Some small ships cruise the continent’s East and West Coasts, often en route between a summer season in Europe and winter in Antarctica. Smaller vessels can also cruise many of the Chilean fjords and waterways at the tip of the continent. River cruises ply the Upper Amazon Basin mainly in Peru, often combined with a rain forest lodge stay. The Galapagos are a big draw for wildlife with dozens of small expedition-style ships and yachts. Post-cruise options are the wilds of Patagonia and especially Torres del Paine National Park.
The vast region includes Peru with dozens of rainforest waterways, full of animal and bird life, that feed into the main river, now called the Amazon, to pass west to east through northern Brazil, passing Manaus where the big ships turn around, and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. Riverboat cruises on the Upper Amazon and its tributaries are often combined with rainforest lodge stays.
Buenos Aires is the most European city on the South American continent, and many small ships call there at the start and end of the Antarctica season, then proceed south to the Falklands Islands and the islands of Terra del Fuego to base themselves at the port of Ushuaia. Rugged Patagonia is generally a pre- or post-cruise, multi-day destination.
Only small ships can navigate the full length of the often-narrow waterway paralleling Chile’s Pacific Coast to enter tidal lagoons, run rapids and edge up to one of several glaciers sliding down the monumental Andes Mountain Range.
Few ships call along Colombia’s Pacific Coast, while many more pull into the Caribbean coast’s Spanish-settled Cartagena.
The country features in pre- and post-Galapagos cruise itineraries with stays at Quito, the capital city, and the islands’ air access point, and sometimes the large coast port at Guayaquil.
These Pacific islands, nearly 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador, contain birds and animals known nowhere else in the world as their unique features developed in isolation from near relatives such as marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants and sally lightfoot crabs.
The country attracts small-ship expedition travelers to its rainforests and the intricate waterways of the upper Amazon basin in search of wildlife in the air, on land and in the rivers. Often, travelers add land extensions to the Inca mountain ruins at Machu Pichu.