Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

South America offers unforgettable cruises

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Australia and Asia seem to be the new "in" spots for cruising as more and more ships are spending the winter in Australasia. But don't forget about South America.

My 14-day South American cruise started in Santiago and finished in Buenos Aires. Thanks to sound advice from friends, I stayed three extra days in the Argentine capital.

If Santiago's airport is your first stop, spend a day in Chile's capital and tour wine country. Remember to leave early for your cruise from Valparaiso, an hour or so from Santiago, so there's time to enjoy the food and sights from this terraced city overlooking the Pacific.

You will find the start and finish of your cruise warmest, because the bottom half of the continent can be a pleasant 20 C and switch in a heartbeat to 10 C (or lower) and rain.

Puerto Montt was my first stop after cruising 600 kilometres. It's the start of Chile's Lake District and Patagonia. I decided to rent a car -- big mistake. It took too long for the paperwork and I had to drive like Mario Andretti to visit the areas I had selected. Alas, the main memory my friends will take from Puerto Montt was a fear of dying on a Chilean country road.

Glaciers and interesting ports fill your days around the bottom of Chile through Punta Arenas en route to Ushuaia, Argentina, surrounded by massive peaks and beautiful lakes where the winds howl.

My friends and I opted for the train ride to the end of the world in Ushuaia, a one-hour trip in a small train to Tierra del Fuego. That tour abruptly ended for me when I spotted the Ushuaia Golf Club, the southernmost course in the world. One lone soul was playing, and our chat led to my hitting a couple of shots, which allowed me to brag at dinner and with friends at my home club.

This is where many expedition ships depart for Antarctica cruises. Who doesn't remember history courses about explorers who didn't make it around Cape Horn? All those memories came flashing back as we spent more than an hour circling the cape, where the Pacific, Atlantic and Antarctic oceans meet. The weather was bitterly cold, but no one cared -- this was history, the way to the Pacific for the European explorers.

Puerto Madryn appears to be just a break between Ushuaia and Buenos Aires; instead, it's one of the best penguin-viewing spots on the cruise. The Punta Tombo penguin rookery is why you make a two-hour-plus drive, so you can walk among the Magellan penguins -- 600,000 or more arrive here each summer to breed.

Then comes Montevideo and, finally, Buenos Aires. It has a European feel and is called the Paris of South America. Shopping, nightlife, revelry all seem to fit this city nicely, and on many street corners for a few dollars you can learn to tango.

I went to La Boca, a colourful district where you can wander along La Caminito, examine the crafts and -- if you like -- tango. According to our guide, you don't want to be there at night, and it's wiser to go to a combo dinner-and-tango show to see how the pros do it.

The final day was a tour of Buenos Aires with stops at Eva Peron's tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery. The tour finished at Plaza de Mayo with the Pink House (palace) on one side and the Metropolitan Cathedral on the other.

As cruises go, South America is unique.

-- Postmedia News

Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind-the-scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an email newsletter on the site for even more cruise information. Phil can be contacted directly at portsandbows@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 D2

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