Patagonia sailings' simplicity, stunning sights

By Tom Stieghorst

Cruceros Australis whaleCruise options in the remote but pristine Patagonia area of South America are growing.

Cruceros Australis has added a seven-night itinerary option to the three- and four-night cruises it offers between Chile and Argentina. The seven-night cruise is designed to avoid repeating ports of call.

Cruceros considers its ships platforms to see the area's otherwise inaccessible natural beauty, said Jorge Rodriguez, the company's Miami-based marketing director for North America.

"This is about amazing glaciers, wildlife, penguins, elephant seals and whales," he said. "This is not about a cruise."

Still, the company's two ships provide a comfortable way to get around between the Chilean gateway of Punta Arenas and the Argentine port of Ushuaia.

Public areas on the 136-passenger Via Australis are warm and clubby, with many full-length windows to promote the views. Cabins are small and tidy, with white and blue linens.

The 210-passenger Stella Australis is bigger and newer and includes three lounges and a small workout area. Both are outfitted to deploy the Zodiac expedition boats that give passengers close encounters with the scenery and wildlife.

The new seven-night itinerary is only available on the Via. It is a roundtrip from Punta Arenas that includes viewings of six glaciers, several bays and fjords and a trip to Cape Horn, the very southern tip of South America.

"These are the roughest waters in the world," Rodriguez said. "We get right to the edge of it."

That kind of adventure appealed to Dallas resident Brooke Ezell, who took the four-night cruise in 2011.

Whale-watching was a highlight of the trip. "It exceeded my expectations," Ezell said. "It was very educational but also fun, and I really enjoyed it. I'd love to go back."

Suzan Von Lengerke, a Virtuoso agent at Lake Shore Travel in Glencoe, Ill., also took a four-day trip. "There was a real mix of guests onboard, many Europeans, Australians, Canadians … that made for a lively vibe," she said.

Von Lengerke's husband, Jeff Genson, said the guides were good communicators and experienced, and the ship was big enough to feel very stable, except for the short time in the open ocean.

Cruceros Australis is marketed in the U.S. as Patagonia & Cape Horn Cruises, to make it a little easier to identify the product, Rodriguez said. It carried about 13,000 passengers last year, including 4,000 from the U.S., during an eight-month season that stretches from late September to early March.

Rodriguez emphasized that Cruceros Australis, owned by three Chilean brothers, can access many areas that typically aren't seen on a passage by larger cruise ships through the Strait of Magellan.

"We're the only ones who do what we do, so you hardly ever see other ships," he said.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

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