Shared by the southern halves of Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is one of the most remote and remarkable landscapes on our planet. Cruising this rugged landscape is by far the most relaxing way of seeing it, not to mention it allows you to reach glaciers ad ice-fields that are inaccessible to hikers.
Like most travels, planning your perfect Patagonia cruise can be a stressful time. What itinerary should you pick? What wildlife will I see? How long is the cruise? When should we sail? What will we see? All these questions can lead to a headache if you're not clear on what is on offer.
This is what our Patagonia cruise guide is for. Below we have provided a comprehensive overview on all the questions you need to consider when choosing your cruise. We have a particular focus on expedition cruises, however, we also cover the longer main line itineraries that visit Patagonia. Please use our quicklinks below if you know what section you wish to read.
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Located on the far southern tip of South America, Patagonia is a land untouched by humans. The border between Chile and Argentina splits the region in two. The western coastline faces the Pacific Ocean, whilst the Eastern side faces the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the region has been inhabited for thousands of years, Patagonia is exceptionally remote and towns and few and far between. Punta Arenas and Ushuaia are the two most noticeable, and most cruises begin from either of these cities. Ushuaia lays claim to being the most southerly city in the world and almost all Antarctic cruises depart from here.
Patagonia in recent years has become a very popular cruising destination thanks to its outstanding scenery and wildlife. Cruise itineraries visit remote channels, untouched islands, majestic fjords, and glacial lakes, all the while snow-capped peaks and granite monoliths stand as a dramatic backdrop.
For wildlife lovers there is no shortage of species. You'll see elephant seal colonies, migrating whales, Magellanic penguins, llama, foxes, soaring condors and much more. Your guides will be very knowledgable on the best places to spot these creatures and will give you all the information you could ever want during special zodiac and hiking trips.
The infamous weather of the region also adds to the fun. Places like Cape Horn and Tierra Del Fuego have ruined many expeditions of old, especially in Winter when the seas are at their roughest. Nowadays, cruises sail through protected bays and channels, safely navigating the labyrinth of small islands and inlets.
Read on to find out more about this stunning part of the world and when best to visit.
Because Patagonia is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are revered. Summer occurs from November through to March and this is the main cruise season.
Because of the infamous seas around Cape Horn and the unpredictability of the weather, cruises do not operate during Winter.
Even during Summer the weather is not guaranteed, with high winds and thunderstorms being a fairly common attribute to the region.
Temperatures far down south are never that warm and you'll need some proper Winter jackets! Temperatures tend to fluctuate between 41°F and 59°F (5°C and 15°C) during Summer whilst the Winter period can easily get down to freezing.
Some cruises do operate during the shoulder months of the summer around October and April, but these are rarer. Early Spring is actually a great time to witness the whale migration and the colonies of elephant seals and sea lions.
During November the penguins begin to come ashore and make their nests. This is also a great time to see the wild flowers blooming in the hills. The high summer period during December and January is the perfect time to see penguin chicks. This is also the period when the daylight hours are at their longest, making it ideal for photography.
The later part of the Summer season is the best time for what watching. You'll also see adult penguins bringing food to their chicks. Temperatures will begin to drop during the later months.
The ship you choose to sail on will always have a great impact on your cruise experience.
Because of the notorious weather and (occasional) rough seas, small vessels rarely visit the fjords of Patagonia.
In fact, as far as expedition cruises go, there are only 1 or 2 vessels that offer the Patagonia itinerary. Below is more detailed information on what ship types are available.
Expedition ships have been specifically designed for adventure itineraries. These ship are often ice-strengthened and can withstand the harshest of environments.
There are several expedition vessels and luxury expedition vessels that cruise Patagonia's fjord and bays. Australis own both the Ventus and the Stella. Both ships are fantastic and offer excellent cabin space and public facilities. You'll also get plenty of zodiac trips and shore landings due their relatively small size of roughly 220 passengers.
There also several luxury expedition ship such as the Le Boreal, Silver Explorer, and the National Geographic Orion. These ships are slightly bigger, meaning they can't make as many shore landings. However, the luxury and cabin space aboard more than makes up for this fact.
Some of the main line cruise companies such as Princess and Viking also offer passengers the chance to see Patagonia.
However, these cruise are always offered as part of a longer itinerary. The whole itinerary generally departs from Bueno Aires and finishes in Santiago (Valparaiso) or the other way around.
These are fantastic cruise as you get to experience the entire coastline of both Chile and Argentina, giving you a fantastic insight into the countries.
Saying this, these ship are enormous and will not be able to visit many of the most beautify fjords in Patagonia. You will also get far less time ashore. The facilities onboard are fantastic though.
The length of your Patagonia cruise itinerary and cabin choice are the two main factors when it comes to cost.
Although cruise prices can be high, once aboard, there are no extra costs unless you wish to do a special activity such as kayaking. Meals, accommodation and drinks are all paid for.
The cheapest option you have is a twin or triple cabin on a short 5 day itinerary. Prices for these generally start around $1,400 and go up to around $3,500 for a suite room.
For longer itineraries such as the 9 day itinerary offered by Australis, prices start at $2,500 and can reach in excess of $7,000 for the top suite.
If you want a top luxury expedition ship such as the National Geographic Orion or the Silver Explorer, then you'll have to pay upwards of $5,500 for a basic cabin on a 9 day itinerary. For a suite you should expect to pay at least $10,000.
For large main line cruises like Princess, Regent and Viking prices vary hugely. You can pick up a 30 night Cape Horn itinerary with Princess for under $4,000. However, most of these longer itineraries start around $8,000 dopending on the ship and it's itinerary.
Beside the main cruise cost, there are also a number of other cost factors to consider.
Most of the large cruise liners will charge a supplement fee for solo travelers which is something to keep in mind.
Expedition ships will try and find you another solo traveler of the same sex to share with. If not, you may also have to pay a supplement fee.
Depending on where your cruise begins, you will have to consider flights. For example, most flights from the U.S to Punta Arenas cost around $1,000 return.
This is something you will need to budget for.
This really depends on where you live, but you may have to pay an entry fee. You may also need vaccinations. Both these things will add cost to your cruise.
You will also need to consider expenses such as gratuities to ship’s crew, port tax, and National Park fees.
Many travellers and photographers visit Patagonia to witness the amazing wildlife that the region offers. Although not as tame the wildlife you would find in Antarctica or the Galapagos, many of the creatures here are abundant easily spotted.
The fjords and inlets are a haven for species of whale, penguin and sals and you're essentially guaranteed signings of each during your cruise, regardless of the itinerary. Below is a list of the star species and where to see them.
There are four species of whale found in Patagonia - the orca, Humpback, Southern Right, and Blue whale. The latter is quite rare. Humpacks are the most commonly seen.
All whale species can be seen anywhere, however, the Valdez Peninsula is the best place in the world to see migrating southern right whales from June to December.
Both Southern elephant seals and sea lions are found in great numbers throughout Patagonia's shorelines. Very cute creatures, these playful animals are great to watch.
Colonies can both be found on along th coast of Valdez. Also along certain coastlines of Tierra Del Fuego.
Both the Magellanic Penguin and the king penguin is seen in Patagonia. Watching the penguins come ashore each night through the rough waves is a wonderful sight.
Magellanic Penguins are commonly seen throughout, but large colonies can be seen on Magdalena Island near Punta Arenas, whilst king penguins can only be seen in Tierra del Fuego.
There are two species of dolphin found in the waters around Patagonia - the Dusky Dolphins and Commerson’s Dolphins. The former is particularly acrobatic!
Both species can literally pop up anywhere. They will often find you, taking a quick ride on the bow wave of your ship.
There are two types of fees spotted frequently. These are the Patagonian grey fox and the larger fueguian fox. The former is much more distinctive thanks to its red coat and size.
Both species can be found throughout Chile and occasionally Tierra Del Fuego.
The llama's souther cousins, Guanaco are seen on most cruises grazing in the hills. Very inquisitive creatures they can often be spotted in groups of up to 400 individuals.
Spotted in large groups throughout Patagonia. Most commonly seen in Tierra Del Fuego thanks to a lack of predator.
Probably Patagonia's most notorious creature. The puma is rarely seen sadly. The largest land carnivore in Patagonia and the southernmost feline in the South America continent.
The best place to see the puma is both Torres del Paine National Park, and Aysen . The puma likes remote areas.
A large and somewhat fluffy variation, the Patagonian armadillo is occasionally seen digging deep burrows and tunnels in the daylight hours. Very cute creature!
The armadillo likes areas with soft soil where it can dig easily. Most frequently seen in the lakes region of Torres del Paine.
The Andean condor boasts the largest wingspan of any bird on the planet! You'll know it as soon as soon as you see it thanks to its epic size in the air.
Although best spotted in the Colca Canyon in Peru, these birds can be seen overhead anywhere in Patagonia.
Black-browed Albatross are a favourite of many cruise goers. Watching them take off is often quite tense due to the enormous size of these birds.
Although these birds are more commonly seen in the Falkland Islands, they can also be seen in large numbers on the islands of Tierra Del Fuego.
The Huemel deer are the national symbol of Chile. Despite this, they are also one of the rarest creatures on earth with only about 100 remaining.
Tierra Del Fuego and Parque Patagonia are the only places you can see these deer.
Weighing up to 9 kilograms, the Patagonian mara is one of the largest rodents on the planet! It's also one of the cutest creatures you'll see.
Endemic to Argentina but can be also be found throughout all of Patagonia. Best seen at the start of the season.
Below we have listed the three main activities to do during your Patagonian cruise - hiking, wildlife watching, and photography. However, these are the options when you aboard your ship.
For those who have a bit more time before or after your trip, there is a wide range of activities available such as horse riding, kayaking, four-wheel driving and climbing.
During your cruise you'll make numerous shore landings to explore the landscape further. You'll take part in gentle hikes up into the hills. You'll get unbelievable views and give your legs a nice little workout.
As you probably know by now, the wildlife of Patagonia is absolutely magnificent. Sit out on deck with a good pair of binoculars and wait for the whales and dolphins to arrive. You'll also spot plenty of penguins and seals.
Photography lovers will be in their element during a Patagonian cruise. Not only will you be able to get close shots of the varied wildlife, you'll also get beautiful landscape shots. If you're really lucky, you'll get both in the same picture!
The point where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. The water around Cape Horn are famously dangerous and many a sailor has lost his life here. Nowadays a manned lighthouse guides ships in the night and offers a unique landing point for many cruises.
Get up close and personal with one of the biggest glaciers in the Tierra Del Fuego region. If you stay long enough, you may be lucky enough to see and hear the glacier calving. More likely in the high summer period when temperatures are at their warmest.
This bustling city is the start or end port for many Patagonia cruises. A lovely city with a stunning backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the city lies along the Beagle Channel. The high street offers great shops and there is a nearby penguin colony.
Ainsworth Bay offers visitors the chance to explore a sub-polar forest, one of only a handful in the world. You can also see the numerous bird life and a large colony of southern elephant seals from your zodiac. Take a hike up to the top to see epic views of Marinelli Glacier and the Darwin Mountains.
Wulaia Bay was made famous in 1859 by the uprising led by an indigenous Yamana man better known as Jemmy Button. He was captured by Captain Robert FitzRoy and taken to England to be "civilized". The Australis-sponsored museum in the old radio station tells the famous story in detail.
More than 4,000 penguins call Tucker Islets home. Here you can witness the penguins giving birth, feeding their young and forever tending to their nests. There are also huge bird colonies here including Chilean skuas, cormorants and oystercatchers. Although you can't land, your zodiac will get very close.
Although Patagonia is a very large region with numerous fjords and beautiful inlets, there is actually very few itineraries to choose from.
This actually makes choosing an itinerary quite simple, although you don't get as many options obviously. Below we have laid out the three main itineraries to choose from. If you have your heart set on visiting Antarctica, there are also a number of itineraries that include both the Antarctic Peninsula and Patagonia.
Australis offer a number of 5 day itineraries aboard either of their expedition ships. These itineraries are a great way to explore the fjords if your on a budget or don't have too much time to spare. The 5 day itineraries start from Punta Arenas and finish in Ushuaia (or the reverse). Although quite short you'll still visit the major hotspots, including Cape Horn, Ainsworth Bay, Tucker's Islets, Pia Glacier, Glacier Alley, and Wulaia Bay.
Once again, Australis are the leading operator when it comes to slightly longer expedition cruises. The 9 day itineraries tend to be round trips from Punta Arenas or Ushaia. Like the 5 day itineraries, these cruises visit all the major highlights of the region such as Cape Horn, Ainsworth Bay etc. However, they also visit many other glaciers including Aguila Glacier, Agostini Glacier, and Condor Glacier.
Many luxury expedition cruises offer 12-14 day itineraries, whilst main line cruises offer far longer. The expedition itineraries often begin in Santiago and finish Punta Arenas, visiting places like Staten Island and the Chilean Fjords. The longer itineraries offered by large cruise liners begin in Buenos Aires and finish in Santiago. These range from 16 - 30 days in length.
Even though you'll be traveling during the Summer period, Patagonia will still be quite cold and windy.
When you consider that much of your time will be spent on deck watching wildlife, the weather can feel even colder!
Because of this you'll need to bring some warm-weather gear with you. You'll also need the right footwear for wet landings. Below we have listed some key items. For more detailed information, please hit the button.
Clothing: The weather will be fairly cold, so bring a good fleece and warm jacket - make sure it's water and windproof.
Headgear: Your head will lose loads of heat, so we suggest wearing a good beanie. You could use your jacket hood, but this restricts movement and viewing.
Sunglasses: Then sea can be very bright, even when the sun is nit out. This will make wildlife watching very difficult! Bring a good pair of UV sunglasses.
Footwear: You'll probably be making a few wet landings, so it's always good to bring some muck boots with you. Make sure you also have some great hiking boots!
Bags and Daypacks: A good backpack will be a lifesaver. You'll need a camera, binoculars, snacks, phone etc.
Important Accessories: Always remember the little things like water bottles, ear plugs, kindle, plug adaptor, document holder etc.
Insurance is highly recommended on all cruises to Patagonia - expedition boats will not let you board without proof of adequate cover. Please use the quick calculator below to get a quote with our recommended specialist. For a detailed page on cruise insurance, click here.
Below is a short video by Australis, demonstrating some of the delights to be seen aboard a Patagonia cruise.