Summary : The vast Patagonian ice sheet that straddles the Andes mountains in South America is the third largest ice mass on the planet after Antarctica and the Greenland icecap. It is a remnant of the earth’s most recent ice age and dominates the landscape, ecology, and geology of Patagonia. Immense glacial systems cut through towering mountains as they move inexorably towards the sea. Take a look at any map of the region and this action becomes immediately apparent in the maze of fjords and islands that make up one of the earth’s last great remaining wilderness regions. Ancient boreal forests also tell a story of an evolving planet and the supercontinent of Gondwanaland. They are home to several species of flora only found in South America, New Zealand, and Australia’s most southerly state of Tasmania. Commencing in Ushuaia, make your way north through a vast network of deep fjords and channels, occasionally venturing out to the Pacific Ocean as the ship navigates toward Valparaiso, Chile’s historic deep-sea port. Explore your surroundings by Zodiac boat, approaching huge glaciers and observing resident and migratory wildlife and birdlife. On shore, enjoy hikes of varying durations to outstanding viewpoints in the company of knowledgeable guides. In addition, visits to small coastal communities showcase the unique way of life of local inhabitants, telling a story of both indigenous and European settlement.
Activities : Birding, Child-Friendly, Culture, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography, Triple/Quad Cabins
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Your journey through Chile’s spectacular fjord region commences this afternoon in Ushuaia, Argentina. Gather at a central meeting point then transfer to the pier for embarkation. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail and dinner before casting off, bound for the stunning landscapes of Patagonia, the rugged Chilean coast, and the historic city of Valparaiso.
Overnight you have sailed in a westerly direction along the Beagle Channel, which separates Argentina from neighboring Chile. This morning you'll enter Garibaldi Fjord, where two glaciers rise up towards a stunning mountain backdrop. Take to a Zodiac for the first time to explore the glaciers from a safe distance. Resident wildlife in the fjord includes South American sea lion and several species of birds such as the iconic Andean condor. In the afternoon, you will arrive at Alberto de Agostino National Park, designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve due to large tracts of ancient sub-Antarctic forest systems that cover much of the reserve. Naturalists believe these forests started growing around 10,000 years ago. There are some excellent hiking trails here. Alternatively, enjoy a Zodiac cruise along the shoreline.
The most famous of the park’s glaciers is the impressive tidewater Marinelli Glacier. This huge, crevasse-covered ice field spills from the Darwin Mountain range into Ainsworth Bay. From a distance, the glacier can be heard creaking and groaning, and large icebergs that have calved from its face brood silently in the dark waters. Easy hikes in the lush Magellanic forests provide great opportunities to spot birdlife and to immerse yourself in some of the purest wilderness on the planet. Anticipate sightings of seals and possibly Magellanic penguins, which are known to inhabit this area, before the voyage continues through the famous ‘Glacier Alley’ and into the Magellan Strait.
This morning make your way ashore by Zodiac to explore the promontory of Punta Santa Ana, where the historic ‘Fuerte Bulnes’ (Fort Bulnes) is located. Founded in 1843, the settlement was established both as a territorial claim and to protect the strategic Magellan Strait. Although none of the original structures remain, the fort has been faithfully reconstructed, offering outstanding views over the strait. Explore the grounds and visit the small church, barracks, powder magazine, and log cabins. The fort was abandoned after a more permanent settlement was established further north in present day Punta Arenas.
Today you will cruise north along the rugged Chilean coastline. The views from the observation lounge and outer decks are breathtaking. Forested mountains, snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, and glaciers continue for mile after mile. Enjoy onboard talks and discussions with your knowledgeable guides, covering a wide variety of subjects including history, wildlife, geology and glaciology as well as photography. The ‘open bridge’ policy means you can also watch the captain and officers steer the ship, learn something about navigation, and have a look at the charts. For a bit of relaxation, why not soak in the hot tub or indulge in a massage at the day spa?
For many, today’s excursion is one of the highlights of the trip. Head ashore after breakfast and enter the national park. This iconic location boasts some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world, with the celebrated 'towers' (from which the park gets its name) looming above the surrounding plateau and glacier-fed lake systems. Powerful waterfalls surge through narrow channels between the lakes, and there are some excellent short hikes to lookouts and viewpoints, providing jaw-dropping views of the immense massif. The guanaco (similar to a llama) is resident in the park and can be found in sizeable numbers grazing on the native grasses. Spend a full day here, soaking up the views from all directions.
Look forward to an exciting day of navigation. A highlight will be the transit of White Narrows, a channel of water just 262 feet wide. No doubt everyone will be on the outer decks as the captain skillfully steers through this challenging passage. More spectacular scenery is on offer today. The Bernal Glacier is a particular highlight and provides a textbook lesson in glaciology, featuring a large moraine, pushed forward by actions of the moving ice.
In a trip full of superlatives and highlights, today may well be near the top. Navigating into Eyre fjord, the vast sweep of the Brüggen Glacier comes into view. Often called ‘Pio XI,’ at almost 37 miles in length it is the largest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside Antarctica. From the low vantage point of the Zodiacs the sheer scale of the glacier face is overwhelming. It rises almost 230 feet above the surface of the water and is a staggering 2.4 miles wide. In the afternoon sail into the Messier Channel that separates continental South America from Wellington Island. Join a wildlife expert out on deck as you look for marine and bird life.
After several days immersed in glacial systems, fjords, and forests, today you will visit the small outpost of Caleta Tortel. Situated on a steep escarpment, the village has no roads but is instead connected via a series of wooden walkways that link houses to town services. Most residences have jetties since boats are virtually the only mode of transport—even the local fire engine is a boat! The area was first visited by Europeans in the 1950’s, while the indigenous people of the region have lived in the area for much longer. Today the town is dedicated as a national monument. You will have time to explore at your leisure, treading the boardwalks, observing local life, and perhaps stopping for a chat with the locals.
Continue your journey north, leaving the fjords and entering the Pacific Ocean. You will sometimes encounter migrating whales that use the Humboldt current as an oceanic conveyor belt. The program of presentations and discussions continues today. You might take a break to write in your trip journal or enjoy a good book in one of the comfortable lounges or on the sun deck.
By morning you are in close position to the town of Castro, the provincial capital of the island of Chiloé. The town was founded in 1567 and is the third oldest city in Chile. It flourished when the early Jesuits chose to base their mission here. Make your way ashore, where you are immediately struck by the colorful houses built on stilts around the harbor. Known as ‘palafitos,’ they are simple homes built by local fisherman. The local markets are a highlight and showcase some of the most impressive crafts and textiles in the country. Re-boarding the ship in the afternoon; it will hug the coastline, where you may see the snow-capped summits of numerous volcanoes that characterize this region.
Located 21.7 miles off the coast of mainland Chile, the remote outcrop of Mocha Island is an important historic site. Inhabited for centuries by the indigenous Mapuche tribe, Europeans first discovered it in the mid-15th century. The island was frequented by pirates, as well as Sir Francis Drake, and legend has it that more than 100 shipwrecks lie in the surrounding waters. Weather conditions permitting, head ashore for several hiking options. Hope to spot the resident sea lions and possibly encounter whales. The rare pink-footed shearwater can be also found on the island, nesting in burrows on the forested slopes.
As the ship makes its way towards the historic port of Valparaiso, the educational presentations continue and you can enjoy an entertaining voyage recap by your expedition leader. Join the photography expert in the multimedia room, where you can download and back-up your precious images. Or spend time outside on the observation decks, in the spacious lounges or on the bridge. It’s a fitting time to reflect on a wonderful expedition. This evening enjoy a special dinner attended by the captain of the ship.
In the morning, arrive at Valparaiso, the principal deep water port for Santiago, around 62 miles inland from the coast. After breakfast it is time to say farewell to your crew and fellow travelers as you disembark. A transfer to downtown Santiago, via Santiago Airport, is provided for all guests, however Valparaiso is well worth a day or two of exploration if your schedule allows. Ride the historic funicular railways that still operate around the city and enjoy the bohemian atmosphere. Or spend some time exploring the celebrated Casablanca wine region located nearby.
Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to ice and weather conditions—and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
All guests are required to have comprehensive travel insurance. The travel insurance must cover accidents, injury, illness and death, medical expenses, including any related to pre-existing medical conditions, emergency repatriation (including helicopter), luggage and personal effects, and personal liability. It is strongly recommended that you purchase cancellation and curtailment insurance. You must carry proof of insurance with you and produce it if requested by expedition staff. The expedition team reserves the right to cancel or suspend your participation on a trip or in certain activities that comprise part of a trip, at any time, including after the commencement of your tour, with no right of refund, if you are unable to provide proof of insurance when requested. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options.
Once you have booked your voyage to the Polar Regions, you will be required to complete a Medical Information Form. This form must be completed, signed, and returned no later than 90 days prior to departure.
No pre-booking required. Trekking poles are available onboard for passenger use and instep crampons will be provided if necessary to improve traction on slick surfaces. Sturdy hiking boots and warm hiking socks are needed to join this activity. Hikes will be 2-3 hours in duration and will involve negotiating challenging terrain without the assistance of trails. Antarctica hiking rewards with images of snow, ice, mountains, and glaciers.
Kayaking: pre-booking required
Limited to 30 guests. If you have experience sea kayaking and are interested in this activity during the expedition, you will need to book this option prior to departure from home. You cannot book this activity once onboard. All intending kayakers must complete a questionnaire outlining their prior paddling experience and also attend several compulsory onboard meetings prior to the first kayak excursion. Provided equipment includes full Gore-Tex drysuits, kayak specific PFDs, neoprene booties, a waterproof deck bag, pogies, and a single or double kayak. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
An onboard photographer is available to work with you throughout the voyage to help you improve your photography and encourage you to look at scenes or events in a different way in order to capture them digitally. Also available is an onboard multimedia download studio with computers, cables, and hard-drives for back-up storage and for creating DVDs of your images.
Transfer from central meeting point in Ushuaia on Day 1; transfer from Valparaiso to Santiago airport or a downtown location upon conclusion of voyage on Day 14; shipboard accommodations; experienced expedition leader and professional expedition team of marine biologists, naturalists, historians, and adventure guides; adventure concierge staff; assistance of resident photographer; daily off-ship excursions by Zodiac; guided hikes and walks onshore; visits to wildlife colonies, historic sites, places of outstanding natural beauty, and science stations; educational presentations and talks by polar specialists; access to computers in the multimedia lab for image downloads, file back up, and management; emergency-trained physician on every voyage; use of onboard library, Finnish sauna, plunge pool, Jacuzzi, and fitness center; end of voyage video, photos and take-home USB; gear on loan (waterproof/windproof jacket, bib pants, insulated rubber boots, binoculars, and trekking poles); all meals onboard the ship; daily housekeeping; daily afternoon tea; 24-hour tea, coffee, and hot chocolate in the lounge and in all cabins (replenished daily); port fees and permits to access visited areas. Subject to change without notice.
Additional Inclusions for Suites:
Exclusive check-in service on day of embarkation; deluxe welcome package (wine, fruit basket, natural snacks); single brew coffee machine; mini-stereo; private in-room One Ocean Adventure Concierge service; in-room dining menu; early morning in-room café service; evening après dinner drink service; premium in-room mini bar replenished daily (including spirits); complimentary 1-hour massage/spa experience. Inclusions subject to change without notice.
Any international or local airfare, pre- or post-hotel accommodation, or pre- or post-cruise transfers unless otherwise specified in the voyage itinerary (or pre-arranged); visa and passport expenses; personal expenses onboard such as alcoholic beverages, bar charges, laundry expenses or spa services such as massage; telecommunication charges (i.e. email, satellite phone); baggage, cancellation, or medical travel insurance-related expenses (travel insurance is mandatory on all voyages); a voluntary gratuity at the end of the voyage for expedition staff and ship crew. Subject to change without notice.
© Daisy Gilardini, © Jeff Topham