Summary : This far-reaching polar expedition itinerary includes visits to three different locations—the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The sub-Antarctic Falkland Islands and South Georgia are home to a proliferation of unique wildlife and birdlife. There are penguin rookeries with more than 100,000 nesting birds and the beaches are covered in fur seals and elephant seals. Seabirds—including many of the albatross species—call these islands home, nesting and raising their young in this wild and remote environment. Both locations feature a fascinating history and stunning scenery. To the south lies Antarctica—the frozen continent and the final destination on this remarkable voyage. Icebergs in all shapes and sizes fill the waters, and yet more unique wildlife can be found living in sizable colonies. The waters are full of life and whales including humpback, minke and orca are frequently encountered. Days are spent exploring on shore in the company of expert guides including naturalists, marine biologists, ornithologists and adventurers as well as a resident photography professional. Cruising in inflatable Zodiac boats is another memorable activity. For the adventurers, there are plenty of opportunities to explore on long hikes ashore, or by sea kayak.
Activities : Birding, Camping, Child-Friendly, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography
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Your epic journey to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica commences this afternoon in Ushuaia, in southern Argentina. Gather at the central meeting point and transfer to the pier and embark your expedition ship, Akademik Sergey Vavilov. After settling in to your cabin and exploring the ship, meet your expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail and dinner and cast off, bound for Antarctica and the adventure of a lifetime.
Sailing northeast towards the Falkland Islands you will be joined by hundreds of seabirds, including the wandering albatross, who you come to know well on this journey. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions. Photographing these magnificent birds from the deck of the ship takes patience and skill and your photography expert will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of your modern research vessel. Throughout the day, onboard experts educate with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history of the Southern Ocean and the locations you hope to visit in the coming days.
Having arrived in the Falkland Islands overnight, launch Zodiacs and make your first shore excursion this morning. Plan to explore several locations in the West Falkland archipelago. These remote islands are home to a proliferation of seabirds and migratory birds including the stunning blackbrowed albatross. Your first penguin sightings will be on the island of West Point with its bustling rookeries of rockhoppers. On Carcass Island, observe nesting Magellanic penguins as well as oystercatchers, geese and the striated caracara, a bird of prey.
The following morning, arrive in Stanley, the capital of the Falklands Islands. As you wander the charming streets of brightly painted houses, learn how this quiet harbor was once a major port in the 19th century for tall ships rounding the fabled Cape Horn. There are several interesting activities to enjoy today. Stanley has an excellent museum that outlines the historic events that took place during the conflict with Argentina in 1982. The waterfront memorial built to commemorate the lives of the British servicemen killed during the war is a sobering reminder of recent history. Stanley’s famed philatelic museum with its impressive collection of historic stamps is another interesting diversion.
Chart a southeasterly course bound for South Georgia. The seabirds once again join you in the Southern Ocean. Educational presentations continue and are always popular. History is a key theme of this voyage and the epic story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the HMS Endurance expedition is central to any trip to South Georgia. You might pick up some valuable tips from the onboard photographic guide, learning about image composition, the subtle polar light and all the basics of good camera craft. Learn about Polar conservation—a theme particularly close to the hearts of your expedition guides and crew.
South Georgia has often been called the "Serengeti of the Southern Ocean," and as you approach the deep bays of this rugged rocky outcrop, you will begin to see why. Launching the Zodiacs, begin your exploration of the island, in the vicinity of Elsehul Bay. Large numbers of fur seals and the much larger elephant seal will line the dark sand beaches. Living in the tussock grass, king penguins and their chicks may number up to 100,000 birds in some locations, including Salisbury Plain, St. Andrews Bay and Gold Harbor. The island is also home to large numbers of nesting albatross and they fill the skies above, coming and going from the nest.
The scenery is spectacular and the snowy peaks of the island may cause one to pause and consider the incredible feat of mountaineering when Shackleton and his exhausted companions traversed the island from the wild south coast in 1916. They arrived into Stromness whaling station having crossed from King Haakon Bay, to raise the alarm that eventuated in the rescue of his men on Elephant Island, 100 years ago.
South Georgia is a thrilling location for history buffs and the rusting relics of the early whaling industry are all around. Observe several of the old stations at locations including Leith, Husvik and Stromness. A highlight is a visit to Grytviken, the largest of the former whaling stations, situated at the head of Cumberland Bay. It is here you can visit the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton. For many, paying respects to the great explorer will be a highlight of the trip. There’s an excellent museum at Grytviken, maintained by the South Georgia Heritage Trust, and the restored church, built by the original Norwegian whalers, provides a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Weather and ice will dictate your crossing of the Scotia Sea from South Georgia to Antarctica, leading you perhaps to the South Orkney Islands. Your expedition leader and Captain will make a decision based on the conditions at the time.
The South Orkney Islands represent the peaks of a submarine mountain range called the Scotia Arc, connecting South Georgia to the South Shetland Islands. Often shrouded in fog and surrounded by ice much of the year, a chance to visit these islands does not come often.
As you edge ever closer to the frozen continent, large icebergs announce that you've arrived in Antarctic waters. Around 60 miles off the coast of the Antarctic mainland, find the South Shetland Island chain. Possible landing sites could include King George Island, Half Moon Island, Yankee Harbor or Hannah Point. Weather conditions permitting, sail the ship into the flooded volcanic caldera of Deception Island. There are some outstanding hikes at these locations and the old whaling station and aircraft hangar at Deception Island beg for further exploration. Excitement is in the air as you navigate into the Bransfield Strait. Tomorrow, you will explore along the mountainous coastline of the Antarctic continent.
After so much anticipation, enter the icy waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, likely in the vicinity of Mikkelson Harbor or Cierva Cove. Snow covered mountains soar from the dark waters. Along the shoreline in the bays and harbors of the Peninsula lives an incredible abundance of wildlife. Large rookeries are home to chinstrap, gentoo and Adelie penguins. Seals live on the ice floes, including the powerful leopard seal that you hope to encounter. Gulls, skuas and cormorants are also found nesting and feeding at many sites along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Explore by Zodiac boat and ashore where a range of wonderful activities await. Locations you might visit include Wilhelmina Bay, Orne Harbor, Cuverville Island and the Errera Channel. Join the photographic guide and go take close-up photos of the penguins, or of the impossibly blue ice. Or enjoy a hike to the top of a snowy mountain saddle with one of your adventure guides. If the opportunity presents itself, visit a science base or an old historic hut. The sea kayakers may range up to several miles from the ship, for a truly memorable experience. Each and every day, you have a range of great choices.
Head north along the Peninsula towards Antarctic Sound, the gateway into the icy Weddell Sea. At about 25 nautical miles long and about 10 nautical miles wide, Antarctic Sound separates Joinville Island from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. As you navigate into this broad expanse, witness for the first time the vastness and majesty of the Antarctic icecap. It is an awe-inspiring sight. Notice a significant increase in the number of huge tabular icebergs and the presence of sea ice. These massive icebergs break from the huge ice shelves to the south and drift north on the currents. This always makes for exciting navigation on the ship—and stunning photographic opportunities in the soft Antarctic twilight. This is wild and remote Antarctica and has a distinctly different feel from locations visited thus far. This area is home to some of the largest adelie penguin rookeries in all of Antarctica, some with a nesting population of up to 100,000 birds.
Having investigated the entrance to the Weddell Sea, approach Elephant Island from the south. Point Lookout, on the southern tip of the island, is home to an impressive chinstrap penguin colony. Macaroni penguins also breed here and are a species you have yet to encounter to date. Both southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals are hauled out on the beaches in large numbers. If conditions permit, visit the fabled location of Point Wild on the north coast of Elephant Island. It is here that Shackleton and his men were encamped under their upturned life boats, before he and five companions set off on their rescue mission to South Georgia. It’s a major thrill to visit yet another important location connected to the Shackleton story.
Your final days are spent catching up on journal entries, or perhaps downloading and reviewing photos in the multi-media room with your photography expert. For some, it’s a chance to catch some well-earned rest after almost three weeks of exploration. The lounge and bar on your ship provide fantastic panoramas and are great places to sit with a book and a coffee. The educational presentations continue and you enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by your Expedition Leader. A particular highlight of the return journey will be frequent sightings of the majestic albatross, petrels and other seabirds as they soar above the ship on the winds of the Southern Ocean. Take the time to enjoy a quiet moment on the outer deck, reflecting on a truly remarkable journey to the farthest reaches of the planet. Cruising up the coastline of the Falkland Islands in the soft evening light, enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship.
In the early morning, navigate through the narrows and into port. Stanley is currently home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a charming rural town in coastal England or Scotland, with brightly colored houses, pretty flower-filled gardens, a quaint cathedral and several local pubs. There is time to explore the town before arriving at 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. If you are staying in Punta Arenas, a transfer will be provided to several downtown locations.
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. It must cover cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects. 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.
Sea Kayaking Option: $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 PFD's, neoprene booties, a waterproof deck bag, pogies and many other vital paddling accessories.
Snowshoeing: No additional supplement.
No pre-booking required. If conditions are suitable, you may choose to snowshoe on the continent. Snowshoes and trekking poles provided. Traveling by snowshoes offers a new view of Antarctica! Come prepared with warm socks and comfortable clothing. A small knapsack to carry water and an extra layer of clothing is recommended.
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.
Photography: No additional supplement.
An onboard photographer is available to work with you throughout the voyage to help you improve your photography and encourage you to look at scenes or events in a different way in order to capture them digitally. Also available is an onboard multimedia download studio with computers, cables, and hard-drives for back-up storage and for creating DVDs of your images.
Camping Option: No additional supplement.
(Possibly available on select departures. Contact ExpeditionTrips for details)
No pre-booking required. If conditions are suitable and you choose to camp on the continent, all the required gear such as a few tents, bivy sacs and sleeping bags, will be provided. This excursion is managed with strict environmental regulations. A portable outhouse tent is used and absolutely everything is transported back to the ship afterwards. Select departures may have lower probability of camping. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
Accommodation aboard the ship; one-way flight Port Stanley / Punta Arenas; all meals during the voyage prepared by onboard professional chefs; afternoon tea with fresh snacks each afternoon; coffee, tea, hot chocolate throughout the day; all Zodiac excursions; extensive program of relevant educational presentations; advice from experienced team of naturalists; foul weather gear set (pants/jacket/wellington boots OR waterproof backpack/waterproof binoculars/wellington boots); use of multimedia station; welcome reception; welcome dinner; farewell dinner hosted by Captain; 'Memory Book' (log book chronicling your trip, includes photos); onboard medical officer; pre-departure information; hairdryers available on request at no charge; transfers from the meeting point in Ushuaia to the pier to board the ship on day 1 of the cruise and transfers from the airport to downtown hotels on the last day of the cruise.
All airfare (except where explicitly stated above); visa and passport fees; airport departure taxes; pre-cruise or post-cruise meals, transfers, and hotel accommodation; personal laundry charges; postage; telephone calls; drinks; medical expenses; trip interruption and cancellation insurance; travel medical insurance including medical evacuation (required); gratuities to staff and crew; private fitness sessions; massage therapy; fee for optional programs.
PHOTOS: © Claudio Suter, Ira Meyer, C. Lawton, Adam Riley