We had already done an excursion to Colonia, Uruguay from Buenos Aires prior to cruise embarkation...so we decided to just "walk the streets" of Montevideo. It is mix of classic colonial architecture and modern urban development. We were able to see the highlights in about 2-3 hours of walking. We did get to try the locally brewed beer and visited a nice wine shop to purchase a local(from the Tannat grape) wine. Many of our ship board friends went on the winery excursion in Montevideo and really enjoyed it.
Truly one of the highlights of the entire cruise (in our mind equal with the touring of the Antarctic Peninsula). See the main review for a discussion of how (poorly) Holland America distributed tender tickets. The tender ride was very comfortable (it CAN be really rough, and there are many times when tender landings cannot be attempted. We took an excursion to Volunteer Point to view three varieties of penguins. We took our tour with Patrick Watts Tours, and he and his crew did a fantastic job from start to finish. The 2.5 hour 4x4 ride over unimproved trails was a little rough--but my wife thought it was as much fun as being among the penguins. We saw king, magellanic, and gentoo penguins up close and personal. The weather was fantastic, which only added to the experience. We have tons of photos and will relish these memories for a long time to come.
A really beautiful location nestled at the base of snow capped mountains on the scenic Beagle Channel. Since we had seen thousands of penguins and just sailed in on the Beagle Channel, we once again elected to do our typical "walking tour" of the city. It turned out to be a good choice for us, as we saw some really typical neighborhoods, got to get an idea of what everyday life is like at the end of the world, and even stumbled across a Barrio and Monument dedicated to General Belgrano...and the the navy cruiser named after him that was sunk during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict. We even got to meet a few local people, which is always a highlight of any visit for us.
We took the "Hiking The Andean Club" excursion...which is a day hike in a local ski resort named appropriately enough...The Andean Club. This excursion consisted of a 30 minute bus ride to the ski resort, a 20 minute ride to the top of the mountain on the local chairlift, and a walk back down the mountain on really small trails through the woods. Our tour guide warned us we might see three seasons of weather during the tour, and she was right. By the time we got to the top of the mountain the wind was howling and it was raining pretty hard. All part of the tour...she says! After all the group had arrived via the chair, we headed off into the woods on a very narrow trail. Soon after entering the woods, the effects of the wind were diminished and it became very comfortable. The rain had made the trail slippery and somewhat dangerous. The trail was not strenuous, but did require constant attention to avoid taking a tumble. The woods were formed of very short trees that were wildly twisted and deformed by the high winds at the top of the mountain. This gave the woods a very eerie feeling...like and enchanted woods from Lord of the Rings. Made the walk very enjoyable. Took us about an hour and a half to walk back to the ski lodge...where very welcome hot chocolate and cake was waiting for us. After a quick rest, we re-boarded the bus for the trip back. As we boarded the bus, the weather had cleared completely and we were treated to a great panoramic view of the Veendam in the harbor far below us. A fitting end to a great excursion.
Again, we decided to go on our own in Puerto Montt...though many of our shipmates took excursions to Lake Llanquihue and the Volcano Osorno. Having gotten great views of the volcanoes while sailing into Puerto Montt, we were content to explore the city. We walked a very nice (maybe the best of the entire cruise) artisan market district on our way to Angelmo...the historic fishing village on the edge of Puerto Montt. As we approached, our noses told us we were, in fact, nearing the daily fish market. In the fish market area, there are many, many very small seafood restaurants...each with its own private shill on the street trying to steer business to their specific restaurant. We seemed to click with one particular lady (who spoke not a word of English), and allowed her go guide us on a serpentine route through the market, up the stairs, and down the hallway to reach a small family restaurant that could seat 10-12 people max on bench seating. Our lunch at "La Picaita" turned out to be another highlight of the cruise. We had what both my wife and I agreed was perhaps the best seafood meal of our life (at least one of the top two!!) We had "congrio frittata" (fried conger eel) and fresh abalone. Let's just say, both dishes were awesome...and the ambiance of eating in this tiny family restaurant where not one person spoke a word of English added to the experience. We walked the town for about two hours after the meal...and we needed it!
We docked in Valparaiso and were met by Christian Roy "The Van Man". He took us on a guided driving tour of Valparaiso...which soon became one of our all time favorite cities to visit. We stayed at Latitude 33 Sur...a B and B in the Cerro Concepcion district of Valparaiso. A spare but pleasant B and B, again...with no one speaking English. We spent most of the afternoon walking the hills of Valparaiso and enjoying the plethora of street art. The winding streets make a great venue for the artistic murals. These are a must see, if you have the chance. There are small bistros, bars, and restaurants scattered throughout the neighborhood, making it a really tourist-friendly place (if you are a little bit adventuresome). The next morning, Christian picked us up and we headed to Santiago. Enroute we stopped at Emiliana winery and at the Los Hornitos de Curacavi restaurant where we sampled several local dishes, including pastel de choclo. We finished the day with a driving tour of Santiago, and a final visit to an artisan market for last minute souvenirs. Christian handled all the touring details and did a fabulous job. If at all possible, plan an extra day at the end (or beginning) of your cruise to explore Valparaiso.