Sail the legendary Beagle Channel and marvel at the snow-covered peaks of rugged Patagonia. Zodiac-cruise through fjords flanked by glaciers and watch as the captain skillfully navigates narrow channels while you keep watch for acrobatic dolphins, penguins and seals. Spend two days hiking and exploring in Torres del Paine National Park, renowned for its majestic granite towers and jaw-dropping landscapes. Join a journey exploring the fjords and coast of southern Chile and discover why Chile was voted best adventure destination in South America for three consecutive years at the World Travel Awards.
Ushuaia, capital city of the province of Tierra del Fuego, is located on the shores of the Beagle Channel and it is surrounded by the Martial Range, which offers a unique landscape as a result of the combination of mountains, sea, glaciers and forest. On arrival in Ushuaia, you will be met and transferred to the group hotel, conveniently located in downtown Ushuaia within walking distance to the pier. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Note: Arrival airport transfer is on preferred flights only (details provided in final documentation). On Day 2, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before exploring Ushuaia on a half-day city tour. The city tour will visit The Mission, Brown and Solier neighbourhoods, where you can see old houses belonging to the first families in Tierra del Fuego, such as the Beban, the Pastoriza, and the Ramos. Head 11 kilometres out of town to Martial Glacier. The ride in the chair lift to the trails leading up to the glacier provides wonderful regional views and of Ushuaia town, the Beagle Channel and its islands. Afterwards, continue to the End of the World Museum with exhibitions explaining the history of Tierra del Fuego.
Return to town before walking to Ushuaia port in the late-afternoon to meet your expedition team and commence boarding at approximately 4:00pm (final embarkation time will be provided in your final documentation).
As the Greg Mortimer pulls away from port, gather on the deck to commence your adventure with spectacular views over Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. You’ll have time to settle into your cabin before important briefings. This evening, get to know your fellow expeditioners and expedition team and crew at a welcome dinner to celebrate the start of a thrilling adventure.
As you travel into the Beagle Channel, the important waterway that allowed ships to avoid the notoriously rough waters around Cape Horn, follow the route that a young Charles Darwin took on board the famous HMS Beagle back in 1831, a five-year expedition that forever changed his life and which led him to develop his seminal theory of evolution.
Sailing west from Ushuaia, you will travel through a dazzling stretch of the 240-kilometre long Beagle Channel called Glacier Alley – or ‘Avenue of the Glaciers’, as it’s more elegantly known. You’ll marvel at this string of tidewater glaciers pushing down to the edge of the sea from the enormous Darwin Ice Field. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, most of the glaciers were named after European countries or the explorers who discovered them: Holland, Italy, Romanche, Spain, Garibaldi. Weather permitting, board the Zodiacs for a closer look at the impressive Romanche Glacier. Even if fog obscures the view, the sound of the cracking ice as it calves into the water is sure to impress. Apart from the spectacular scenery, Glacier Alley offers opportunities to spot wildlife such as penguin rookeries and South American fur seals.
Established in 2003 as Chile’s first marine reserve, Francisco Coloane was the first known feeding ground for humpback whales along the Pacific coast of South America. The park honours Francisco Coloane, a celebrated Chilean author who wrote many stories of ocean adventures about Patagonia and Antarctica. Coloane was himself an adventurer, explorer and son of a whaler. Around the southern area of Santa Ines Island, surrounded by spectacular views including the tidewater glacier pushing down the rugged mountainous island, spend time kayaking and Zodiac cruising, getting a close look at Magellanic penguins, imperial cormorants, flightless steamer ducks, and southern fur seals. Around Carlos III Island, a known feeding ground for the humpback whales, hope to see the majestic creatures from the comfort of our ship, or if conditions permit, from our kayaks or Zodiacs.
As you venture north, enter one of the many channels and fjords of Patagonian Chile. Be prepared to experience wild weather. The fjords and islands of Chilean Patagonia take the brunt of the prevailing westerlies that blow across the southern seas, and here, the wind can blow almost constantly, and rain and snow can fall all year round. Sail through Montañas Fjord, a long fjord flanked by rugged mountains and a number of glaciers including Herman, Bernal, and Paredes. If the Captain opens up the bridge, it’s an ideal opportunity to watch the scenery unfold as you sail through this beautiful channel. Enjoy informative and entertaining presentations from our hand-selected expedition team, who will bring to life the natural environment, wildlife, culture and history of the places you’ll be experiencing.
Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, world-renowned for its granite towers, which give the park its name. These gigantic spires were carved by glacial ice and upon entering the park, you will see a series of lakes with intense colours, mountains covered in ice, and an array of local fauna. In Patagonia, you will feel the immensity of nature and delight in feeling completely insignificant in its presence. The jaw-dropping landscapes of turquoise waters, glaciers and towering granite horns of the Torres del Paine National Park is a humbling experience. You will have two days to experience the wonders of Torres del Paine National Park on various hikes suited to your fitness level. You will pass several estancias (ranches) en route to the national park, and you will witness the landscape change from a steppe eco-region to deciduous forest. Along the way, pause amongst the mountains to admire views of the lakes called Amamrga, Sarmiento, and Nordenskjold, and Salto Grande.
You may be able to see some of the local fauna, including many species of birds including the majestic condor. Look out for foxes, huemul (Andean deer) and guanacos, which are wild camelids related to the llama. The reclusive difficult-to-spot puma has also been seen inside the national park where authorities are happy to report a healthy growing population.
Spend the night at a comfortable hotel located just outside of the national park offering superb mountain and river views. Here you will enjoy local cuisine and Chilean wine and hear about the various hiking options available to you and suited to your individual interests and fitness level. On the afternoon of your second day in Torres del Paine National, you will be transported back to the Greg Mortimer in time for dinner, swapping stories on the drive back, of your exploration of the park.
At low tide this morning, cross the White Narrows – a narrow channel of water approximately 80 metres wide. Find a spot on one of the many observation areas and appreciate the masterful skills of your Captain as they navigate through this difficult channel. At the heart of Chilean Patagonia lies Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. More than 320 kilometres from one end the other, the park encompasses Patagonia’s Southern Ice Field, which in combination with its northern counterpart forms one of the largest expanses of glacial ice outside the Polar Regions.
The only way to visit this area is by sea, through a maze of fjords that ultimately leads to the entrance of Pío XI, named in honour of Pope Pius XI by Father Alberto de Agostini, an Italian missionary and explorer, who in 1931 was the first person to cross the Southern Ice Field. Of the 48 glaciers in the Southern Ice Field, nearly all are retreating, except Pío XI. Scientists have not been able to explain exactly why it has advanced so far and so fast over the past 80 years. In any case, Pío XI Glacier is an anomaly in a world where nearly all glaciers are retreating and being able to see it up close is a privilege. Head to Puerto Eden on your journey northwards, navigating more challenging passages including Paso del Abismo, a very narrow and spectacular channel where you can continue to enjoy remarkable scenery.
Located on the east coast of Wellington Island, inside Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, Puerto Eden is a tiny fishing village connected by intricate canals, imposing mountains, icefields, and is considered one of Chile’s most isolated inhabited places. The village is known for being the home to approximately 25 Kawésqar indigenous inhabitants – roughly 10% of the population of the village. The village is connected by beautiful timber boardwalks called ‘pasarelas’. Kawésqar are traditionally nomadic sea people and it comes as no surprise that the main economic activity is fishing – mussels being a local speciality. Known for their excellent craftsmanship for canoe-making and basketry, local handicrafts are also a speciality, and you’ll have ample opportunity to meet the locals and to purchase locally-made handicrafts directly from them. You’ll enjoy exploring the picturesque boardwalks over the maze of canals, meeting the friendly locals, and soaking in the tranquil natural beauty of this isolated hamlet.
Leaving Puerto Eden behind, re-enter the channels for a few days navigating your way through Patagonia’s maze of fjords towards Chiloé. Your team of experts will continue to deliver informative and entertaining presentations in the lecture theatre or you may choose to enjoy a book from the library, work up a sweat in the fitness centre, treat yourself to a massage in the wellness centre, or relax in the jacuzzi and sauna and simply enjoy the splendid scenery.
Spend time on the decks to scan for whales, dolphins and seabirds, while admiring the beautiful landscapes of the maze of channels and islands around. You will be sailing along part of the 144-km long Moraleda Channel, which separates the mainland from the huge archipelagos of Chonos and Guaitecas. To the east we will see magnificent Andes peaks such as the Mentolat, Melimollu volcano, and the Maca Volcano. Keep your eye on scanning the waters for the occasional presence of pods of killer whale that predate on the numerous South American sea lion colonies located along the coast and forested islands.
Spend the morning exploring the delightful and impressive coastline of Tic Toc Bay – either ship cruising or perhaps by Zodiac and kayak. This whole area has been recently recognised as one of the few marine parks of Chile based not just on the seasonal presence of the blue whales but also on the rich array of other cetaceans, marine mammals, and seabirds. In the Corcovado Gulf, you will enjoy watching a good sample of oceanic seabirds including black-browed albatross, southern giant petrel, southern fulmar and long-distant migrants such as the migratory Arctic skua. On a hike through the dense temperate woodland, you can hope to see interesting species such as black-throated Huet-huet, chucao, ochre-flanked and Magellanic tapaculos, Des Mur’s wiretail, thorn-tailed rayadito, white-throated treerunner, Magellanic woodpecker and rufous-legged owl.
Continue to keep watch for whales in the Corcovado Gulf as you sail into Chiloé, an archipelago of lush islands, a land of myths and legends, unique folklore and culinary traditions. It’s a region blessed with natural beauty and culture, cherished by Chilenos. Explore this mythical island with its colourful timber churches, 16 of which have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. In Castro, discover palafittes – colourfully-painted timber houses built on stilts above the water – and enjoy the wit and warmth of the Chilote people whose traditions give this unique archipelago its distinctive character. Chiloé is renowned for its superb shipbuilding heritage and carpentry skills and nowhere else in Chile showcases this better than in Dalcahue village, where you’ll visit a few shipyards, enjoy one of Chiloe’s 16 UNESCO World Heritage-listed timber churches, and see some of the most impressive wood shingle houses anywhere in the world.
Gastronomy is another principal reason why Chilenos travel to Chiloé. Blessed with abundant seafood such as mussels and cod, and with hundreds of potato varieties to choose from, the local cuisine is an experience to savour in Chiloé. You will sample traditional curanto, a specially-prepared meal and one of the most ancient recipes still being used today. Archaeologists discovered a 6000-year-old cooking pit that contained skeletal remains of coypu, sea lions, birds, fish, and whales, as well as shells from scallops, snails, abalones, mussels, and clams. These were the vestiges of an early curanto. The word curanto means “stony ground,” and is more of a preparation style than a strict recipe. The process begins by filling a metre-deep hole, which traditionally is filled with rocks, then topped with locally-sourced timber logs burned to heat the stones for cooking.
Your voyage ends in Puerto Montt. Say a big farewell to your expedition team and fellow adventurers before transferring to the airport for your onward travels.