Cruise Guide: Vibrant cities, nature, await South American cruise guests

By Mike Coleman

The world’s best cruise lines have not only unveiled a host of new ships in recent months, they’ve also introduced a series of global itineraries and that’s good news for savvy travelers.

Over the past two weeks, Cruise Guide has bypassed the obvious – Caribbean and European sailings- to take a closer look at what’s in store for passengers who seek exotic voyages. We conclude our three-part series this week with a look at South America. 

Whether sailing to vibrant, culturally-rich ports or viewing Antarctica as it sails past your porthole, cruise vacations to South America run the gamut. The continent and its 15 countries offer superb cosmopolitan charm and a dizzying array of natural attractions from the world’s highest waterfall (Angel Falls) to the largest river (Amazon), longest mountain range (Andes) and driest desert (Atacama).

Getting there has never been easier as the world’s best cruise lines continue to offer more itineraries than ever before.

Several members of the Cruise Lines International Association, the chief marketing arm for 19 premier cruise lines and some 17,000 North American travel agencies, offer sailings departing from Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, Chile’s Valparaiso and Argentina’s Buenos Aires. Voyages, some of which depart from U.S. ports, range from three to 72 days and typically sail from October through April.

The luxury lines -Crystal, Cunard, Oceania, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea- are sure to take you in style. Crystal visits South America during Crystal Serenity’s world cruise in January, including a 15-day Miami to Valparaiso itinerary, and an 18-day Valparaiso-Buenos Aires itinerary. Highlights include cruising past Chilean Fjords, Cape Horn, and Antarctica’s Palmer Station and Elephant Island.

Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 calls in the ports of Rio de Janeiro; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile, during a 26-day segment of her maiden world cruise, which travels from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco, departing January 10.

From December through March, Oceania Cruises’ Insignia sails South American waters with three 10-day cruises from Rio to Buenos Aires calling at ports in Brazil and Uruguay, and four 16-day Buenos Aires-Valparaiso itineraries that cruise the Chilean Fjords and Cape Horn.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Mariner offers a 59-night voyage in January, offered in 11- to 19-night segments. Seven Seas Voyager calls at South American ports on a 25-night world cruise segment from Fort Lauderdale to Cape Town.

Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Pride, meanwhile, circumnavigates South America on a 72-day voyage starting in January. Seven- to 18-day segments include Fort Lauderdale to Valparaiso, Valparaiso to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Rio, Rio to Manaus, and Manaus to Fort Lauderdale.

Silversea Cruises’ Silver Wind sails a 16-day Valparaiso to Buenos Aires itinerary in January to the Chilean Fjords and Falkland Islands. Ports include Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacabuco, Laguna San Rafael and Punta Arenas, Chile; Puerto Madryn, Argentina; and Punta del Este and Montevideo, Uruguay.

Perhaps a premium brand line – Celebrity or Holland America – is more to your liking? Look for Celebrity Cruises’ Infinity to feature five South American itineraries in 2007. The 14-night cruises include three that sail between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, one from Valparaiso to Fort Lauderdale, and another roundtrip from Buenos Aires with two nights in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Holland America Line ships -Prinsendam, Rotterdam, Ryndam and Veendam- offer itineraries from 16 to 66 days, visiting 60 ports on 26 sailings.

If an Antarctica sailing tops your wish list, look for Norwegian Coastal Voyages to offer 19-day “Antarctica and Chilean Fjord” itineraries between Santiago and Buenos Aires from November through February and 21-day “Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica” voyages in October and February.

Additionally, look for the cruise lines to offer a series of optional shore excursions ranging from flight-seeing trips to Antarctica to view penguins, sea lions and marine birds, to Amazon River exploration via native canoe.

Cruise guests may also explore Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, where they can journey through Tierra del Fuego on horseback. Other excursions are being offered in cities including Rio de Janeiro, home to Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo Bay, all located within Rio’s downtown district.

Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Orient Lines, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean are also offering itineraries to what is quickly becoming a cruise destination favored among travelers young and old alike.

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