South America Cruises
South America Highlights
A South American cruise is an experience unlike any other. South American cruises cover lots of territory, typically lasting between 7 to 14 days or longer. With so many South American ports to choose from, and few cruise ships in the region, there's generally little in the way of tourist congestion. South American cruises are also more "rugged"–excursions into rainforests and national parks are the most common activities offered ashore.
It's important to note that few people in South America speak English, even in major cities. And you'll need to pack for different types of weather–the Amazon rainforest is tropical, for example, while the southern tip of South America can be quite cool. Be prepared for rougher seas, too, as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are not as calm as the Caribbean Sea. It's recommended that you take guided tours and shore excursions, rather than independent ones, because of the higher crime rates common to many South American cities.
Popular South American cruise destinations include:
CBoca da Valeria, Brazil: A small village in the Amazon located at the mouth of the Valeria River.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: The "Paris of South America," Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango, the sexy and world-famous Latin dance. A modern bus and subway system help make the Argentinean capital relatively easy to navigate.
Devil's Island: A former penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana.
Lima, Peru: Peru's capital city is also its political, economic, and cultural center. Your cruise ship will dock in nearby Callao, which is also home to many notable attractions.
Manaus, Brazil: The most populous settlement in the Amazon. Manaus is home to 1.5 million residents and it's also the capital of the Amazonas. A strategic location along the Amazon River helps make Manaus is a thriving port city.
Manta, Ecuador: One of Ecuador's largest ports, Manta is home to beautiful beaches, fishing villages, and an undeveloped tropical forest.
Montevideo, Uruguay: The capital of Uruguay houses less people and fewer attractions than the larger South American cities, but there's still plenty to do here, including casino gaming and shopping.
Puerto Montt, Chile: A growing village located on the Pacific coastline. Puerto Montt is the capital of the Lake District.
Punta Arenas, Chile: This Chilean city is the capital of the Magallanes region, and it's thought to be the southernmost city in the world.
Punta Del Este, Uruguay: Not far from Montevideo, Punta Del Este is a popular vacation spot with both South American and international travelers. Its exotic beaches and world-class hotels have attracted the wealthy and the famous–many of whom have built million-dollar homes on the beachfront.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil: Nicknamed the "Marvelous City," Rio is home to six million residents and is the second-largest city in Brazil. There is a bus and metro system, but many tourists use the free transportation provided by local jewelry stores. You don't have to buy anything from the jewelers in exchange for transport, but you should examine their merchandise!
Santarem, Brazil: A perfectly situated port, located at the intersection of the Tapajos and the Amazon.
Stanley, Falkland Islands: Located approximately 480 miles northeast of Cape Horn, Stanley (formerly known as Port Stanley) is the capital of the Falkland Islands.
Ushuaia, Argentina: Another former penal colony that's best known for its proximity to the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Valparaiso, Chile: The second-largest city in Chile is home to the National Congress and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
South America Activities & Attractions
Antarctica Excursions: Fly over the South Pole! These aerial excursions depart from Punta Arenas; some include expeditions on land.
Archaeological Museum of Banco Central: Located in Manta.
Best of Rio: Ideal for cruisers with limited time, these tours are the best and quickest way to capture all the sights and sounds of colorful Rio.
Burle Marx House: An art gallery and museum located in Rio de Janeiro.
Buenos Aires Helicopter Tour: See Buenos Aires from a bird's-eye perspective!
Buenos Aires Bike Tour: Visit all of the city's major attractions on a guided bicycle tour.
Buenos Aires Sites: Highlights include the Buenos Aires Zoo, the Colon Theater, the National Museum of Decorative Arts, the National History Museum, and the Palmero Botanical Garden.
Buenos Aires Tours: Covers all of the basics. Perfect for cruisers spending just a short amount of time in port.
Cathedral of Our Lady: A centuries-old cathedral in Manaus, Brazil.
Calle Florida: The epicenter of Buenos Aires' shopping.
Chiloe Island: Ferries depart from Puerto Montt for this Chilean island that has maintained the same traditions for centuries. Forts, museums, restaurants, and indigenous tribes can be found here.
Colonia del Sacramento: A former colonial Portuguese village, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is located two hours from Montevideo.
Corcovado: Home to the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio's most famous attraction.
Devil's Island Sites: Highlights include a museum, former prison cells and administrative buildings, and gift shops.
Estadio Maracana: The largest soccer stadium in the world, the Estadio Maracana holds 178,000 fans. Located in Rio De Janeiro.
Estancia La Rabida: An hour's drive from Montevideo. Tour a working farm, drink local tea, go horseback riding, or enjoy a hay ride.
Evita! Tour: A Buenos Aires' tour of "everything Eva Peron." Stops include the Casa Rosada, the Evita Museum, Plaza de Mayo Square, and her tomb.
Falkland Sites: Numerous wars have been fought over the Falklands. Visitors can tour major battlefields and memorials located throughout the islands.
Favela Tours: See how the majority of Rio residents live, minus the glitz and glamour. It's best to explore these towns with the help of an experienced guide.
Flamengo: Rio de Janeiro's "museum section." Options include the Carmen Miranda Museum, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Francisco Coloane Marine Park: Located off the coast of Punta Arenas, this protected marine park is home to many humpback whales.
Gaucho Party: An excursion available near Buenos Aires. Relax on a ranch, enjoy a barbeque, go horseback riding, or watch an authentic cowboy show.
Indian Museum: A museum located in Manaus. Dedicated to the indigenous people of the Amazon.
Ipanemo: Some of the finest jewelry stores in Brazil will arrange free transportation from the cruise terminal in Rio de Janeiro to this very trendy neighborhood.
Isla de Lobos: A government wildlife reserve and sanctuary, located off the coast of Punta Del Este, that's home to seals, sea lions, and sea wolves. You cannot step foot on Isla de Lobos, but sightseeing is available via a boat that circles the island.
Iguazu Falls National Park: Scenic rainforest with waterfalls. A day trip from Buenos Aires (a short flight is required).
Joque Club: A horse racing track located in Rio de Janeiro.
Juanico: Tour the vineyards of Uruguay. Located near Montevideo.
La Boca: Proclaimed as the birthplace of the tango, La Boca is located just a short drive from Buenos Aires. It's also home to many artists–visit the Caminito to buy the works of its residents. La Boca is also home to a soccer stadium, where spectators can cheer on the Boca Juniors.
Long Island Farm: Experience what it's like to live on a farm in the Falkland Islands. Activities include sheep shearing, peat cutting, visiting battle sites and domestic gardens, horse gear exhibitions, and bird watching.
Lima Sites: Attractions include Archbishop Palace, an archeological museum (in Callao), art galleries, the Buena Muerte Convent, Casa Aliaga (the oldest colonial mansion in the New World), the Convent of El Carmen, Descalzos Convent (built in 1592), the Government Palace, Huaca Pucllana (an archeological site), Huaca Huallamarca, the Larco Herrera Museum, Lima City Hall, the Lima Cathedral, Olivar de San Isidro Park, the Pachacamac Ruins, the Pedro de Osma Museum & Gallery, the Santo Domingo Convent (the oldest in Lima), and the San Francisco Monastery.
Maldonado Tour: This tour of one of Uruguay's oldest cities stops at the Collection Museum, Customs House, Dragons' Military House, Nicolas Garcia Uriburu Maldonado's Cathedral, and the Museum of American Art of Maldonado & Puppet Museum. Excursions depart from Punta Del Este.
Manaus City Tour: Most Manaus sites are not air-conditioned–but this tour bus is!
Manaus Ecological Tour: Tour botanical gardens and a research facility. Other stops include the Science House, the Cultural House, and the Science Museum.
Manaus Excursions: Choose from a variety of rainforest excursions. Highlights include riverboat tours, alligator spotting, and guided walks through the jungle.
Manaus Flight Tour: View Manaus and the surrounding jungle from a bird's-eye perspective.
Meeting of the Waters: See where the Amazon River begins! Two rivers of different colors run side-by-side for miles before merging.
Mercado Adolfo Lisboa: The main market in Manaus, offering a wide variety of clothing, trinkets, and local specialties.
Micro Center: The "central hub" of Buenos Aires. Government buildings, hotels, and shops are all within walking distance.
Miraflores: A section of Lima known for its beautiful beaches, parks, sidewalk cafes, and colorful nightlife.
Mini-Zoo do CIGS: The only zoo in Manaus, filled with exotic animals from local rainforests.
Montecristi: This colonial village, located near Manta, is home to many craft markets and historic buildings. It's also the birthplace of the Panama hat!
Montevideo City Sites: Attractions include Avenida 18 de Julio (featuring shops and cafes), Blanes Museum, the Congress Building, the Etchegaray House (an historic site), the Gaucho Museum (a crafts and silver museum), Joaquin Torres Garcia Museum (an art museum), Plaza Independencia (the main square), the Spanish Cathedral, Town Hall, the Visual Arts Museum, and monuments honoring famous Uruguayan heroes.
Montevideo City Tours: Montevideo is loaded with historical sites, monuments, and museums. The best way to see them all is via this guided tour.
Montevideo Crafts Markets: Pay a visit to Mercado Artesanal and Mercadeo de la Abundancia.
Montevideo Jewish Heritage Tour: Learn about Jewish culture in South America. Stops include Golda Meir Square, the Hebraica Maccabi Sports Center, the Sephardic & Ashkenazi synagogues, and the Holocaust Memorial.
Olga Teresa Estancia: A farm, located fifty miles from Punta Arena, that boasts excellent views of the Palomares Mountains. Highlights include tours of the farm, Chilean cowboy shows, sheep-shearing demonstrations, and Chilean meals.
Opera House: A powerful symbol of Manaus' opulence in the early 20th century, and one of the city's most popular attractions.
Otavalo: South America's most famous Indian market. A flight from Manta, Ecuador is required to reach Otavalo.
Palermo Hippodrome: One of Argentina's most famous horse racing tracks. You can tour the facilities, purchase horse racing memorabilia, and learn about Argentina's horse racing history. A half-hour drive from Buenos Aires.
Parana River Sailing Tour: Sail inland from Buenos Aires for over 500 beautiful islands. Some excursions include a stop at the San Isidro Cathedral.
Penguin Reserve: These excursions, featuring thousands of protected penguins, depart from Punta Arenas, Chile.
Plaza De Mayor: The historic center of Buenos Aires. Home to Casa Rosada (where Eva Peron famously addressed crowds from the balcony), May Pyramid, and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Polo Club: Learn about the sport of polo, and go for a ride on a polo horse, at El Retiro Polo Club & School. A facilities tour is also available. Located outside of Buenos Aires.
Portillo: A ski resort in the Andes, near Valparaiso, that's home to small villages, scenic mountain views, and waterfalls.
Port Stanley: Helicopter Tour See the Falkland Islands from a bird's-eye view! Your helicopter also stops at Sea Lion Island, a bird and marine conservatory, where you'll view many native species in their natural habitats.
Port Stanley Wildlife Excursions: These amazing excursions visit areas populated by penguins and other indigenous birds.
Puerto Montt City Sites: Highlights include the Fish & Handicraft Market and Plaza de Armas Square.
Puerto Montt Excursions: Options include hiking tours, four-wheel drive tours, sightseeing flights to lakes and volcanoes, fly fishing excursions, and river rafting excursions.
Puerto Montt Natural Sites: Attractions include Alerce Andino National Park, Chapo Lakes, Lake Todos los Santos, Llanquihue Lake, the Petrohue Waterfalls and Vicente Perez Rosales National Park.
Punta Arenas Sites: Highlights include Fort Bulnes, the Magellan Strait, the Maggiorino Borgatello Museum, Plaza de Armas, and Tierra del Fuego Island.
Punta Del Este Beaches: Options include Brava, Emir, Ingleses, and Mansa.
Punta Del Este Sites: Attractions include Casa Pueblo (artist Carlos Paez Vilaró's residence) and the Fundación Ralli Museum.
Quito: The capital of Ecuador is just a short flight from Manta. Attractions here include the Archbishop's Palace, art galleries, the Equatorial Monument, the Ethnographic Museum & Presidential Palace, Independence Palace, Panecillo Hill, San Agustin Church, and the San Francisco Church & Monastery.
Recoleta: The Parisian section of Buenos Aires. Home to a crafts market, designer shops, restaurants, an historic cemetery, monuments (in Tres de Febrero Park), and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Rio de Janeiro Adventure Excursions: Options include hang gliding, hiking, rock climbing, and surfing.
Rio de Janeiro Beaches: Pay a visit to Copacabana and Ipanema.
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden: The world's largest collection of Amazonian botanicals.
Rio de Janeiro Cathedrals: Attractions include Catedral de Sao Sebastia do Rio de Janeiro, Convento do Santo Antonio, Igrega de Nossa, Mosteiro de Sao Bento, and Senhora da Candelaria.
Rio de Janeiro Shopping: Brazil is the world's largest producer of colored gemstones, and many such shops are located along the beachfronts of Copacabana and Ipanema.
Rio Helicopter Tour: See Rio De Janeiro, Sugarloaf Mountain, and other attractions from a bird's-eye view.
Rio Samba School: Enjoy a delicious dinner as you watch performers prepare their samba routines for Carnivale. Samba lessons are included in your excursion.
Rio's Color & Art: Explore the unique and colorful Brazilian estates of Rio de Janeiro's most famous residents.
Santarem Excursions: Options include guided walks within the Amazon and riverboat tours.
Santarem Sites: Highlights include the Santarem Cathedral and Town Hall Museum.
San Telmo: Buenos Aires' Bohemian suburb, filled with antique shops, galleries, bars, restaurants, and the Church of San Pedro Telmo.
Santiago: The Chilean capital is a two-hour drive from Valparaiso. Attractions here include the Central Market, Club Hipico, O'Higgins Park, Plaza de Armas, and the Presidential Palace.
Siglo XX: A 700-hectare cattle-breeding station located outside of Punta Del Este. Activities here include horseback riding, sheep shearing, milking cattle, barbeque lunches, and visits to the Antiques Museum.
Sugarloaf Mountain: Boasting scenic views of Rio and the rainforest, Sugarloaf is part of Tijuca National Park, the world's largest urban collection of tropical forests and mountains.
Tango Shows: Tango bars are located throughout Buenos Aires and beyond. Live shows are offered at Casa Blanca, El Viejo Amacen, La Ventana, and Senor Tango. Tango lessons are included with some excursions.
The Falkland Islands Museum & National Trust: The museum also offers visitors the opportunity to see the city of Port Stanley via a complimentary taxi ride.
Tierra del Fuego National Park: The world's southernmost national park. Park highlights include Bahía Lapataia, Lago Roca, Laguna Verde, Laguna Negra, Panoramic Point, Río Ovando, and Rio Pipo. Hiking excursions are also available.
Torres del Paine National Park: A 40-minute flight from Punta Arenas takes you to one of South America's most scenic destinations, home to the Balmaceda Massif Glacier, Del Toro Lake, Dickson Lake, Grey Glacier, Laguna Amarga, Nordenskjold Lake, Pehoe Lake, Salto Grande Waterfall, and numerous mountains.
Ushuaia Excursions: Catamaran rides are available that visit nearby islands and national parks.
Ushuaia Horseback Riding: Available at Relinchos del Hipico.
Ushuaia Sites: Area attractions include Bird Island, Lake Escondido, the Lighthouse at the End of the World, Sea Wolves Island, and Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Valparaiso Excursions: Tour the San Antonio Valley vineyards and enjoy wine tastings in Santiago, Viña del Mar, and/or Portillo.
Valparaiso Sites: Attractions include the El Mercurio Building, the Heroes of Iquique Monument, the Naval Headquarters Building, Plaza Sotomayor, Pablo Neruda's house, La Sebastiana Museum, the Turri Building, the Stock Exchange, and the Public Library.
Viña del Mar: This resort city, located near Valparaiso, is home to a large "floral clock," the Fonck Museum, and Cerro Castillo (the summer palace of the Presidents of the Republic).
South America Ports Of Call
Because South America is such a large continent, it cannot be covered in a single trip.
Three of the most popular South American cruises travel through either the Amazon, up and down the West Coast, or around Cape Horn (at the southern tip of the continent).
Amazon cruises stop at Boca da Valeria, Buenos Aires, Devil's Island, Manaus, Montevideo, Punta del Este, Rio de Janeiro, Santarem, and/or undeveloped areas and small villages located in the rainforest.
West Coast cruises stop at the South American ports of Manta, Lima, and some of the Chilean ports listed below (Cape Horn cruises).
Cape Horn cruises stop at Port Stanley (in the Falkland Islands), Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, and Valparaiso.
When To Visit South America
Tourist season in South America typically runs from November through early May (South America's summer months). The weather does not solely depend on the season, however–you should expect to encounter a wide variety of climates as you travel from the rainforest to the desert to the region's snow-peaked mountains.