We just returned not long ago from a wonderful adventure aboard the Stella Australis, a ship that regularly cruises Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago of islands at the southern tip of South America known as “the end of the world.”
For some 25 years now, Australis has been the only company to offer weekly cruises through Tierra del Fuego to Cape Horn, taking travelers to remote, rarely visited, fjords and islands. In fact, on these cruises, which are scheduled during the warmer months of September through April, the Stella is often alone in these waters.
The route includes the Magellan Strait (discovered by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century)—a preferred trading route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans until the Panama Canal opened in 1914. Travelers can also follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, whose research here resulted in his controversial work, The Origin of the Species. (Darwin actually spent more time in Patagonia than in the Galapagos Islands).
On board and ashore, Australis’ knowledgeable guides discuss the history of the region and identify Patagonia’s diverse flora and fauna, ranging from lichens, mosses, berry-laden shrubs and wildflowers to penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, albatross, dolphin and even orcas and humpback whales.
Comfortable staterooms have 6-foot windows with IMAX views of the constantly changing scenery. In an elegant dining room, the chef serves Patagonian specialties like lamb and crabmeat, accompanied by some of Chile’s finest wines. All these amenities, plus an attentive crew, add up to a first-class experience.
Many people enjoy combining the cruise with a visit to a South American city, such as Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile. Or they round out their journey, as we did, with a visit to Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, an extraordinarily beautiful UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The very best place to stay in Torres del Paine is the explora Patagonia lodge, the only luxury accommodation in the heart of the park with close-up views of the iconic Paine Range.