Cruising and Land Tour Company Profiles
As beautiful as it is vast, it's practically impossible to see everything Patagonia has to offer in one visit. It's not surprising that there are hundreds of companies out there that offer various ways to explore, be it land-based touring, sea cruising, or a combination of both.
Boutique Cruise and Land Combo Tours
Boutique tour operators often offer what the major cruise lines cannot: personalized service and attention. At sea you might end up seeing or doing similar things as you would while sailing on a big cruise. But during the land portion of these trips you'll have more chances to explore the region doing the activities you really like—be it mountain biking, horseback riding, or relaxing at a family-run estancia or lodge.
Adventure Center. Groups of 12–16 travelers explore Patagonia by land and sea, staying mainly in four-star boutique-style hotels and aboard the comfortable Mare Australis. Who it's for: Those who prefer traveling in small groups. Highlights: Cruising the labyrinthine archipelagos of the Chilean fjords and hopping on Zodiacs to discover more of the resident wildlife. Departs: Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile. Ships: M/V Mare Australis accommodates up to 130 passengers. Route(s): Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, and Tierra del Fuego followed by a four-day voyage along Beagle Channel to Cape Horn, the Chilean Fjords and Gunther Pluschow Glacier. Sail to Magdalena Island penguin colony; disembark at Punta Arenas and drive to Puerto Natales. Drive via Milodon Cave to Torres del Paine for an optional walk to Paine Towers or boat trip on Lake Grey. Drive to Calafate and visit Perito Moreno Glacier. Return to Buenos Aires. Starting from US$1,700 for five days. 800/227–8747; www.adventurecenter.com.
Adventure Life. They specialize in small-group tours that have a positive impact on the local culture and environment. Their Patagonia options are as varied as the terrain: you can secure crampons and trek a glacier, board a motor yacht and explore the fjords, or grab your packs and head for the towering spires of Chile's Torres del Paine. Who it's for: Eco-conscious travelers who enjoy camping and eating under the stars as much as a three-course meal at a local restaurant. Highlights: A picnic lunch sitting on the lateral moraine of Perito Moreno Glacier listening to its thunderous concerto of groaning and cracking ice dropping into the lake below. Departs: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ships: M/V Via Australis accommodates 129 passengers. Route(s): El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park with two nights at a historic hacienda. Overland journey to Torres del Paine in Chile to enjoy the sights of Grey Glacier and the Horns of Paine over fine Chilean wine. The trip ends by boarding the expedition ship Via Australis for a sea journey through the Strait of Magellan. Starting from US$1,500 for seven days. 406/541–2677; 800/344–6118; www.adventure-life.com.
Big Five Tours & Expeditions. They offer everything from custom-designed private vacations to fully escorted special-interest groups; from engaging family-oriented tours to romantic honeymoons. Guests who partake in the 16-day Patagonia & Antarctica trip are treated to sumptuous meals paired with local wines and stays at designer hotels and resorts as well as a four day cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula. Who it's for: Soft-adventure travelers accustomed to comfort and style. Highlights: Glaciers, ice burgs and Torres del Paine. Departs: Santiago, Chile. Route(s): Santiago, Punto Arenas, Antarctic Peninsula, Patagonia (Torres del Paine, Aysen). Starting from $7,300 for 13 days. 772/678–0935; 888/565–6112; www.bigfive.com.
Cruceros Australis. They promote and sell ship tickets for the Expedition Cruisers that sail the Magellan Strait and Beagle Channel. Cruceros Australis offers programs between three- to seven-nights from September to April. Who it's for: Travelers with limited time to explore the region. Highlights: Navigate through Beagle Channel to disembark near the Pia Glacier; penguin excursions; Cape Horn visit. Departs: Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina. Ships: Mare Australis and Via Australis. Route(s): Punta Arenas, Ainsworth Bay and Tucker Islet, Pia Glacier and Glacier Alley, Cape Horn, Wulaia Bay, Ushuaia. Starting from $1,200 for 3 days. 305/695–9618; 877/678–3772; www.australis.com.
ElderTreks. This adventure travel company is designed for people 50 and over. Their 16-day Patagonia Trekking tour accommodates up to 16 guests and includes all meals and domestic flights. Who it's for: Active older travelers who prefer a mix of nature and culture. Highlights: Navigate by Zodiac along the Perito Moreno Glacier. Departs: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ships: Zodiac boats. Route(s): Buenos Aires, Tigre, El Chaltén, Mount Fitz Roy Perito Moreno, Torres del Paine, Punto Arenas. Starting from $5,800 for 16 days. 416/588–5000; 800/741–7956; www.eldertreks.com.
G Adventures. Specializing in small-group outdoor adventure travel, this outfitter takes you off the beaten track to the heart of the destination. Expect anywhere from 12 to 15 travelers on the three-week Patagonia Dreaming adventure, an exploration of Argentina's Lake District and Patagonia's towering fjords. Who it's for: Budget-conscious and adventurous spirits who prefer to experience a destination at a grass-roots level. Highlights: Doing the W trek and exploring glaciers. Departs: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ships: Ferry cruise ship. Route(s): Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Puerto Varas, Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine, Perito Moreno, Ushuaia, Buenos Aires. Starting from $3,500 for 12 days. 416/260–0999; 800/465–5600; www.gapadventures.com.
International Expeditions. One of the pioneers in environmentally responsible travel, IE aims to preserve the natural habitats they visit and to improve the welfare of local communities. Exploring on foot, by ship, and by vehicle, you visit the remote regions of Chile's Patagonia accompanied by naturalist guide Claudio Vidal, a native Chilean photographer and author of books on birds and penguins. Who it's for: Active travelers who take pleasure in relaxing by a crackling fire with a glass of merlot as much as walking a mile to snap the perfect photo of Austral parakeets. Highlights: A sail along the 15-mile-long Grey Glacier, the final tongue of the 300-mile-long Southern Patagonia Ice Field, and then a walk on 20,000-year-old ice before enjoying cocktails back on board. Departs: Punto Arenas, Chile. Ships: Alberto de Agostini accommodates 80 passengers. Route(s): Fly into Punta Arenas and take the ferry to penguin colonies and later towards Puerto Natales to watch Andean condors and pink flamencos. Cruise through Last Hope Fjord and explore Torres Del Paine, Grey Glacier, Paine Waterfalls on foot. From Torres del Paine you'll cross to El Calafate and Argentina's Glacier Park then return from El Calafate, or add a three-day extension to the Chilean fjords aboard Via Australis includes exploring Cape Horn. Starting from $5,800 for 11 days. 205/428–1700; 855/230–9640; www.ietravel.com.
Quark Expeditions. One of the leading operators of polar expedition cruises aboard comfortable but powerful Russian polar icebreakers. Who it's for: They offer three ways to travel: Icebreaker Adventures take you to regions inaccessible to traditional expedition vessels, with aerial sightseeing by onboard helicopters; Active Adventures offer landings for camping, cross-country skiing, kayaking, overnight kayaking and mountaineering; and leisure travelers can opt for Adventures in Comfort, which explore the region at a more relaxed pace. Highlights: The Icebreaker Adventure takes you to an emperor penguin rookery while the chicks are very young. Departs: Ushuaia, Argentina. Ships: The Icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov is equipped with helicopters and Zodiacs for shore landings. Former research vessels Professor Multanovskiy and Akademik Shokalskiy accommodate up to 50 guests each. Lyubov Orlova (110 guests) and Ocean Nova (82 guests) are Expedition Ships that provide softer adventures in a comfortable environment. Route(s): The 10- to 12-day Classic Antarctica itinerary sails from Ushuaia through the Drake Passage, to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands before returning to Ushuaia. Starting from $5,600 for 11 days. 888/979–4073; 802/490–1843; www.quarkexpeditions.com.
Travcoa. This luxury outfitter offers escorted, custom journeys and private-jet expeditions. Who it's for: Active adventure travelers who expect the best in comfort. Highlights: Taking a swim in the thermally heated seawater at Deception Island. Departs: Ushuaia, Argentina. Ships: The Sea Spirit is equipped with stabilizers and an ice-hardened hull, ideal for navigating Antarctica's rugged environment. The ship accommodates 114 guests and features a 2:1 passenger-to-crew ratio. Route(s): Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Drake Passage, South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage, Ushuaia. Starting from $8,800 for 12 days. 888/979–0675; 310/730–1263; www.travcoa.com.
Wildland Adventures. Authentic travel is this outfitter's priority and they help you choose the right trip and itinerary that meets your personal style and interests. During their 13-day adventure, In the Wake of Magellan: Patagonia by Land & Sea, guests are led by naturalist guides in the national parks and then embark on a five-day voyage through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel. Who it's for: Soft-adventure travelers and families who appreciate being guided by locals. Highlights: Hike on guanaco trails though Patagonian steppe to the spectacular Salto Grande waterfall in Torres del Paine. Departs: Santiago, Chile. Ships: Mare Australis accommodates up to 129 passengers. Route(s): Santiago, Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine, Grey Glacier, Punto Arenas, Ainsworth Bay, Marinelli Glacier, Brookes Glacier, Pia Glacier, Cape Horn, Wulaia Bay, Ushuaia, El Calafate, Perito Moreno, Bueno Aires. Starting from $6,900 for 13 days. 206/365–0686; 800/345–4453; www.wildland.com.
Boutique Land Tours
Andes Adventures. Led by local bilingual guides with in-depth knowledge of the culture and history of the region, this company features all-inclusive trips for 12 to 20 participants. The Patagonia Hiking Adventure explores the three national parks in the region (Torres del Paine, Los Glaciares, and Tierra del Fuego) with hikes to the base of the Towers of Paine, Cerro Torre, and Fitzroy. During the trip you'll tour Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, and Buenos Aires, and spot penguins, guanacos, flamingos, and other wildlife. You'll like these trips if your days at hostels may be over, but you still enjoy traveling in a group, eating simple but hearty meals, and staying in rustic mountain lodgings with shared bathrooms. 310/395–5265; 800/289–9470; www.andesadventures.com.
Butterfield & Robinson. Well-heeled travelers with B&R trade in their Chanel coats for North Face fleece jackets; they hike between wine tastings and meals at Michelin-starred restaurants; and rest their weary heads at super-luxe hotels. During their bespoke Patagonia Walking tour, guests check out the rare and unusual trees of the Bosque de Arrayanes, strap on crampons for an ice climb in Perito Moreno Glacier, hike in Torres del Paine, and enjoy a glass of great local wine while taking in spectacular glacier views from a hotel room in Los Glaciares National Park. Specialty: Taking it slow during walking and biking trips. 416/864–1354; 866/551–9090; www.butterfield.com.
Focus Tours. English-speaking naturalists guide all of this company's birding tours. They also carry the equipment: a spotting telescope, tape recorder and microphone to bring rare animals into view, and a powerful spotlight for night viewing. A checklist of the birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians of each area they tour, with common English and Latin names, helps participants keep track and learn the animals they see. They offer custom tours to the Valdés Peninsula, El Calafate, Tierra del Fuego, Bariloche, and Chile's Lake District. Specialty: Wildlife- and bird-watching tours. 505/216–7780; 505/216–9696; www.focustours.com.
Geographic Expeditions. Expect accommodations in superb hotels and estancias, intimate group sizes, and leaders intimate with the corners of Patagonia. Travelers hike among the astounding granite monoliths, forests, and blue lakes of the Torres del Paine and Fitzroy. Tours farther afield go to the Aysén Glacier region in Chile, kayaking in the Pumalín Reserve, and fishing in Lago Yungue in Bariloche. Specialty: Luxurious private itineraries. 415/922–0448; 888/570–7108; www.geoex.com.
Inca. This outfitter offers three Patagonia itineraries, each highlighting a different aspect of Patagonia but all including four days in Torres del Paine at the deluxe Explora Salto Chico or Tierra Patagonia lodges. Patagonia, The Wild South includes a cruise through the Strait of Magellan aboard the Mare Australis to see elephant seals, penguins, seabirds, and glaciers. During the Patagonia Spring trip, you'll witness the annual migration of whales, learn to tango in Buenos Aires, and enjoy a minitrek on Perito Moreno Glacier. Their Christmas in Patagonia escape includes a night in Santiago, seeing nesting penguins in Punta Arenas, and spending a week of horseback riding, hiking, and enjoying spa treatments at Explora in Chile. 510/420–1550; www.inca1.com.
Journeys International. Trips, which may be combined with Antarctic cruises, offer opportunities to hike, kayak, climb on a glacier, and get up close to penguins. In Chile, they offer a nine-day Torres del Paine trek suitable for active travelers able to make demanding hikes of five to six hours per day. In Argentina, they offer a two-week Patagonia Nature Safari that begins in Buenos Aires and travels along the Atlantic coast to Bahia Bustamente, for bird-watching, sailing, trekking, and mountain biking. Guests venture to Gaiman, a traditional Welsh village, the Valdés Peninsula, Tierra del Fuego National Park, and Los Glaciares National Park, including a trek on Perito Moreno Glacier. 734/665–4407; 800/255–8735; www.journeys-intl.com.
Ladatco Tours. Offers more than 35 years of experience planning and operating tours in South America. In Patagonia they offer eight different programs, which vary from a two-day journey crossing the Lake District, from Puerto Montt to Bariloche, and exploring the Inland Fjords of Chile, known for pristine forests, lakes, and national parks, to exploring Tierra del Fuego and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. They can tailor a trip that follows your wish list. 305/854–8422; 800/327–6162; www.ladatco.com.
Myths and Mountains. Offering 10-day trips to either Argentina or Chile, this company takes care of the details. Group size is 6–10 guests; average age is 45. In Argentina, guests hike and canoe in Tierra del Fuego National Park, navigate the massive ice blocks aboard a Zodiac boat in Los Glaciares National Park, and hike the beech forests of El Mirador del Beagle in Ushuaia. The base in Chile is Torres del Paine National Park, where guests choose from a number of hikes and horseback rides, and explore the Blue Lagoon. 775/832–5454; 800/670–6984; www.mythsandmountains.com.
Nature Expeditions International. This outfitter specializes in low-intensity adventures tailored for active, healthy persons over 40. NEI also offers plenty of cultural or sightseeing excursions. Highlights of their Journey to Patagonia and the Southern Cone trips include a private tango lesson, glacier cruising, fishing and hiking in Los Glaciares National Park, hiking near a penguin colony, bicycling, and white-water rafting or horseback riding in Bariloche's Lake District. Also included are lectures on Patagonia's wildlife, Patagonia historical expeditions, wine tasting and more. 954/693–8852; 800/869–0639; www.naturexp.com.
WINGS. Guests explore the Valdés Peninsula, with its dry stony plains covered in xerophytic bushes and occupied by tinamous and rheas, remote beaches teeming with elephant seals and sea lions, whales, and colonies of seabirds. In Los Glaciares National Park, search the forests and steppes for seed-snipe and sierra-finches. In the southern beech forests of Tierra del Fuego the search is for Magellanic woodpeckers followed by a ferry trip down the Beagle Channel among albatrosses, penguins, and sea lions. The 16-day tour requires gentle walking, sometimes for up to six hours, accommodates four to 14 people plus two guides, includes transportation, and lodging in comfortable hotels/motels. Specialty: Tours are strongly oriented toward birds and led by guides with varied interests in natural history. 520/320–9868; 888/547–9868; www.wingsbirds.com.