This voyage will take you to the wilderness of Chile and Argentina, home to world-famous national parks, pale blue glacial lakes, curious wildlife and mesmerising glaciers. In small groups of 4 to 14 travellers, and accompanied by our naturalist and expert guide, you will experience the best of Patagonia: eagles and condors will put on a show gliding above soaring ice-tipped peaks, native orchids and songbirds will complement your walks through pristine beech forests, you will get up-close with iceberg-calving glaciers and peaceful grazing guanacos will welcome you as you walk through the pampas. All while aboard the state-of-the-art small ship expedition vessel Greg Mortimer.
Departs on April 2 to April 15, 2020
On arrival in Ushuaia, you will be met and transferred to our group hotel, conveniently located in downtown Ushuaia within walking distance to the pier. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Accommodation: Hotel Albatros (or similar) Note: Arrival airport transfer is on preferred flights only (details provided in final documentation)
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, we’ll gather on the deck to commence our adventure with spectacular views over Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. You’ll have time to settle into your cabin before our 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 we travel into the Beagle Channel, the important waterway that allowed ships to avoid the notoriously rough waters around Cape Horn, we 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 travel through a dazzling stretch of the 240-kilometre long (150 miles) 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, we’ll board our 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, we 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, we hope to see the majestic creatures from the comfort of our ship, or if conditions permit, from our kayaks or Zodiacs.
As we venture north, we 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. We may 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. We 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.
This afternoon 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, we cross the White Narrows – a narrow channel of water approximately 80 metres wide. Find a spot on one of our many observation areas and appreciate the masterful skills of our Captain as they navigate us through this difficult channel. At the heart of Chilean Patagonia lies Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. More than 320 kilometres (200 miles) 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. We head to Puerto Eden on our 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, we re-enter the channels for a few days navigating our way through Patagonia’s maze of fjords towards Chiloé. Our team of experts will continue to deliver informative and entertaining presentations in the lecture theatre or you may choose to enjoy a book from our library, work up a sweat in the fitness centre, treat yourself to a massage in our 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.
We will be sailing along part of the 90-mile 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. We will be 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, we 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 we 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.
Shore Excursion (choose one of the following):
*Castro City and Dalcahue: Discover the main attractions of Castro town including the “Feria Yumbel” (local market), palafittes (houses on stilts), museums, churches and the crafts market. Afterwards, visit Tey’s church, a building that was moved from its original place to where it is today. The moving of an entire building is known as “Minga de Tiradura”, a project in which the entire community volunteers help. Continue to the town of Dalcahue, famous for its artisanal shipyards, for one of the 16 World Heritage churches known for its unique shingle design. Dalcahue is also known for its beautiful houses, its tiny museum, and as a meeting place for local artisans who gather at their craft market to sell their creations. You will visit the typical “cocinerias” or eateries serving up delicious variety of freshly-prepared local dishes for which the area is famous. Finally, watch the unearthing of the curanto and savour its delights.
*Chiloé National Park: This tour goes through the natural landscapes that amazed Charles Darwin during his explorations of the Huillinco and Curao Lakes and Pacific Ocean. At Chiloé National Park visit the interpretation centre, walk along lovely “Sendero el Tepual” a pathway that winds through Chiloé’s thick and humid forest. Drive back to Castro town and watch the unearthing of the curanto and savour its delights.
Our voyage ends in Puerto Montt. Farewell your expedition team and fellow adventurers before transferring to the airport for your onward travels.