Seafaring Journeys

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In Chile, it’s all about getting away.

Long, skinny and scenically splendid Chile is full of special-interest pursuits for today’s active and adventurous travelers. But landlubbers beware—some of the destination’s finest voyages are focused offshore in expedition cruising and in exploring the wonders of Easter Island.

Among Chile’s unparalleled adventures, sailing around the tip of South America—one of the wildest and most beautiful regions in the world—is indisputably a must for zealous travelers. This cruising ground is a watery world of aquamarine icebergs, glaciers and fjords that add brilliance and wonder to the land and seascapes of Chile’s southern Patagonia region.

While large international cruise ships travel this route, it is the small expedition-style cruises that get closest to the heart of things. Vessels of choice are the two custom-built vessels of Cruceros Australis: the 63-cabin Mare Australis and the 64-cabin Via Australis. They sail from Punta Arenas west to Tierra del Fuego before bending east through the Beagle Channel and on to Ushuaia, Argentina. Cruising spectaculars include navigating along “Glacier Alley,” framed by towering, block-long, blue-veined glaciers, each bearing the name of the country whose explorers discovered it. Other passenger favorites include wildlife sightings of elephant seals and sea lions, as well as walking virtually hand-to-fin with more than 100,000 Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena.

Daily excursions—the time to suit up into yellow slickers, pants and boots provided by the ships—feature trail walks in pristine forests, inflatable boat expeditions into the fjords and right up to the glacier walls, and ports-of-call visits in Puerto Williams and Ushuaia.

Passengers can count on icy landings ending with a traditional toast—all kinds of liquor available on the rocks, with ice from melting glaciers; incidentally, hot-chocolate is also available.

The 1-way, 3- and 4-night cruises have different routings and therefore different attractions. The 3-night cruise, for instance, visits Ainsworth Bay and its colony of elephant seals, while the 4-night cruise disembarks at Cape Horn National Park where the Atlantic and the Pacific meet. These can be combined into a 7-night roundtrip voyage from Punta Arenas.

Prices have dropped 10 percent for the 2009-2010 cruise season. The 3-night cruise starts at $1,050 (low season) and $1,330 (high season); the 4-night cruise starts at $1,400 (low season) and $1,770 (high season); all rates are pp dbl.

Adding to its adventure roster, in October 2010, Cruceros Australis will introduce a new vessel into its round-South America cruise fleet, celebrating the company’s 20th anniversary. The 5-deck Stella Australis will carry 210 passengers in 100 cabins with picture windows, private bathrooms, independent climate control and satellite phone. Onboard facilities will include three lounges fitted with modern audio/visual equipment for cruise briefings and lecturers, single-seating dining room, exercise room, and spacious open-deck areas for viewing the spectacular scenery and marine life. Expeditions will utilize six zodiacs, manned by a multilingual expedition team including 10 guides.

Another offshore adventure takes travelers to Antarctica. While almost all cruises to the white continent leave from Ushuaia, Chile offers one program that wastes no time getting to the heart of things in a 6-night air-cruise with Antarctica XXI. Passengers meet in Punta Arenas for an overnight at the historic Jose Nogueira Hotel. On day two, they fly (aboard BAC 146-200 aircraft, built for short landings) to King George Island for a tour and boarding the Professor Multanovskiy for four days of cruising between the South Shetland Islands and the continental Peninsula…in the company of sea birds, penguins, seals and whales. Visits may include some of the area’s most magnificent spots such as Hannah Point, Port Lockroy, Petermann Island, Paradise Bay, Cuverville and Deception Islands, among others. The adventure features daily landings and cruises in zodiacs and selected lectures.

The ice-strengthened vessel carries 52 passengers in twin cabins with outside windows; there are 11 twins without private facilities and 12 with, as well as two superior cabins and one suite cabin. Public facilities include a dining room, lounge/bar/library, as well as infirmary and sauna. Operating from the end of November with seven departures, the air-cruise cost starts at $8,990 pp dbl; the cost is the same for the special 7-night New Year’s cruise—flying from Punta Arenas and returning by ship to Ushuaia.