Cape Horn is located in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of islands near the southern tip of South America where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. It's often called the "end of the world" since the weather is often very stormy and the waves are so high that ships seemed to be approaching the edge of the earth. Cape Horn was named for the town of Hoorn in the Netherlands.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, clipper ships sailed around Cape Horn on their voyages between Europe and Asia. The frequent high winds and storms in the region caused many sailing ships to crash on the rocky islands, and thousands died in their attempt to get past Cape Horn. Those sailors who returned home safely often told horrific stories of their Cape Horn experiences.
Since 1914, most cargo and cruise ships use the Panama Canal to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However, several around-the-world yacht races use the route around Cape Horn.
Today, Chile has a naval station on Hornos Island (also called Hoorn Island), which is near the actual point where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Large cruise ships sailing around Cape Horn between Valparaiso and Buenos Aires do scenic cruising in the area. Some expedition cruise ships like those of Hurtigruten sailing on their way to or from Antarctica or around the Horn on South America cruises stopover for a few hours at the Chilean station (wind and weather permitting). Their passengers can go ashore to walk on Hornos Island and see the lighthouse, chapel, and Cape Horn Memorial. They can also sign a guest book and get their passports stamped, which is a great souvenir of their visit to Cape Horn.
Climb the Cliff to Visit Cape Horn
Visitors to Cape Horn go ashore in their ship's Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) and then have to cross a rocky beach and climb up several flights of slippery steps to reach the top of the cliff. The hike up the stairs isn't an easy one, but the view of the sea and surrounding island make it worth the effort. The stairs are next to funicular tracks that the naval base uses to bring up supplies.
It takes about two or three hours to walk around Hornos Island on the wooden walkways and get your passport stamped.
Explore Hornos Island
Visitors are asked to stay on the wooden walkways that crisscross Hornos Island and lead to all the sites on the treeless island. These walkways protect the fragile, soggy peat bog ecosystem and keep visitors from tracking mud into the sites and back to their cruise ships. The walkways might be a little slippery since the region gets a lot of rain, but at least visitors don't get bogged down in the mud.
Visit a Lighthouse
The Cape Horn area has two lighthouses. The one in this photo is at the Chilean naval station and is the largest and most accessible to visitors. The second smaller one is only about 13 feet high and is located on the actual Cape Horn (where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet) about a mile away. The actual Cape is not readily accessible by boat, but cruise ships (or their RIBs) usually pass by so that their guests can get a look at it.
Visit the Chapel of Stella-Maris at Cape Horn Visitor's Center
The tiny Chapel of Stella-Maris is next to the lighthouse and Chilean Naval station residence on Hornos Island. The one-room chapel is only about a dozen feet long. Many visitors wonder how many sailors might have stopped into the chapel for a moment of prayer, thankfulness, or silence.
Take the Walkway to the Cape Horn Memorial
A 1,000-foot wooden walkway leads to the Cape Horn Memorial, which was added to Hornos Island in 1992. The Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood sponsored the erection of the memorial, which is dedicated to the thousands of mariners who lost their lives in the waters around Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean.
Pay Respects at the Cape Horn Memorial
The Cape Horn Memorial features an albatross in flight. Albatross are commonly seen in the Southern Ocean and are a symbol of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood. The memorial was designed by a Chilean artist, is constructed of steel plates, and is about 22 feet high. To build the monument, members of the Chilean Marine Corps used an amphibious exercise to transport over 120 tons of materials ashore. These materials had been transported to Cape Horn by two barges. Because of the strong winds and stormy weather that frequents Cape Horn, the memorial was designed to withstand winds of almost 200 mph.
See the "Actual" Cape Horn
A visit to Hornos Island wouldn't be complete without seeing the "actual" Cape Horn, which is the site where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. This narrow spit of land is very shallow and rocky and not readily accessible to boats.
Get Your Passport Stamped
If your cruise ship visits Cape Horn, be sure to take your passport ashore and get it stamped. It's a great souvenir, and immigration officials around the world will always take an extra look at this unusual passport stamp.
Cape Horn is a marvelous place to visit for those lucky enough with the weather to go ashore. And, that passport stamp allows you to document your time at the end of the world.