Cruising to the End of the Earth

  • The Stella Australis cruise ship navigates the remote areas of Patagonia

    Cruising the remote areas

    In the southernmost parts of Chile and Argentina, the region of Patagonia draws adventurous travelers to its unspoiled beauty. Partially covered in glaciers, some of the most remote – and stunning – areas are only accessible by boat. For more than 20 years, expedition cruise operator Australis has been navigating the waters of the Strait of Magellan on a journey to the “end of the Earth.”

    Photo courtesy of Australis

  • A Magellanic penguin

    Magellanic penguins are native to the coasts of Argentina and Chile, as well as the Falkland Islands. They are considered “near threatened” due to the declining numbers affected from oil spills and overfishing of their prey. Zodiacs can take Australis’ passengers up close to a Magellanic penguin colony, but the shoreline remains a protected area.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

  • Elephant seals are native to the area

    Elephant seal on the beach

    On a December voyage, when Australis passengers finish a chilly shore excursion, they are greeted with more than one surprise: hot chocolate and whiskey served shore side and a guest appearance from a sleepy, young elephant seal warming itself in the sunlight. Other common wildlife sightings during the cruise include condors, dolphins, and King Cormorants.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

  • Exploring Pia Glacier

    On the four-night itinerary, passengers are shuttled by Zodiac boats to Pia Glacier, where they can witness (and hear) ice calving into the frigid water. Climbing to the nearby lookout grants awe-inspiring vistas of mountains and fjords. En route to Cape Horn, the cruise also passes Glacier Alley, a stunning collection of glaciers that make for a perfect day at sea.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

  • Ainsworth Bay

    Another popular stop for cruisers is Ainsworth Bay, a quiet inlet full of unique flora and fauna. Naturalist guides lead passengers through the area as they explain the native habitat and the importance of protecting Patagonia. The fragile and diverse region greatly impacted the theories of Charles Darwin, who spent significantly more time in Patagonia  than he did in the Galapagos Islands.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

  • Via Australis Cruise Ship

    Patagonia feels like a time warp – days will pass without signs of other humans, ships or buildings. The mystical scenery floats by as if it had been transported from another planet, and with sunsets as late as 10:15p.m. (December and January), it's all too easy to forget that the modern world exists. However, both cruise vessels have all the modern comforts needed for a relaxing experience: private baths in cabins, a restaurant serving local cuisine, and entertainment like karaoke and movie showings.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

  • Landing on Cape Horn

    The albatross sculpture greets weary travelers

    Throughout history, many sailors have perished trying to round Cape Horn because of the hazardous and unpredictable waters surrounding it. After climbing the long staircase to the top of the island and battling the wind, travelers are met by the albatross sculpture honoring those who were lost. It acknowledges the mysterious connection between the sailors and the birds that make their home around the island.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

  • The lightouse at the end of the Earth

    Living at the End of the Earth

    Landing on Cape Horn is not guaranteed, so passengers often anxiously await the weather report as the vessel approaches the island. High winds and rains make photos (or standing up) difficult atop the high bluffs, but ducking into the lighthouse offers a reprieve and a chance to climb the tower or chat with its keepers about what life is like at the “end of the Earth.”  For other cruise ideas, visit USA TODAY's ExperienceCruise website.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan