A parka? You’ve got to be kidding. This was my first thought when I saw the packing list for the cruise we were taking. I knew we were going to southern Chili and Argentina, but really? A parka? This was not my idea of a vacation cruise. I also saw we would be getting into open Zodiacs (inflatable boats) for the daily excursions in our parkas. This was one reluctant cruiser!
After a week touring Chili including Santiago, Valparaiso, a winery, and three days in Patagonia at the five star Singular Patagonia, we were headed to the tip of South America for this cruise. The boarding process for this relatively small ship went smoothly, and we were soon enjoying a cocktail and were ready for a one of a kind adventure. I was trying to keep a positive attitude about the weather.
The channels of the Strait of Magellan are pretty restricted, so the water for almost the entire cruise was smooth. The ship’s crew said this was mostly the case down here, but the weather is really changeable, so no guarantees. We only had one evening for about an hour when the ship was in open water, and for that hour, we had quite a ride!
The first day, we visited Ainsworth Bay and Tucker’s Islet. In the two and a half hour walk on this island, our guides explained about the ecosystem of this part of the world, and we saw virgin forests and local wildlife. In the short time we were on the Islet, we had some snow, a light rain and some sun and temps in the 50’s. Like they told us – the weather is changeable!
On the second day, we went to Pia Glacier and visited this massive river of ice up close. It was an awesome sight. The crew even chipped some 400 year old ice from the glacier to cool a good glass of scotch, which was a very nice touch! You’re really close to the glacier and when it calves (chunks of ice breaking loose and falling into the channel) the sight is really impressive. After visiting the Glacier, the ship cruised through a channel they call Glacier Alley. We cruised by five glaciers while enjoying dinner. Some were hanging glaciers (glaciers that don’t reach all the way to the channel) with water falls from melt falling into the channel.
On the third day, we visited Magdalena Island. This was a really cold day, but thanks to the packing list, we were prepared. Magdalena Island is home to a large colony of Magellanic Penguins. We stayed in the Zodiac for this encounter, but spending time with these unique birds was a highlight of the trip. The penguins mostly ignored us, but one seemed curious and came really close to our Zodiacs. No touching allowed, but the close encounter was very rare according to our guide.
The fourth day was also a highlight, as this was the day to land at Cape Horn. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing at over 30 mph, and we couldn’t land. Surprisingly, the seas out from shore weren’t too rough, so we were not uncomfortable. We did get some good pictures of the Cape, and even though we couldn’t land, we were still there, and that felt special on its own.
The last day was a visit to Wulaia Bay. There is a museum there in an old radio station dedicated to the native Yamana people and the early missionaries in the area. You can take a climb to an overlook that gives a great view of the beautiful surrounding area. The fitter you are, the higher you can climb to get the best views.
The crew of the Stella Australis is amazing! The crew was 100% Chilean and most spoke at least some English. The food was good and plentiful. And drinks are included in the fare, so there is no big bar tab to settle at the end of the cruise. The ship has 100 cabins with a maximum of 210 passengers so you will get to know at least some of your fellow adventurers.
Besides the incredible scenery and wildlife, there were two other highlights worth sharing. For five days (except for about 15 minutes) there was no internet or cell service, which meant we were really able to detach, and in today’s world, that is really liberating! Also, for the entire five days we saw no other ships or tourists. These places are really remote, which makes the trip seem that much more special.
If you’re looking to get away from the everyday grind and go somewhere where the word vacation really lives up to its name, then this trip is for you. And by the way – I’m glad I brought my parka.