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Unforgettable Scenic Cruising in Cape Horn

6 min read


The Tierra del Fuego archipelago on the southern coast of Patagonia, a territory in South America shared by Argentina and Chile, is home to a subpolar oceanic climate that strikes a balance between short, cool summers and long, wet yet moderate winters.

Located in the southernmost headland of the archipelago is Cape Horn, a small island located on Isla Hornos, or Hornos Island, and an amazing destination to behold.

Cape Horn has a long history that both predates and extends well beyond its discovery by adventurous explorers. Its rugged and imposing landscapes were shaped over millennia as the Earth evolved into the state we know it today.

If you want to include a Cape Horn cruise on your next Antarctic adventure, you can depart from Buenos Aires on our Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine expedition.

The Discovery of Cape Horn

In 1526, Cape Horn was first discovered by a Spanish explorer named Francisco de Hoces. He sailed through the Strait of Magellan and reached the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, where he later sailed to the southernmost tip and discovered the island that bears the coast of Cape Horn.

Unfortunately, de Hoces was lost at sea in the Pacific Ocean later that year.

Cape Horn's rugged and imposing landscapes
Cape Horn's rugged and imposing landscapes were shaped over millennia as the Earth evolved, ultimately creating one of the most mesmerizing landscapes encountered by expedition travelers today. Photo: AdobeStock

Over fifty years later in 1578, English privateer Sir Francis Drake also sailed near the shores of Cape Horn when he discovered what came to be known as the Drake Passage.

Cape Horn Was a Route for Trade Ships

This channel of water flows through the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Over the years, Cape Horn was used as a vital trade route to support colonies across South America. It became less vital to trade empires and was repurposed as a tourist attraction and destination for following the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal.

Do cruise ships go around Cape Horn?

Since being repurposed as a tourist attraction and an adventure destination, cruise ships do travel around Cape Horn to give voyagers an amazing experience. Often people will explore Cape Horn as part of a trip to Antarctica.

What can you experience on a Cape Horn cruise?

Ultramarine first embarked on a much-anticipated voyage to Cape Horn in March 2022 as part of the Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine adventure.

Cape Horn is the focus of Day 3 of the adventure where you’ll have the opportunity, provided weather conditions cooperate, to go ashore and hike to the landmark lighthouse known as Stella Maris Chapel (the Star of the Sea) and albatross-shaped Cape Horn monument.

Time will be granted to explore the area surrounding the lighthouse so that you can appreciate the panoramic views of the land and capture memorable photos or videos to share with your loved ones when you return home.

The Best Time to Visit the Chilean Fjords and Cape Horn

The winter months are the best times of year to cruise around Cape Horn. In the southern hemisphere, December through March is typically the warmest time of year. Quark Expeditions goes as early as November.

At the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, storm activity off the coast of the islands is calmer and more manageable during this time of year, which allows ships to cruise closer to the shorelines.

Cape Horn, on the small Hornos Island, is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in southern Chile
Cape Horn, on the small Hornos Island, is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in southern Chile, marking the northern boundary of the iconic Drake Passage  Photo: AdobeStock

What to Pack for a Cape Horn Cruises

On most cruises, there are a standard list of items that you should always bring aboard with you:

  • A hat to cover your head
  • Sunscreen
  • Binoculars (some may be supplied but it helps to have a pair of your own)
  • Camera (or your phone, to document the scenery and marine life)
  • Batteries
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Lots of fun!

Additionally, since you’re sailing into subpolar climates, you’ll want to have a winter jacket, preferably a parka that includes a snug hoodie to help keep your head and face warm in the cool breeze.

Gloves, hiking boots, and even a scarf are also helpful items to bring along. See Quark Expeditions’ Expedition Packing List for Patagonia, Chile for a full rundown of what you’ll need to make your trip memorable and comfortable.

Sites You'll See on Walking Tours and from Your Cruise Ship

One of the highlights of the Cape Horn excursion of your adventure is the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, which is home to thousands of tiny plants, mosses, and lichens from the miniature forests of the island.

Also, since Cape Horn is the crest point connecting the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans, the majesty of the waves and wind gusts that blow across the area are spectacular sights to see.

Your expedition team will ensure the Ultramarine steers clear of the rough seas and most powerful forces of nature, but that it also remains close enough so that you can see the drama for yourself.

Other Islands in Tierra del Fuego

In addition to Cape Horn, there are other islands you’ll have the opportunity to explore as you sail across Tierra del Fuego.

The Diego Ramirez Islands lie west of Cape Horn, and they remain home to an important bird sanctuary that houses and protects species built for the sub-polar climate.

Additionally, you’ll pass by, though not visit, places like the The Wollaston Islands as you round your adventure north towards the mainland of Patagonia.

Once you arrive at the mainland, you’ll continue to travel through passages until you reach the northern peak of the adventure at Torres del Paine in southeastern Chile.

Cape Horn Glaciers

As you sail through Cape Horn and the rest of your Patagonian adventure, you’ll come across a number of glaciers that are noteworthy points of interest.

Glacier Alley, on the coast of Cordillera Darwin, is a string of tidewater glaciers that tumble down the mountains directly into the ocean.

If you bring a camera on your adventure, this is one destination you’ll want to capture the moment as a hallmark of your trip.

Cape Horn allow guests plenty of opportunities to see abundant wildlife
Scenic cruising in the water around  Cape Horn allow guests plenty of opportunities to see abundant wildlife, such as penguins  Photo: AdobeStock

You’ll also come across glaciers throughout the archipelago and even when you sail up to Torres del Paine.

The Torres del Paine National Park is a stunning piece of wilderness that encompasses clear blue glaciers, icebergs, lakes, mountains, and rivers that flow to the ocean.

Cape Horn Whales and Wildlife

Humpback whales
If you're lucky enough, you may spot a humpback whale on your Cape Horn cruise

Not surprisingly, Cape Horn is home to a variety of different wildlife species that prefer the solitude of a remote location largely untouched by man.

Bird species that call the island home include the southern giant petrel, kelp goose, albatross, rockhopper penguins, and Magellanic woodpecker.

You might also be lucky enough to spot Patagonian sea lions, humpback whales, and elephant seals.

There are very few destinations where you'll see some of these animals, so appreciate them when you see them.

After your journey, you'll disembark from your sea voyage in Punta Arenas and fly to Santiago, most likely with a camera full of photos and a lifetime of memories.

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