airport to be delayed by giant tortoises crossing the road.
Once your vessel sets off, it will only get better from there: you may find yourself in the water with penguins, wandering through seabird colonies, followed by dolphins or face-to-face with boobies.
Albatross (16 days from £7,498pp): This comfortable classic group journey takes you to Ecuador's contrasting landscapes, through Quito, Cuenca and the Avenue of the Volcanos. In addition, there’s a week spent cruising the Galápagos Islands.
Luxury Galapagos Cruise (11 days from £9,450pp): A sumptuous cruise on board the elegant yacht Grace, the most romantic luxury vessel sailing in the islands (a wedding gift to Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, now welcoming guests).
Signature Galapagos (7 days from £4,470pp): From colonial Quito, fly onwards to enjoy a cruise around some of Ecuador's majestic Galápagos Islands. You'll explore from a small, eco-conscious motor cruiser, which offers great value and excellent service in the upper-mid range category.
The Amazon Rainforest
At over 6,500 km in length, not including its thousand tributaries, one could easily spend an odyssey cruising the waterways and still need more time for everything that makes the Amazon Rainforest worth visiting.
A cruise into even one artery of the world's longest river network will unveil the secrets of this natural paradise. Much of your time will consist of trips in speedboats (and kayaks, if you're feeling active) to spot the rainforest's diverse wildlife, along with the odd walk or two to get introduced to some of the rainforest's smaller wonders and unusual plants.
Wildlife spotting around here is best described as rewarding: the dense foliage and the vast expanse thereof provide plenty of hiding places, so don’t expect to see one animal after another as you would in the Galápagos or on safari in Africa. However, every animal you do spot (and your chances are boosted with expert guides and fellow wildlife enthusiasts on board) will feel special.
You’ll also have the chance to interact with the Amazon’s human inhabitants through visits to indigenous villages. Doing so aboard a cruise feels especially authentic since vessels can penetrate deep into the Amazon, reaching communities that are several days away from the nearest road. Indeed, as well as five-star pampering, many of these cruises provide economic opportunities to these communities by delivering supplies and employing locals – expect to bump into your sommelier or guide catching up with their families. You’ll get to watch performances and buy some expert handicrafts, and get hands-on through activities such as blow-dart shooting.
Because the Amazon spans eight different countries, there are various launching points for Amazon cruises. The three most popular are Iquitos in Peru, Manaus in Brazil and Coca in Ecuador, most of which are reached via a short flight from their respective countries’ major cities. This makes Amazon cruises easy to combine with other things, such as Galápagos cruises and Machu Picchu.
Wildlife you’ll spot
In terms of what you're very likely to spot, there are: bright pink dolphins coming up for air, macaws and vultures flying overhead, caimans' eyes reflecting the torchlight during a night safari and piranhas biting during a spot of fishing with bamboo poles. Beyond those, the Amazon is full of surprises.
You might spot toucans and howler monkeys in the treetops, families of inquisitive giant otters popping their heads up, leafcutter ants hauling their loads back to their nests or snakes slithering through the undergrowth. While larger predators such as a jaguar, harpy eagle or anaconda would require significantly more luck, you can never be certain of what you're going to find!
Brazil Wildlife (15 days from £7,060pp): A nature-focused holiday in two contrasting regions of wild Brazil: the wetlands of the Pantanal and the Rio Negro on Amazonia. Two distinct wildlife experiences; a land-based eco-lodge and a whole week's expeditionary cruise on MV Tucano.
Luxury Peru (9 days from £9,430pp): A luxury holiday staying in first class Belmond hotels. Arrive at the “Lost City” of Machu Picchu in the elegant Hiram Bingham train from Cusco, the Incas’ imperial capital. Fly to the Amazon for a deluxe wildlife cruise in a state-of-the-art expedition vessel, MV Aria.
A cruise between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, at the continent’s southern tip, brings you the best of Patagonia’s scenery - in short, the image everyone conjures up in their head when they think of this faraway land. Around here, the snowcapped ridge line of the Andes begins to sink into the gelid sea, creating a network of channels, islets and bays.
There are no roads out here, just wilderness, and a cruise through the fjords truly feels like one has reached the edge of the earth. Indeed, this was the treacherous route that many explorers and later trading ships had to traverse in order to get to the Pacific, with names like the Beagle Channel and Magellan Strait bearing the names of these intrepid adventurers. Following in their wake through the windswept wilderness lends an appreciation for what these people went through, even though the accommodations on board are significantly cosier now than they were then.
As fine a place as the deck of this ship is from which to take in Patagonia’s natural beauty, excursions in zodiacs get you even closer. You’ll get right up to the frozen walls of groaning glaciers as pieces of ice go careening into the black water below. There are excursions ashore where you’ll get to know Patagonia’s ecosystems and how the area’s plants and animals survive out here. You’ll also take a walk to the southernmost point in South America, Cape Horn, where a friendly lighthouse keeper and his family hold the fort.
Wildlife you’ll spot
A difficult environment to live in, Patagonia for wildlife watchers is more a quality-over-quantity destination. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to feel a sense of admiration for everything you do lay eyes on: cuddly gray foxes and bright white geese patrol the shorelines, blubbery elephant seals rest atop ice floes and penguins clumsily shuttle back and forth between their burrows and the sea.
Patagonia Cruise (13 days from £4,600pp): A 5 day expedition cruise through the channels and fjords of southern Patagonia including Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn is followed by a stay on the wildlife-filled plains close to the Atlantic shores of northern Patagonia.
“You'll wake up early - partly because dawn breaks in the middle of the night, but also out of excitement; the promise of what a new day in Antarctica will bring.”
-David Nichols, Product Manager
If you love the outdoors, a trip to the White Continent will feel nothing short of surreal, no matter how many munros you’ve bagged, birds you’ve ticked off or multi-day treks you’ve completed. The Antarctic Peninsula, a leg of land that gives Antarctica a speech bubble-like shape, is the closest point to civilisation – Ushuaia in Argentina, to be precise. Small wonder that this southern city is the epicentre of Antarctic tourism – plus, there’s plenty to do here while you wait for your cruise to get started.
Cruises begin with setting off across the Drake Passage, an expanse of ocean where a gusty day is considered a normal one. While you may need your seasickness tablets, vessels are built to deal with these conditions – as a result, it probably won’t be too choppy a ride. Many vessels offer plenty of distractions while you’re out at sea: informative lectures, comfy lounges, libraries full of books, gyms and spas.
Once you reach Antarctica, your days will be spent going on guided trips in the vessel’s zodiac boats, getting up close to the resident penguins, seals and whales, walking through the wilderness, gazing at the vistas from the deck or visiting research stations, some of whom will be where your guides used to work.
Wildlife you’ll spot
The first thing that springs to everyone’s mind is of course penguins, and the Antarctic peninsula is home to three different species: Chinstrap, Adelie and Gentoo. Colonies can contain hundreds, even thousands, of individuals. A little further afield, on Snow Island, is a small colony of emperor penguins. The nutrient-rich seas are also home to many species of seals, including the friendly Weddell seal and menacing leopard seal, and large numbers of whales.
Additionally, during your time in Argentina, you’ll have the opportunity to spot Magellanic penguins and shags in the Beagle Channel. The Falkland Islands and South Georgia, often visited as part of Antarctic cruises, are also home to colonies of macaroni and rockhopper penguins and the wandering albatross, the largest flying bird in the world.
Antarctica Wildlife (23 days from £16,900pp): A trip that combines the windswept Falkland Islands and South Georgia with the Antarctic Peninsula, where beaches choked with seabirds and penguins, and tales of human endeavour, lurk around every corner.
In Search of the Emperor Penguin (15 days from £16,900pp): Cruise beyond the Antarctic Peninsula to the Weddell Sea in search of Emperor penguins, aided by helicopters.
Antarctic Peninsula - Fly and Cruise (14 days from £18,290pp): Spend a few days in stunning Torres del Paine National Park before flying to the Antarctic Peninsula, avoiding the turbulent Drake Passage. Cruise between the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, encountering its wildlife and exploring its old explorers' huts.
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Millie Davies - Travel Expert
Having caught the travel bug as a child, Millie has travelled all over Latin America before making her home in Buenos Aires for 3 years.
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Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made Holidays and Group Tour sales team.
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A former Journey Latin America tour leader, Sally spent 7 years working, travelling and living throughout Latin America before returning to the UK to help people arrange their own adventures to this wonderful destination.
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Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.
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Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.
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A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours department.