The best South America cruises for budding archaeologists

The best South America cruises for budding archaeologists
For cruise fans who've conquered Machu Picchu there are plenty more sites to discover Credit: Getty

In South America you can find some of the world's finest archaeological treasures from the oldest civilisations. Luckily for cruise fans, many can be found along its coastline – and the right voyage allows you to see several significant sites in one trip. Here are six cruises perfect for budding archaeologists.

South America’s oldest settlement

Among the highlights of this cruise are Puerto Montt in Chile, where you can visit the Monte Verde archaeological site – South America's oldest human settlement.

You'll also stop at two cities famous for their archaeology museums. In Buenos Aires, head for Museo Histórico Nacional, which focuses entirely on Argentina’s history, and in Valparaiso, the Museo de Historia Natural de Valparaíso, with its 7,500 exhibits – you’ll find everything from priceless Peruvian pottery to Chinchorro mummies dating back 7,000 years.

On the final leg of the cruise you'll visit the Peruvian town of Pisco, where you can visit the Tambo Colorado, a 15th-century Incan settlement, and Lima, with its Huaca Pucllana adobe pyramid, built in 400AD.

If possible, spend the night in the city and take a day trip from Lima to the Sacred City of Caral-Supe, a Unesco-listed archaeological site and one of the oldest centres of civilisation in the Americas.

The best South America cruises for budding archaeologists
Ruins at Huaca Pucllana Credit: iStock

A 20-day Argentina, Chile and Peru cruise with Azamara Club Cruises sails from Buenos Aires. From £3,905pp, March 2, 2020 (0344 493 4016;

Isla de los Estados and Chile’s museums

This 20-day cruise is perfect for anyone interested in South America's lesser-known archaeological sites, such as those on Argentina's remote Isla de los Estados, the inspiration for Jules Verne's novel The Lighthouse at the End of the World. This tiny island is closed to most cruise ships, but Lindblad has special permission to dock. Archaeologists discovered evidence that suggests the island was regularly visited by the Yamana people whose history dates back 10,000 years. Renowned canoe builders, it’s believed the Yamana came to the island to harvest seals, whales, penguins and albatross.

In addition, Santiago – where the cruise begins – has some of Chile's best archaeological museums, including the Museo Arqueologico de Santiago. Its thousands of exhibits range from Andean headwear to woven bags used to carry cocoa leaves. Another highlight is Puerto Montt in Chile, where you'll find the Monte Verde Stone Museum, a traditional Chilean house filled with exhibits, including weapons and tools, relating to Patagonia’s earliest civilisations.

A 20-day Epic Patagonia: Fjords, Peaks and Forests cruise with National Lindblad Expeditions sails from Santiago, Chile. From £14,360pp, departing October 8, 2019 (+1 212-261-9000;

The best South America cruises for budding archaeologists
Beagle Channel Lighthouse on Isla de Los Estados Credit: Getty

Mummies, pyramids and a historic city

This is the ideal cruise for archaeology fans who've already conquered Machu Picchu. Early stops include the historic Chilean city of Coquimbo – its port was seized by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1550. It’s just 1.2 miles (12km) from the town of La Serena, famous for its colonial architecture and the La Serena Archaeological Museum. And then there's Arica, where you'll find the world's oldest mummies on display at the town's Museo Momias Chinchorro.

The Peru stretch includes a visit to Salaverry, the location of the largest pre-Hispanic, mud-brick citadel in the Americas, and Lima, which has the Huaca Pucllana, an adobe and clay pyramid dating back to 500 AD. You'll disembark in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We recommend taking an extra day here to allow for a visit to nearby Santa Elena, with its multiple burial sites dating back to 8,800 BC.

A 14-day Chile and Peru cruise with Hurtigruten sails from Valparaiso, Chile. From £2,526pp, departing April 4, 2020 (0203 1315839;

The best South America cruises for budding archaeologists
Milaflores District, Lima Credit: iStock

Seek out some buried treasure

Although Silversea describes this as a South American cruise, you'll actually start your cruise in Costa Rica, a destination served by a much wider range of flights. It's perfect for amateur archaeologists, stops include Isla de la Plata in Ecuador's Manabi province.

Remains unearthed by archaeologists here suggest the island was once a centre for sun worshipping by pre-Colombian cultures. It was also a popular stop-off for pirates, and legend states that hundreds of tonnes of silver and gold buried here have yet to be found. You'll disembark in Guayaquil, a popular base for travellers checking out the Santa Elena archaeological site – one of Ecuador's most popular attractions.

An 11-day Puntarenas to Guayaquil cruise with Silversea sails from Puntarenas, Costa Rica. From £5,490pp, October 29, 2019 (0844 251 0837;

The best South America cruises for budding archaeologists
You might find archaeologists at work on Punta del Este Credit: Getty

Mixing beaches with ancient treasures

When it comes to archaeology, Peru often hogs the limelight, but Uruguay, Argentina and Chile have their fair share of ancient gems, too. These include Chile's Puerto Montt (the first stop on this voyage) for its Monte Verde Stone Museum, tucked inside a historic building and filled with weapons, tools and furs used by Chile's first settlers.

Another stop is the Uruguayan beach resort of Punta del Este. Don't be surprised to spot archaeologists at work next to locals topping up their tan. Remains of indigenous people who lived here thousands of years ago were recently found at this site. Montevideo, Uruguay's capital, provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about the country's past with visits to the Museo de la Historia del Arte (don't miss the collection of Maya-Guatemalan textiles) and the Museo de Artes Decorativas, with its archaeological treasures from all over the world.

A 15-day Chile and Argentina cruise with Celebrity Cruises sails from San Antonio. From £1,620pp, departs December 6, 2019 (0808 271 9882;

The best South America cruises for budding archaeologists
Visit the Pachacamac ruins after a stop at Lima's archaeology museum Credit: Getty

Sail in luxury from Los Angeles

Trekking around historic sites can be hard work, but book Regent Seven Seas’ Los Angeles to Lima cruise and you'll have a truly luxurious base from which to conduct your archaeological explorations. Setting sail from Los Angeles also means you can take a direct flight to the embarkation point – unusual for South American cruises. This particular South America voyage also has the bonus of brief stints in Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Highlights for archaeology buffs include the stop in the Ecuadorian city of Manta, which has the Cerro Jaboncillo archaeological site, where you’ll see the remains of dwellings used by the last indigenous group of people from the Manabí region. There’s also Salaverry, with its numerous nearby archaeological excavations, and Lima, for the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru (try saying that after too many Pisco sours), and, a short distance from the city, the Pachacamac ruins – the remains of what was once an important religious centre for indigenous people during pre-Hispanic times.

An 16-day Los Angeles to Lima cruise with Regent Seven Seas Cruises sails from Los Angeles. From £8,419pp, departs October 29, 2020 (02380 682 280;