Cruise around Cape Horn and take an unforgettable trip to the end of the world, says Pat Richardson
Located at the very tip of South America, Cape Horn, at the edge of Chile, has long been a major milestone for sailors seeking to circumnavigate the world.
A cruise that takes you there is an adventure, pitting you against wind, weather and the vagaries of nature, while presenting you with breathtaking scenery and unforgettable wildlife sightings.
Cruise from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires and you’ll have almost as many days at sea as days with port calls.
So, although this itinerary will suit those who enjoy shipboard life down to the ground – or rather, the waterline – it mightn’t be the best choice for someone whose idea of holiday heaven is going ashore, because whether or not you do so depends on sea and weather conditions.
As well as alongside ports, where the ships tie up at a dock, there are also ‘tender’ ports, which are either too small or don’t have deep enough water for your vessel.
At these, you’ll drop anchor some distance away and be ferried to the dock in small boats (tenders) – but only if conditions are favourable. If they’re not, you won’t be able to go ashore.
Pick a ship that offers a wide range of on-board activities and plenty of options for entertainment, wining and dining, socialising and relaxing, and you’ll have no trouble filling any number of days at sea.
There’s a pleasing harmony in choosing Holland America Line which, historically, took European immigrants to America from the Netherlands.
Its ships are registered there and all named after Dutch towns and cities. Cape Horn was named after one, too.
Merchants from Hoorn helped finance a voyage of discovery made by two Dutch ships.
In January 1616, those sailors found and named Kaap Hoorn, and so established a new, west-bound passage to Australia and the Far East, which would remain a major trade route until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.
On the map
Sandwiched between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, Chile stretches down the length of South America for 2,653 miles; from the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert – which you won’t see – in the north, to icebergs and glaciers – which you will see – in the far south. In between lie scattered lakes and volcanoes – some of which you may visit on an excursion.
What’s more, there are countless islands to the west and the south of the main continental land mass, which your ship will weave in and out of, revealing breathtakingly beautiful vistas as it goes. You’re likely to see dolphins leaping alongside the bow, could glimpse a whale in the open ocean, and just might spot an albatross in flight.
Make sure you pack binoculars to maximise the thrill.
The world’s southernmost city
Welcome to Ushuaia – an alongside port. Once a penal colony, it’s now a lively outpost wrapped in jagged, soaring peaks that attracts adventurous backpackers, long-distance road-trippers keen to tick off the southern end of the Pan-American Highway and, of course, bold cruise passengers who can also capture that noteworthy road sign on camera on an excursion into Tierra del Fuego National Park.
The park isn’t teeming with wildlife, although you could spot one of the rare and very elusive Tierra del Fuego foxes, and should see quite a number of birds. There are many scenic spots and photo ops, and also an interesting museum worth spending time in.
Rounding the Horn…
…may be the highlight of your voyage, but it isn’t a given. This point, where two oceans meet, whipped by west-to-east winds blowing round much of the globe, is one of the world’s most hazardous routes for shipping – so you could find yourself taking a more protected passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic (the bottom of South America is made up of islands including Cape Horn, and there are navigable passages between them).
But in favourable conditions, your captain may position you off this steeply rising headland before dawn, so the rising sun gives it a golden glow – another unforgettable sight.
When you stop off at the Falkland Islands, you’ll find the locals offer a warm welcome – and speak your language. But the largest (seasonally) resident population doesn’t, though you’ll very much enjoy their company – and they’re very accepting of yours.
It’s worth every scenic mile of the drive from Port Stanley to the penguin colonies to spend time with these often-comical creatures on the ocean shore. Don’t miss it!
Tours of Montevideo and Buenos Aires will re-attune you to more familiar, but still fascinatingly foreign, surroundings and highlight the differences and similarities between the two cities, and between Argentina, Uruguay and the UK. Buen viaje!
Holland America Line (0843 374 2300) offers a 14-night South America passage cruise on MS Zaandam, departing October 2015 to March 2016, from £2,399pp (sailing 25 October 2015). Price is based on two sharing and includes return flights from London.