Latin Explorers: Luxury Cruises Head to South America

Santa Ana Hill is a major tourist attraction in Guayaquil, Ecuador, as it is where the city was established in the mid-1500s. Seen in the forefront is the Anthropology and Contemporary Art Museum (MAAC).//Photo: Getty Images / Marc Po

Luxury oceangoing ships are taking guests in pampered style to such popular South American ports as Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Callao (Lima), Peru, the gateway to Machu Picchu. But, increasingly, they’re also calling at other ports on the continent too. Here’s an update about new, creative or just fun coastal options for South American port calls in 2019 and 2020.  

Guayaquil, Ecuador

While Guayaquil, Ecuador’s prime port and the nation’s most populous city, is often the jumping off point for trips to Quito or the Galapagos Islands, increasingly it’s also appealing on its own merits with a lovely riverfront promenade, chocolate-related attractions, a bustling seafood market, maritime / pirate heritage and even a touch of “island-style” feel. 

What’s new? Most notably, Silversea Cruises will make a maiden call in Guayaquil and stay overnight as part of Silver Shadow’s 63-day South American circumnavigation voyage roundtrip from Port Everglades, FL, on January 24, 2020. Silver Shadow’s voyage will also include a Panama Canal transit, scenic cruising in Chile’s fjords, an overnight in Rio de Janeiro and two-night stays in both Buenos Aires and Callao. Silversea says it’s just a bit too early for the luxury line’s shore trip details. 

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We’d suggest independently minded guests ride La Perla Guayaquil, a gigantic observation wheel that provides bird’s eye views of the Malecon 2000 waterfront. Or, culinary buffs can stroll through Mercado Caraguay to watch hawkers selling their fresh, just-off-the-boat fish and seafood. Want to try a favorite local specialty? It’s red mangrove crab. Chocoholics can head for the relatively new Museum of Cacao and Chocolate within a lovely, restored 1800s-era hacienda, situated in the city’s Historic Park. Another option is to ride the Tren del Cacao (chocolate train) into the countryside, perhaps for a chocolate demonstration at a local hacienda.  

Also sailing into Guayaquil on a 66-night “Circle South America” voyage is Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ recently renovated Seven Seas Mariner. Departing roundtrip from Miami on November 1, 2019, this itinerary calls at more than three dozen ports, some in the Caribbean, most in South America. This cruise delivers great bragging rights as cruisers will visit ports along the continent’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as within the Amazon River. 

The Horizon View Suite on Regent’s recently renovated Seven Seas Mariner has a balcony. The ship will call at Guayaquil during its “Circle South America” voyage.

One nice perk for Regent guests is the 137 complimentary shore excursions throughout this voyage. In Guayaquil that could be a best-of-the-city tour or perhaps a half-day “Maac [Anthropology and Contemporary Art Museum] Museum and La Penas” excursion. We’d recommend the latter as it first educates cruisers about the city’s heritage through museum exhibits before they take to the cobblestoned streets of La Penas, Guayaquil’s oldest neighborhood, to explore on foot. 

Alternatively, Regent’s “Artists of Guayaquil” excursion visits both Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana, where the city was established in the mid-1500s. Cruisers will see an artist’s studio, have refreshments and soak in the Guayas River views at the Wyndham Guayaquil, plus spend a short time at Mercado Artesanal, an artisans’ market spanning an entire city block. We’d suggest browsing and bargaining for ceramics, Panama hats (actually originated in Ecuador) and colorful sweaters.

Montevideo, Uruguay

Soaking up Latin culture isn’t always just about seeing iconic sites or delving into culinary and wine tastings. It can also mean hitting the dance floor to learn some sultry tango moves. During upcoming calls in Montevideo, Seabourn will offer a new four-hour shore excursion, “Panoramic Montevideo & Tango Lesson: A UNESCO Partner Tour.” 

Starting off with a panoramic city drive, this tour will showcase such historical landmarks as the Plaza Independencia, the Palacio Legislativo, Battle y Ordonez Park with its famous soccer stadium and the Carrasco residential area. What’s special is that along the way, the excursion will also allow Seabourn’s luxury guests to indulge their inner “dance moves” with a 20-minute Argentinian tango lesson at Primuseum (the Primus Museum), which opened exclusively for this tour. 

What guests do with their new-found knowledge is up to them, but Seabourn says guests will get enough instruction to grasp the basics of this passionate dance. Among the Seabourn voyages that include Montevideo is the 36-day “Amazon and Caribbean Sunsets” voyage, operated by the 458-passenger Seabourn Quest; it departs Buenos Aires on March 15, 2020 and sails to Miami, FL. A 21-day “Brazil and the Amazon” cruise also operates between Buenos Aires and Manaus, eliminating the Caribbean transit back to the U.S.

San Antonio (Santiago), Chile

The port for Chile’s capital city, Santiago, is San Antonio, a fishing hub that’s also near Chilean wine country. During winter 2019-2020, Oceania Cruises’ 1,250-passenger Marina will again sail extensively to South American ports. For example, during its February 24, 2020 cruise from Buenos Aires to Lima, the ship will call at five ports in Chile, including San Antonio, as well as ports in Uruguay and Peru. 

Santiago, Chile will be visited by Oceania Cruises’ 1,250-passenger Marina during winter 2019-2020. //Photo by Getty Images / pawopa3336

Inspired by Canyon Ranch, its onboard spa operator, Oceania is launching several new South American wellness shore excursions. During a new “Wellness and Mindfulness at Vina Casa Marin” excursion from San Antonio, Oceania’s guests will travel through the scenic San Antonio Valley to Vina Casa Marin, a boutique winery near Lo Abarca. They’ll receive a welcome herbal infusion, learn about the vineyard’s history and walk to a high point for instructor-led yoga, pranayama and meditation. That introspective experience will be followed by a three-course meal paired with Vina Casa Marin wines; both the chef and sommelier will give guidance about the selections.  

Oceania also has new wellness shore excursions at Buenos Aires, Callao (Lima) and Manta, Ecuador, plus new culinary excursions in five South American countries.

Callao (Lima), Peru

Among the new oceangoing ships heading to South America and, in particular, Callao, is Hapag-Lloyd CruisesHanseatic inspiration, a dual English / German speaking expedition vessel, which launches in October 2019. Guests can expect ultra-luxury accommodations, including a 764-square-foot Grand Suite with a 172-square-foot balcony; those top digs also feature separate living, sleeping and dining areas and a daylight bathroom with two sinks, a free-standing bath, rain shower and veranda access.

On November 14, 2019, Hanseatic inspiration will sail a 14-day voyage from Bridgetown, Barbados to Callao with calls at many smaller ports and eco-sites in both the southern Caribbean and along South America’s Pacific coastline. One nice perk for English speakers is the offering of English speaking shore trips. Another highlight is the line’s post-cruise add-on from Callao — a “Machu Picchu — In the Footsteps of the Incas” journey. 

Ushuaia, Argentina

Many voyages bound for Antarctica depart from Ushuaia, but this port is also the gateway to Patagonia, a stunningly gorgeous eco-landscape that’s now high on the “bucket list” for some luxury cruisers. Ponant’s 264-passenger Le Boreal sails a 13-night “Adventure in Patagonia” expedition cruise on March 7, 2020 from Ushuaia to Valparaiso, Chile. During the cruise, travelers can explore spectacular scenery in Argentina and Chile, set out by Zodiacs to explore remote spots, observe wildlife / marine life and see glaciers and fjords. 

What’s new? Pre-cruise, Ponant is now offering a limited-availability, optional premium package that includes a flight to Ushuaia, a one-night stay at the Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa, one of the city’s newer properties, and an excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park. Situated along the Beagle Channel, the park is home to mountains, lagoons, bogs and rivers. Also included are breakfast, lunch one day at a park restaurant, transfers, the services of a tour escort one day and a tour guide the next (both bilingual / English speakers) and more. 

Ushuaia (here), the capital of the Tierra del Fuego province in Argentina, charms guests because of its  proximity to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, which is home to mountains, lagoons, bogs and rivers.//Photo: Getty Images / Sergdid

Another expeditionary line, Lindblad-National Geographic, offers a “Best of Patagonia: From Torres del Paine to Cape Horn” on November 27, 2019 and also March 8, 2020. Operating between Santiago, Chile and Ushuaia on the 102-passenger National Geographic Orion, guests will explore Patagonia by land and sea, as well as sailing in Chile’s fjords. If reserved by October 18, the itineraries will include a complimentary bar tab and gratuities for guests.

What’s interesting about this itinerary is its overland portion pre-cruise. The itinerary starts with one night in Santiago, one night in Punta Natales, and then three days at Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, located within Torres Del Paine National Park. Guests can go hiking, kayaking or horseback riding or just admire the scenery. Another option for guests in Ushuaia is to book Lindblad-National Geographic’s four-day extension to Easter Island, Chile. 

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Adding a jazzy southern twist to embarkation, Crystal Cruises’ “Rio Rendezvous” on the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony sails from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro, departing January 5, 2019. Pre-cruise the luxury line offers a pampering stay at New Orleans’ luxurious Windsor Court Hotel, which recently received a $22 million renovation. The cruise itself is also one of the line’s “Wine and Food Festival” cruises. It calls at Grand Cayman, Curacao and Grenada in the Caribbean; Devil’s Island, French Guiana; and Recife, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro (overnight onboard). 

For those wishing to stay longer in Rio, Crystal offers an appealing post-cruise package at the Art-Deco-styled Belmond Copacabana Palace, home to an iconic bar, botanical spa and the Michelin-starred Mee, a pan-Asian restaurant by celebrity chef Ken Homs. It serves up sushi, sashimi, spicy tangerine salad, Hong Kong prawns, many kinds of dumplings, including Shanghai lobster soup dumplings and Japanese pork gyoza dumplings. For the entrée, we’d opt for the Wagyu sirloin with seared foie gras and spicy miso sauce. Plus, those seeking to imbibe can choose from among 25 imported sakes. 

Certainly, Rio has a party aura, especially on New Year’s Eve. Azamara Club Cruises will offer a 15-night “New Year’s Eve in Rio” voyage on Azamara Pursuit, departing December 21, 2019. That ship joins the Azamara fleet this month after a major renovation / update. During the holiday cruise, it will dock in Rio for two days, giving guests plenty of time to explore. Azamara’s options include a 4-by-4 outing in Tijuca National Park, samba lessons at Villa Riso, Rio by bicycle or a Brazilian cooking class. 

What’s nifty? To allow guests to party hearty on New Year’s Eve and really soak in the destination’s approach to the holiday, Azamara Pursuit sails at 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve from Rio de Janeiro to Copacabana Beach, just a short distance away. The ship will arrive about 10 p.m. Guests can ring in the New Year onboard the ship or head ashore for the local revelry. The ship will depart about 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day.   

Recife, Brazil

The Atlantic Ocean port of Recife, often called the “Venice of Brazil,” is just one of many Brazilian ports on a new 44-day “Voyages of the Americas” itinerary for Holland America Line’s Koningsdam, sailing from Port Everglades, FL to San Diego, CA, on March 15, 2020. This 2,650-passenger ship has such public activity areas as Music Walk (with multiple musical venues from classical music to pop hits and the blues), America’s Test Kitchen and Explorations Central, a destination-centric space with high-tech features and “live” assistance from destination experts to help guests make the most of their time ashore. 

The colonial city of Olinda in Brazil has pastel-colored stucco buildings that will attract guests sailing to Recife on Holland America. // Getty Images / filipefrazao

If guests book Holland America’s “Recife and Historic Olinda” shore excursion, they’ll head out by van to see Recife’s many bridges, Boa Viagem Beach and the Governor’s Mansion (housing the city’s administrative offices) before visiting the nearby colonial city of Olinda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded by the Portuguese, Olinda has lovely pastel-colored stucco buildings with intricately carved doors and homes with balconies overlooking narrow streets. Guests will walk along cobblestoned streets, stop at Cathedral Square, and visit Casa da Cultura, a former prison that’s now a cultural / handicraft center; shops sell wood, clay and ceramic creations, traditional rag dolls and hand-crafted rugs. 

Independently, cruisers can shop at numerous Recife malls, including Shopping Recife, the city’s largest center with hundreds of shops. A bit different shopping experience unfolds at the historic Paco da Alfadega building, decorated with mosaics and ceramic tiles created by local artists; it houses several levels of shops focused on fashion, cuisine and culture. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Celebrity Cruises takes its Modern Luxury concept to South America in 2020 with sailings by the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse. We’d suggest the 14-night “Argentina, Rio and Uruguay” itinerary, departing roundtrip from Buenos Aires on February 16, 2020. Guests overnight on the ship in Buenos Aires before the cruise heads out to two ports in Uruguay and four in Brazil, including a double overnight in Rio de Janeiro. 

In Buenos Aires, Celebrity’s guests can opt for a four-hour “Chef’s Market Discoveries — Argentinian Culinary Treasures and Private Dinner,” as they head out with the line’s chef for a culinary and cultural journey into the Bohemian heart of the city. Or, during “The Argentine Experience and San Telmo Market” excursion, cruisers can not only taste regional delicacies but learn to make them too.  

Departing January 3, 2019, Viking Ocean Cruises’ 930-passenger Viking Sun will sail a new 23-day “From Miami to South America” voyage. Guests will receive nine guided tours (included in the cruise fare) at ports along the way. Calls include San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. George’s, Grenada; Devil’s Island, French Guiana; Recife, Salvador de Bahia, Armacao dos Buzios and Rio de Janeiro (overnight), Brazil; plus Montevideo, Uruguay and ending with a Buenos Aires overnight onboard. 

We’d suggest taking Viking’s “Argentine Wine Tasting and Lunch” excursion in Buenos Aires, cruisers will travel to celebrated sommelier Aldo Graziani’s namesake restaurant in San Telmo to learn about wine history, taste local vintages and pair those with cuisine created by the restaurant’s head chef. 

Another option for fit, active travelers is a 13-hour tour that begins with a flight to Puerto Iguazú, the gateway to Iguazú Falls or “big water,” which straddles the Argentine and Brazilian border. Once they arrive at Iguazu Falls National Park, guests will walk along jungle trails, catwalks and observation decks to view hundreds of separate falls. They can also board an eco-train for a ride around the park. Adventurous cruisers can take an optional Zodiac ride “into” the falls. Lunch (and, at times dinner – based on flight schedules) is included, and then cruisers fly the same day back to the ship in Buenos Aires.

In Buenos Aires, a Princess excursion will take guests to La Boca District, which is known  for its multi-colored houses, street art and tango cafés. // Photo by Getty Images / diegograndi

For the 2019-2020 South American season, Princess Cruises’ 2,000-passenger Coral Princess and its sister, 2,200-passenger Island Princess, will sail within the region. One plus is that the line is including overnight stays in Buenos Aires, Callao and Rio de Janeiro. For the granddaddy of all Princess’ South American offerings, upscale travelers should check out Island Princess’ 58-day “Circle South America” cruise roundtrip from Port Everglades, FL, departing January 9, 2020. 

During their two days in Buenos Aires, Princess’ guests can visit Recoleta Cemetery to view the final resting place of Eva Peron or “Evita” or Plaza de Mayo / Casa Rosada for their significant role in the 19th-century revolution that led to Argentine independence. One Princess excursion visits La Boca District with its pretty, multi-colored houses, street art and tango cafes. Another excursion combines a visit to Recoleta Cemetery with an outing to an Argentine Estancia, a cattle ranch. Cruisers will chow down at a gaucho barbecue and see a show demonstrating Argentine cowboys’ horsemanship. 

Whatever South American ports upscale travelers most desire to visit, new options and enticing cultural, heritage and eco-sites await for 2019 and 2020. For “been there, done that” cruisers who’ve sailed in Europe, Alaska or the Caribbean, it’s a new global experience as they journey into the Southern Hemisphere. 

Into the Amazon

Delfin Amazon Cruises, a small ship, upscale river line in the Peruvian Amazon, has joined Relais & Chateaux, a portfolio of luxury hospitality providers. Standards for admission to the prestigious collection are strict. Delfin operates multiple boutique river vessels, including the recently renovated Delfin 1, which accommodates 12 guests maximum. Its four oversized suites have panoramic terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows; two of those offer private whirlpools. 

On Delfin 1’s top decks, guests have access to a lounge area, entertainment center and full-service bar and restaurant offering contemporary Creole dishes made with fresh Amazon ingredients. Delfin also operates two other luxurious vessels, Delfin II and Delfin III, the latter with a 597-square-foot Owner’s Suite. 

Delfin Amazon Cruises’ Delfin I has four suites with terraces that offer sweeping views; two of them have private whirlpools.

Just a few of the operators using Delfin’s vessels for their Amazon itineraries are Lindblad-National Geographic, AdventureSmith Explorations and Avalon Waterways, among others. For example, Avalon Waterways uses Delfin III to operate part of its 11-day “From the Incan Empire to the Peruvian Amazon” itinerary with multiple departures throughout 2019 and 2020.

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