Don't Forget the Sunscreen ... or the Snow Boots; Simon Heptinstall Meets Beach Babes and Penguins on a South America Cruise

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 22, 2009 | Go to article overview

Don't Forget the Sunscreen ... or the Snow Boots; Simon Heptinstall Meets Beach Babes and Penguins on a South America Cruise


Byline: Simon Heptinstall

IT'S ONE of the most challenging cruise routes in the world. Sailing from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil right round Cape Horn to Valparaiso in Chile means navigating through icebergs, crossing the world's stormiest sea and negotiating South America's busiest shipping channel.

Passengers have to pack and adapt for conditions that vary from the scorching heat of midsummer Brazil to the freezing storms, glaciers and mountains of Tierra del Fuego.

This vast journey of 4,666 miles covers so many different environments it's like an episode of Life On Earth.

There can't be many holidays on which you can spot both hummingbirds and penguins (as well as dolphins, flying fish, exotic rainforest butterflies, llamas, beavers, condors and, I think in the distance, a lone albatross).

My family and I joined the elegant and enormous Star Princess after flying to Rio. The two-week itinerary took us south to Uruguay's capital, Montevideo. Then we cruised through the queues of ships in the busy River Plate channel to the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. Further south, we stopped at Stanley in the Falkland Islands, then the outposts of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas in Patagonia.

Finally, we headed north to dock at Valparaiso in Chile before flying home from Santiago, the impressive capital of Chile.

This was a cruise full of adventure. I took a guided hike up a mountain in Tierra del Fuego and a bus to see penguins on a remote beach in Chilean Patagonia. I hired a cab for a tour of the historic port of Valparaiso and explored the elaborate facades and wroughtiron balconies of Montevideo's old Spanish colonial quarter on foot.

I saw fantastic sights such as icebergs breaking from a glacier into the sea, baby penguins waddling along behind their mums - and Copacabana beach babes sipping milk up a straw from a coconut.

ONE of the highlights was sailing up a snowy fjord in the remote far south of Chile to come face to face with the beautiful blue ice wall of the Amalia glacier. Star Princess pirouetted among the icebergs for an hour while passengers crowded the decks to gaze at the sight.

The route I took is one of an increasing number of cruises in South America. Many include Peru, Central America, the Panama Canal or the Amazon. But I thought this journey would be the most exciting: the seaway round Cape Horn is so far south that it is navigable only in the southern hemisphere's summer - our winter.

And I was right. It was easily the most interesting cruise I'd ever taken. Every day in port was different.

One day it was the brave little homes of Stanley with their neat vegetable plots, another the glossy skyscrapers of Buenos Aires.

The variety was stunning. I got sunburn in Montevideo and almost suffered hypothermia in Patagonia. I went swimming in a warm Brazilian sea and a few days later hiked in my snow boots and two pairs of trousers in Tierra del Fuego.

In Santiago it was so hot that the children burned their feet on the ground and our hotel swimming pool had to be chilled. Around Cape Horn the seas were so stormy that waves crashed up on to our balcony and water started seeping in through the sliding doors. …

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