At the bottom of the Earth lies a dazzling world of hanging glaciers, floating icebergs, gushing waterfalls, and towering peaks that rise sheer from blue-green seas. The Patagonian Fjords may sound fantastical but their existence is real, and the drama of their unspoiled beauty eclipses even that of Norway’s well-visited waterways. Accessible by luxury sailboat only, these haunting wonders receive just 12,000 visitors each year – a fraction of the number that descends on their Norwegian rivals. For the few that sail their waters southwards to mythical Cape Horn (Cabo de Hornos) and the world’s end, the sensation is one of awe.
The Patagonian Fjords experience begins in the city of Punta Arenas in Chile, from where cruise ships cross the legendary Magellan Strait (Estrecho de Magallanes) and float south to the Cape through a labyrinthine network of channels, islets, and inlets. As you sail, the extreme beauty of the fjords reveals itself. Mountains rise precipitously out of the sea, glacier after gorgeous glacier cascades down rock faces, and waterfalls plunge into deep channels. Boat excursions magnify this thrilling drama that unfolds at water level – approaching the great Glacier Pea, visitors can watch in wonder as one giant block of turquoise ice after another calf from the glacier’s face into the Pea Fjord in a concerto of thunderous cracks and booms.
FORGET THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS?
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Norway’s fjords are some of the world’s longest and deepest, including Sognefjord, Hardangerfjord, and Geirangerfjord. The beautiful, rugged landscape is also a big draw to this region.
Having fallen victim to their own beauty, these fjords play host to thousands of tourists each year. Sightseers throng them, kayakers paddle them, base-jumpers chuck themselves into them, and the plain lazy drive through them. Search for silent majesty and you find cruise ships. The landscape is marred by a new power line – the world’s second-longest – straddling Sognefjord.
Head for Norway’s less-visited Naeroyfjord and Lysefjord. The latter is overlooked by the stunning 1,970-ft- (600-m-) high Pulpit Rock
Getting There and Around
There are daily flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas in southern Chile, the departure point for cruises to the Patagonian fjords. Four-night cruises sail to Cape Horn before disembarking at Ushuaia in Argentina. Seven-night cruises return to Punta Arenas.
Where to Eat
La Leyenda del Remezón in Punta Arenas offers fresh seafood. Meals on board are four-course affairs served with Chilean wines.
Where to Stay
In Punta Arenas, stay at Hotel Nigeria. Mare Australia boats have three cabin categories. Book ahead for cheaper options.
When to Go
January or February, when days are long and wildlife abundant.
After four days of navigating sheltered waters, you reach the desolately beautiful Cape Horn. Here, looking out across the Cape to where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans collide, one is struck by the utter remoteness of the place. Ice-floes pepper the powerful sea and the howling winds that once thwarted so many expeditions here lash against steep, ragged cliffs. It’s not difficult to believe that Antarctica and the ends of the Earth are just 500 miles (830 km) away.