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South America is huge and offers a variety of hugely different ports, from the hot beaches of Rio in summer to the southern most parts of the continent. Words: David McGonigal.

Stanley

As we come to have a new appreciation for anachronisms, the Falklands’ only town of Stanley has come into its own. Only in Gibraltar are you likely to see more Union Jacks and Land Rovers than you will in this special cruising port. Thrust into prominence by the Falklands War of 1982, the then-moribund outpost of empire has subsequently boomed, largely on income from fishing rights and tourism. There’s plenty to do and see here for cruise passengers: Stanley has an excellent museum, good bookshops and stamps galore. There is very good wildlife viewing in and around town, but it’s vital to obey the signs warning of the many still-lethal minefields.

Valparaiso

This is one of the world’s most unusual and picturesque cities. The flat area at water level is drab, but behind it rise steep cliffs leading to whole suburbs apparently hanging in space. The port boomed over a century ago but declined dramatically after the Panama Canal opened. The maze of residential streets is accessible by steep stairways or by the famous public funiculars built at the end of the 19th century. Santiago is 120 kilometres away – so quite a journey if your cruise is only in port for a day or two – but most visitors stay in nearby fashionable Vina del Mar.

Punta Arenas

The windswept, pretty city of Punta Arenas is the world’s southernmost city of more than 100,000 residents. It’s quite an attractive town with a strong historical link to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition – this is where he came to seek help. Today it serves as Chile’s gateway to Antarctica and home to local attractions including a small penguin colony and the grandeur of Torres del Paine National Park. The town was established in the 19th century as a service centre to the surrounding sheep estancias.

Puerto Madryn

Located on the shores of the Patagonian desert, Puerto Madryn is a lively seaside resort. While the town is fun, the main attractions are beyond the city limits. Nearby Peninsula Valdes has a whole range of wildlife including sea lions and seasonal whale populations. Punta Tombo Reserve is further away, but this is where the largest population of penguins outside Antarctica resides. Heading inland, one comes to Gaiman, a rather unusual town that clings to its Welsh heritage.

Buenos Aires

Often glibly referred to as ‘the Paris of the south’, Buenos Aires is one of the world’s great cities. Sometimes referred to as BA, the city has its own distinctive atmosphere, where it sometimes seems like a party is about to break out at any minute among the impressive buildings that date from a time when Argentina was one of the world’s financial powerhouses. Great restaurants, tango shows, good shopping and a very lively street scene combine with some very grand architecture to make it a wonderful place to visit.