Chile Expedition Cruise: Puerto Williams to Valparaiso

Aboard the Silver Explorer

Note: Cruise rate includes roundtrip economy class air.


This voyage embraces what Patagonia is known for—stunning scenery and a wealth of wildlife. Begin by cruising past fabled Cape Horn, a must for sailors and travelers alike. Spend a day in Ushuaia, not missing the opportunity to enjoy a train ride through Tierra del Fuego National Park. Be on deck for the next few days as you won’t want to miss the shimmering beauty of the Chilean Fjords, where waterfalls trace the slopes of looming mountains and glaciers spill into the sheltered waters. A highlight is exploring Torres del Paine National Park, one of Patagonia's magnificent gems with its turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and mountains covered by ice. The little town of Puerto Natales, the remote village of Tortel, plus Castro and Niebla offer a fascinating insight into the history of the region.

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.


Day 1
Puerto Williams, Chile / Embark

Arrive in Puerto Williams, located on Navarino Island on the southern shores of the Beagle Channel. It claims to be the “southernmost city in the world,” but owing to its small size—approximately 2,500 residents—the much larger Argentinean city of Ushuaia, which sits on the northern side of the same channel, also claims that title. The surrounding scenery is magnificent. The wild windswept mountains rise above the tree line and are regularly dusted with snow. The city itself has the dramatic backdrop called “Dientes de Navarino” (literally “teeth of Navarino”), which rival the famous Torres del Paine farther to the north. The area was originally used by the Yaghan people, hunter-gatherers who despite enduring the harsh regional climate, could not weather the arrival of Europeans. The current city was established as a naval base in 1953 and honors the British-Chilean naval commander John Williams Wilson of the 16th century. Initially it served to protect territorial possessions and fishing rights of the area, as well as offering logistical support to Antarctic bases. More recently it has become a departure point for scientific and tourism trips to the Antarctic region. In contrast to the bustle and traffic of a very commercial Ushuaia, Puerto Williams offers a quieter, more relaxed experience. It charms the visitor with a small village feel, complete with rustic buildings and the homely smell of drifting wood smoke—a haven of peace at the end of the world. Embark on the Silver Explorer and depart in the late afternoon.

Day 2
Cruising Cape Horn / Ushuaia, Argentina

In the past, no two words conjured up more fear to sailors than Cape Horn. With its reputation of ferocious storms and mountainous seas it was a place where a seafarer garnered respect for bravery against the odds. The Cape itself is the rugged insular tip of South America that projects into the storm-swept Drake Passage. The Dutch sailor Willem Schouten and merchant Jacob Le Maire, both from the town of Hoorn (hence Cape Horn), put it on the map in 1616 when attempting to circumvent the trade monopoly exercised by the Dutch East India Company over the Straits of Magellan. Once an unavoidable physical gateway to adventure and commerce in the Pacific Ocean, Cape Horn nowadays has more of a spiritual attraction, drawing intrepid travelers to pay homage to the brave sailors who, by necessity, attempted to pass this wild and inhospitable headland. During clear weather, when the island is free from the frequent icy squalls that batter its shores, a 23-foot-high steel monument can be seen standing about a mile away from the true cape, near the Chilean navy station. It depicts the silhouette of an albatross, a bird that is said to carry the souls of those sailors who perished “rounding the Horn.” Continue toward Ushuaia, Argentina, arriving in the late evening.

Day 3
Ushuaia, Argentina

Known as the “End of the World,” Ushuaia looks out across the Beagle Channel, and is surrounded by the Martial Mountains to the north. Despite its remote location, Ushuaia is a surprisingly busy and lively resort, with lots to keep its visitors entertained. For many people, Ushuaia is their last glimpse of anything resembling a city before they jump off the map into the wilderness to answer the call of immense national parks or Antarctic expeditions. One of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet, Tierra del Fuego National Park is a place of titanic natural forces and limitless beauty. Snow-covered mountains poke the sky, while glaciers spill down between peaks, and gaping fjords open up. With incredible wildlife—from penguins to whales—the park offers some of South America's most amazing hiking opportunities and panoramas.

Your excursion here is a ride through Tierra del Fuego National Park aboard a historic train, the first to operate inside an Argentine national park.

Day 4
Garibaldi Fjord & Glacier, Chile

Looming like a colossal river, frozen in the icy hold of time, the Garibaldi Glacier is a stunning, unimaginably vast wedge of slowly creeping blue-white ice, a fitting climax to the voyage through the cinematic majesty of the Garibaldi Fjord. Sail amid tumbling waterfalls, tightly-packed forests, and soaring mountains as you explore the glacier-sculpted Parque Nacional Alberto de Agostini, the newest member of Chile’s exclusive club of extraordinary, remote national parks. Spread across the fractured lands of South America’s southern tip, this is the dramatic region where the peaks of the Andes plunge into the depths of the icy ocean, generating some of Chile’s most spectacular scenery. You may witness occasional chunks of the ancient ice calving and crashing spectacularly into the waters below, as the glacier continues its gradual retreat. The fresh chunks of ice add to the floating confetti of tiny frozen islands all around you, ranging in hues from creamy whites to electric blues. It may appear like a frigid, unforgiving environment at first glance, but the fjord is alive with unique fauna and flora and recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve full of diverse ecosystems. You can spot penguins, sea lions, and Peruvian condors all adding to the rich tapestry of life here.

Day 5
Cruise the Chilean Fjords

Winding through the vast expanses of the Chilean Fjords will reveal mountains looming on both sides, waterfalls, and the marvel of hardy flora clinging to barren rocks. Seals and dolphins patrol the length of these uninhabited fjords as they have done for millennia. Small fishing boats come out of Punta Arenas luring fish and trapping for king crab, while terns dip and glide coaxing their own small fish out of the deep, dark fjord waters among tiny islands thick with vegetation.

Day 6
Montañas Fjord

Voyage deep into the pristine Chilean wilderness and witness scenery that rivals the finest that Norway can offer. Montañas Fjord is a highlight of the Chilean Fjords, cutting a narrow alleyway northward between two rugged mountain ranges, the Cordillera Sarmiento on the west, and the Cordillera Riesco on the east. The “fjord of the mountains” runs for 40 miles and presents a scene so vast that the ship pales into insignificance. Bands of southern beech, winter’s bark, and Patagonian cypress grow along the shores forming a tangled barrier that blocks entry into the interior. As the slopes rise the vegetation becomes increasingly stunted and sparse until finally it stops altogether, leaving bulging slopes of exposed rock. It seems as if it was only yesterday that these slopes were scoured clean by the mighty glaciers that once carved the main channel. Behind the swollen slopes, rugged peaks tower and disappear into swirling clouds. Amid their mysterious and lofty heights are the sources of those glaciers that still reach down to the fjord’s waters, like cracked and crumbling ice-fingers. They pass like bright white and glowing blue milestones as you venture farther into the heart of this uninhabited and little-explored stretch of Patagonia.

Day 7
Puerto Natales, Chile

Far from its origins as a sheep exporting hub, modern-day Puerto Natales is a colorful and vibrant town that serves as the jumping off point for the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park. The park, which lies 2 hours to the north, has some of the most postcard-perfect scenery imaginable and draws tourists from the all over the globe. The three granite pillars may form the highlight after which the park is named, but they are bolstered by magnificent support pieces, such as the nearby “Horns” with their dark tipped peaks, and the vast expanse of the Grey Glacier, an outflow of the Southern Patagonian Icefield. The picture is completed by the milky green waters of Nordenskjöld Lake in the foreground, lending the whole scene a somewhat surreal touch. The must-see park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, also provides ample wildlife spotting opportunities with flocks of guanacos—a relative of the llama—grazing the roadside hills, Andean condors soaring in the heavens, and if you're lucky, perhaps even a glimpse of a puma, for Torres del Paine is considered one of the best places in South America to spot this reclusive cat.

In this wonderland of nature, you will have a choice of excursions: explore the park and its viewpoints by vehicle, with stops for short walks to imposing waterfalls; enjoy a hike at Grey Glacier; hike from the Lago Sarmiento area, spotting the dozens of guanacos that graze here, to the Laguna Amarga entrance to the park; or visit the charmiing town of Puerto Natales and the Milodon Cave, where the remains of a prehistoric sloth were found in 1896.

Days 8-9
Cruising the Chilean Fjords

Spend two days cruising through another section of the Chilean Fjords, admiring the breathtaking scenery and searching for wildlife.

Day 10

Tortel is a commune in Southern Patagonia, a spectacular wilderness region of rugged mountains, glaciers, rivers, and forests of infinite beauty. The uneven geography of Tortel shapes a unique landscape, characterized by an archipelagic area with numerous islands and channels. Tortel is known as the “footbridge city” for the unique beauty of its wooden walkways of cypress that connect the piers and houses of this quaint place through bridges and stairs. Even though it is the sixth largest commune in Chile, it has the lowest population of all with roughly 531 people. The history of the town dates back to 1520 when it was inhabited by nomadic Kawesqar. Its definitive foundation was in 1955, after numerous attempts to populate the area. In 2001, it was declared by the Chilean government as a Picturesque Zone of National Heritage.

Excursions include a visit to Caleta Tortel (above), a coastal village with mostly stilt houses; a Zodiac cruise to Islas de Los Muertos; a loop hike to viewpoints above Tortel; or an unforgettable kayaking tour in search of wildlife.

Days 11-12
At Sea / Castro, Chiloe Island

After a day at sea, arrive in Castro, the capital of Chile’s Chiloe Island. Colorful wooden huts (called “palafitos”) teeter on stilts over the city’s waterfront, warm welcomes abound, music seeps from street corners, and life is celebrated with gusto all over the city. The island is renowned for its UNESCO World Heritage Site wooden churches. Around 70 of them were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, embodying the intangible richness of the Chiloé Archipelago, and bear witness to a successful fusion of indigenous and European culture. Just 16 of the churches are classified by UNESCO, prime examples of the full integration of the architecture in the landscape and environment, as well as to the spiritual values of the communities. The city is Chile’s third oldest city in existence, founded in 1576. Castro thrived peaceably until 1837, when it was destroyed by an earthquake, wiping out most of the population. By 1912 the railway had arrived, allowing the town to develop again. Tragically, the city was once again destroyed in 1960 by a series of earthquakes, tsunamis, and fires. History lovers will definitely enjoy The Regional Museum of Castro. Not only does the small museum house an interesting array of Huilliche relics, but a series of photographs depicting Castro pre-1960 is on display.

Excursions here include a tour of several local villages and a ferry to the Island of Quinchao; visiting the heritage churches of Chiloe Island; hiking in Chiloe National Park; or boating to Isla Conejes to see Magellanic penguins.

Day 13

Niebla is a small seaside resort where the Valdivia River flows into the Corral Bay and the Pacific Ocean, less than 9 miles west of Valdivia. Taken normally as a gateway into Valdivia, the small size of the town belies its historical importance. First visited by Spaniards in 1544, the river next to Niebla was named in honor of the conquistador and governor of Chile, Pedro de Valdivia, who would in 1552 found the city that bears his name. Valdivia was the port of entry into Chile after taking the Magellan Strait or rounding Cape Horn and had to be fortified against pirate attacks. The “Castillo de la Pura y Limpia Concepción de Monfort de Lemus” was built into Niebla’s rocky coastline between 1671 and 1679 and was one of the four important Corral Bay fortifications protecting the entrance of the bay and river. Valdivia’s designation as “The Key to the South Pacific” (meaning that he who holds Valdivia controls the navigation of the Pacific) explains why these fortifications, which eventually would number 17, would be so important in the 17th century. When Darwin visited in 1835, he only saw ruins. Niebla’s fort was declared a Historic Monument in 1950. Partly restored with Spanish help in 1992 to commemorate the V Centennial, the site was further restored in 2013-14 and now is on the tentative World Heritage list as an exceptional sample of the Hispanic-American school on fortifications and as part of the southernmost such system in America.

Excursions around Niebla include exploring Valdivia by boat and on foot; kayaking along the Angachilla River and through wildife-filled wetlands; or hiking at Punta Curiñanco nature reserve, with its wide variety of birds and plants.

Days 14-15
At Sea / Valparaiso / Disembark

After a final day at sea, arrive in Valparaiso and disembark.



Cruise around infamous Cape Horn, with its seafaring legends
Voyage through the stunning Chilean Fjords, viewing snowy mountains and icy glaciers
Enjoy a variety of excursions at Torres del Paine National Park, arguably one of the scenic gems of Patagonia
Explore remote towns including Niebla and Tortel, and the larger towns of Ushuaia, Puerto Williams, and Castro on Chiloe Island


Length: 15 days
Cost From: $11,500  
Arrive: Puerto Williams, Chile
Depart: Valparaiso, Chile
Lodging: 14 nights aboard a 132-passenger vessel, 1 night hotel
Meals: All meals aboard ship, including wine, beer, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Walking, Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

14-day cruise, walking tours and cultural explorations