From Cartagena to Valparaiso, here's our pick of South America's best stops.
Cruising the Mediterranean? It's a no-brainer. Ditto the Caribbean. But who sets sail around South America? Savvy travellers, that's who. The continent's extensive coastline is studded with stops diverse enough to suit every taste. Depending on the port, you might visit penguin colonies or hike glaciers, feel the buzz in some of the world's most vibrant cities or even visit a Catholic church with a voodoo vibe. Here's our cheat sheet to the continent's don't-miss cruise haunts.
A hot contender for the prettiest city in South America, this laidback town on Colombia's Caribbean coast seduces visitors with its arched colonnades, leafy squares and cobblestone streets. This is a place where guitarists strum salsa tunes on street corners and where flocks of brightly dressed palenquera street vendors rival the brilliantly coloured potted bougainvillea that decorate almost every street. The 400-year-old city walls - all 13 kilometres of them - are the place to head for sunset drinks.
Try: Royal Caribbean's seven-night Costa Rica and Panama Canal itinerary; from $1888. royalcaribbean.com
Visiting Chile's wine country is a popular excursion from Valparaiso but we recommend exploring this World Heritage-listed port town instead. Its rows of bright-coloured houses are scattered up and down the 45 hills that make up the city, decorated with whimsical murals and connected by a series of staircases and funiculars. Be sure to visit La Sebastiana, the house of poet Pablo Neruda, where every surface is filled with colourful, creative clutter, before lunching at one of the many great seafood restaurants.
Try: Silversea's nine-day itinerary from Lima (Callao) to Valparaiso; from $10,200. silversea.com
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Punta Arenas, Chile
Patagonia's mountains, glaciers and ice fields are among the continent's most mesmerising landscapes and you can explore them from Punta Arenas, which also offers a number of memorable wildlife encounters. Go whale watching between December and March; visit Isla Magdalena, home to 120,000 Magellanic penguins; and get spectacular photos of the extraordinary Andean condor, the world's heaviest flying bird.
Try: Hurtigruten's 16-day In-depth Patagonia and Chilean Fjords Expedition; from $9585. hurtigruten.com
Accessible only by air and by river, Peru's Amazon hub is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. It is a place of mud huts and mansions, where you can explore the floating shantytown of Belen or be amazed by the neverending flow of the three-wheeled motorbikes that are the city's main form of transport. There are plenty of fresh flavours to discover, including tasty tropical fruits such as lucum, guanabana and camu-camu.
Try: National Geographic's 10-day Upper Amazon itinerary; from $US7930 ($12,250). nationalgeographic.com
Perched at the very bottom of the continent, windswept Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world and the departure point for many Antarctic cruises. There is plenty to explore in Ushuaia itself and, with 18 hours of sunlight a day in summer, plenty of time to do it. Take the seven-kilometre tourist train to the Tierra del Fuego National Park and follow one of the many hiking trails, or take a chairlift up the Martial Glacier for fantastic views of the town.
Try: Aurora Expeditions' 15-day Antarctic Peninsula in Depth; from $US13,116. aurora-expeditions.com
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The best way to spend a day in Argentina's glamorous capital is to explore its most intriguing neighbourhoods. Start in the mansion-lined streets of La Recoleta, a reminder of the great beef boom when this was one of the richest cities in the world, then head to La Boca to admire the neon-coloured houses. Finish the day with a stroll along the grand avenues of the city centre, home to ornate European-style eateries such as Cafe Tortoni.
Try: Holland America Line's 14-day South America Passage; from $2459. hollandamerica.com
Montevideo may be small in size but its leafy streets and mural-lined laneways are packed with character. Who would have guessed that Uruguay's laidback capital is home not only to the world's longest sidewalk - the 23-kilometre waterfront Rambla - but also the longest Carnaval celebration, which lasts 40 days?
Try: Princess Cruises' 14-day Cape Horn & Straits of Magellan; from $US1149. princess.com
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The chance to sip a cool caipirinha overlooking one of Rio's chic beaches, such as Ipanema and Leblon, is a must-do when visiting Brazil's most famous city, but there is more to Rio than the beach. A visit to the boho area of Santa Teresa, in the hills high above the city, is a chance to explore cobblestone streets lined with colonial mansions and local landmarks such as the Escadaria Selaron, a magnificently mosaiced set of stairs linking Santa Teresa to the lower city.
Try: Celebrity Cruises' seven-night Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro; from $1631. celebritycruises.com
Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
The northern city of Salvador de Bahia is like nowhere else in Brazil. For many years the first stop for slave ships from Africa, it remains Brazil's most African city. You can see it in the food (moqueca, a seafood stew, is addictive) as well as in the religion, which blends African beliefs with Catholicism. Allow plenty of time to wander around the old town, Pelourinho, before heading to one of the city's many lovely beaches.
Try: MSC's six-night South America round trip from Rio de Janeiro; from $484. msccruises.com.au