Day by day itinerary
Glamorous and gritty, Buenos Aires is two cities in one. What makes Argentina's capital so fascinating is its dual heritage—part European, part Latin American. Plaza de Mayo resembles a grand square in Madrid, and the ornate Teatro Colón would not be out of place in Vienna. But you’ll know you’re in South America by the leather shoes for sale on cobbled streets and impromptu parades of triumphant soccer fans. Limited-production wines, juicy steaks, and ice cream in countless flavors are among the old-world imports the city has perfected.
Approaching from Ruta 3, it's hard to believe that the horizon line of buildings perched just beyond the windswept dunes and badlands is the most successful of all coastal Patagonia settlements. But once you get past the outskirts of town and onto the wide coastal road known as the Rambla, the picture begins to change. Ranged along the clear and tranquil Golfo Nuevo are restaurants, cafés, dive shops, and hotels, all busy—but not yet overcrowded—with tourists from around the world.Puerto Madryn is more a base for visiting nearby wildlife-watching sites like Península Valdés and Punta Tombo than a destination in its own right. The town's architecture is unremarkable, and beyond a walk along the coast there isn't much to do. Indeed, even the few museums serve mainly to introduce you to the fauna you'll see elsewhere. The exception is the beginning of whale season (May through July), when the huge animals cavort right in the bay before heading north—you can even walk out alongside them on the pier. During these months it's worth the extra expense for a room with a sea view.The many tour agencies and rental-car companies here make excursion planning easy. Aim to spend most of your time here on one- or two-day trips exploring the surroundings. Note that competition is fierce between tourism operators in destinations such as Puerto Madryn and Puerto Pirámides on Península Valdés. Take information that tour operators and even the tourism office give you about these with a grain of salt: they often exaggerate Madryn's virtues and other areas' flaws.
Puerto Deseado (Port Desire) is a city and fishing port located along the estuary of the Deseado River in the Patagonia region of Argentina. The estuary is a natural reserve and was visited in 1833 by Darwin, who described the area as one of the most secluded places he had ever seen, a “rocky crevice in the wild plain.” Puerto Deseado has a population of 15,000, with an economy based primarily on the fishing and tourism industries. Tourists come to Puerto Deseado mostly to view the estuary’s diverse fauna. Among other sea birds, there are two types of penguins (Magellanic and Rockhopper) as well as the incredible black and white Commerson’s dolphins that may be spotted jumping out of the water during mating season. The port is also a spot from which Isla Pinguino (the Island of Penguins) can be easily reached, just over 12 miles south/southeast from Puerto Deseado. On land, visitors can visit the rail museum (Estación del Ferrocarril Patagónico) or study the examples of Spanish and English architecture and sailing artifacts that remain from both countries attempting to settle here in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Tiny Stanley, capital of the Falklands, seems in many ways like a British village fallen out of the sky. Many homes are painted in bright colours, adding visual appeal to this distant outpost. Not far offshore, the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth, is one of the many vessels remaining as a silent testimonial to the region's frequent harsh weather conditions.The islands, also known by their Spanish name of Islas Malvinas, are home to arguably more tuxedo-clad inhabitants of the penguin variety than human residents. Various species, such as Gentoo, Magellanic and the more elusive King penguins, either live here permanently or use the Falklands as a stopover on their migration route. Darwin found the islands' flora and fauna fascinating - no doubt you will, too.
Located slightly northwest of West Falkland, West Point Island is used for sheep farming and nature observations. Peale’s dolphins and the distinctive black and white markings of the Commerson’s dolphin can usually be seen in the waters around West Point Island. Rolling moorland and steep cliffs make for great photographic opportunities, but the main attraction is the Devil’s Nose, a cliffside colony of Black-browed Albatrosses nesting side-by-side with feisty Rockhopper Penguins. Magellanic Penguins and Magellanic Cormorants can also be found on the island.
South Georgia is a breathtaking destination of towering snow-covered mountains, mighty glaciers, and low-lying grasslands that attract an astounding concentration of wildlife. It is possible to find Southern fur seals, Southern elephant seals and a variety of albatross species including Black-browed, Light-mantled Sooty, Grey-headed and the spectacular Wandering Albatross, plus thousands of King and Macaroni Penguins. South Georgia is also linked to the early Antarctic explorers. Captain James Cook first stepped ashore in 1775, but perhaps more famous is Ernest Shackleton’s arrival in 1916 following the sinking of his ship Endurance. Shackleton’s grave and the whaling museum at Grytviken are highlights, as would be a visit to one of the King Penguin colonies at Salisbury Plain or Gold Harbour.
Awesome glaciers flecked with pink algae can be seen approaching Elephant Island — so named either for its elephant-like appearance or for sightings of elephant seals here. Elephant Island is home to several Chinstrap Penguin rookeries, as well as 2,000-year-old moss colonies. Weddell seals and Macaroni Penguins can also be spotted. In 1916, when Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, the crew was stranded here for more than 4 months finding shelter under two upturned lifeboats on the spit of land Shackleton’s men named ‘Point Wild’. The bust of the Chilean captain Luis Pardo has been erected here to commemorate the successful rescue in the tug.
Remote and otherworldly, Antarctic is irresistible for its spectacular iceberg sculptures and calving glaciers, and for the possibility of up-close encounters with marine mammals and the iconic penguins. The Antarctic Peninsula – the main peninsula closest to South America – has a human history of almost 200 years, with explorers, sealers, whalers, and scientists who have come to work, and eventually intrepid visitors coming to enjoy this pristine and remote wilderness. It is a region of protected bays, unscaled snow-capped mountains, vast glaciers and a few places where whalers or scientists have worked. Just as irresistible are the many Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguin colonies, the seals basking on ice floes, the whales and orcas.
Some 770 kilometers (478 miles) south of Cape Horn, the South Shetland Islands are usually the first land seen in Antarctica. Separated from the Antarctic Peninsula by the Bransfield Strait, nine major islands make up the group. The region was the first to be exploited by sealers in the early 19th century, and because of its proximity to South America, it still is the most visited by scientists and tourists. Chinstrap, Adelie, Gentoo and Macaroni Penguins all breed here. In addition, because it is the warmest part of the continent, large moss beds as well as orange, black, grey and green lichens grow –even hair grass and pearlwort manage to survive. Leopard seals, Weddell seals, crabeater seals, Southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals can be seen in the water and on the beaches.
At 55 degrees latitude south, Ushuaia (pronounced oo-swy-ah) is closer to the South Pole than to Argentina's northern border with Bolivia. It is the capital and tourism base for Tierra del Fuego, the island at the southernmost tip of Argentina.Although its stark physical beauty is striking, Tierra del Fuego's historical allure is based more on its mythical past than on rugged reality. The island was inhabited for 6,000 years by Yámana, Haush, Selk'nam, and Alakaluf Indians. But in 1902 Argentina, eager to populate Patagonia to bolster its territorial claims, moved to initiate an Ushuaian penal colony, establishing the permanent settlement of its most southern territories and, by implication, everything in between.When the prison closed in 1947, Ushuaia had a population of about 3,000, made up mainly of former inmates and prison staff. Today the Indians of Darwin's "missing link" theory are long gone—wiped out by diseases brought by settlers and by indifference to their plight—and the 60,000 residents of Ushuaia are hitching their star to tourism.The city rightly (if perhaps too loudly) promotes itself as the southernmost city in the world (Puerto Williams, a few miles south on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel, is a small town). You can make your way to the tourism office to get your clichéd, but oh-so-necessary, "Southernmost City in the World" passport stamp. Ushuaia feels like a frontier boomtown, at heart still a rugged, weather-beaten fishing village, but exhibiting the frayed edges of a city that quadrupled in size in the '70s and '80s and just keeps growing. Unpaved portions of Ruta 3, the last stretch of the Pan-American Highway, which connects Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, are finally being paved. The summer months (December through March) draw more than 120,000 visitors, and dozens of cruise ships. The city is trying to extend those visits with events like March's Marathon at the End of the World and by increasing the gamut of winter activities buoyed by the excellent snow conditions.A terrific trail winds through the town up to the Martial Glacier, where a ski lift can help cut down a steep kilometer of your journey. The chaotic and contradictory urban landscape includes a handful of luxury hotels amid the concrete of public housing projects. Scores of "sled houses" (wooden shacks) sit precariously on upright piers, ready for speedy displacement to a different site. But there are also many small, picturesque homes with tiny, carefully tended gardens. Many of the newer homes are built in a Swiss-chalet style, reinforcing the idea that this is a town into which tourism has breathed new life. At the same time, the weather-worn pastel colors that dominate the town's landscape remind you that Ushuaia was once just a tiny fishing village, snuggled at the end of the Earth.As you stand on the banks of the Canal Beagle (Beagle Channel) near Ushuaia, the spirit of the farthest corner of the world takes hold. What stands out is the light: at sundown the landscape is cast in a subdued, sensual tone; everything feels closer, softer, and more human in dimension despite the vastness of the setting. The snowcapped mountains reflect the setting sun back onto a stream rolling into the channel, as nearby peaks echo their image—on a windless day—in the still waters.Above the city rise the last mountains of the Andean Cordillera, and just south and west of Ushuaia they finally vanish into the often-stormy sea. Snow whitens the peaks well into summer. Nature is the principal attraction here, with trekking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife spotting, and sailing among the most rewarding activities, especially in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (Tierra del Fuego National Park).
Silver Wind, the sister ship to Silver Cloud, embarked on its first voyage in 1995 and has recently been through a complete refurbishment, cementing its 6-star credentials.