The cruising "was more notable for its geographic and historic significance than for views."
We "lucked out as the clouds parted to display the distinctive Torres del Paine salmon pink granite towers."
Cosmopolitan cities and rugged natural wonders
Nov. 8-Dec. 1, 2013: four days in Buenos Aires, flew to Iguazu Falls (Argentina side) for two nights, then took a 12-day cruise that started in BA and disembarked in Valparaiso, Chile.
Buenos Aires is a large cosmopolitan city with political intrigue and pain shadowing every turn. Iguazu was definitely a do-not-miss highlight. The cruise had a lot of gray days on rough water with some spectacular excursions.
Buenos Aires: famed bullet-riddled Casa Rosada; memorials to the 30,000 kidnapped and killed in the "dirty war" of 1976; Evita museum and tomb--she's under several feet of concrete to prevent theft of her body (again); Colon Theater; tango, which is incredibly erotic and athletic (far more enthralling than flamenco); dog poop everywhere; 12-lane plus streets; Palermo Park; copious quantities of food and red wine at every (long) meal.
Iguazu Falls: on the border of Argentina and Brazil, it's twice the size of Niagara, with 275 thundering waterfalls.
The park is designed so you can get right up to, under and into the falls along an upper and lower circuit (easily walkable; we did both in three hours). The 20-minute boat ride into Diablo is fun for up close views (water camera!) but once you're into the falls, you've got your eyes closed and are shrieking from the powerful downpour.
Stayed at the Sheraton: Fabulous exclusive setting with a view of the falls in the distance and easily walkable to the trails and tram. A little pricey but well worth it.
Easy to grab a cab ($160 pesos), stop at park entrance for passes ($170 pesos each).
Park hours are 8-5 and they actually rope it off.
The first train to the farthest point near the Diablo arrives at our stop around 8:40, but is already packed, having started at the park entrance.
The first boat ride on the lower circle doesn't start until 10:50.
Morning is better for the lower circuit and afternoon for Diablo due to the light.
Note: We debated and declined going also to the Brazilian side because that required additional visas and travel. We didn't feel we missed out.
Holland America Zaandam: 3716 miles with 1407 guests, 615 crew.
Overall, this cruise was not as spectacular as we had expected. The mountains were not as high, the glaciers were not as domineering, the parks not as unique as we had seen elsewhere. The cruising to Ushuaia, the southermost city in the world, and around Cape Horn, was more notable for its geographic and historic significance than for views, though the violent collision of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was pretty cool.
Note: Chilean fjords, like Norwegian fjords, are much like Puget Sound in Seattle.
Punta Arenas, Chile: We had invested in $1000+ each to get to Torres del Paine, which meant a grueling day starting at 6:15 a.m. with about 25 others for a bus to the airport, small planes for an hour to Puerto Natales, then a two-hour bus ride into the park. (And reverse to return.)
We drove pass Lago Sarmiento and Lago Nordenskjold, had a late lunch on a picturesque lake with views of Los Cuernos, the park’s centerpiece, then lucked out as the clouds parted to display the distinctive Torres del Paine salmon pink granite towers.
Ushuaia, Argentina: The ski lift in town to the foot of Glaciar Martial is great fun (cold!). Tierra del Fuego park was boring. The tiny post office is mobbed by all who want to send cards stamped at the southernmost city in the world. Two postcards cost about $8 US. (They sell postcards, too.)
Puerto Montt, Chile: You can take the ski lifts to the peak of Osorno volcano but alas the day was too misty during our visit, and time was short, so we passed. A quick jaunt into the Vicente Perez Rosales national park to see the picturesque Petrohue Falls and rapids, with Osorno in the background—no peak. We never see the peak of the Calbuco volcano, which last erupted in 1972, but got great views from the ship. (Note: Calbuco came to life again in April of 2015.)
Valparaiso, Chile: This disembarkment town surprised us: it’s colorful, picturesque, scattered across 23 hills. We ride an ancient funicular; stop by The Easter Island statue—one of only a handful not on the island; and enjoy the central market, where Chilean cherries were cheap and delicious.