South America is an alluring canvas of natural beauty and diversity. From the colourful and vast ecosystems in the Galapagos, Ecuador, to the dazzling and enrapturing scenery of Patagonia, across both Argentina and Chile. Being the fourth largest continent in the world, it is home to a vast number of different species, one of the world’s most magnificent mountain ranges, intertwined with vast fjords and white glaciers. In short, South America just might be the dream geographical destination for any active adventurer.
It is also an ideal place to explore by boat. Even though taking a cruise may sound to you as just relaxing by the pool, it can be so much more if you travel to the right destinations. In this to 5 Sea Coast Adventures in South America we include Ecuador (including the Galapagos Islands), Argentina and Chile (Patagonia), Peru (Ballestas Islands), and Chiloe Island (Chile).
1. Seaman Journey Galapagos Cruise
First on our list we have a cruise around Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. The islands contain the unique flora and fauna which inspired Charles Darwin to come up with the theory of evolution. The same theory that stated that the most adaptable to change is the one that will in the end survive. Also known for stating the “survival of the fittest.”
Thus, in the Galapagos you will see numerous species that would be thought to only be part of ecosystems from across the world, yet all interacting symbiotically. Furthermore, this archipelago consists of a body of more than 60 different islands and islets which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
A truly must-go travel destination by boat as it is indeed the best way to travel around the islands. There are many travel itineraries available depending on your time and budget ranging from 4 nights up to 12 or even 13 nights. The biggest advantage to this type of travel is waking up on a different island everyday, as it is common that the cruise travels at night.
Inside the Seaman Journey, a Boutique yacht Catamaran you will be able to enjoy several cruises in the Galapagos with different itineraries that also include land tours. In this cruise you will encounter a variety of endemic species such as Galapagos Giant Tortoises, Penguins, Land and Marine Iguanas, Frigate Birds, Blue Footed Boobies, and many more!
Even though this is one of the smaller islands in the Galapagos, it is one of the most important, not only because it is one of the oldest islands, but also because it makes up the archipelago. This amazing island is located 22 miles from San Cristobal Island, at the southern side of the archipelago.
For those who enjoy bird watching, Punta Suarez located at the northeast of Española is the place for you. Despite the fact that it is inhabited, it is home to the famous Spanish mockingbird, the Galapagos turtledove, blue footed boobies, albatrosses and finches. Since you will have to hike to get here, we recommend wearing comfortable closed shoes and bringing your own bottle filled with water for the two hour trip.
At North Seymour Island it is possible to hike, swim and even enjoy snorkelling. Apart from seeing some of the most iconic species, like frigates, green sea turtles, blue footed boobies and gulls you will be able to visit an amazing diving site, especially if you are looking to dive amongst hammerhead sharks. Here not only hammerhead sharks are common but also oceanic sunfish, giant sea turtles, Galapagos eels, stingrays, reef fish, barracudas and other Galapagos sharks.
2. Kontiki Expedition Cruise
Another great Cruise available in Latin America is the Kontiki Cruise Expedition. In this cruise you will discover many hidden places along the coast of Ecuador starting in Manta, a strategic location for tourism in Manabí. Manta is internationally known for its fishing, principally its world renown tuna which, if you like tuna, you have probably eaten.
There are many itineraries available lasting around 8 nights each where you will be able to explore and connect yourself with a part of Ecuador’s culture and beautiful natural scenery. Since you will be onboard for more than a week, there will be a ton of activities and cultural places that you will get to experience and observe.
Even though everyday on board is special, on the second day of the expedition you will be approaching Mompiche in Esmeraldas. An area also inhabited by three different indigenous communities namely: Awá, Cayapas, and the Éspera community. Once you get to shore you will understand why this area is famous for its incredible beaches, stunning landscapes and great tropical weather.
Apart from this, you will get a firsthand experience on how the life of an artisanal fisherman is. After walking along the beach, you will head to Portete harbour where a small dinghy will take you in the mangroves where you will collect shellfish for a flavourful culinary experience onboard. This local activity is also known as “concheo.” Back at Mompiche you will also have time to snorkel, go for a walk around the beach or even paddle boat or kayak around Jupiter Island.
To get to Isla Corazon you will take a dinghy accompanied by two local guides. The Natural Reserve Isla Corazon is an island formed by mangroves which have curiously been naturally shaped into a heart. This intriguing place is a nesting site for one of the biggest frigate colonies in the Pacific Ocean. Also this area has over 60 different species of both native and migratory birds.
After the dingy ride, you will disembark at San Vicente, where you will be taken to a traditional orchard farm of the community, growing cocoa heritage trees over 120 years old. Apart from learning the whole cocoa process from start to finish, this interesting visit will end up with you making your own chocolate recipe!
3. Australis Patagonia Fjord Cruise
Discovered first in 1616 by Dutch sailors, this area was often nicknamed as “End of the World” and when you get there you will see why. No place in the world comes close to what the area of Patagonia has to offer, that is enormous glaciers, pronounced ice-laden channels, enchanting wildlife and native forests. All of these you will encounter as you spend the days on the Australis Patagonia Fjord Cruise.
In this cruise you will experience something new as you pass through the marvellous untouched surroundings. Whether its on-land and offshore excursions, trekking towards immense glaciers, walking through forest trails or going to explore a Penguincolony, this cruise will take you there.
Tierra del Fuego:
At Tierra del Fuego (or in english Land of Fire) is for sure one of the highlights on this cruise. Being a national park and unique location,home to several numerous penguin colonies and a vast coastline of scenic views full of natural beauty. With such a name, you can really expect dramatic sceneries and landscapes as Tierra del Fuego is where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet, creating some of the stormiest climates in the world!
The national park has coastal forests, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers and is filled with wildlife. If you book the itinerary called Tierra del Fuego, the four-day journey will visit Ainsworth-Bay, Pia Glacier, Glacier Alley, Wulaia Bay and Cape Horn. Furthermore, you will be able to go hiking, kayaking, climbing and even fishing.
Found along the Chilean coast fjords and like mentioned before can also be visited in the same itinerary on the Tierra del Fuego four-day journey, and it is most definitely worth mentioning. Here you will witness one of the most spectacular spots in Patagonia.
Ainsworth Bay is a long fjord surrounded by intact subpolar forests crowned by Marinelli Glacier, flowing down from the Darwin Ice Field. The bay provides shelter for southern elephant seals and countless bird species, a definite must add to your bucket list. Moreover, on one of the trails you will be able to discover a Beaver dam and a beautiful sub-Antarctic Magellanic forest.
4. Day Cruise to Ballestas Islands in Peru
Though you might be familiar with the desolate desert coast of Peru, and it may seem that there is no wildlife until you arrive at the coast. Coastal reserves and their surrounding islands contain remarkable marine life diversity.
From penguins to sea lions, all come to visit and gather on the Ballestas Islands in Peru, having one of the best marine-wildlife-spotting locations in the country. What’s more, since visiting Ballestas Islands only takes around two hours, you can see everything that it has to offer in one day!
The Ballestas Islands belong to La Reserva Nacional Sistema de Islas, Islotes, y Puntas Guaneras or in English (Guano Islands, Islets, and Capes National Reserve System). This extensive Peruvian reserve includes the Guano islands which form part of the ecosystem along the coast of Piura starting from Tacna. Fun fact, guano was used as a fertiliser in the early days, however by the mid-1900s the availability of synthetic fertilisers decreased the importance of guano.
North, central and south Ballestas:
Apart from the sheer amount of different bird species that you can find nesting on the steep rocky surfaces you will be able to see them in their full splendour and flying around the islands and islets. Some of the birds you will see are Guanays, Humboldt penguins, Inca terns, Kelp gulls, Peruvian boobies (cousins of the Blue-footed boobies you find at the Galapagos), Peruvian pelicans, among many others.
5. Chiloe Island Cruise
The mythical, colourful and magical Chiloe is located in the Lake Region of Chile in the Pacific Ocean. From its impressively well preserved wooden churches, lively-coloured stilt houses, to a beautiful Andes Mountain backdrop, Chiloe is one of the places in Latin America that is worth visiting.
The city of Castro was founded in the year 1567, and it is actually the third oldest city in Chile. Being one of the small islands which make up the Chiloe Archipelago, it is full of wilderness, mountains, pastures, and swamps.
On the western side of the island is where you will find the built part of the city, including Castro. As a matter of fact, sixteen out of over a hundred churches have been declared UNESCO World Heritage. Here you will have the opportunity to visit the penguins at Punhil and discover the stilted houses at Castro.
Aucar Island also known as the Isla de las Almas Navegantes (in english Island of the Navigating Souls) since there is a cemetery located there. You can get there through the 510 metre footbridge attached to the islet. Another alternative is waiting until the islet becomes part of the island “Isla Grande” when the tide is low. Here you can visit the chapel with impressive images dating from 1761, a cemetery with beautiful well preserved gardens and a viewpoint that allows you to observe the landscape and native flora and fauna in your surroundings.
Palafitos (wooden stilt houses):
These colourful traditional wooden stilt houses are one of the main reasons why the city of Castro is renowned for. Many of these homes have been turned into boutiques, markets and restaurants. One of the best places to see them and take photographs is from the cruise and if not the coastal highway heading out of town also offers a great view.
The adventures described above reveal only a glimpse of what you can discover in South America. And if you choose even one of them, it can be life changing, since it brings you to a whole amazing world!
Get more inspiration from the video below:
Check some travel books about South America and cruising:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.