Cruise Epic Adventures

Adventure cruising to Cape Horn

‘A cruise for people who don’t like cruises’ is how one of my colleagues described it to me. I was in Ushuaia in Argentina, getting ready to sail one of Patagonia’s most spectacular expedition cruise routes, around Tierra del Fuego to Cape Horn and back to Punta Arenas in Chile onboard the Ventus Australis. 

When I arrived at the port in the late afternoon, the ship certainly wasn’t one of the mega cruise ships you’d expect in the Caribbean. It only carried a modest 200 passengers and didn’t look out of place tied up to the expedition cruise ships just returned from Antarctica. 

On board the Ventus Australis

Ventus Australis docked at Ushuaia

I’d had my concerns about what the accommodation on an expedition cruise might be like, but found my cabin to be suspiciously comfortable. And at dinner that night – served as we slipped away into the long autumn twilight – was positively convivial, with a large group of international travellers toasting our voyage into the unknown. The free bar certainly helped break the ice – as well as build excitement for the ice we were going to see with some of the wildest and most spectacular glaciers in Patagonia. 

My cabin on board Ventus Australis

To Cape Horn

The next morning we woke up in the southernmost tip of South America. Cape Horn – what a way to start our first full day at sea! The name alone carries an almost mythic weight. None of us knew quite what to expect of it, a speck of an island hanging off the coast of Tierra del Fuego. Here we were bobbing up in the bay looking at the lighthouse at the end of the world, taking our breakfast in a place that had struck fear into the hearts of sailors for centuries. 

If we worried about getting a little complacent however, the weather was quick to remind us who’s the boss in this part of the world. High winds and a rolling sea meant that while we were comfortable enough on board the Ventus Australis, it wasn’t possible to launch zodiacs and land on the island itself. Nature rolls the dice here – only around half the trips around Cape Horn get to disembark.. In truth, the excitement of getting so far south and even seeing the Cape Horn monument from the ship was a thrill in itself. The unfriendly weather only gave a heightened feeling of being connected to all those ancient mariners who had rounded the Horn. 

Communing with the spirits of the old sailors at Cape Horn

The afternoon brought better weather as we relocated to Wulaia Bay, a large inlet on Isla Navarino just off the Beagle Channel – part of Chile rather than Argentina. The name is a clue to what makes this place a must-visit: the naturalist Charles Darwin called here in 1833 during his time on board HMS Beagle when he was a budding naturalist working out the theory of evolution by natural selection. 

A pod of dolphins gave us an honour guard as we cruised into the shore. 

Back when Darwin visited, Wulaia Bay was home to a large settlement of the indigenous Yámana people, who flocked in their canoes to see their unexpected visitors. We arrived by zodiac instead, and as if to make up for not being able to get off the ship earlier a pod of dolphins appeared to give us an honour guard as we cruised into the shore. 

Landing at Wulaia Bay felt like the heart of what this cruise was all about. There was literally no way of getting here except by boat, plus there was the extra little thrill of stepping foot in Chile without all the usual fuss of going through immigration. Once on land we followed a hiking trail that wound through a forest blazing with autumn colours up to a spectacular view point where we could look down on our ship like a toy boat in the bay. 

Hiking at Wulaia Bay

The excursion ended with a trip to a small museum there dedicated to the Yámana and the opportunity to send a postcard from one of the southerly postboxes in the world. It was a great little touch, and offered a lot of fun chat over post-dinner drinks that night about how quickly we’d beat our postcard home. 

As we had on the trip to Cape Horn, the ship weighed anchor to slowly cruise through the night so we arrived fresh at our next destination the following morning. We were promised a big day of big glaciers and we definitely weren’t disappointed. 

Land of the Glaciers

Pia Glacier

Even if we hadn’t left the ship that day I don’t think anyone would have minded. The view was shrouded in mist when we arrived, but when the clouds parted we could see the granite peaks of the Darwin mountain range laid out before us, pierced by astonishing blue glaciers. It was as epic as Patagonia gets with a soundtrack to match: gunshot cracks echoing around the bay as icebergs the size of buildings calved into the sea. 

Thankfully our guides kept a safe distance from any possible tsunamis as we piled into our zodiacs for our trip on shore to the foot of Pia Glacier. There were two hikes, each to a series of ridiculously scenic viewpoints – I did the slightly tougher boulder hike, which involved a bit of muddy rock scrambling in places, but there was a shorter walk on offer for those passengers who were a little less active. 

Porter Glacier viewed from my zodiac

After lunch back on the ship, we were out on the zodiacs again but this time to enjoy the landscape from the water. Cruising down the fjord as the Porter Glacier came into view was really quite something. This glacier is a boggling two miles wide, poured in a wide frozen tongue between the mountains before snaking out into the sea. 

Cruising (at a safe distance) around its base made us all feel like the tiniest creature on the planet. I’ve seen Perito Moreno glacier but if anything this was even more impressive – and we had its enormous bulk entirely to ourselves. The only time we approached any ice that appeared on anything like a human scale was when our guide Tomas scooped a massive chunk out of the water for us all to pass around for photos. I think it ended up in the ship’s bar later that night to serve with drinks. 

Agostini National Park

Perfect reflections in Agostini Sound

The following day brought us to the shores of Agostini National Park. The landscapes here were my favourite of the entire trip. I was up and out on deck straight after waking to take in 360 views of jagged mountains dripping with hanging glaciers, looking for all the world as if we had sailed into the Lord of the Rings. As the sun began to rise we crept into the bay towards the Aguila Glacier, and after breakfast headed out into the zodiacs to take a closer look. 

The walk along the beach here was a great way to build anticipation for seeing the glacier up close. We saw the first condors of the trip – a pair of them – and then we were at the foot of the great ice cliff. The tide was washing up tiny shards of ice onto the beach, making a crazy glassy tingle with each wave. 

Aguila Glacier

There was a similar build up to that afternoon’s glacier – a slow approach from the water, and the glacier (Condor Glacier) looking like an ice cube until it grew and grew into a monster. With cliffs 120m high, it was some ice cube. Here we did another zodiac cruise, and I learned from the one the previous day that it paid to wrap up extra warm. The sky was an unbroken blue for a change, which lit the glacier up in the most crazy shades of turquoise. 

Getting ready for our zodiac cruise to Condor Glacier

On our final day, we took a break from the glaciers to see some wildlife. Most trips call in at Magdalena Island to see its famous Magellanic Penguin, but I was on the last cruise of the season in April and the penguins had already left the colony to go to sea. We sailed instead to Marta Island, a short distance from Punta Arenas where the trip was due to finish. 

This was home to a large colony of South American sea lions, who casually watched us back and swam around us as our zodiacs pottered around the shallows. The big bulls watched us with confident disdain, making sure we kept a safe distance. 

Visiting the sea lion colony on Marta Island

Like the imposing mass of the glaciers, they were a reminder that we were only granted temporary leave to visit here: nature could do equally well without us, thank you very much. Patagonia had put on its wildest side for us, and having explored its remotest corners by ship, it was time to head back to port. A cruise for people who don’t like cruises? If more cruises were like this, I’d be the first to sign up. 


Cruises to Cape Horn sail from October to April from either Ushuaia or Punta Arenas on the Ventus Australis or its sister ship Stella Australis. For more information see Swoop Patagonia’s Cape Horn Cruises page on our website.

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Iain Rylance

Swoop Patagonia Sales Manager

Iain is sales manager for the Swoop Patagonia team. He first travelled to Patagonia in 2015 and has returned every year since. Whilst he now manages our incredible team of Patagonia specialists, Iain previously spent six years building tailor-made itineraries to the region. He has been all over Chile & Argentina, from the hotspots of Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares to the lesser-visited corners of Tierra del Fuego & Aysen.