Cruise ships have been getting a particularly bad rap lately, for obvious reasons (think Carnival Cruise Lines). That sad fact – coupled with the one that massive cruise ships, with their mountains of wastage and consumption of energy, share little in common with sustainable tourism – might make it seem unusual that we are writing here about Cruceros Australis, an expedition cruise company specializing in trips to Patagonia and Cape Horn.
But Cruceros Australis is minuscule in comparison. It is comprised of the Via Australis (built in 2005, carrying 136 passengers in 64 comfortable cabins) and the Stella Australis (built in 2010, carrying up to 210 passengers in 100 cabins). Both ships explore Chile while sailing through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel uncovering the magic of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
The cruises – or explorations, rather – allow travelers to uncover the mysteries of magic lands, oceans, glaciers and fjords in luxury, with fine dining, gorgeous cabins, unparalleled views, excellent guides, and guest lecturers. Zodiac inflatable boats on board enable travelers to explore secret, breathtakingly beautiful places larger boats cannot get to, all the while accompanied by expert guides who will show them things no one on a large cruise boat will ever discover.
Most Cruceros cruises begin or end in the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia in Argentina, or in Punta Arenas, Chile. Itineraries range from 3 nights to 7 nights. On the 4-night Ushuaia-Punta Arenas route, passengers go all the way south to Cape Horn and then back north past the Beagle Channel, the Garibaldi Glacier, and the Darwin Range.
One of the first things passengers are told on boarding is this: “Our Patagonia cruises are meant to be enjoyable, but we must not forget about the environment doing so. In order to transmit this ideology, (we) explain what must be done to prevent these virgin territories from being contaminated.”
Cruceros Australis says it respects the lands and ocean its boats explore and is sensitive to the balance between human activities and nature. In order to produce minimum impact in the places they visit, the ships adhere strictly to national and international covenants on environmental care, conservation and protection of the local culture and its nature. A pact was signed with the Center for Quaternary Studies Fuego-Patagonia and Antarctica, which works with Chile’s Universidad de Magallanes, for the development of top-level sustainable scientific tourism. The agreement also calls for Cruceros Australis’s contribution to the center of photos of glaciers, marine and land mammals, as well as measurements of water temperature in zones of glaciers for scientific analysis.
Cruceros Australis is very aware of this pristine environment and utmost care is taken to preserve it, from not throwing anything (including used batteries and cigarette butts) overboard to not laundering barely used towels to keeping waste in the kitchen separated so not to form toxic gases. Mass tourism is avoided, excursions are guided by trained expedition leaders, and only marked paths are used to allow recovery of trails and sites.
Lately some wooden walkways have been built in the most delicate areas, which would take dozens of years to recover. Monitoring systems are in place to contribute to research. Travelers are educated through a series of lectures prior to each anchor, and there are manuals and brochures in each cabin. Even 4-stroke engines are used on the Zodiacs because they are quieter less polluting than 1- or 2-strokes.