Summary : Late December is a beautiful time to experience Antarctica. Enjoy extended daylight hours at this time of the season, the wildlife colonies are busy, and as the sea ice continues to break up, your range of landing sites expands even further. Fly from South America to Antarctica in a little over two hours where you will board you ship and enjoy a thorough exploration of the glaciated coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula. You will see in the New Year surrounded by the icebergs and towering glaciers of Antarctica, before continuing your journey to South Georgia. Follow the course taken by Sir Ernest Shackleton whose epic small boat journey, from Elephant Island across the Scotia Sea to South Georgia remains one of the greatest feats of navigation in history. Commence your exploration at the remote south-eastern tip of South Georgia and then spend the following days exploring the northern coastline. Here are some of the largest king penguin colonies on earth. The shores are covered in wildlife – including nesting albatross, fur seals and elephant seals. Rusting relics from the old whaling era sit silent and provide dramatic contrasts to the green tussock grass, and snowy peaks that surround us. You will then head for the Falkland Islands and aim to spend one final day exploring the wildlife-rich Sea Lion Island and nearby by Bleaker Island. Your voyage concludes in Stanley – the small capital from where you will fly back to South America.
Activities : Birding, Child-Friendly, Culture, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography, Triple/Quad Cabins, Air Cruise (Antarctica)
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Your journey starts this morning in the southern Chilean port city of Punta Arenas. Gather at a central location and transfer to the airport for the two-hour flight across the Drake Passage to Antarctica (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). Upon arrival at King George Island, embark your ship via Zodiac. After settling into your cabins and exploring your new surroundings, you will meet your expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome refreshment and set sail. No doubt, everyone will be looking forward to the adventure ahead.
Overnight you will navigate through the Bransfield Strait and awake to the towering peaks of the Antarctic continent laid out before you. For the next three days you will have a varied itinerary exploring the Gerlache coastline. If ice conditions allow, you will cruise through the Lemaire Channel and may visit sites which may include Pleneau Island and the Penola Strait.
Southerly Petermann Island, is home to a sizeable penguin rookery where both Adelie and gentoo penguins nest side by side. A visit to an active research base nearby provides a fascinating insight into the important climate change science occurring in Antarctica. The landscape all along this section of the Antarctic coastline feature heavily glaciated mountains permanently covered in ice and snow. Your activity program is in full swing by now, and each day you will enjoy guided walks on shore, visits to wildlife colonies, and Zodiac cruising among the ice with your expert guides providing insight and interpretation. Planned visits could include Paradise Harbour, Orne Harbour or Andvord Bay, or a cruise through the Errera Channel to visit the penguin rookeries at Cuverville Island. Wilhelmina Bay is another favourite location where you will frequently encounter pods of humpback whales.
You are now heading north towards Antarctic Sound – the gateway into the icy Weddell Sea. Along the way you will hopefully make a planned visit at Deception Island. If weather conditions permit, you will sail the ship right into the middle of a volcanic caldera. This is a very dramatic place and home to several penguin rookeries along the black sand beaches. History is all around you as you explore the old whaling station, with the rusted relics and dilapidated wooden structures. Fur seals gather among the old structures seeking protection from the elements. At the far end of the beach is an old aircraft hangar. This is where Australian, Sir Hubert Wilkins made the very first flight in Antarctica in 1928. There is an outstanding hike here to a location known as ‘Neptune’s Window’ – high up onto the rim of the crater. Your goal is to enter the icy Weddell Sea, through the broad channel that separates the continent of Antarctica from Joinville Island. At first you will be awe-struck by the sheer size of the tabular icebergs in this area and their presence always makes for exciting navigation on the ship. This region is also home to some of the largest Adelie penguin rookeries found in Antarctica.
After several busy days of exploration along the Antarctic Peninsula and entrance to the Weddell Sea, you will head for Elephant Island – a location forever connected to the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the HMS Endurance expedition a century ago. On the windswept north coast, exposed to the swells of the South Atlantic is Point Wild. It was here that Shackleton and his exhausted men camped under their upturned boats – pondering their chances of survival. Enjoy impressive views of the location from the ship and will attempt a landing subject to conditions. From the ship or on shore, this is a thrilling location for anyone with a passion for polar history.
As you depart Elephant Island you cannot help but ponder the journey made by Shackleton and his four companions – as they attempted the near impossible – navigating 800 nautical miles in a 30 foot converted lifeboat across the tempestuous Scotia Sea to South Georgia. You make a much easier time of the crossing in your state of the art expedition ship. Onboard experts keep you busy with fascinating presentations and lead lively discussions throughout the day. The great pelagic seabirds are sure to keep you company – and you can anticipate excellent sightings of albatross and giant petrels soaring on the winds of the South Atlantic Ocean. Anticipation builds as the mountainous peaks appear on the horizon, marking your arrival at South Georgia.
Rounding the remote south-eastern end of South Georgia, you will spend the next four days thoroughly exploring the coastline. Dark sand beaches, tussock covered hinterland and a backdrop of towering peaks and glaciers are a feast for all the senses. South Georgia has often been called the greatest wildlife show on earth. Seals cover the beaches, seabirds fill the skies and living in rookeries of immense size, live the majestic king penguins. Your aim is to visit a number of these huge colonies – where naturalists estimate that more than 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins live in close proximity. Locations you hope to visit include Gold Harbor, Royal Bay, St Andrews Bay and Salisbury Plain.
Dotted along the coastline are the rusting relics of the early whaling era. The largest of these locations is Grytviken. Here you will find a fascinating museum and a beautifully restored Norwegian Lutheran Church. Adjacent to the old whaling station lies a small cemetery. This is the final resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton – who was laid to rest here in 1922. For many on board, being in the presence of the great polar explorer is a highlight of the trip. You will continue your journey along the coastline, hoping to visit Stromness – another former whaling station – and the final destination of Shackleton and companions Frank Worsley and Tom Crean having made the near impossible traverse across the interior of South Georgia.
Spend the next few days sailing to the Falkland Islands. The spectacular seabirds including several albatross and petrel species are your constant companions as they soar above the ship. Photographing these stunning birds in flight takes great patience and skill and your resident photography expert on board will show you the best techniques. The onboard educational program continues and your experts recap your remarkable journey to date. These days provide a good opportunity to catch up on journal entries, sort through your images in the multimedia room and catch some rest after a busy two weeks of activity.
Today you will wake to the sight of landfall in the Falkland Islands. Approaching Sea Lion Island, you will first note the very barren and windswept landscape, exposed to the prevailing weather that originates in the Drake Passage. Launch out in the Zodiacs and go ashore to view the incredible diversity of wildlife found at this location. Three species of penguin including gentoo, magellanic, and rockhopper, as well as southern elephant seals and South American sea lions are known to inhabit the area. King cormorants and striated caracaras are just some of the bird species we expect to see. As you cruise along the coast of the Falklands, bound for Stanley, enjoy a special dinner attended by the ship’s captain.
In the early morning, you will navigate through the narrows and into the harbor of Port Stanley. A transfer will take you to the airport for your return flight to Punta Arenas in southern Chile (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). It will be possible to connect to flights through to Santiago or other destinations in Chile. Otherwise, enjoy a night in Punta Arenas, or venture further afield to explore the highlights of Patagonia.
The above itinerary is a guide only, as the exact program depends on weather and ice conditions and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition.
All guests are required to have comprehensive travel insurance which must cover accidents, injury, illness and death, medical expenses, including any related to pre-existing medical conditions, emergency repatriation (including helicopter) and personal liability. ExpeditionTrips strongly recommends at least $200,000 Emergency Medical/Evacuation coverage for Antarctic trips which includes coverage for cancellation, trip disruption, baggage and personal property. ExpeditionTrips can assist you with this. You must carry proof of insurance with you and produce it if requested by expedition staff. The expedition team reserves the right to cancel or suspend your participation on a trip or in certain activities that comprise part of a trip, at any time, including after the commencement of your tour, with no right of refund, if you are unable to provide proof of insurance when requested. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options.
Hiking Excursions: No additional supplement
No pre-booking required. Trekking poles are available onboard for passenger use and instep crampons will be provided if necessary to improve traction on slick surfaces. Sturdy hiking books and warm hiking socks are needed to join this activity. Hikes will be 2-3 hours in duration and will involve negotiating challenging terrain without the assistance of trails. Antarctica hiking rewards with images of snow, ice, mountains, and glaciers.
Sea Kayaking: $795 per person
Pre-booked option for up to 16 guests. If you have experience sea kayaking and are interested in doing this activity during the expedition, you will need to book this option prior to departure from home. You cannot book this activity once onboard. There is a separate document for sea kayakers that you will need to review beforehand. Provided equipment includes full Gore-Tex drysuits, kayak specific PFDs, neoprene booties, a waterproof deck bag, pogies, and a single or double kayak.
Charter flight from Punta Arenas, Chile, to King George Island, Antarctica; return flight from Stanley, Falkland Islands, to Punta Arenas, Chile; transfers from the central meeting point in Punta Arenas to the airport on Day 1, transfer from the airport to a downtown hotel on arrival back from Stanley on Day 17; cabin accommodations and meals aboard the ship; daily afternoon tea; 24-hour tea, coffee, hot chocolate in bar/lounge and in-cabin coffee and tea-making facilities; experienced expedition leader and professional expedition team of marine biologists, naturalists, historians, adventure guides, and photographers; daily off-ship excursions by Zodiac boat breaking into small groups for shore landings; guided hikes and walks on shore of various durations for guests of all abilities; visits to wildlife colonies, historic sites, places of outstanding natural beauty, and community visits; educational presentations and talks by polar experts in their field (i.e. marine biologists, naturalists, historians, etc.); resident photography guide available to assist all guests plus access to computers in the multimedia lab for image downloads, file back up, and management; emergency-trained onboard physician; dedicated hospitality team, including hotel manager, four chefs, professional bar staff, and adventure concierge staff; fitness and yoga; access to wellness area (Finnish sauna, plunge pool filled with sea water, hot tub); natural essential oil amenities; access to a well-stocked library of polar reference; end-of-voyage video, photos, and take-home USB; port fees; all permits to access visited areas; gear on loan (wind- and water-resistant jacket, water-resistant pants, insulated rubber boots, binoculars, trekking poles, and a waterproof backpack). Subject to change without notice.
Any international or local airfare unless otherwise specified in the voyage itinerary; visa and passport expenses; pre- or post-cruise hotel accommodations unless otherwise specific in the itinerary (or pre-arranged); pre- or post-cruise transfers unless otherwise specified in the itinerary (or pre-arranged); meals and transfers in arrival/departure cities; massages from registered therapist; personal laundry charges; personal expenses on board such as alcoholic beverages, bar charges, or laundry expenses; telecommunication charges (i.e. email, satellite phone); baggage, cancellation, or medical travel insurance-related expenses (travel insurance is mandatory on all voyages); a voluntary gratuity at the end of the voyage for expedition staff and ship crew (suggested amount $12-15 USD per day).
PHOTOS: © David McEown, © David Sinclair, © Ira Meyer