NEW YORK -- Expedition cruises that highlight natural history,
culture, light adventure and a bit of the water-sporting life fill
the alternative cruising niche in South America.
The hallmarks of expedition cruises are an informal lifestyle
and an accent on learning and the ability to discover and
experience places that larger ships and overland trips are unable
to explore in such magical worlds as the Amazon, the Galapagos
Islands and ice fields of the Strait of Magellan.
The Amazon River
International Expeditions, with its fleet of three riverboats,
custom-built in Iquitos and designed for taking travelers into
remote regions of Peru's rain forest, offers the premier Amazon
experience. Departing weekly from Iquitos and traveling upriver to
the confluence of the Maranon and the Ucayali rivers, cruises
explore the smaller and more remote tributaries beyond the
farthest-flung settlements and into the most pristine and primeval
The all-wood vessels have air-conditioned cabins, each with
private, tiled bath.
Expert Peruvian naturalists accompany passengers throughout the
"We call our sailings 'voyages,' " said Richard Ryel, president
of International Expeditions, because "the comfort and amenities of
our vessels, combined with the remoteness of our routings, broaden
the spectrum of Amazon travel appeal."
Additionally, Ryel said, "we go in different directions in
different seasons, following the wildlife and offering the
passengers the convenience of choosing a pristine Amazon experience
in any season."
The company's vessels -- La Esmeralda, La Turmalina and La
Amatista -- accommodating 16, 26 and 28 passengers, respectively,
will be joined this year by the long, narrow, eight-passenger
Malaquita, which will be able to go even farther into the rain
forest, and La Turquesa.
Selected departures on Amazon voyages are available for
individual travelers, while others are reserved for zoological
societies, conservation organizations and universities. The
eight-day river and rain forest experience is priced at $2,698 per
person, sharing, inclusive of air from Miami.
The Galapagos Islands
The "enchanted isles," 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, were
made famous by Charles Darwin, who landed here in 1831 aboard the
The few larger ships serving the region accommodate between 90
and 100 passengers and are either new or newly refurbished. Smaller
yachts are decidedly more modern and comfortable.
Either way, visiting the Galapagos is still more an adventure
than a luxury cruise. There are about 15 islands and islets that
travelers are likely to visit during cruises that feature morning
and afternoon shore calls.
The most up-to-date fleet is owned by Quasar Nautica Galapagos
Expeditions, represented in the U.S. by Miami-based Tumbaco.
Tumbaco will expand its cruise product in October with the addition
of the 48-passenger Eclipse.
This, according to Maria Eugenia Jauregul, the company's
managing director, "will give us a chance to accommodate
special-interest organizations and alumni groups."
Tumbaco vessels cruise from San Cristobal Island. Approximately
40% of their business is in charter departures, with the remainder
in the FIT market, said Jauregul. Motor yachts and motor sailers
all have staterooms with private bathrooms and air conditioning,
Zodiacs for shore excursions and naturalist guides.
The Quasar Nautica fleet includes the 12-passenger Diamante, the
16-passenger Lammer Law, the 16-passenger Alta and the 16-passenger
Parranda. The Parranda has extra-large cabins.
Yachts are available both on a per-passenger and charter basis
for seven-night sailings. Full-boat charter prices range from
$22,200 to $38,800, depending on the boat; per-passenger costs,
based on two persons sharing, range from $1,890 to $2,360 in low
season and from $2,100 to $2,630 in the high season.
The bottom of the world
Terra Australis is a 100-passenger cruise ship designed
specifically for cruising around the southern tip of Chile on a
routing from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia in Argentina, showcasing a
grand landscape of mountains, icebergs, fjords and glaciers
inhabited mostly by penguins.
The ship sails from October to April on seven-night sailings
from Punta Arenas through the Strait of Magellan and Chile's inland
waterways, cruising the Beagle Channel and Glacier Alley. Port
calls include Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the world,
and Ushuaia, at the tip of Argentina. Passengers also visit
Magdalena Island, with its huge penguin colony.
The cruise may be taken in three- and four-night segments,
sailing between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia. Rates for a seven-night
cruise, per person, double, for the low season range from $1,147 to
$2,392; for the shoulder season from $1,444 to $2,892, and for the
high season from $1,795 to $3,611.