Diverse cultures, breathtaking landscapes, thrilling excursions, and memorable experiences await you in South America. Though land travel offers visitors the opportunity to experience South America’s many sights at your own pace, a luxury South America cruise provides a seamless alternative for those looking to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime destinations like the Amazon Rainforest, Galapagos Islands and Patagonia while enjoying on-board amenities, guided excursions and the convenience of waking up in a new destination. We’ve put together a list of the top luxury South American cruises in 2023 for adventurous travelers looking to experience diverse and thrilling destinations across the continent. Get in touch with a Kuoda travel expert today to kick off the new year on a luxury South American cruise.
1. Cruise To the Amazon Rainforest
– When to go
There are only two seasons along the Amazon: Low Water and High Water. If you choose to travel during the Low Water season (June-November), you can travel up many tributaries and walk deeper into the jungle and local villages to see more wildlife and meet more communities than in the High Water season (December-May) which offers a greater array of fauna but often floods with water that rises 20-30 feet. In the low-water season, which is the warmer of the two seasons, the temperature averages about 98 degrees Fahrenheit and receives 20-25% less rainfall than in the high-water season.
In the high water season, the average temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit, cooler than in the low water season. Although the water levels swell significantly, the rainfall increase is less drastic: 20-25% higher than that of the low-water season. Though the Amazon rainforest has these two distinct seasons, as the name suggests, the Amazon rainforest sees rainfall throughout the year regardless of month or season. The Amazon experiences microclimates, meaning rain can occur in a particular area while other areas remain sunny. Regardless of the season, you will see spectacular Amazon wildlife, birds, and plant life at any time of year.
– The cruise liners
Ships have anywhere between 4-22 rooms, depending on the vessel. All ships come complete with 180° panoramic windows, movie screen-size windows, and first-rate design that offers both elegance and comfort while sailing through the Amazon region. An array of spaces, including the dining room, an observation deck and lounge, a bar, an entertainment center, and a lecture room, among others, provide ideal gathering places for all guests.
• Aqua Expeditions
On board Aqua Expedition’s Aria, 16 spacious suites with floor-to-ceiling windows give guests a full view of the Amazon’s majestic river and rainforests. The top deck features ample amenities that include a jacuzzi, an indoor lounge and bar, and an outdoor observation deck. In the dining room, guests also savor the best of Peruvian cuisine with a comprehensive dining menu created by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, one of Peru’s most accomplished chefs known for using produce and ingredients from the Peruvian Amazon.
With small-group excursions of no larger than eight conducted by highly-experienced naturalist guides, guests can be assured of the most fulfilling, life-enriching wildlife encounters they can get from an Amazon discovery cruise deep in the Amazon rainforest. Our custom-designed ergonomic fleet of private launch boats, manned skillfully by our captain and crew, adds to the comfort of every wild exploration.
Onboard Zafiro’s cruiseliner is 19 spacious suites that come equipped with air-conditioning, en-suite bathrooms, and magnificent views out of floor-to-ceiling windows; and for those on the Upper Deck, their private balconies too. The boat itself has some remarkable standout features, including both exercise and massage rooms, and an outdoor Jacuzzi on the Observation Deck, itself equipped with sun loungers and a bar. Four of the Lower Deck Suites also interconnect, and the remarkable Zafiro Suite has a 180º panoramic view, a large front-facing balcony, and a sofa bed suitable for children younger than 12, making the cruise ideal for families.
– The itinerary
The Peruvian Amazon provides visitors with the optimal opportunity to experience South America’s most untouched natural wonders. On a luxury cruise to the Peruvian Amazon, you will have the opportunity to get a glimpse of monkeys, macaws, and many more of Peru’s most curious animal inhabitants, gloat along the Amazon River and participate in jungle excursions. Witness the immense biodiversity of the Amazon Rainforest and experience the over 965 types of flora and 1000 species of fauna that reside in the Peruvian Amazon.
On more Amazon River itineraries, you’ll set sail from the bustling city of Iquitos and head to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve to enjoy excursions on the water and ashore to help you discover the region’s wildlife and indigenous cultures. Search for pink river dolphins or take jungle walks to find some of the Amazon’s remote inhabitants and enjoy opportunities to explore the river and tributaries by canoe or kayak.
Finally, on your tour, visit Amazonian schools or tour local indigenous communities for a truly culturally immersive program that allows you to understand life in the remote villages of the Amazon, contributing to the livelihoods of the local communities.
2. Cruise to the Galápagos Islands
– When to go
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination suitable for travel and cruises any month of the year. Each month has its own rewards (learn more below). But that said, the experts at Kuoda generally agree that the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands is from December to May. Warm waters, clear oceans, and an abundance of bright sunny days with occasional rainfall to keep flora and fauna active make for the optimal conditions for cruising.
– The cruiseliners
• Aqua Expeditions
As the first true superyacht in the Galapagos Islands, the 50m Aqua Mare takes an iconic once-in-a-lifetime adventure to the next level. Aboard the Italian CRN Yacht-built Aqua Mare, guests will find seven large Zuretti-designed suites, including an 80 sqm Owner’s Suite, extravagant indoor and outdoor social spaces, elegant finishing, and immaculate attention to detail, making it the first of its kind in the region, and the ultimate retreat while exploring the dramatic volcanic landscapes of the Galapagos Archipelago. Exclusivity is combined with the most personalized service enabled by two naturalist guides for 16 guests, on top of the islands’ most exclusive one-to-one crew-to-guest ratio.
• Santa Cruz II
When you are exploring the Galápagos islands with us onboard the MS Santa Cruz II, you will enjoy a relaxed atmosphere in high-quality surroundings. The small size – with a guest capacity of a maximum of 90 allows for a cozy yet classy environment.
• La Pinta Yacht
Galapagos explorers can now enjoy an expedition adventure in the comfort and safety of the 48-guest yacht, La Pinta which offers a relaxed yet lavish expedition atmosphere, with plush outside cabins featuring fine cotton linen, duvets, and a choice of pillows. The crew is made up of professionals, passionate about the Galapagos, and ready to cater to the needs of the most discerning guests.
– The itinerary and highlights
Few cruises cover both the southern and the western islands, so visitors find that they are usually in a position where they have to choose between one or the other. Wherever you visit the Galapagos Islands, the sorts of activities you undertake will be very similar. Activities include hiking along pre-carved trails at land-based Galapagos visitor sites and snorkeling either from the beach or at a marine site further out from the main islands. Visitors can see much of the same wildlife anywhere on the islands. Highlights of trips to both sets of islands will often include seeing the Galapagos penguin, sea lions, blue-footed booby, frigate birds, and marine and land iguanas. There is also a good chance of seeing flamingos on both types of cruises, depending on the specific visitor sites the cruise stops at.
The western islands have itineraries that focus on visitor sites on Isabela Island and Fernandina Island. Fernandina Island is one of the furthest west in the archipelago and is also one of the youngest. It has less vegetation than some of the other commonly visited islands, but this does not equate to a lack of wildlife. In the Southern Islands, the main Galapagos visitor sites here include Espinosa Point, Mangle Point, and San Cristobal. Española Island is the furthest south in the Galapagos Islands. The main visitor sites are Gardner Bay, and Suarez Point which has brilliant stretches of white sand beach, great for snorkeling and relaxing, as well as a wealth of Galapagos birdlife including the waved albatross and a stunning blowhole which is fascinating to watch.
3. Cruise to Patagonia (Argentina)
– When to go
In the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, November through March is considered the high season. However, the weather in Patagonia is unpredictable: strong winds and sudden storms are common. Summertime, December through February, is the best time to visit. Shoulder months—October, November, March, and April—tend to have cooler temperatures but also less wind. In winter, most cruise companies will shut down for the season. October or late spring is the best time to witness the whale migration and the immense colonies of elephant seals and sea lions in Península Valdés.
– The cruiseliners
Setting the global standard for all-inclusive luxury travel, Scenic’s tours, river cruises, and small ship cruises have delighted guests for more than 30 years with memorable journeys to Patagonia. From the generous 344 ft² Verandah Suites to the 2637 ft² Two-bedroom Penthouse Suite, the beautiful accommodation features elegant furnishings, state-of-the-art amenities, a separate sleep zone, and lounge area, butler service, and more to enhance your experience, it’s your ultimate retreat after a day of discovery. The ships also feature restaurants, gyms, and spas for a truly holistic luxury cruising experience.
In 2022 Viking was named Best Luxury Cruise Line by U.S. News & World Report, the company recently launched the Ocantis, Viking’s newest expedition ship built specifically to explore the world’s most remote destinations and allow you to immerse yourself in the Argentinian Patagonia in comfort and style. The staterooms and suites on Viking Octantis are the most spacious and elegant of any expedition ship afloat, offering you an unparalleled level of comfort. Inclusive of meals, wellness treatments, expeditions, and more – Viking offers true luxury to those looking to visit Patagonia.
– The itinerary
Cruising is a leisurely and comfortable way to take in the rugged marvels of Patagonia and the southernmost region of the world. Sailing through remote channels and reaching islands virtually untouched by man, you’ll witness fjords, snow-capped mountains and granite peaks, and glacial lakes. You’ll get a close look at elephant seals, migrating whales, colonies of Magellanic penguins, and cormorants from the comfort of your vessel and during shore excursions taken in Zodiacs (small motorized boats) led by naturalist guides. Far from the beaten path, you’ll visit small fishing villages accessible only by sea, explore fantastic temperate rain forests, and enjoy the freshest seafood and local wines.
Most short cruises depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, depending on the duration of the cruise, longer itineraries typically depart from either Buenos Aires.
4. Cruise to Patagonia (Chile)
– When to go
The best time to visit Chilean Patagonia is November to early March, summertime in the southern hemisphere. Although you’ll compete with heavy crowds during this peak season, the weather is ideal for exploring Torres del Paine National Park and Tierra del Fuego. September, October, and November, spring, welcome colorful blooms, while March, April, and May or the fall, usher in autumnal hues. Both times of year experience mild temperatures and fewer crowds. No matter when you visit, remember to pack layers and a sturdy windbreaker to shield yourself from Patagonia’s chilly year-round winds.
– The cruiseliners
In 2022 Viking was named Best Luxury Cruise Line by U.S. News & World Report, the company recently launched the Ocantis, Viking’s newest expedition ship built specifically to explore the world’s most remote destinations and allow you to immerse yourself in the Chilean Patagonia in comfort and style. The staterooms and suites on Viking Octantis are the most spacious and elegant of any expedition ship afloat, offering you an unparalleled level of comfort. Inclusive of meals, wellness treatments, expeditions, and more – Viking offers true luxury to those looking to visit Patagonia.
• Seabourn Cruises
Seabourn’s ultra-luxury cruises to South America unveil the amazing variety of cultural, historical, and natural wonders to be found there. Visit the dramatic Chilean fjords with an intimate ship with a private club atmosphere. On board, you’ll find world-class dining, expertly curated expeditions, and ocean-front suites with beautifully designed five-fixture marble bathrooms with double vanities. All suites have elegant living areas with a sofa and a dining table.
• Oceania Cruises
With luxurious guestrooms with ocean views, chef-curated meals, and personalized health and wellness treatments, Oceania provides unparalleled luxury on your Chilean Patagonia cruise. From reading comfortably in the library to sipping fine vintages at a wine tasting, a wonderful spectrum of enriching activities awaits you on board. Oceania’s esteemed guest lecturers invite you to discover their unique cultural and destination expertise or learn to prepare a variety of exquisite dishes at The Culinary Center, our state-of-the-art cooking.
– The itinerary
Patagonia cruises embark from Valparaiso, and sail for either 12 or 14 nights, depending on the itinerary. You’ll visit beautiful ports in Chile and Argentina including Puerto Madryn, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, and Ushuaia. From soaring granite spires to glacier-sculpted fjords, immerse yourself in the wonders of Patagonia on a unique expedition by land and sea. Spend three days exploring the blue-ice lakes and razor-backed ridges of Torres del Paine National Park—a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Discover Chile’s deeply indented coast, cruising through a maze-like wonderland of fjords, islands, and icebergs. Search for whales, dolphins, and penguins; take in panoramic views from the Beagle Channel; and hike the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.