Aboard the M/V Ventus or Stella Australis
We feel there is no better way to experience the fjords of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost part of South America than aboard an Australis expedition cruise. The nearly identical, 100-cabin M/V Stella and newly launched M/V Ventus have been specially designed and built to navigate the narrow channels, where larger ships simply cannot go. Though we feel the ships to be not quite luxury standard and consider them to be in the 4-star range, the simple design and spartan cabins paired with large windows keeps the focus on the incredible views throughout the journey. The array of guided group excursions are singularly fantastic, as Australis is currently the only cruise company operating along this remote route. Excursions include Ainsworth Bay and its gorgeous views of Marinelli Glacier and the Darwin Mountains; Tucker Island and its ample Magellan penguin population; the Pia Glacier and Glacier Alley; hiking through the Magellan forest on Wulaia Bay, Cape Horn National Park; the UNESCO-designated Drake Passage; and more. In addition to penguins, you will likely see South American fur seals, Andean condors, and even albatross. Onboard, you may enjoy the spacious lounges and reading areas with plenty of literature and stellar panoramic views, as well as delicious meals prepared with local ingredients in the dining area. It should be noted that there is no Wi-Fi available onboard, allowing for complete immersion on this tranquil escape.
Please note that Australis recognizes the privilege to sail in one of the most unspoiled ecosystems of the world and seeks to leave the environment as untouched and wild as they found it. They accomplish this by contributing to Patagonian ecosystem research, limiting plastic products used aboard, and utilizing constructed wooden walkways on certain treks. They pride themselves on the quality and low turnover of their naturalist guides!
Day 1: Board in Punta Arenas, Chile + Begin Journey!
Following a day at your leisure in Punta Arenas, you will be privately transferred to the Arturo Prat Port to board your cruise at 6:00 p.m. Once aboard, you will promptly enjoy a welcome toast and introduction of the captain and crew. Following dinner, you will depart for one of the most remote corners of our planet. Overnight you will cross the Strait of Magellan and enter the labyrinth of channels that define the southernmost part of Patagonian.
Day 2: Ainsworth Bay & Tuckers Islets
By dawn the ship will be sailing up Seno Almirantazgo (Admiralty Sound), a spectacular offshoot of the Strait of Magellan that stretches nearly halfway across Tierra del Fuego. The snowcapped peaks of Karukinka Natural Park stretch along the north side of the sound, while the south shore is defined by the deep fjords and broad bays of Alberto de Agostini National Park.
Following breakfast aboard, you will go ashore at Ainsworth Bay, which harbors copious bird life and a colony of southern elephant seals that can sometimes be spotted from the Zodiacs. Two guided excursions are available. The first is an easy two-hour/three-kilometer walk along the edge of a stream, peat bog, and beaver habitat to a waterfall-and-moss-covered rock face tucked deep inside a pristine sub-polar forest. The other is a more strenuous hike along the crest of a glacial moraine. Both afford views of Marinelli Glacier and the Darwin Mountains!
Leaving Ainsworth Bay behind, you will sail west along the sound to the Tucker Islets. Following lunch aboard, you will board the Zodiacs again for a close-up view of the Magellan penguins that inhabit the tiny islands. More than 4,000 penguins use Tucker as a place to nest and stay to nurture their chicks! Many other bird species also frequent the area including king cormorants, oystercatchers, Chilean skuas, kelp geese, dolphin gulls, eagles, and even the occasional Andean condor. Please note, in September and April, when the penguins live elsewhere, this excursion will be replaced by a short walk to a glacier at nearby Brookes Bay.
Day 3: Pia Glacier & Glacier Alley
Overnight the ship will sail around the western end of Tierra del Fuego via the very narrow Gabrial Channel, Magdalena Channel, and Cockburn Channel. After rounding the remote Brecknock Peninsula, the ship tacks eastward and enters the Beagle Channel again. By morning you will enter Pia Fjord and board the Zodiacs for a shore excursion to Pia Glacier.
After disembarking you will take a short hike over the metamorphic rock to a lookout spot 80 meters high, offering a panoramic view of the spectacular glacier, which extends from the mountaintops down to the sea. For our more adventurous clients, you may opt for a longer, much more difficult walk up a lateral moraine of the old Pia Glacier! No one knows for certain how the hulking mass of snow and ice got its feminine moniker, but one theory it that it was named for Princess Maria Pia of Savoy (1847-1911), daughter of the Italian king. If interested in a more challenging hike, you may opt to venture onward to a lookout point 180 meters high over very irregular terrain.
Back onboard the ship, you will continue east along the Beagle Channel through Glacier Alley. Living up to its name, the passage features a number of impressive tidewater glaciers flowing down from the Darwin Mountains and Darwin Ice Sheet on the north shore.
Day 4: Wulaia Bay & Cape Horn
Before dawn, you will cruise across Nassau Bay into the remote archipelago that includes Cape Horn National Park. Weather and sea conditions permitting, you will go ashore on the windswept island harboring the legendary Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn) to view the sunrise of the edge of the world. Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch maritime expedition and named after the town of Hoorn in West Friesland, Cape Horn is a sheer 425-meter (1,394-foot) high rocky promontory overlooking the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage. For many years, it was the only navigation route between the Pacific and the Atlantic, and was often referred to as the “End of the Earth”. The park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2005 and the Chilean navy maintains a permanent lighthouse on the island, staffed by a lightkeeper and his family, as well as the tiny Stella Maris Chapel and modern Cape Horn Monument.
Following breakfast, the ship will navigate the narrow Murray Channel between Navarino and Hoste islands, dropping anchor at historic Wulaia Bay, one of the few places in the archipelago where the human history is just as compelling as the natural environment. Originally the site of one of the region’s largest Yámana aboriginal settlements, the bay was described by Charles Darwin and sketched by Captain FitzRoy in the 1830s, during their voyages on the HMS Beagle. This area is also renowned for its mesmerizing beauty and dramatic geography.
In the afternoon, you will visit the Australis-sponsored museum in the old radio station — which is especially strong on the Yámana people and European missionaries in the area. You will then have a choice of three hikes (of increasing degrees of difficulty) that ascend the heavily-wooded mountain behind the bay. The first is approximately 1.5-kilometers over flat terrain on marked trails along the coast. The second up a hill to a viewpoint 190 meters high. The more challenging option is a steep-sloped trek for three kilometers, reaching a height of 260 meters.
On all of these, you will be strolling through an enchanted Magellan forest of lengas, coigües, canelos, ferns, and other endemic fauna to reach a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the bay. Before leaving Wulaia Bay, be sure to drop a note into the wooden mail barrel inside the museum. These letters or postcards are meant to be hand delivered by future travelers, an ancient mariner tradition.
Day 5: Disembark in Ushuaia, Argentina + Fly Home
In the morning, the ship will sail into Argentine waters and dock in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. Following you last breakfast aboard, you will disembark the ship around 9:00 a.m., where you will be met by your private driver and transferred to the Malvinas Argentinas Ushuaia International Airport for your onward flight home.