March 2008

Latitude Adjustment: South America Sizzles!

Author: Bobbie O'Brien

Until just a few years ago, South America was one of the travel world’s best kept secrets. As recently as 1986, twenty-seven years after becoming a travel consultant, I had seen nothing more of South America than Cartagena on a quick cruise port call. But that year, in search of a trip that was new and different for our well-traveled “Hilton Head Ramblers” group, I decided to give it a try. And what en eye-opener that was. Since then, I’ve been drawn back many times, especially to Argentina and Chile, where beauty abounds at every turn.

On a recent cruise aboard Silversea’s ship, Silver Cloud, from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, my husband Ed and I made sure we arrived in Buenos Aires a couple of days before sailing because it is one of the world’s most exciting cities. It is often called the “Paris of the South”; Avenida 9 de Julio, reminiscent of the Champs Elysees, is the widest avenue in the world, and shopping on Av. Florida is like shopping in Paris, only the prices are better. I found a beautiful leather purse that was totally irresistible, and didn’t “break the bank” either. We snapped a picture at the Casa Rosada from which Eva Peron made her famous “Don’t cry for me…” speech and then visited La Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried in her family tomb, marked simply Familia Duarte. On our second day in Buenos Aires, we visited an estancia (colonial estate) where we watched gauchos at work and enjoyed a scrumptious Argentinean feast.

On day three, we set sail for Cape Horn with a stop en route to visit several varieties of penguins in the Falkland Islands. We approached Cape Horn on a day that could not have been better. We came on deck to watch the rounding of the Horn with layers of clothing, hoods and scarves, expecting the usual blustery Cape Horn weather. We were pleasantly surprised at the beautiful weather that had us spending the next three hours cruising off the Cape in our shirtsleeves.

Our ship then traveled to the Straight of Magellan between southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and came into port in the tiny city of Ushuaia, the Southernmost City on earth and the capital of Tierra del Fuego. It is situated right at the entrance to the Beagle Channel. An excursion in the Channel by catamaran brought us very close to tiny islands inhabited by thousands of seals, sea lions, birds and other wildlife. It was fascinating to watch their antics in their natural habitat from only a few feet away.

We then continued along the Strait to Punta Arenas, a jumping off point for exploration of the Patagonian region known for its rugged and untamed natural beauty. It is a very popular destination for the more adventurous traveler. We chose to spend our time observing a colony of Magellan penguins that return here every year to mate and raise their young at Otway Bay.

As we headed north along the coast of Chile, we were treated to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Cruising the Chilean fjords in O’Higgins National Park put us in mind of the Norwegian fjords with gigantic waterfalls and glaciers around every bend. It was definitely a “Kodak moment.” While in that area, we boarded a small catamaran for a close-up visit to the stunning Laguna San Rafael glacier. While approaching the glacier, we noted many small icebergs and chunks of ice scattered across the water which presented a fascinating kaleidoscope of incredible colors of surreal translucent blues and greens.

Still headed north, we enjoyed a final, relaxing day at sea before disembarking in Valparaiso (the port city for Santiago), fourteen days after having boarded in Buenos Aires. Santiago is a beautiful colonial city, and a great place to visit, but as we had been there before, we and two other couples hired a van and driver and headed straight to the Chilean wine country. We spent a wonderful day visiting three outstanding vineyards. At days end, we sadly made our way to the airport, needless to say, laden down with several bottles of Chile’s finest wines.

Our winter season (their summer) is the best time to go. There are a number of cruise lines offering trips similar to ours and there are some excellent land tours as well. Go by ship, go by land, but whatever you do, make sure you go. It’s the trip of a lifetime!

Bobbie O’Brien has been a travel consultant since 1958. She opened Creative Travel Service on Hilton Head Island in 1975 and, in 2001, Creative Travel affiliated with Valerie Wilson Travel on Hilton Head Island.

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