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South American cruise

If you are looking for rugged natural beauty with stunning mountain peaks, fjords that stretch for miles, cosmopolitan cities, sensational beaches, indigenous cultures, iconic archaeological sites, and huge tropical rainforests, South America is the region to cruise.

The sheer size of the South American continent – it is massive! – along with its underdeveloped road and public transportation networks make it most convenient to be explored by it waterways. Ships will take you to places where few or no hotels exist. Comfort is guaranteed and after a long day spent trawling through Amazonian jungles or tramping on the dusty Argentinean pampas, coming back to the ship is blissful.

One thing to be said of a South American cruise is that no matter how luxurious the ship, it will always be an adventure – and that is the nature of this magical land.

You are also unlikely to have to worry about cruise congestion. So vast is this land that is encompasses all and whether you are docked in a major port like Buenos Aires or discovering the rainforests, you will never feel overwhelmed by the presence of too many people.

Your South American cruise itinerary could be in the form of Amazonian river voyages that depart of the city of Manaus (a major metropolis in the Amazon) and arriving in Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires, or a Round-the-Horn voyage between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso. In addition to these are specialty cruises. Most cruises to Antarctica also depart from South America, particularly Ushuaia in Chile.

Most of the major cruise liners have itineraries for the Amazon. These are either shorter cruises (15 nights) from Caribbean ports or longer cruises such as World Cruises and South American exploration cruises. The river is deep enough to accommodate even the large cruise ships with smaller ships getting as far as Iquitos in the Peruvian part of the rainforest. Cruises in this region operate from October to February.

The jungle and the wildlife are at the core of an Amazonian river cruise with cruise operators offering tours that range from canoe rides to wildlife experiences. The Encontro das Aquas, or "meeting of the waters", is a cruise highlight – it is the spot where Amazon's black waters meet up with the tan waters and run side by side for miles without mixing.

The Round-the-Horn voyage generally takes 14 days or more and takes you to Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. Besides the colourful life of Buenos Aires, on this cruise you will typically see the Chilean fjords and Patagonia (the vast land that stretches between Argentina and Chile with landscapes that vary from eerie flatlands to majestic mountains). Some cruises will even take you to Antarctica, which is around 1600 kilometres south of Cape Horn.

Other South American explorer cruises include east coast itineraries between Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

South America is home to some must-visit, once-in-a-lifetime sights and experiences. However, because of the nature of the land and its size, most of these lie in the interiors. It is advisable to extend your trip to include these experiences as part of your trip. Many cruise liners offer them as shore excursions too. Sights include the spectacular Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil, Salvador de Bahia in Brazil which is a mystical place of native Portuguese and African cultures, and the Incan Empire of Machu Pichu (reached from Santiago).

For those who hanker for more adventure, specialty cruise companies such as Lindblad Expeditions, Clipper, Peter Deilmann and Society Expeditions offer more specialised itineraries. Their trips venture to destinations such as the Galapagos Islands and all-Antarctica voyages. There are also specialty tours operating year-round between Iquitos and Yurimaquas in the Amazon. Most vessels on these sailings are basic in accommodation and facilities, but comfortable. They include cabins, a restaurant and common areas to enjoy this beautiful region.

South America season typically runs from November (late spring) to early May (mid-autumn). The weather is quite unpredictable here and can change from hour-to-hour. The further south you go, the colder it gets with the mountains of Ushaia snow-peaked even in December. Specialty cruises sail year-round.

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