Summary : This far-reaching Antarctic expedition is specifically timed to coincide with the arrival of spring as the region emerges from the long and frigid winter, which means the ice and snow cover will be in pristine condition. This is an incredibly dynamic time to experience the Antarctic eco-system. Penguins are returning and busy establishing their rookeries, seals are on the move and busy feeding as the sea ice breaks up, and whales are starting to return. Several of the most important historic sites in Antarctica feature on this voyage, including Deception Island, Elephant Island, Stromness, and Grytviken. In South Georgia, scenes of male elephant seals battling for control of the beaches (and female harems) and the intimate and beautiful courtship rituals of the albatross will have you believing you are ‘on the set’ of your very own wildlife documentary. Indeed, it is no surprise that many of the famous wildlife documentaries of the region are filmed at this time of year. Over 19 days you will explore onshore in the company of experienced guides, including naturalists, marine biologists, ornithologists, and adventurers, as well as a resident photography professional.
Activities : Birding, Child-Friendly, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography, Triple/Quad Cabins
$15,095 to $25,195
Your journey commences this morning in the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas. You will meet at a central location before transferring to the wharf where you will embark the expedition ship. After settling into your cabin and exploring the ship, meet the expedition team and your fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail and dinner. The captain charts a course through the Straits of Magellan and you're on your way, bound for Antarctica – and what promises to be an incredible adventure.
The Drake Passage is rich in bio-diversity and showcases a great abundance of wildlife. You will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions as make you make your way south. Photographing these magnificent birds takes patience and skill and your photography guide will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of a modern expedition vessel. Throughout the day, onboard specialists will educate you with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife, and history of the locations you hope to visit in the coming days. As you approach the coastline of Antarctica, you'll encounter more icebergs and anticipate your first whale sightings.
Excitement is in the air as the magnificent snowy peaks of the South Shetland Islands are laid out before you. Depending on ice and weather conditions, enter the South Shetlands via the McFarlane Strait, with an objective of Half Moon Island or nearby Yankee Harbor. Arriving onshore, a sizeable rookery of chinstrap penguins act as a very noisy welcoming committee. Hope to observe your first substantial elephant seal colony here. There are some good hiking options along the rocky beach to a high point. Otherwise observe the chinstraps at close proximity as they establish their nests.
Overnight you've crossed the Bransfield Strait and are now along the coastline of continental Antarctica. The itinerary is deliberately flexible to account for early season ice conditions and to take advantage of optimal snow conditions at several landing sites. The planned exploration starts in the vicinity of Mikkelson Harbor and neighboring Cierva Cove – both beautiful locations and the perfect introduction to Antarctica. Both spots provide excellent Zodiac cruising, and a fascinating look at the very beginning of the penguin breeding cycle and the courtship rituals that take place. Keep your eyes out for the powerful leopard seal, which you'll frequently find hauled out on the ice floes around here.
As you continue your journey, you are now on the way to Antarctic Sound - the gateway into the icy Weddell Sea. Depending on the seasonal ice conditions, visit a number of outstanding locations on the way into the Weddell. The plan is to sail the ship into the flooded volcanic caldera at Deception Island. This is a very dramatic place and history is all around as you explore an old whaling station with rusted old boilers and dilapidated wooden huts. 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 also an outstanding hike, high up onto the rim of the crater. The Aitcho Islands provide some great hiking routes showcasing the colorful mosses and lichens found on the island. Gentoo and chinstrap penguins nest here and on the beaches. You'll usually encounter seals coming and going from the surrounding waters. Fort Point situated on Greenwich Island is another possible location for a visit.
The next objective is to enter the icy Weddell Sea, through the broad channel that separates the continent of Antarctica from Joinville Island. At first you'll be awe-struck by the sheer size of the tabular icebergs in this area. 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, South Shetlands, and Antarctic Sound, head for Elephant Island, a location forever connected to the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the HMS Endurance expedition. 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 more than a century ago, pondering their chances of survival. Shore landings here are often notoriously tricky due to strong winds and pounding surf on the rocky beach. 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 five 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. Onboard specialists keep you busy with fascinating presentations and lead lively discussions throughout the day. The great pelagic seabirds are sure to keep you company. 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.
Spend the next three days exploring the coastline of South Georgia. 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 majestic king penguins live in rookeries of immense sizes. The aim is to visit a number of these vast colonies where naturalists estimate that more than 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins live in close proximity. Locations could 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 onboard, being in the presence of the great polar explorer is a highlight of the trip. 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 against all odds.
By now your camera is full of images and your journey toward the Falkland Islands commences. The spectacular seabirds, including several albatross and petrel species, are your constant companions soaring above the ship. The onboard educational program continues, with a recap of your remarkable journey to date. These days provide a good opportunity to catch up on journal entries, sort through your images at the multimedia station, and catch some rest after a busy two weeks of activity.
Wake to the sight of landfall in the Falkland Islands. Approaching Sea Lion Island, first note the barren and windswept landscape, exposed to the prevailing weather that originates in the Drake Passage. Go ashore aboard a Zodiac 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 you might see. Back on the ship, as you cruise along the coast of the Falklands bound for Stanley, enjoy a special dinner attended by the ship’s captain.
This morning you'll pass through ‘the Narrows’ and into the port of Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. Say goodbye to your crew and after some free time to explore the town, make your way to the airport for a special charter flight to Santiago, Chile's stylish capital city. (See Additional Costs.) On arrival in Santiago your journey comes to an end. A transfer is provided to a downtown location for those choosing to stay and explore Santiago and the delights of Chile.
Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to ice and weather conditions—and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
All guests are required to have comprehensive travel insurance. The travel insurance must cover accidents, injury, illness and death, medical expenses, including any related to pre-existing medical conditions, emergency repatriation (including helicopter), luggage and personal effects, and personal liability. It is strongly recommended that you purchase cancellation and curtailment insurance. 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.
Once you have booked your voyage to the Polar Regions, you will be required to complete a Medical Information Form. This form must be completed, signed, and returned no later than 90 days prior to departure.
Important Voyage Logistics:
Trip Planning: This trip commences in Punta Arenas, Chile. It is recommend that you arrive at least one day prior to the scheduled voyage departure to provide a buffer in the event of any unexpected travel delays between home and voyage embarkation. At the conclusion of the trip, you will fly from Stanley, Falkland Islands to Santiago, Chile. (See Rate Notes.) This return flight arrives in the late afternoon. It is advised that you book your outward flight from early evening onward—or consider spending a night in Santiago—to avoid missed connections. A transfer is provided from the airport to a central downtown location.
Luggage Limits: Different luggage limits apply to the special charter flight between Stanley and Santiago. Please observe a limit of 20-kg / 44-lb for checked baggage and 5-kg / 11-lb for carry-on baggage. There is no facility to purchase excess luggage on this flight. Excess baggage can be stored in Santiago for the duration of your voyage for a small fee. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
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 boots 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.
Kayaking: pre-booking required
Limited to 30 guests. If you have experience sea kayaking and are interested in this activity during the expedition, you will need to book this option prior to departure from home. You cannot book this activity once onboard. All intending kayakers must complete a questionnaire outlining their prior paddling experience and attend several compulsory onboard meetings prior to the first kayak excursion. Provided equipment includes full Gore-Tex drysuits, kayak specific PFDs, neoprene booties, a waterproof deck bag, pogies, and a single or double kayak. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
An onboard photographer is available to work with you throughout the voyage to help improve your photography and encourage you to look at scenes or events in different ways 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.
Transfers to the ship on embarkation day and from the ship to the airport upon disembarkation; shipboard accommodations; experienced expedition leader and professional expedition team of marine biologists, naturalists, historians, and adventure guides; assistance of resident photographer; adventure concierge staff; daily off-ship excursions by Zodiac; guided hikes and walks onshore; visits to wildlife colonies, historic sites, places of outstanding natural beauty, and science stations; educational presentations and talks by polar specialists; access to computers in the multimedia lab for image downloads, file back up, and management; emergency-trained physician on every voyage; use of onboard library, sauna, plunge pool, Jacuzzi, and fitness center; end of voyage video, photos and take-home USB; gear on loan (waterproof/windproof jacket, bib pants, insulated rubber boots, binoculars, and trekking poles); all meals onboard the ship; daily housekeeping; daily afternoon tea; 24-hour tea, coffee, and hot chocolate in the lounge and in all cabins (replenished daily); port fees and permits to access visited areas. Inclusions subject to change without notice.
Additional Inclusions for Suites:
Exclusive check-in service on day of embarkation; deluxe welcome package (wine, fruit basket, natural snacks); single brew coffee machine; mini-stereo; private in-room One Ocean Adventure Concierge service; in-room dining menu; early morning in-room café service; evening après dinner drink service; premium in-room mini bar replenished daily (including spirits); complimentary 1-hour massage/spa experience. Inclusions subject to change without notice.
Charter flights; any international or local airfare, pre- or post-cruise hotel accommodations, or pre- or post-cruise transfers unless otherwise specified in the voyage itinerary (or pre-arranged); visa and passport expenses; personal expenses onboard such as alcoholic beverages, bar charges, laundry expenses, or massages from registered therapist; 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. Fuel surcharge may apply.
Photos: © Ira Meyer, © Jeff Topham