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Patagonia 2013
Le Ponant Cruise
Buenos Aires (Argentina) - Ushuaia (Argentina) - 14 nights aboard the National Geographic Explorer

October 24 - November 4, 2013

More than a century after Europeans settled it, Patagonia remains remote. Never precisely defined, it stretches south from the Rio Colorado and eastern part of the Rio Bio-Bio to the tip of the continent. Our exploration here includes a look at total Patagonia—from the pampas of Argentina to the fjords, lakes and glaciers of Chile—along with unforgettable highlights and wilderness of epic proportion.

Explore the must-see places, like Tierra del Fuego, Torres del Paine National Park and the marine-rich Valdes Peninsula, along with some of the region’s newest parks and reserves where we have special access. Begin your journey in the legendary South American city of Buenos Aires. By special permission, we’ll explore Tierra del Fuego’s newest and largest reserve, Karukinka. View the migration of southern right whales on Peninsula Valdes at the height of the breeding season. Experience the landscapes of the gauchos at a private estancia (sheep ranch). Zodiac and kayak in the Chilean fjords near impressive glaciers. Hike the trails of Torres del Paine, the renowned reserve that guards the most magical of Patagonia’s scenic treasures.

Day-by-Day Itinerary

Day 1-2 - Buenos Aires/Embark Ship
The sweep and elegance of a Parisian cityscape—with a tango soundtrack. That’s Buenos Aires. Visit the city’s Beaux Arts palaces and the bohemian quarters of La Boca and San Telmo. Overnight at the Caesar Park Hotel, and on day 2, embark National Geographic Explorer. (Day 2:B,L,D)
Day 3 - At Sea - South Atlantic
Our ship navigates southward along the Argentine coastline. Head to the Bridge to watch for marine life, and gather in the lounge for presentations from our staff. (B,L,D)
Day 4 - Bahia Blanca, Argentina
We cruise up the expansive estuary, a maze of channels and islands, hoping to view the rarely observed Franciscana, or La Plata dolphin, as well as the local and rare Olrog’s gull. From this port city, set on the edge of vast grasslands called the pampas, we venture into the countryside flanked by the mountain range of Sierra de la Ventana. Visit the Parque Provincial Ernesto Tornquist, which preserves a wide range of species native to the pampas. (B,L,D)
Day 5 - At Sea—South Atlantic
Enjoy the ship’s amenities: have a massage, work out in the gym, savor time in the library, and listen to talks by the staff on photography and the marine environment of the Patagonia Shelf. (B,L,D)
Day 6 - Puerto Madryn/Peninsula Valdes
A UNESCO Site, Peninsula Valdes is a wildlife haven where endangered southern right whales come to mate and calve their young. October is the peak of the migration season, and at this time of year the cows and newborn calves can be seen, often in water as shallow as 15 feet. When you come to Peninsula Valdés you must have a keen eye and an open mind, as things aren’t always as you imagine they should be. Unlike most whales species, which lift their tail flukes temporarily out of the water to make a dive, these right whales choose instead to hover vertically with their heads and bodies underwater, lifting their massive flukes high above the sea to catch the wind. Imagine it if you can: a whale tail sail! 

Leaving the whales behind, we journey further into the peninsula, stopping to look at guanacos (a wild relative of the llama), maras, armadillos, and a Magellanic penguin colony. Even the familiar form of penguins seems so out of place here in this strange and exotic peninsula. (B,L,D)
Day 7 - Bahia Bustamante
One quickly understands the term “vast” while traveling in Patagonia. Today we visit a private estancia (ranch), which has been in the hands of the Soriano family for 50 years. With 210,000 acres, the estancia still operates as a sheep ranch and also as a nature reserve. Fifty miles of its coastline is included in Argentina’s Marine National Park Austral Patagonia, and most of the vegetation and wildlife of the Patagonia steppe lives on the property. Over 100 species of birds are found in the area, officially declared an Area of Importance for the Conservation of Birds. We see colonies of Magellanic penguins, and rock and royal cormorants. Southern sea lions and elephant seals breed here and we look for whales offshore. Inland, we keep an eye out for the guanacos, rheas and other steppe wildlife. (B,L,D)
Day 8 - Puerto Deseado
For a small port village isolated along a rugged coast, Puerto Deseado has a distinctive maritime history. First discovered by Magellan in 1520, other explorers followed including Sir Frances Drake, Thomas Cavendish and Charles Darwin. We see a remnant of the port’s past at the local museum, where remains of the Swift, a British war ship sunk in 1770, is displayed. Deseado is actually a submerged estuary designated Reserva Natural Ria Deseado by the Argentine government. We board small boats to view the steep cliffs and visit colonies of four species of breeding shags and other seabirds, including the only rockhopper penguin colony in Patagonia. Dolphins often escort the boats and we hope to spot the distinctive black and white Commerson’s dolphin. (B,L,D)
Day 9 - Exploring Coastal Argentina
The remote Argentine coast has been visited by countless expeditions through history, including Charles Darwin aboard HMS Beagle. The southern coast has sandy beaches and impressive geological formations with dramatic arches and caves, perfect for exploring. Weather permitting, we may cruise along one of Argentina’s newest national parks, Monte Leon, which protects the coast, marine waters and inland. It’s a natural habitat for guanacos, choiques, foxes and cougars. (B,L,D)
Day 10 - Punta Arenas & Isla Magdalena, Chile
Discover the special charm of the extreme southern city of Punta Arenas. Begin at Cerro de la Cruz for panoramic views of the Strait of Magellan then travel the main plazas, stopping at two unique museums: the Maggiorino Borgatello Museum, with its natural history exhibits, and the Braun Menendez Museum, an opulent mansion testifying to the wealth and power of sheep farmers in the 1800s. There will also be an opportunity for a nature hike. 

One of the highlights of the day is a stop at Isla Magdalena to watch the amusing Magellanic penguins (also called jackass penguins for their characteristic bray) at their nesting sites, poking their heads out of their burrows. These penguins form lifelong partnerships and divide their chores equally: every morning and afternoon, the penguin couples change shifts — one heads out to fish, the other returns from fishing to take care of their young. When this changing of the guard begins, the penguins politely line up and waddle to and from the sea. Best viewing takes place late October to February. (B,L,D)
Day 11 - Tierra Del Fuego, Chile: Karukinka Natural Park
One of Patagonia’s crowned jewels, Tierra del Fuego is a beautiful island known as the ‘Land of Fire’ at its most southern tip — home to remarkable wildlife. Our destination is the newest and largest protected area on Tierra del Fuego: Karukinka Natural Park. Since 2004, it has been owned and managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, who we’ve been in conversation with and are thrilled to have been offered permission to explore their park. Spanning 1,160 square miles, this protected area is a bountiful reserve of sub-Antarctic woodlands, peat bogs, windswept steppes and snow-covered mountain ranges. Karukinka is a showcase for the unique wildlife of Patagonia, sheltering guanaco, the endangered culpeo fox, the Andean condor and more. (B,L,D)
Day 12-13 - Exploring The Chilean Fjords
The renowned fjords of southern Chile rival those of southeast Alaska in their raw beauty. The protected fjords and inlets of the honeycombed Chilean coastline are home to dolphins, whales, seals, and Magellanic penguins, with awesome views of the Cordillera Darwin as a bonus. You’ll see gigantic glaciers and snowcapped peaks, thousands of islands covered with vegetation, lakes and waterfalls and come to appreciate (in the words of Herman Melville) “all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonia sights and sounds.” Our Captain and Expedition Leader will constantly be on the lookout for memorable places to explore by ship, Zodiac and kayak. (B,L,D)
Day 14 - Puerto Natales/Torres Del Paine N.P.
After sailing through the famous White Narrows yesterday, we arrive at Puerto Natales to begin our three-hour drive through Chilean Patagonia to the monumental Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere World Reserve. The landscape is big, wide and sprawling, with miles of grazing land, snow-capped mountains and razor-backed ridges. Look for Andean condors, flamingos and rheas, the flightless birds that are cousins of the emu and the ostrich. It is hard to imagine that the park could top the drive, but the Torres del Paine are an amazing sight, a cluster of jagged granite mountains topped with a thick layer of dark slate. The park is one of the most spectacular and wildlife-rich areas in the Americas, covering about 450,000 acres of glaciers, mountains, forests, rolling hills and grasslands, colorful lakes, rivers and lagoons, and we explore and hike in the company of our Naturalists and local guides. (B,L,D)
Day 15 - Exploring the Chilean Fjords
We have another opportunity to explore the Chilean Fjords’ myriad islands and maze of channels. Andean condors soar overhead, while humpback whales, Peale’s and the rare Chilean dolphins utilize the productive marine waters. The Andes mountain range will be an ever-present and inspiring backdrop. Myriad fjords or senos indent the coast of Tierra del Fuego along the western Strait of Magellan: Seno Angostini, Seno Martinez, Seno Chico to name a few. Many are punctuated with tidewater glaciers at the end and we will cruise deep into one of the senos to explore by Zodiac and kayak. (B,L,D)
Day 16 - Beagle Channel & Yendegaia, Chile
Our transit of the scenic Beagle Channel takes us through protected waters in view of the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Darwin, which makes up the Western Peninsula of Tierra del Fuego. Huge condors may be seen against a background of enormous glaciers. It was here in the 1830s that naturalist Charles Darwin explored aboard HMS Beagle.

Our focus today is on Yendegaia, a stunning piece of wild nature that stretches more than 95,000 acres. We’ve received special permission to explore here from friends and wilderness advocates Kris and Doug Tompkins, who first saw its outstanding conservation potential in 1998 and worked to preserve it. A former cattle ranch on Tierra del Fuego, it boasts southern beech forests, expansive grasslands, mountains and wild rivers. (B,L,D)
Day 17 - Cape Horn
Today we round the southernmost tip of the continent, named in 1616 by Dutch navigator Willem Schouten. He called the cape “Hoorn” after his birthplace while he was searching for a trade route to the Orient. Weather permitting, take Zodiacs ashore for a panoramic view from the southernmost tip of South America, and visit the family manning the weather station on top of the island. (B,L,D)
Day 18 - Ushuaia /Disembark/Buenos Aires
Disembark in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, with time to explore before our private LAN charter flight to Buenos Aires. Fly home. (B,L)

Terms and Conditions:

Basis of Rates:
All prices are based on two persons sharing a cabin, or a single where noted. Shared accommodations are available on certain ships and categories. For more information, please refer to our Share Guarantee Program section of our Terms and Conditions, or call us for details. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars.

Costs Include: 
All accommodations aboard ships or in hotels per itinerary or similar, all meals and nonalcoholic beverages aboard ship, meals on land as indicated, air transportation where indicated as included, shore excursions, sightseeing and entrance fees, special access permits, transfers to and from group flights, use of snorkeling equipment and wet suits, use of kayaks (where available), gratuities (except to ship’s crew), taxes and service charges, services of a ship physician on most voyages, and services of our expedition staff.

Not Included:
Air transportation (except where shown as included), extensions, passport, visa, immigration fees, scuba diving (where available), meals not indicated, travel protection plan, items of a personal nature, such as alcoholic beverages, internet access, and laundry. Gratuities to ship's crew are at your discretion.

For all programs, airfare is an additional cost unless otherwise indicated. Sample airfares are subject to change. We will gladly assist in making your air arrangements for a $50 per person service fee.

To reserve your place, an advance payment for the program is required at the time of reservation. The per person advance payment amount varies by program, and is outlined in our brochures, as well as on our website. Holiday departure dates and certain longer voyages may carry additional advance deposit requirements due to high demand for these voyages. Payment is accepted by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover or check.

Receipt of your initial payment indicates your acceptance of our complete Terms and Conditions.

We require written notice at the time of reservation for any physical condition, diet, or treatment requiring special attention.

Smoking Policy:
Smoking is allowed only in designated outdoor areas.

Share Guarantee Program:

If you are a solo guest willing to share accommodations, we will be happy to make arrangements to match you with another solo guest, so you may travel at the double occupancy rate. If you are willing to share, and we are unable to make shared arrangements for you, we will guarantee you the per person double occupancy rate, and you will not incur the solo rate. This program is subject to availability, and limited to certain ships and categories.

Medical Information:
It is essential that guests with medical conditions and/or special dietary restrictions, make them known to us in sufficient time for us to accommodate their request.