Punta Arenas – Ushuaia – Punta Arenas (7 nights)
The end of the world awaits you on the expedition cruise ship MV Stella Australis. Our Patagonia excursions retrace much of Darwin’s route through the Fuegian Archipelago aboard HMS Beagle. This eight-day Punta Arenas excursion features the legendary Cape Horn, historic Wulaia Bay, spectacular Glacier Alley, and the penguins of Magdalena and Tuckers islands, as well as ice fields, fjords, sub-polar forests and secluded beaches at the southernmost extreme of South America.
Day 1: Punta Arenas – Check in at the Australis pier at 1385 O’Higgins Street (Arturo Prat Port) in Punta Arenas between 13:00 and 17:00 (1-5 PM) on the day of your cruise departure. Board the MV Stella Australis at 18:00 (6 PM). After a welcoming cocktail reception hosted by the captain and his 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 – Tuckers Islets – Check in at the Australis pier at 1385 O’Higgins Street (Arturo Prat Port) in Punta Arenas between 13:00 and 17:00 (1-5 PM) on the day of your cruise departure. Board the MV Stella Australis at 18:00 (6 PM). After a welcoming cocktail reception hosted by the captain and his 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 3: Pia Glacier – 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.
No one knows for certain how the hulking mass of snow and ice got its feminine moniker, but one theory says it was named for Princess Maria Pia of Savoy (1847-1911), daughter of the Italian king.
Back onboard Stella Australis, we continue east along the Beagle Channel through an area called Glacier Alley. Living up to its name, the passage features a number of impressive tidewater glaciers flowing down from the Darwin Mountains and Darwin Ice Sheet on the north shore. Most of them named after European countries — Holland, Italy, Germany, Spain and France.
Day 4: Cape Horn & Wulaia Bay – During the early morning we sail down the narrow Murray Channel between Navarino and Hoste islands and drop anchor at historic Wulaia Bay. Australis is the only cruise ship company with permission from Chilean authorities to navigate the Murray Channel to Cape Horn, and because of its exclusive concession the only travel company allowed to land passengers at Wulaia Bay.
Wulaia Bay is 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 the mesmerizing beauty and dramatic geography. After a visit to the small 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, Ñirres 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 travelers – an ancient mariner tradition revived by Australis.
In the afternoon we 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 harbors legendary Cape Horn (Cabo de Hornos). Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch maritime expedition — and named after the town of Hoorn in West Friesland — Cape Horn is a sheer 425-meter (1,394-foot) 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 – 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, founded in 1884 and one of the original points of contact between the indigenous Yámana and European cultures. Its name derives from the Yámana word for ‘penetrating bay’ and it’s surrounded by the southernmost Andes peaks. With around 65,000 inhabitants, Ushuaia is the second largest city in Tierra del Fuego (after Rio Grande). Among its highlights is the Prison at the End of the World, a former penitentiary that is now a maritime museum, 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 Stella Australis at 17:30 (5:30 PM). After a welcoming cocktail reception hosted by the captain and his crew, 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: Cape Horn – Wulaia Bay – By early morning, Stella Australis is once again cruising across Nassau Bay to Cape Horn. Our itinerary day repeats the shore landings and other activities from Day 4. However, second landings at some of the more iconic spots along the route can sometimes be more rewarding than the first time around and give you more time to explore each place in depth. At Cape Horn you have a second chance to visit the Stella Maris Chapel, chat with the lighthouse keeper and his family, or photograph the unusual sub-polar flora that covers the heights. At Wulaia Bay, explore the museum in much more depth, strike out on a longer walk than last time, bird watch along the shore, or sort through the mail barrel to see if anyone lives close to your own home. This second approach also increases your chances of landing on Cape Horn Island.
Day 7: De Agostini Sound and Águila Glacier – After nightfall we reenter the Beagle Channel and sail westward along the southern edge of Tierra del Fuego into watery wonderland protected within the confines of Alberto de Agostini National Park. Rounding the Brecknock Peninsula as the western extreme of Tierra del Fuego, Stella Australis is for a brief time exposed to the open Pacific. We then navigate a zigzag route through the Cockburn Channel, Magdalena Channel and Keats Fjord to reach scenic De Agostini Sound.
Named after an Italian Salesian priest who worked among the region’s indigenous people during the first half of the 20th century, De Agostini Sound is flanked by numerous glaciers and sheer saw-toothed peaks reminiscent of Torres del Paine. Our shore excursion this morning is Águila (“Eagle”) Glacier, which hovers above a placid glacial lagoon surrounded by primeval forest. After a Zodiac landing on the beach, passengers hike around the edge of the lagoon to a spot near the base of the frozen facade. Condors can sometimes be seen winging high above, but there is always abundant bird life around the lagoon. This landing provides the perfect opportunity to experience the beauty of Patagonia’s sub-Antarctic rainforest and to see how the power of nature has molded the spectacular landscape.
Day 8: 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 a short cruise south along the strait, disembarkation at Punta Arenas is scheduled for around 11:30 AM.
*Camera extension poles are prohibited on Magdalena Island