South America offers the best of two worlds: the natural one, in the Amazon, Galapagos, and the northern reaches of Antarctica; and the urban one, from beautiful Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, and Montevideo. Itineraries range from seven days to several weeks and often cruise between Rio or Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, Chile (relatively close to Santiago). Cruises that focus on the Amazon River typically sail between Manaus, Brazil, and Rio or Buenos Aires. If you’ve got the time, see it all with a cruise circumnavigating the continent.
What We Love
Colonial Architecture: Beautiful churches, theaters, mansions, and grand boulevards built by the Spanish and Portuguese are found in cities throughout Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
Cultural Mix: From the African, Spanish, Portuguese, and indigenous peoples of Brazil to the migration of Germans to Chile and Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, South America is as multiculti as they come.
Fjords: The Chilean fjords are even more spectacular than the Norwegian and Alaskan ones, though only small ships can get through them and around Cape Horn.
Best Known For
The Amazon: The mighty Amazon River flows from Peru into Brazil and empties into the Atlantic. It’s the quintessential jungle river, complete with piranhas and alligators.
Machu Picchu: The spectacular 15th-century Inca sight high up in the Andes Mountains of Peru is definitely worth a visit — many cruise lines offer multiday overland trips there.
European-Flavored Cities: Parts of Buenos Aires feel like Paris, sections of Lima and Montevideo are Spanish, and Rio de Janeiro still embraces its Portuguese past.
Shop for Cruises
Buenos Aires: Grand old buildings (check out Teatro Colón), café life, ornate churches, and cemeteries like La Recoleta, plus gorgeous people all come together to make this a top port.
Rio de Janeiro: The harbor with its towering Christ the Redeemer statue is out of this world, while the nightclubs and beaches are prime places to people-watch and check out the fashion and dance trends.
Puerto Montt: This port is the gateway to the gorgeous Chilean fjords and South America’s answer to the English Lake District. Some ships also stop at nearby Chiloé Island, where beautiful wooden churches built by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries are painted in bright colors.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Be Wary of Crime: Big cities tend to have big problems. Many here, especially Rio, are known for their high crime rates.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.