In the far southern reaches of Patagonia, you’ll find the port of Ushuaia clinging to what seems to be the very edge of the Earth, a magnificent region known as Tierra del Fuego. With the striking Martial Mountains looming to the north and the picturesque Beagle Channel to the south, Ushuaia rewards intrepid visitors with stunning panoramas as far as the eye can see. Discover a lively Gentoo and Magellanic penguin rookery on Martillo Island or hike through the subantarctic forest of Tierra del Fuego National Park, an immensely scenic landscape of rushing rivers, glassy lakes and snow-capped peaks. Gain a terrific overview of the area by riding the historic Southern Fuegian Railway, sometimes referred to as “The Train of the End of the World,” and pause at lovely Lapataia Bay for a memorable photograph of the iconic sign indicating the Pan-American Highway’s southern terminus. In the evening, dine on some of the region’s superlative seafood, and if you’ve still got energy, pop into a local bar to hear the fascinating tales of fearless travelers just returned from forbidding Antarctica.
Embark on the adventure of a lifetime, uncovering the world’s most enigmatic and pristine environment, a land of lofty dreams and heroic achievements, resilient creatures and incomparable beauty. In Antarctica, nature’s imagination is fully unleashed as it shapes masses of ice into fantastical shapes that glow from within in hues of blue and green. As you cruise along the rippling waters of the Drake Passage, watch for icebergs appearing on the horizon, some carved into fanciful forms that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern art museum, others iridescent arches that seem to be portals to a faraway world and yet others massive ice shelves fronted by forbiddingly frosty walls. You’ll be accompanied on your journey by enterprising seabirds that take advantage of the ship’s wake to both ease their flight and to detect fish as they disperse. A surprising variety of striking birds hazard the crossing to the last continent, including white-chinned and storm petrels, sooty shearwaters, kelp gulls and black-browed, royal and wandering albatrosses, the latter boasting the world’s largest wingspan, which can grow to an astonishing 12 feet in length. Reaching the South Shetland Islands, the opportunities for discovery truly begin. The more tranquil inlets of this volcanic archipelago might allow for exploration by kayak, bringing you right up to the glimmering chunks of ice bobbing in the sea. Depending on the conditions of weather and ice, you may glide into Yankee Harbor, distinguished by a long, pebbled spit of land that creates a natural breakwater, and meet a colony of brush-tailed gentoo penguins that numbers in the thousands. Perhaps you’ll hop ashore on Half Moon Island, a dazzlingly white landscape interrupted by bare patches of land where remarkably hardy types of lichen and moss subsist. If Deception Island is accessible, you’ll enter its sea-filled eroded caldera by a narrow passage guarded by mammoth sea stacks and evocatively named Neptune’s Bellows. Scattered throughout this sublime island’s scenery lie vestiges of a British base and a whaling station, evidence of human attempts to subdue this indomitable place. Further south, claim your prize as you reach the staggeringly breathtaking coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, an elongated mass of earth and ice that beckons forth like a finger of godlike proportions. Surrounded by glaciers, Neko Harbor invites you to listen closely as enormous hunks of ice crackle and then crumble into the frigid waters. Paradise Harbor lives up to its name, with a swooping topography that attracts a variety of blubbery mammals such as crabeater, leopard, Weddell and fur seals. In Wilhelmina Bay, marvel at the sight of breaching humpback whales, a spectacular backdrop of pristine snow and faceted ice further elevating the experience. Weave among the slow-moving icebergs of the Lemaire Channel and pause at bustling Booth Island, where endearing Adélie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins coexist amicably. As you depart Antarctica across the briny sea, it’s possible to glimpse minke whales and even pods of orcas gracefully skimming through the waves. Although the exact path you’ll have taken is unknown, you can be certain you’ll be forever changed by your foray into Earth’s true final frontier.
Reenact one of the greatest achievements of the Age of Exploration by rounding legendary Cape Horn, the arresting headland marking the southernmost point of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego and a place once believed to mark the true end of the world. Jutting forbiddingly from Isla Hornos, the cape is distinguished by precipitous bluffs draped with wind-whipped vegetation. Look to the air for sightings of southern giant petrels, red-legged cormorants and southern royal albatross, regal seabirds equipped to handle the sometimes harsh conditions. Should weather permit, relish an opportunity to alight on Isla Hornos. Although trees cannot flourish at this latitude, you’ll learn that abundant rainfall contributes to a lush terrain of grasses, mosses and lichens that swathe the landscape in shades of green, ochre and burnt sienna. Follow a boardwalk to the memorial dedicated to sailors who have perished in these waters, a splendid steel sculpture that features the silhouette of an albatross, and take a truly memorable photograph beside the world’s southernmost lighthouse.
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