Boasting the third largest ice mass on the planet, the vast Patagonian ice sheet that straddles the Andes mountains in South America dominates the landscape, ecology and geology of Patagonia. The impressive glacial systems that cut through the mountains make Southern Chile’s coastline a fantastic area to explore and photograph. It undoubtably makes up one of the world’s great remaining pristine and remote wilderness regions.
Embarking in the Southernmost city in the world Ushuaia, Argentina and boarding a purpose built polar expedition vessel, this journey of discovery will retrace Darwin’s epic voyage to the ‘edge of the world’. Helicopter flightseeing will enhance your experience further still, treating you to birds eye views of Chile’s stunning coastline.
The voyage North will traverse through a vast network of deep fjords and channels, past huge glaciers and remote coastal communities. Birdlife can be found in abundance on this passage, with new bird species likely to be spotted each day, from black-browed and gray headed albatross, and southern-giant petrels, to rare species such as Salvin’s Buller’s, wandering or royal albatros.
South American Sea Lions and Magellanic penguins are likely sightings on the Beagle Channel, whilst migrating whales can often be spotted along the Humboldt current, famed for being one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world, hence it is also a haven for birdlife.
One of the highlights of this epic voyage is a visit to the rugged, yet beautiful Torres del Paine National Park; home to some of South America’s best trekking routes and famed for its three iconic granite spires that raise out of the heart of the Paine Massif.
Whilst many of the beautiful landscapes can be observed from deck, zodiac cruises will enable passengers to approach glacier fronts and waterfalls and to gain closer encounters with wildlife and birdlife. Furthermore, visits to small coastal communities will provide an insight into the local traditions and way of life for the local people. The expedition expert guides will supplement the onshore walks with interesting facts and stories about these communities.
15 Day Sample Itinerary
A typical itinerary is illustrated below. All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and opportunities to see wildlife. The final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board. Flexibility is paramount for this truly pioneering Antarctic expedition.
Day 1: Arrive Buenos Aires
You may arrive in Buenos Aires at any time during Day 1 of your itinerary. Upon arriving in this splendid city, known for its architecture and rich European heritage, you will independently transfer to your group hotel (pre-expedition hotel night included in mandatory transfer package).
Day 2: Fly to Ushuaia & Embark
After an early breakfast at the hotel, the group will transfer to the airport and board a private charter flight to Ushuaia, Argentina. Upon arrival, you will be transferred from the airport to a central downtown location to have some time on your own to explore this quaint port town before making your way to the pier. After a late afternoon embarkation, you will sail along the historic Beagle Channel, which transects the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in the extreme south of South America.
Day 3: Cape Horn
As you begin your exploration of Chile’s southern extent, expect a new adventure every day. Though each expedition will be different, depending on the weather, the aim is to start your journey to the “edge of the earth” with a visit to historic Cape Horn (Cabo de Hornos). At the southernmost point of the Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”) archipelago, the most isolated place in the Americas, this steep, rocky headland on Hornos Island marks the northern boundary of the famous Drake Passage, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. From the 1700s to the early 1900s, prior to the opening of the Panama Canal, this cape was part of a major global trade route.
If sea and weather conditions allow, you may go ashore for a hike out to the lighthouse, the tiny Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”) Chapel, and the albatross-shaped monument honouring the many mariners who lost their lives attempting to “round the Horn.” Atop the windswept promontory, pause for a moment to take in the panoramic view and to enjoy the peaceful solitude that can only be found at one of the most southern stretches of land in the world. You can even have your passport stamped by the family operating the lighthouse!
Day 4: Diego Ramirez Islands
Your ship will then continue cruising farther south, to the Diego Ramírez Islands, the most southern point of South America and one of the least-explored places on the planet. This small archipelago was actually thought to be the southernmost land mass in the world when it was discovered in 1619 by the Spanish Garcia de Nodal expedition. Named after the expedition’s cosmographer, the archipelago held this distinction for 156 years, until Capt. James Cook’s discovery of the South Sandwich Islands in 1775. Weather permitting, you’ll Zodiac cruise around these tussock-grass-covered islands to admire the abundant birdlife. A designated Important Bird Area, and part of the recently-designated Diego Ramirez Islands and Drake Passage Marine Park, the archipelago is home to millions of breeding seabirds, and an exceptional place for birdwatching. Binoculars in hand, birders will marvel at the sight of multiple species of albatross (these islands are the southernmost albatross breeding ground in the world), including black-browed albatross, shy albatross and grey-headed albatross. Sightings of dolphins, South American fur seals, and rockhopper, macaroni and Magellanic penguins are also possible here.
Day 5: Pia and Garibaldi Glaciers, Glacier Alley
As the ship sails back north toward the southern edge of Tierra del Fuego, stimulating presentations by your Expedition Team will enrich your knowledge of the glacial systems, geology, environment, wildlife and storied history of the region as you retrace Charles Darwin’s historic journey through the Beagle Channel, a 150-mile (240 km) strait separating Tierra del Fuego’s main island from several smaller islands. Named after Captain Robert FitzRoy’s famous ship on which Charles Darwin was a passenger, the channel presents plenty of photo ops to capture seabirds hovering overhead and dramatic vistas of jagged-peaked mountains and massive tidewater glaciers. Rugged and untouched, this magnificent landscape is as starkly beautiful as it was when Darwin first laid eyes on it in 1833.
Glacier Alley (as it’s nicknamed) is one of the most spectacular ship passages in Tierra del Fuego. To honour the European countries that first explored the region, the glaciers have taken their names—España (Oblicuo), Romanche, Alemania (Roncagli), Francia, Italia, and Holland Glaciers.
Situated within the protected boundary of Alberto de Agostini National Park, both Pia and Garibaldi Glaciers sit at the head of picturesque ice-choked fjords that offer jaw-dropping views. Located within the Cordillera Darwin (Darwin Mountain Range), the impressive Pia Glacier extends from the soaring mountaintops down into the sea. A short hike to a lookout point provides superb vistas of the glacier and mountains.
Surrounded by pristine sub-Antarctic forests, Garibaldi Glacier flows from a separate mountain, providing equally exceptional views, with the Darwin Mountains rising dramatically out of the fjord. You can explore this area by Zodiac, including a beautiful glacial waterfall nearby.
As you navigate the fjords, your Expedition Team will keep watch for Andean condors, massive birds rivalled in wingspan by only the wandering albatross.
Day 6: Dainelli (Aguila) Glacier
Located at the end of a tranquil lagoon surrounded by lush sub-Antarctic forests in Agostini Sound, Dainelli Glacier (sometimes called Aguila—Spanish for “Eagle” Glacier) is a unique sight, as it appears to flow over rolling hills rather than mountains. Cruising aboard a Zodiac toward the blue-tinged wall of ice, conditions permitting, you will be humbled by the wonder of nature’s power. You can hope to venture ashore for an easy hike along the beach to get a more intensive look at the glacier and surrounding mountains.
Day 7: Cruising the Chilean Fjords
Continuing north, you’ll navigate through a remote network of coastal fjords and channels, including time spent venturing out into the Pacific Ocean. Your Expedition Team will prepare for the adventures that await, helping you further understand the glacial systems, as well as the flora and fauna that can be found in this part of Chile. Take a moment, as you glide past soaring snow-capped peaks, to contemplate the mariners of long ago who travelled these same sheltered passageways and were rewarded with the same wondrous sights.
Day 8 - 9: Puerto Natales and Torres Del Paine National Park
Sailing the turquoise waters of the extraordinary stretch of coastline leading to the small port of Puerto Natales, you’ll meander through a mesmerizing maze of deep, windswept fjords, narrow channels and isolated bays, with an eye toward the rugged landscape, unique wildlife and impressive glaciers that tumble from the towering mountains into the icy waters below, along with the imperial and king cormorants, South American terns, black-necked swans and southern wigeons (Chiloé wigeons) that frequent the fjord.
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most stunning wilderness areas in South America, and Puerto Natales is the gateway. This enormous park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, so designated for both its natural wonders and ancient human history and named for the three granite peaks that tower above the glacier-fed lakes. Enjoy a full day of hiking tailored to your preferred activity level and stopping at lookouts in the park, followed by a traditional Patagonian barbecue in the afternoon.
Taking your expedition onto dry land for another full day, you will also visit a working Patagonian estancia (“ranch”), founded in 1891 by Scottish immigrants. Here you will learn about Patagonian sheep farming in a historic pastoral setting. Inhabiting the surrounding grasslands are the ostrich-like rhea, and guanacos, a wild relative of the domestic llama. Complete your cultural experience with a lunch of barbecued lamb al palo (“on a stick”) and return to the ship in the early evening.
Day 10: Canal de las Montañas
Cruising the calm, crystal-clear waters of the Canal de las Montañas (“Channel” or “Fjord of the Mountains”) will leave you breathless. You’ll be awed by the amazing series of waterfalls cascading down between the jagged peaks that rise up sharply on either side of the narrow, 41-mile (66 km) long channel dotted with glaciers, five of which spill dramatically into the water. Here, impressive ice fields glisten, and steeply sloped glaciers exceed elevations over 8,235 feet (2,510 meters). The channel also provides an ideal place to put our Zodiacs in the water for more detailed exploring or going ashore for a hike to scenic viewpoints. If you’re feeling more adventurous, perhaps you’ll treat yourself to an optional kayaking excursion (extra cost), an exceptional opportunity to experience the channel from a special perspective.
Day 11: Tuckers Islets
A series of small islands and rocky outcrops in Almirantazgo Sound (“Admiralty Sound”), a small fjord off the Strait of Magellan, Tuckers Islets is a superb location for viewing penguins. Though landing here is prohibited, a Zodiac excursion will take you very near a pebble beach to view a colony of 4,000-plus breeding Magellanic penguins, conditions permitting. Named for Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, whose crew sighted the charming creatures in 1520 during the first circumnavigation of the globe, the species is native to the region, and the sight of them in their burrows, lounging on the beach or waddling in and out of the water, is one you won’t forget. If we’re fortunate, we may also see Chilean skuas, Magellanic cormorants (rock shags), imperial cormorants (king shags), oystercatchers, kelp geese, or even dolphins.
Day 12: Ainsworth Bay and Islote Albatros
Continuing your exploration of Almirantazgo Sound, the plan is to explore ashore at Ainsworth Bay, one of the most picturesque and pristine places in Patagonia. Surrounded by untouched sub-Antarctic forest, this isolated bay is a protected area within the border of Alberto de Agostini National Park. It hosts abundant birdlife, so you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled as we cruise in the Zodiacs. Hiking options will be available for all fitness levels, affording panoramic views of Marinelli Glacier, Marinelli Fjord and the surrounding Darwin mountain range.
In 2003, a small breeding colony of black-browed albatross was documented on Islote Albatros (“Albatross Islet”), located in Admiralty Sound. Normally albatross are seabirds, nesting and feeding in coastal waters and open ocean; this the first record of a colony of this species in inland waters, feeding mainly in fjords and channels.
Day 13: Bahia Brookes
Another excellent spot for glacier exploring in Almirantazgo Sound is Bahia Brookes (Brookes Bay), where, conditions permitting, you’ll go ashore by Zodiac. The bay offers ample chances for closer views of a number of waterfalls and glaciers, including the calving North Brookes Glacier, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the towering Darwin mountain range. Amid the serene silence of this icy wonderland, the only sound you may hear is the powerful roar of ice breaking off and crashing into the frigid waters below. This is also a great location for viewing ice fall deposits, which form reconstituted glaciers, and kame (silt and sediment deposits).
Day 14: Marta Island
In the middle of the Strait of Magellan, Marta Island (Isla Marta) is home to abundant birdlife and more than one thousand Patagonian (South American) sea lions. To protect the wildlife, shore landings are not possible here, but you can hope to circumnavigate the island, providing numerous opportunities to observe and photograph the colony from a short distance, in the comfort of a Zodiac. Called lobos marinos (“sea wolves”) by local Chileans, these giant pinnipeds—males can weigh over 700 pounds/320 kg—form quite a noisy group as each sea lion vies for a choice spot of coastline. As you cruise by, sightings of imperial cormorants, skuas, southern gulls, Antarctic pigeons—and if we’re lucky, dolphins—are also possible.
Day 15: Disembark in Punta Arenas and Fly to Santiago, Chile
After an adventurous two weeks of exploration, you’ll say goodbye to your Expedition Team and disembark in Punta Arenas, to be transferred to the airport for your charter flight to Santiago, where you are welcome to continue on your own travels or connect to your homeward flights.
Buenos Aires - Ushuaia - Cape Horn - Chilean Fjords - Punta Arenas - Santiago (15 Days)
Modern expedition ship: 199 passengers
Included Activities: Scenic helicopter flights
Optional Activities: Kayaking, Stand-Up Paddleboarding
Includes: free Expedition Jacket
Transfer Package (not included): 1 pre-voyage hotel night, charter flights Buenos Aires-Ushuaia / Punta Arenas-Santiago
Bilingual Voyage: English & French
- Leadership throughout your voyage by experienced Expedition Leaders, including shore landings and other activities
- All meals and snacks onboard
- Tea, coffee and water onboard
- All Zodiac transfers and cruising as per the daily program
- All shore landings as per the daily program
- Shipboard accommodation with daily housekeeping
- A pair of waterproof expedition boots on loan for landings and Zodiac cruising excursions
- Hair dryer and bathrobes in every cabin
- All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program
- All luggage handling aboard the ship
Ultramarine Voyages also include:
- Soft drinks and juices on board throughout your voyage
- Select beer and wine during dinner
- Formal and informal presentations by Expedition Team and guest speakers as scheduled
- A photographic journal documenting the expedition
- A waterproof / windproof parka to keep
- Emergency Evacuation insurance for all passengers to a maximum benefit of USD $500,000 per person
- One 10- to 15-minute helicopter flightseeing excursion (weather and logistics permitting)
- Torres del Paine National Park entrance fee and ground transfers
- Estancia visit and ground transfers
- Barbecue lunches ashore during Puerto Natales/Torres del Paine excursion days
- International airfare
- Mandatory Transfer Package (Ultramarine voyages)
- Passport and applicable visa expenses
- Chilean reciprocity fee, if applicable
- Government arrival and departure taxes not mentioned
- Meals ashore unless otherwise specified in the itinerary
- Baggage, cancellation, interruption and medical travel insurance—strongly recommended
- Excess-baggage fees on international flights
- Mandatory waterproof pants for Zodiac landing and cruising excursions, or any other gear not mentioned
- Laundry, bar, spa services and other personal charges, unless specified
- Phone and Internet charges
- Voluntary gratuity at the end of the voyage for expedition staff and shipboard crew
- Additional overnight accommodation
- Arrival and departure transfers, except where explicitly stated
- Adventure Options not listed in Included Activities
A fuel surcharge of £16 / €18 per day may apply on certain departures should the price of Brent crude rise above US$120 barrel 90 days before the voyage
Single occupancy price is between 1.6 - 1.85 times the per person cabin price depending upon date and vessel. However this does not apply if you are prepared to share a cabin with another passenger of the same gender.