cartagena juniorlink from pixabay

South America’s most exciting ports

South America’s most exciting ports

Whether you love natural wonders or amazing architecture, these are the must-visits for cruisers.


Words by Ute Junker

Photos Juniorlink from Pixabay

This story first appeared in Explore

Cruising the Mediterranean? It’s a no-brainer. Ditto the Caribbean. But who set sails around South America? Savvy travellers, that’s who. South America extensive coastline is studded with stops diverse enough to suit every taste.

Depending on the port you might visit penguin colonies or hike glaciers, feel the buzz in some of the world’s most vibrant cities or even visit a Catholic church with a voodoo vibe. Here is our cheat sheet to the continent’s don’t-miss ports.

Caribbean queen: Cartagena, Colombia

A hot contender for the prettiest city in South America, this laidback town on Colombia’s Caribbean coast seduces visitors with its arched colonnades, leafy squares and cobblestone streets. This is a place where guitarists strum salsa tunes on street corners and where flocks of brightly-dressed palanquera street vendors rival the brilliantly-coloured potted bougainvillea that decorate almost every street. The 400-year-old city walls – all 13km of them – are the place to head for sunset drinks.

Amazon adventure: Iquitos, Peru

Accessible only by air and by river, Peru’s Amazon hub is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. It is a place of mud huts and mansions, where you can explore the floating shantytown of Belen or be amazed by the neverending flow of the three-wheeled motorbikes that are the city’s main form of transport. There are plenty of fresh flavours to discover, including tasty tropical fruits such as lucum, guanabana and camu-camu.

Flying high: Valparaiso, Chile

Visiting Chile’s wine country is a popular excursion from Valparaiso but we recommend exploring this World Heritage-listed port town instead. Its rows of brightly-coloured houses are scattered up and down the 45 hills that make up the city, decorated with whimsical murals and connected by a series of staircases and funicular lifts. Be sure to visit La Sebastiana, the house of poet Pablo Neruda, where every surface is filled with colourful, creative clutter, before lunching at one of the many great seafood restaurants.

Patagonian playground: Punta Arenas, Chile

Patagonia’s mountains, glaciers and ice fields are among the continent’s most mesmerising landscapes and you can explore them from Punta Arenas, which also offers a number of memorable wildlife encounters. Go whale watching between December and March; visit Isla Magdalena, home to 120,000 Magellanic penguins; and get spectacular photos of the extraordinary Andean condor, the world’s heaviest flying bird.

Latin flair: Buenos Aires, Argentina

The best way to spend a day in Argentina’s glamorous capital is to explore its most intriguing neighbourhoods. Start in the mansion-lined streets of La Recoleta, a reminder of the great beef boom when this was one of the richest cities in the world, then head to La Boca to admire the neon-coloured houses of La Boca. Finish the day with a stroll along the grand avenues of the city centre, home to ornate European-style cafes such as Café Tortoni.

African inspiration: Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

The northern city of Salvador de Bahia is not like anywhere else in Brazil. For many years the first stop for slave ships from Africa, it remains Brazil’s most African city. You can see it in the food (moqueca, a seafood stew, is positively addictive), you can see in in the skin colour, and you can see it in the religion, which blends traditional African beliefs with Catholicism. Allow plenty of time to wander around the colonial old town, Pelourinho, before heading to one of the city’s many lovely beaches.

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