Several years ago, in the southern Chilean city of Coyhaique, I encountered an elderly Englishwoman shuffling across the pentagonal Plaza de Armas. After I remarked that it was unusual to find someone of her age on her own in Patagonia, she informed me that she had come from a round-the-Horn cruise ship, recently docked at Puerto Chacabuco, and that it was her only option for traveling at this stage of her life. While she hadn’t lost her passion for seeing the world, she had come to terms with the fact that she needed support services – such as an on-board physician – if she were to continue to explore the planet.
As long as I have been involved in travel and tourism, my experience with the cruise ship industry has been limited. Most notably, I have sailed on the scenic Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales numerous times (though that’s not exactly a cruise), enjoyed the luxury Cruceros Australis expedition shuttles between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia several times, and once spent a week seeing the South Shetland Islands with Antártica XII. On Guatemala’s Lago Izabal and Río Dulce, I passed several days aboard an otherwise comfortable yacht whose sleeping quarters were best described as “tapered at the foot end.”
Despite my own skepticism of mega-cruise ships, such as those that discharge thousands of passengers that briefly overrun the Falkland Islands every austral summer, I’ve grown to appreciate that not everyone aboard them is an incurious sybarite (though it does bewilder me that, as so often happens, some passengers do not even bother going ashore in exciting ports such as Buenos Aires or Stanley).
Still, in following up my recent comments on Amazonia, I was intrigued to spend a recent flight to Denver poring through Ray Rychnovsky’s new iTunes app on Cruise Ports of Central America (also available in Android), though it has some shortcomings – in the first instance, the name is a little misleading, as it also covers Pacific Mexico and the southern Caribbean. I also found some unfortunate errors – consistently misspelling “Colombia,’ for instance - but I also learned a lot about the excursions that cruise ship passengers can enjoy out of towns like Ensenada, Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala) and my own personal favorite of Cartagena (Colombia, pictured above; I’ve never visited Cartagena as a cruise ship passenger, however).
In my opinion, Rychnovsky often errs on the side of caution, but he does stress that destinations like Ensenada, Antigua Guatemala and especially Cartagena are safe to visit. When they’re not – such as Acapulco – he’s candid even as he’s hopeful that cruise ship lines will eventually return in force there. I’m not quite ready to consign myself to the cossetted clients of cruise ship lines yet but, should I ever have to do so, I hope I’ll still have the courage of that Englishwoman in Coyhaique, and that the resources to help me do so – such as this app – will continue to improve.