A Unique Perspective on Patagonia’s Otherworldly Channels
Two-thirds of the way down its coastline, Chile crumples into archipelagos of thousands of islets covered with flourishing vegetation that give way to eerie ice fields. This spectacular filigreed coast is home to startling land- and seascapes as well as icy channels opened by seismic and glacial activity millions of years ago that can only be fully appreciated by ship. The Chilean coastal cruise can be experienced two ways.
One choice is aboard the 110-passenger the most luxurious of the small fleet of red-and-white ships that belong to the Kochifas family, the pioneers who opened this area to international tourism in the late 1970s. Its stops include the island of Chiloe, one of only three inhabited islands in a region where humankind has barely left a mark. Then it’s south to the Strait of Magellan and the breathtaking San Rafael Glacier, the ship’s ultimate destination in Chile’s deep south. The milewide, 9-mile-long glacier rivets one’s attention as its 200-foot ice spires calve off to thunderous roars. The impression is of being among the ice floes of the Antarctic; in fact, the San Rafael is the glacier closest to the Equator.
Alternatively, passengers can opt to ply the southernmost reaches of Chilean Patagonia aboard the Terra Australis, through an area boasting more glaciers than Alaska and more fjords than Norway, Denmark, and Sweden put together. In an area off-limits to most of the larger American and European ships, the compact 114-passenger Terra Australis threads these waterways, skirting the island of Tierra del Fuego in the ghostly wake of Charles Darwin’s ship, the Beagle. The utter silence of these labyrinthine seas inspires the same awe that must have overcome Magellan in 1520 when he stumbled upon these then-uncharted waters at the bottom of the world.