The Tierra del Fuego archipelago on the southern coast of Patagonia in South America is home to a subpolar oceanic climate that strikes a balance between short, cool summers and long, wet yet moderate winters. Nestled 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. It’s rugged and imposing landscapes were shaped over millennia as the Earth evolved into the state we know it as today.
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, which he later sailed to the southern 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 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. 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 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. Ultramarine will embark 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). 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.
Best month to cruise 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. 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, marking
the northern boundary of the iconic Drake Passage Photo: AdobeStock
What to pack for a Cape Horn scenic cruise
On most cruises, there are a standard list of items that you should always bring aboard with you:
- A hat to cover your head
- Binoculars (some may be supplied but it helps to have a pair of your own)
- Camera (or your phone)
- 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’ Essential Packing List for a full rundown of what you’ll need to make your trip memorable and comfortable.
Cape Horn scenic cruising
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 excursion leaders will ensure the Ultramarine steers clear of the most powerful forces of nature, but that it also remains close enough so that you can see the experience 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 subpolar 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.
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
Not surprisingly, Cape Horn is home to a variety of different wildlife species that prefer the solitude of islands largely untouched by man. Bird species that call the island home include the southern giant petrel, kelp goose, and magellanic woodpecker. There are very few destinations where you'll see these animals so appreciate the sight when you see it.