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South America

South American Cruise Tips

Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

A South American cruise can last from three days to 66 days. Yes, some cruises that tour this giant continent last that long.

Anyone who isn’t interested in a 66-day cruise that costs $45,000 instead should start with three basic planning tips:

  1. The length of the cruise.
  2. The cost of the cruise.
  3. The cruise destinations.

The third tip is especially important because the South American coastline is nearly 16,000 miles long. Anyone who drove through South America from Caracas, Venezuela, in the far north to Ushuala, Tierra del Fuego, in the far south would drive more than 6,000 miles and need 130 hours to get there. That’s assuming good weather and good roads.

Some travelers may think the distance is daunting, as a direct flight from the East Coast to the West Coast takes about 10 hours. For North American and European visitors, the lengthy flight time means that they are more likely to take cruises that last longer than the usual seven nights.

Cruise planners have four basic options for their South America cruise destinations:

  • The east coast, especially Brazil and Argentina
  • The west coast, especially Peru and Chile
  • The Amazon River
  • Round the Horn

Cruisers will experience majestic mountain peaks, fjords that stretch as far as the eye can see, bustling cosmopolitan cities, indigenous historic cultures and the beauty of tropical rainforests.

A random search on a major travel booking site showed 220 South American cruises over a 12-month period.

  • 1 cruise out of Salvador, Brazil, lasted only two nights.
  • 20 cruises lasted 3 to 5 nights
  • 130 cruises lasted 6 to 9 nights
  • 29 cruises lasted 10 to 14 nights
  • 40 cruises lasted 15 or more nights
      Cruises lasting six to nine nights is the most common cruise length for all major cruise regions on the planet. But South America is rare for the number of cruises that last 15 or more nights. Anyone who chooses a South American cruise should expect an adventure. Once the ship leaves the major port cities, civilization will be in the rear view mirror and Mother Nature takes over.

      Destinations and Ports of Call

      East Coast

      Buenos Aires
      Buenos Aires. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

      Eight-night east coast cruises are especially popular because they include world-famous cities and ports of call such as Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

      Cruise ships often embark from Santos, Brazil, which is near Sao Paulo, and either travel north to Rio de Janeiro or south to Buenos Aires.

      Longer cruises that go south will visit ports in Uruguay such as Montevideo. Ten to fourteen night cruises will visit multiple ports in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

      West Coast

      Most of the west coast cruises last at least 10 to 14 days if not longer. Common departure ports include San Antonio, Chile. They may go around the southern tip of the continent and up as north as Uruguay, Argentina and the Falkland Islands.

      The Amazon

      An Amazon river cruise usually begins in Manaus, which is the major metropolis for the Amazon region, and sails to Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro.

      The main ports of call for this itinerary focus mostly on Brazil with stops in Santarem, Boca da Valeria, Recife, Belém, Rio de Janeiro, and Montevideo. Travelers will also get a taste of Uruguay and Argentina when the cruise begins in Punta del Este and ends in Buenos Aires.

      Round the Horn

      This cruise is at least 14 nights, beginning in Buenos Aires and ending in Valparaiso. The horn, which is the most famous part of the trip, is the southernmost tip of South America. Antarctica is just 1,000 miles farther south.

      The ports are fairly limited in this region, as the majority of the areas are under-developed. Ships will stop in Puerto Madryn, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Puerto Montt and Valparaiso.

      Tourist Attractions

      The main tourist attraction for the Amazon River cruise is the jungle and nature. Cruises will offer a range of tours including wildlife excursions and canoe rides. During stops in Brazilian cities, there are a number of attractions available.

      One example is an excursion to Olinda, a quaint town and World Heritage site. In Rio de Janeiro, tourists enjoy visiting Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer Statue.

      There are options of half day or full day tours. Boca de Valeria is a colorful village with an abundance of wildlife. Visitors will get to see wild monkeys, beautiful birds and inhabitants of this Amazon region.

      A Round the Horn cruise allows travelers to experience Patagonia, with the major draws being the penguin colonies, killer whales and natural glaciers.

      Valparaiso, Chile. Source: Wikimedia

      Noteworthy Shopping

      Some noteworthy shopping experiences include:

      Valparaiso - Los Dominicos is a craftsman’s village with over 150 shops and stalls. Shoppers can sort through artwork, jewelry and crafts.

      Buenos Aires - Calle Florida is 12 blocks of nonstop shopping. Designer boutiques displaying clothes, jewelry and leather goods can all be had here.

      Montevideo - Avenida 18 de Julio is the main shopping thoroughfare with furniture, artifacts, jewelry and knickknacks.

      When to Go/ Weather

      Since South America is in the Southern Hemisphere, its seasons are opposite of the northern hemisphere.

      For this reason, the cruise season for this area is typically November to May. No matter when visitors choose to go, the weather will vary.

      The farther south ships travel, the colder it will be. Even cruising in December (the beginning of summer), cruise visitors may see snow-capped mountain peaks.

      Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
      June 29, 2021

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