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Cruises

Australis Darwin’s Route from Punta Arenas

Argentina, Chile, Patagonia

9 days

Summary

Departing from Punta Arenas in Chile, Australis Cruise -Darwin’s Route Punta Arenas to Punta Arenas voyage-  retraces the route of Charles Darwin when he travelled through the Fuegian Archipelago. This adventurous nine-day cruise includes legendary Cape Horn, historic Wulaia Bay and stunning Glacier Alley. A land excursion to Tuckers and Magdalena islands will allow you to see the penguins up close, while Zodiacs will let us approach the spectacular fjords that harbour Pía and Águila glaciers. Along the way, you’ll also encounter Patagonia’s massive ice fields, lush sub-polar forests, and secluded beaches.

This Patagonia cruise offers several adventurous and informative shore excursions to discover Patagonia’s incredible flora, fauna, and geology.  All are undertaken in trusty Zodiacs, inflatable boats that allow exploration of narrow fjords and shallow bays where larger vessels cannot venture. Zodiacs are also perfect for landing on secluded islands, rocky beaches, and small piers.

In addition to learning about the history and nature of the Fuegian Archipelago, shore excursions allow stretching your legs on guided hikes to secluded waterfalls and the bottom of tidewater glaciers, along pristine beaches and rocky shores, and through the ancient sub-polar forest. During the excursions, whether from the Zodiac boats or on foot you will be able to observe and photographic the marvellous array of animals that live along the waterways of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Elephant and leopard seals, Andean condors and Caracara falcons, thousands of penguins and Albatross and scores of other bird species.

This itinerary also runs in reverse, or you could take the 5-day cruise.

About the vessels

The twin vessels Stella Australis and Ventus Australis are awe-inspiring adventure cruise ships. The vessels, which were constructed in 2010 & 2017 respectively, consist of 100 total cabins and can hold up to 210 passengers each. Enjoy the comfort of cabins that provide you with incredible ocean views and lavish decor. Australis cruises offer a relaxed stay while providing breathtaking sights from the decks. Indulge in first-class Chile travel onboard the Stella or Ventus Australis Cruises. Wine and dine, mix and mingle, and enjoy the fabulous entertainment on your Patagonia vacation.

Highlights

  • Explore pristine Chilean national parks and ice-capped volcanoes
  • Discover Patagonia’s unrivalled sea life including the majestic King Penguin
  • Marvel at the Chilean fjords’ breath-taking glaciers
  • Follow Darwin’s historic footsteps to the “End of the Earth”

Inclusions

  • Accommodation in selected cabin abroad the MV Stella Australis or MV Ventus Australis
  • All meals and open bar including wines, beverages and liquor
  • Shore excursions with English speaking guide
  • Onboard entertainment and lectures

ITINERARY

Day 1 Punta Arenas/Cruise

Board the Stella Australis or Ventus Australis at 6pm. After a welcoming toast and introduction of captain and crew, the ship departs for one of the remotest corners of planet Earth. During the night, we cross the Strait of Magellan and enter the labyrinth of channels that define the southern extreme of Patagonian. The twinkling lights of Punta Arenas gradually fade into the distance as we enter the Whiteside Canal between Darwin Island and Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego.

Day 2 Ainsworth Bay/Cruise

By dawn the ship is sailing up Admiralty Sound (Seno Almirantazgo), 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. We go ashore at Ainsworth Bay, which harbours copious bird life and a colony of southern elephant seals which can sometimes be spotted from the Zodiacs. Two guided excursions are available today. One is along the edge of a stream, peat bog and beaver habitat 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, navigate to Tucker Islets. After lunch, 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, give birth and 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. During September and April (when the penguins live elsewhere) this excursion is replaced by a short walk to a glacier at nearby stunning Brookes Bay.

Day 3 Pia Glacier – Glacier Alley/Cruise

Overnight we 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, Stella Australis tacks eastward and enters the Beagle Channel again. By morning we are entering Pia Fjord and boarding the Zodiacs for a shore excursion to Pia Glacier. After disembarking we take a short hike to gain a panoramic view of the spectacular glacier, which extends from the mountaintops down to the sea or a longer much more difficult walk up a lateral moraine of the old Pia Glacier.
Back on board the ship, we continue east along the Beagle Channel through an area called Glacier Alley. The passage features several impressive tidewater glaciers flowing down from the Darwin Mountains and Darwin Ice Sheet on the north shore.

Day 4 Wulaia Bay & Cape Horn/Cruise

During the early morning we navigate the narrow Murray Channel between Navarino and Hoste islands and drop 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 mesmerising beauty and dramatic geography. After a visit to the Australis-sponsored museum in the old radio station (which is especially strong on the Yámana people and European missionaries in the area) passengers have a choice of three hikes (of increasing degrees of difficulty) that ascend the heavily wooden mountain behind the bay. 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, drop something into the wooden mail barrel inside the museum. Letters or postcards meant to be hand-delivered by future travellers, an ancient mariner tradition revived by Australis.
In the afternoon cruise across Nassau Bay into the remote archipelago that includes Cape Horn National Park. Weather and sea conditions permitting, we shall go ashore on the windswept island that harbours legendary Cape Horn. Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch maritime expedition, Cape Horn is a sheer 425-meter high rocky promontory overlooking the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage. For many years it was the only navigation route between the Pacific and Atlantic, and was often referred to as the “End of the Earth.” The park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2005. 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.

Day 5 Ushuaia/Cruise

The following morning we sail into Argentine waters and dock in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. Disembarkation is scheduled at 8 AM. You have almost a full day to explore Ushuaia which was founded in 1884 and was one of the original points of contact between the indigenous Yámana and European cultures. The city’s name derives from the Yámana word for ‘penetrating bay.’ With around 65,000 inhabitants, Ushuaia is the second-largest city in Tierra del Fuego (after Rio Grande) and is surrounded by the Southernmost Andes peaks. Among its highlights is the Prison at the End of the World, a former penitentiary that is now a maritime museum that features an Antarctic collection and memorial to those once incarcerated there. The city is also good for shopping (especially locally made chocolate) or hanging out in its many cafes.

Passengers are required to reboard Ventus Australis at 17:30 (5:30 PM). After a welcoming toast and introduction of captain and crew to new passengers joining the cruise, the ship departs for more adventures in Tierra del Fuego. During the night we traverse the Beagle Channel, cross back into Chilean territorial waters, and turn into the narrow Murray Channel between Navarino and Hoste islands.

Day 6 Wulaia Bay & Cape Horn/Cruise

Around the break of dawn, we’ll cross Nassau Bay and enter the remote archipelago that comprises Cape Horn National Park. Weather and sea conditions permitting, we shall go ashore on the windswept island that harbours legendary Cape Horn. Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch maritime expedition Cape Horn is a sheer 425-meter high rocky promontory overlooking the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage. For many years it was the only navigation route between the Pacific and Atlantic, and was often referred to as the “End of the Earth.” The park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2005. 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.
Sailing back across Nassau Bay, we anchor back at fabled Wulaia Bay. After a visit to the Australis-sponsored museum in the old radio station (which is especially strong on the Yámana people and European missionaries in the area) passengers have a choice of three hikes (of increasing degrees of difficulty) that ascend the heavily wooded mountain behind the bay. On all of these, you stroll through an enchanted Magellanic forest of lengas, coigües, canelos and ferns to reach panoramic viewpoints overlooking the bay.

Day 7 Pia Glacier – Glacier Alley/Cruise

Overnight we 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, Ventus Australis tacks eastward and enters the Beagle Channel again. By morning we are entering Pia Fjord and boarding the Zodiacs for a shore excursion to Pia Glacier. After disembarking we take a short hike to gain a panoramic view of the spectacular glacier, which extends from the mountaintops down to the sea or a longer much more difficult walk up a lateral moraine of the old Pia Glacier.
Making our way further west along the Beagle Channel, we enter another long fjord and drop anchor near Garibaldi Glacier for another shore excursion. Garibaldi is one of only three glaciers in Patagonia gaining mass rather than staying the same or slowly shrinking. This time we hike through virgin Magellanic forest to a glacial waterfall, a towering wall of ferns and moss, and spectacular viewpoints looking down on the glacier and fjord. The walk is demanding very steep, negligible trail, rough footing and not for everyone. For those who choose to stay on board, our captain will point the bow towards the beautiful sky blue Garibaldi Glacier so everyone can enjoy the panoramic view from the upper decks.

Day 8 De Agostini Sound and Águila Glacier/Cruise

Early in the morning, we will sail through the Cockburn Channel and enter Agostini Sound. From there it is possible to see the glaciers that descend from the middle of the Darwin Mountain Range, some of them reaching the water. This morning, we will disembark and go for an easy walk around a lagoon, which was formed by the melting of the Águila Glacier. We will reach a spot right in front of that glacier with stunning views. In the afternoon, we will approach the Condor Glacier via Zodiac and hopefully see some of the abundant Andean Condors in the area.

Day 9 Magdalena Island – Punta Arenas

After an overnight cruise through Magdalena Channel and back into the Strait of Magellan, we anchor off Magdalena Island, which lies about halfway between Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean mainland. Crowned by a distinctive lighthouse, the island used to be an essential source of supplies for navigators and explorers and is inhabited by an immense colony of Magellanic penguins. At the break of dawn, weather permitting, we go ashore and hike a path that leads through thousands of penguins to a small museum lodged inside the vintage 1902 lighthouse. Many other bird species are also found on the island. In September and April (when the penguins dwell elsewhere) this excursion is replaced by a ride aboard Zodiacs to Marta Island to observe South American sea lions. After navigating south along the channel you’ll arrive at Punta Arenas where disembarkation is scheduled for around 11:30 AM.

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