The lone cowboy rides across the open prairie as he surveys the fertile land before him. Only this storyline isn't in West Texas. Rather, the cowboy, or gaucho as he is known, is in central Argentina, and the fertile lowlands before him are known as the pampas. A cruise to Buenos Aires takes you to one of the cultural and commercial capitals of South America. Yet what distinguishes this 21st-century metropolis from other cities of the same ilk is its proximity to the country and, in turn, country living.
It's a land of rum and volcanoes. Puerto Corinto is a small town on the northwest coast of Nicaragua a region bounded by great lakes to the south, Honduras to the north, and a concatenation of volcanic peaks to the east. The peaks demarcate an area of pristine beaches, fields of sugar cane, and lush mangrove forests. In Corinto, cruise visitors can stroll along the Costa Azul for a view of the bay and its islands. In nearby Chinandega, discover Mayan artifacts at the archeological museum. Farther afield explore the ruins of León Viejo, excavated from centuries of volcanic debris.
It's a port city, but the ocean is almost a thousand miles away. One of the world's great boomtowns, Manaus rose to glory as the rubber trade exploded in the late 19th century, minting fortunes and redefining extravagance for its nouveau riche. All the better for today's visitors, as the boom-time landmarks still enchant. The Teatro Amazonas is a copy of the Grand Opera de Paris, the Mercado Municipal echoes Les Halles, and the Palacio Rio Negro evokes old Portugal. Of course, the endless jungle stretches all around. From Manaus, cruise visitors can venture even deeper into the heart of the Amazon, on the lookout for jungle birds, manatees, and giant alligators.
The southern finial of the South American continent is as fractured as frost crystals, but the inlets, bays, and passages around the Strait of Magellan are home to a million wonders. Punta Arenas is the threshold to them all. From here, cruise visitors can venture to the high scarps of Torres del Paine National Park, the penguin colony at Seno Otway, or the Martian volcanic topography of Pali Aike National Park. Punta Arenas worth lingering in, as well. Visit the tree-lined Plaza de Armas square or walk 10 minutes farther to the top of La Cruz Hill. The city of 150,000 people lies at your feet. 850 miles farther south Antarctica begins.
Rio de Janeiro resists all adjectives. Even if you get that absolute vista from the top of Corcovado Mountain, you'll still thirst for more for the taste of an acai berry drink, the pulse of samba, and the feel of the Atlantic on your toes. Drink deeply, you have such a journey before you. A cruise to Rio de Janeiro brings you the stunning setting and joyous lust for life make Rio a cidade maravilhosa, "marvelous city." Ipanema, Copacabana, samba - the words alone conjure Brazilian paradise.
The port of Valparaiso is a steep amphitheater so remarkable for its brightly colored residences and church steeples that UNESCO has declared its historic quarter a World Heritage site. Ride one of the city's many funiculars to take in the views town and sea. About two hours inland, the steeps of the Andes rise up behind Santiago, the country's capital and economic center. A good first stop for cruise visitors is the ornately architectured Santa Lucia hill. Get your bearings, then explore city landmarks like the Plaza de Armas, La Chascona (one of Pablo Neruda's homes), or one of the paseos in the Centro. At the end of the day, toast the city with a glass of Carménère, cherry, deep-red, and smoky.
October to April