For many people, a South American Cruise around Cape Horn is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. People often plan something like this to celebrate a milestone birthday, anniversary, or another big life event. My husband and I took our South American Cruise in 2016 for our 20th Anniversary.
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What is it Like to Take a Cruise Around South America and the Horn?
A South American Cruise is not all that different from any other cruise. You can expect most of the same amenities and activities found on any other cruise.
- Multiple dining options ranging from buffets to premium restaurants
- Multiple bars
- A casino
- Spa with a full menu including hair and nails, body treatments, and facials
- Fitness center offering classes and fitness assessments
- Multiple pools. Some ships have adult-only pool areas
- Hot tubs
- Oodles of organized activities including, lectures, games, and demonstrations
- Activities and facilities for kids of every age too
However, since this is a longer cruise and typically more costly than a short Caribbean sailing, these cruises cater to an older clientele. Therefore, you can expect to see fewer kids sailing on a South American Cruise. As a Gen Xer, and my husband a young Boomer, we were some of the youngest folks on our cruise.
The mega-ships are not traveling to South America so it is a more intimate experience. Sadly, on our Royal Caribbean South America Cruise, this didn’t translate into a more personalized encounter. (I’m not knocking Royal Caribbean but being honest about the experience. We’ve taken five delightful cruises with RC. This just wasn’t one of them in terms of dedicated service and attention to detail.)
How Many Days for a South America Cruise Around the Horn?
There isn’t a right or wrong to this but you can expect that your South America itinerary will be at least 10-days. More often though you are looking at a 14-day cruise and you will cover more than 4000 nautical miles (4600+ miles). If your cruise does not go around the Horn and through the Chilean Fjord but rather directly through the Strait of Magellan you will travel closer to 3200 nautical miles.
The duration of your cruise and the number of ports visited will dictate how many at-sea days you will have. Typically, you can expect about 50-percent of the days to be at sea. I found this to be a nice balance.
Many South American cruises are 14-day cruises and depart from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or Buenos Aires, Argentina and often terminate in Santiago or Valparaiso, Chile, or the same itinerary in reverse. Some cruises depart from Florida and are therefore longer sailings. The cruise I took was a 14-day cruise departing from San Paulo, Brazil, and ended in Valparaiso, Chile. So, my writing is based on that experience.
When is the Best Time to Cruise South America?
Most South American cruises run from late October to mid-March which is the best time to go to South America. This means that you will be sailing during winter in the northern hemisphere. South America’s seasons are the opposite so you will be cruising during South America’s summer. That’s just one of the things that makes a cruise around the continent a wonderful winter vacation option.
Let’s face it, who doesn’t love going someplace warm in the wintertime. But, while you will definitely want to pack your swimsuit and sunscreen, don’t expect to sun yourself poolside throughout your entire trip.
Read my South America and Cape Horn Cruise Packing Guide and know exactly what to pack and what to leave home.
What’s the Weather in South American and Around the Horn?
On an around the Horn cruise, you will encounter all kinds of weather. Throughout the course of your sailing you can expect, the sun, rain, wind, and even snow. That said, you should expect the daytime South America temperature to range from the 90s in Buenos Aires to the 30s when sailing through the Strait of Magellan. You can expect the cold weather to continue as your ship heads up the west coast and through the Chilean Fjords.
In looking over my materials from our cruise it appears that the warmest day was our port stop in Puerto Madryn, Argentina when we hit a high of 92 degrees. We cruised the 3rd week of February.
Cape Horn Weather
You will need your hat and gloves more than you will need a swimsuit. Despite cruising during South America’s warmer months, you can expect temperatures no higher than 60 degrees. The average high is 58-degrees with average lows around 40-degrees Fahrenheit. Year-round the Cape receives a fair amount of precipitation and summer is the wettest season of the year. Much of the precipitation comes in the form of snow.
During your sailing around Cape Horn expect rain, snow, sleet, and wind. Honestly, it can be quite nasty if you are not a cold-weather person. I am not! We had wet snow during this part of our cruise. But don’t worry. You won’t be in extreme weather for too long. Only about a day and a half of your cruise will subject you to this. Also, the scenery is so beautiful you won’t mind. The glaciers and the vast wilderness will distract and awe you.
Documents, Disease and Sea Sickness
You will need your passport for your South American cruise. And you will need to have 6 months left on it before it expires. This is not the requirement for all countries you will visit but it is true of Brazil and since almost all South American cruises start, dock, or terminate in Brazil this is an important detail. Other countries have similar requirements but since 6 months is the longest period you will be good for, all the other countries you’ll be visiting.
Recently, Brazil dropped its requirement for US Citizens to purchase a visa. This will save you some hefty ching as a Brazilian visa came with a substantial price tag in the past. The other countries you will be visiting do not have visa requirements. But you will want to check with your cruise line to verify if any other documents are required at your ports of entry.
You should always have your routine vaccinations (measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot) up to date but that is especially true if you are traveling. Additionally, for your cruise around the Horn, you will need to have your Hepatitis A vaccine. This needs to be done no later than 2-weeks prior to your departure. Hepatitis B is not essential.
The Typhoid vaccine is recommended by the CDC for travel to South America. This is a food-borne illness. However, since you will likely be eating food provided on the cruise ship your risk of contracting Typhoid is minimal. This is not to say you should not get the vaccine. You need to consider how much risk you are willing to take. Keep in mind that while in port you may choose to enjoy the local cuisine.
Another consideration is all those pesky diseases spread by mosquitos; Yellow Fever, Malaria, Dengue, and Zika. As with the exposure to food-borne illnesses, your risk of contracting one of these diseases is greatly diminished by being on a cruise. However, you will not be spending all of your time on the ship. I highly recommend you purchase a strong insect repellent and use it. A repellent with DEET is recommended.
If you are prone to seasickness you are going to want to pack the Dramamine or other motion sickness remedy. For most of the cruise, you can expect regionally normal seas. However, what that means for your experience has a lot to do with the size of the ship you are on, where you are on the vessel, weather and how you respond to the motion.
All these variables make it impossible to predict your experience. However, Cape Horn waves can create some rough conditions and I mean quite rough. As your ship takes you around the Horn and through the Strait of Magellan, I assure you your ship will be rocking. In fact, you can expect that the ship’s pools and hot tubs will be drained to prevent the water from sloshing out onto the decks and creating slick, icy, and hazardous conditions.
I am not one to get seasick and this was the closest I’ve ever come to it on a cruise. So you don’t make the same mistake, let me tell you what I did which I’m certain contributed to my overwhelming nausea.
We were in a balcony suite and I was putting my make-up on to get ready for dinner. I believe that looking in the mirror and having the reflection of the waves behind me played tricks on my equilibrium thus causing me to become queasy. Tip: close the curtains if you are similarly situated.
That evening I opted out of dinner. I stayed behind in the cabin and laid on the bed with my eyes closed. That worked for me. I didn’t require anything to settle my belly.
Bill went on to dinner without me that evening. Since he was dining alone, he opted for the buffet rather than the dining room. He tells me there were very few people milling around outside their stateroom that evening. And, at the buffet, he literally caught a roast as it flew from the counter.
South American Cruise Ports of Call and Excursions
The ports you visit on your South American cruise is partially dependent on the size of the cruise ship you are traveling on. Larger ships may not be able to dock or even tender in some of the smaller ports and will, therefore, need to bypass those. I will provide a primer for the larger ports since my voyage was on a sizable ship and these are the ports I’ve experienced.
On an around the Horn cruise, excursions will provide you the opportunity to experience pristine natural landscapes with incredible wildlife, amazing cosmopolitan cities, indigenous cultures, colonial cities and so much more. Of course, much of your experience will depend on how you choose to spend your time in the ports you visit. If you choose to spend your time in the cities you will have a different experience than someone who goes to the wildlife preserves or an estancia (ranch). I recommend mixing it up. We loved seeing the penguins and the elephant seals at the Peninsula Valdes. But we also enjoyed exploring Buenos Aires which is both historic and cosmopolitan.
As a Gen Xer, you can expect to be one of the younger people on your cruise ship. Probably not the youngest but close. (The above picture includes probably all the people under 55 who were on our cruise). There will be lots of older people with varying degrees of ability. For this reason, don’t expect your excursions to be crazy, over-the-top, extreme activities. Even the excursions that are classified as strenuous are within the capabilities of most Gen Xers.
The most demanding excursion we took was in Ushuaia, and it was categorized as “strenuous.” It included rafting and hiking. I remember being a bit winded during the hike but that probably had more to do with altitude than my physical condition. Also, I was less than a year out from a hip replacement but was able to manage the activities. Of course, if you have any physical restrictions you will want to get more information about the excursions before booking.
Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the “Paris of South America.” This wonderful cosmopolitan city has loads of history and culture. For this port of call, we opted to take a tour of the city with Context Travel rather than booking an excursion through the cruise line. This generally is not recommended but I had an established relationship with the company.
Our tour took us through the historic Puerto Madero where the Puente de la Mujer (Bridge of the Woman) connects the old port with the new city. We visited the Presidential Palace, Casa Rosado (Pink House), and Plaza de Mayo. Here we learned about Eva Peron and the Abuela Movement which is a tragic part of Argentina’s recent history.
When we finished our tour we ventured off on our own strolling through the San Telmo neighborhood and grabbing a bite to eat. From here we caught a cab to the vibrant La Boca neighborhood. La Boca is considered a tourist trap but I think the brightly colored buildings, Tango dancers, the smell of Asado carnitas (barbequed meat) and music pouring onto the street were worth a visit.
In Buenos Aries, you can expect excursions to include activities such as tango shows, a visit to an estancia (ranch), shopping, walking tours of the city center, and Recoleta Cemetary.
Like Buenos Aires, Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, is a city with a strong European influence. This city marked by tree-lined streets offers a lively art and culture scene. This port city, the 18th century home of the Spanish naval base retains its old-world charm. We did not visit the city but rather ventured outside it. However, I heard terrific things about it and wish we had time to visit during our day in port.
Our excursion took us to the charming small town of Colonia del Sacramento. This waterfront village oozes with colonial charm. Gaslamps line narrow cobblestone streets. On the streets, you will find cars from days gone by. Take time to walk along the promenade or climb the lighthouse.
Other excursions took cruisers to the Uruguayan countryside with visits to wineries and estancias.
For wildlife lovers, this port of call will wow you! Puerto Madryn is your gateway to Patagonia. Most of your excursions are going to involve wildlife and a visit to Peninsula Valdes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As your bus traverses through the wilderness watch for Peluda (armadillo), Guanaco (similar to a llama), Mara, Halcon Peregrino (Peregrine Falcon), grey fox, and more.
Observe Magellan Penguin at the nature reserve, plus Southern Sea Lions and Elephant Seal from the cliffs of Puerto Piramides. If you time it right you will be treated to viewing mothers and calves.
You can expect there to be a number of water-based excursions. As you can imagine, many of these are weather-dependent. However, they offer a chance to catch a glimpse of Orca, Right Whales, and dolphin.
Do get off the ship in Ushuaia. This was my favorite port of call. I recall waking up in port and seeing the city on the mountainside from the water. It was still dark, lights twinkled and there was something magical about it.
Ushuaia has a charming and bustling downtown (I imagine when the cruise ships are not in port it is sleepy). But this is the port for the Tierra del Fuego National Park too. The Tierra del Fuego straddles Argentina and Chile. It has some of the most pristine wilderness imaginable. You will want to have your picture taken at the “End of the World.”
Punta Arenas, Chile
Though Punta Arenas, located at the southern-most tip of Chile’s Patagonia region, was established as a penal colony in 1848, it has significant maritime importance.
The city is located on the Brunswick Penninsula north of the Strait of Magellan connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Through the 1800 Punta Arenas grew in significance due to maritime travel and commerce. During the late 1800s, the city grew as a result of waves of Croatian and Russian immigrants. These settlers were attracted by the gold rush and sheep farming. Because of its logistic importance, Punta Arenas retains geopolitical importance to this day.
Punta Arenas is the gateway to Antarctica for many voyages there.
Valparaiso was the termination point for our cruise. However, we were not finished with South America yet. We stayed on for 4 days in Valpo.
Valparaiso is a picturesque port city with colorful houses perched upon its hills. At street level, Grafitti art adorns the cityscape.
Valparaiso is known for its prolific street art scene. That was our main reason for staying. But in addition to its plethora of street art, the city is where poet and writer Pablo Neruda called home (La Sebastiana). Outside the city, you will find beautiful beaches and a number of vineyards.
A South American cruise around the Horn is a wonderful way to celebrate a special occasion. It offers so much variety of places to see and a nice balance of at-sea and port days. A South American cruise is sure to please.
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