Cruising South America allows you to see an epic continent and immerse yourself in its unique experiences. There’s an alluring range of adventures within the landmass, but it can be hard to know where exactly to dip your foot in.
A South American cruise is an ideal way to dive right into those Latin waters without the hassle of planning a step-by-step journey yourself.
Whether your adventures take you sailing down Argentina’s stunning coastline, braving Patagonia’s glaciers, or riding the majestic Amazon River through the thick jungles of Peru, there is always a cruise catered to your desired escapade.
There are many LGBTQ+ cruise options, but now most, if not all cruise lines are trying to be more inclusive.
South America Cruising Tips
Before booking a South American ocean-going or river cruise, here are some things to consider.
- It’s winter in the south when it’s summer in North America.
- You may need different currencies, depending on which countries you visit.
- You may need a visa depending on where you visit and which passport you carry.
- Learning some Spanish or downloading a translator to your smartphone will help you immerse yourself in Latin America.
- Rough seas can result in tender port cancelations or changes in itineraries.
- Decide between an expedition-style or a large vessel cruise.
- Don’t skimp on travel insurance. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
When you’re ready to book, here are eight of our top picks for the best cruises in South America.
Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina – Samba Sensations (Oceania)
Samba Sensations is a ten-day voyage that starts with a bang, sailing from the beautiful Rio de Janeiro. The sail-away includes a view of the imposing image of Christ the Redeemer. Then, the journey follows the southeastern coastline of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.
These cruises are considered repositioning itineraries because they start in one port and finish in another, often in another country.
This ten-day South American cruise is ideal for seeing the best of the three countries. You’ll take in their pristine beaches with mountainous backdrops from the decks of the small yet luxurious cruise ship, Marina.
This 5.5-star vessel comes with Ralph Lauren furnishings to amp up that sense of opulence.
You’ll anchor in some of the most exciting locations in South America. These include the thriving city of Sao Paulo and the chic playground of the rich, Puente Del Este, in Uruguay.
The cruise concludes by sailing inland to the elegant and most European of South American cities, Buenos Aires. After disembarkation, you can stay the night and explore the city.
Treat yourself to one of Argentina’s iconic tango shows or devour some famously juicy Argentinian meat.
Chile (Patagonia) – Stella Australis Patagonia Cruise (Rainforest Cruises)
South America has far more to offer than just the admittedly lovely sunshine and coastal beaches. Board the Stella Australis down in Ushuaia, Chile, the world’s southernmost city.
From here, you’ll launch an expedition down into the lesser-sailed waters of the southern Patagonia region.
The Stella Australis Patagonia cruise is an unforgettable five-day escape into a frozen wonderland away from civilization.
You’ll feel like Darwin himself as you explore serene lands teeming with wildlife, which includes penguins, lots of penguins!
The ship is home to just one hundred cabins. So, this small ship cruise makes navigating through the remotest corners of the Strait of Magellan and Darwin Range easier.
As the southern version of a cruise to Alaska, you’ll wind around the glaciers of a Chilean Fjord and enjoy some of the most uninhabited locations in the world.
Knowledgeable guides will take you on guided excursions inland. You can warm yourself on board afterward by indulging in local Chilean food and free-flowing beverages within one of the ship’s three lounges.
Peru (Amazon) – Zafiro Amazon Cruise (Rainforest Cruises)
The Amazon River cuts and slices through the South American rainforests and is an excellent setting for a cruise. A journey here satisfies any Indiana Jones-style fantasy one might have.
The Zafiro, meaning sapphire in Spanish, offers you the option of partaking in such an adventure in comfort and style. It holds only thirty-eight guests providing a more intimate feel.
But, on board, there’s a jacuzzi, bar, and even a substantial exclusive suite for those with a bit harder cash to spare.
There are options for either a three or four-day South American cruise, each with its own activities, or an eight-day option combining the two. You can cross precarious overhanging rope bridges in the rainforest, plant a tree and even visit an authentic shaman.
For the fearless, you can learn to catch a piranha. You don’t get more exotic than that!
This itinerary is ideal for a January cruise when North America is experiencing winter, and the southern region welcomes summer.
The Galapagos Islands – Galapagos Legend Cruise
The awe-inspiring volcanic islands off Ecuador are a common occurrence on any bucket list for a good reason. The Galapagos Islands are a place of unique beauty and exotic wildlife.
Here, the giant tortoises still roam the earth, iguanas lounge leisurely out in the sun, and you can see evolution itself in action. After you’ve seen the wildlife, you’ll agree that some of it looks almost prehistoric.
Legend Cruises offer everything from four to fourteen days trips. However, an eight-day cruise through the western and eastern Galapagos islands provides a happy medium.
The cruise starts in Fernandina, the youngest island still being formed by volcanic eruptions. Then, it passes through the bigger islands like Isabela, North Seymour, and Rabida.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to snorkel with sea lions, relax on blood-red sandy beaches and hike past wild flamingos.
The Legend itself is big enough to provide amenities to rival a bigger ship, including a pool, gym, and sun decks, but it is still small enough to feel personable.
If you prefer a cruise and land tour, you can’t beat the service of Celebrity Cruises. The Celebrity Xpedition, Xploration, and newest vessel, Flora, offer 7-day cruise and 3-day land itineraries.
Unlike their larger vessels, these ships offer an intimate expedition-style adventure. You can choose from a 16-passenger vessel to the Flora, which can carry 100 guests.
Starting in Quito, Ecuador, you’ll have a chance to get iconic selfies on the equatorial line located at the Half of the World Park and Museum.
After boarding your cruise ship in Baltra, you’ll continue through the many islands of the Galapagos. Wildlife sights include giant tortoises, sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, cormorants, and the most famous residents, the blue-footed boobies.
Unlike the larger vessels where passengers pay for tours, Celebrity offers a shore excursion at each island, which is included in your cruise fare.
Chile to Peru – Norwegian Cruise Line
Kill two birds with one stone on a ten-day cruise up the coast of Chile and Peru. The Norwegian Sun is a comfortably middle-sized vessel that begins its journey embarking from the bustling metropolis Chilean capital of Santiago.
Turning sharply north, it makes numerous exciting stopovers like in Antofagasta and Aritas, both by the otherworldly Atacama Desert and allowing for some relatively cool outdoor adventuring activities like sandboarding!
Crossing over into Peru, the boat anchors at the historic port town of Trujillo, which was once home to the Moche and Chimu prehistoric cultures.
Finally, the boat terminates in the expansive capital of Peru, Lima, one of the biggest cities in all the Americas, and well worth winding down from your cruise experience as you plan your next adventure.
Its sister vessel, the Norwegian Star, offers an eastern coast itinerary from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. With an option to take a side trip to Iguazú Falls National Park, you’ll want to fly in early to expand your itinerary.
With two days in Montevideo, Uruguay, you can marvel at the city’s collection of historical statues.
If you’re into wildlife viewing, you’ll enjoy the port day in Punta del Este in Uruguay. With a quick boat tour to Isla de Lobos, you can see the Western Hemisphere’s largest sea lion colony.
With four more port stops in Brazil before ending the journey in Rio, you’ll have lots of time to immerse yourself in the ethnic culture. Ports include the bustling city of Sao Paulo, to the rustic charm of Buzios.
Roundtrip Rio de Janeiro – MSC
If you want to avoid breaking the bank on a Galapagos itinerary, an MSC cruise offers 3-day roundtrip itineraries from Rio de Janeiro. Since these only travel to one or two ports, guests who book these sampler cruises on the MSC Seaview generally reside in Brazil.
The MSC Seaview offers three itinerary options; one stops in Ilha Grande and another in Buzios. The preferred cruise includes two days in the ports of Sao Paula and Ilhabela.
Ilha Grande consists primarily of rainforest. So, Ilha Grande delivers a tranquil escape from bustling city life.
If you’re seeking an intimate cruise, you won’t find it on the Seaview. With a passenger capacity of 5429, you won’t be experiencing an expedition-style cruise.
You can extend your stay onboard by choosing the 4- or 6-day itinerary for a bit more money.
Alternatively, those who live in or near Sao Paulo can choose a similar mini-cruise. Roundtrip from Sao Paulo, they can pick from the MSC Preziosa or Fantasia.
Chile, Peru, And Machu Picchu – Hurtigruten
A Hurtigruten 10-day cruise and land tour allow you to check more than one item off your bucket list. Visiting Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley is a fantastic experience enabling you to look into a lost civilization.
Situated on a mountain ridge, Machu Picchu provides magnificent views of the world below. If you’re looking to visit this incredible place, then the best time would be during the warmer months, when it’s not raining.
When cruising to South America, you can select from MS Roald Amundsen, Fram, or MS Fridtjot Nansen, all carrying under 700 guests.
Some itineraries include a full transit of the Panama Canal, a marvel in engineering. It could be another check on the bucket list.
Port days in Ecuador allow you to fish for Blue Marlin, purchase the perfect Panama hat, or head to the beach for wildlife viewing. You can return home with bragging rights of seeing Pelicans, Egrets, Frigatebirds, and the comical Blue-footed Boobies.
Another bucket list destination, Cusco, sits at the foothills of the Andes Mountains, with a rich Inca heritage. Wandering through the Inca village, take time to marvel at the Santo Domingo Cathedral and Temple of the Virgins of the Sun.
Manaus, Brazil And Amazon River – Seabourn Venture
Launched in 2021, the Seabourn Venture offers a six-star luxury experience for the 264 guests onboard. Built to explore, the vessel boasts unrivaled maneuverability needed for spending seven days in the Amazon River.
With all veranda staterooms, you’ll have a front-row seat to the incredible scenery steps away. Equipped with mountain bikes, 24 zodiacs, snorkel gear, and TWO submarines, the adventure continues off the ship.
As you cruise the Amazon, your senses awaken with the smells, sounds, and sounds of the unknown. With naturalists, scientists, and onboard wildlife experts, you’ll feel the information overload as you delve into the lush rainforest.
Keep your eyes peeled and binoculars and cameras ready for a chance to capture monkeys, giant anacondas, and pink river dolphins.
South American Cruises Longer Than Ten Days
If you have the time and budget, itineraries longer than ten days can begin on one side of the continent, around Cape Horn, and end on the other. Traveling such a distance will require clothing for several climates.
For an unforgettable journey, consider combining your South American cruise with an adventure to the end of the earth. In Antarctica, you’ll be mesmerized by frolicking penguins and island-sized icebergs in shades of aqua.