Tailored from £4,150 per person excl. flights
11 Days South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula
11 Days South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula
Tick the polar continent off your list, sail the route of historic explorers and leave your footprints in the snow on this Classic Antarctica Holiday. In the frozen, remote south you’ll experience the natural world as you’ve never seen it before. This is Antarctica.
You’ll start in Argentina’s Ushuaia, where you can explore the world’s most southerly city before embarking on your Antarctic cruise expedition. Once aboard, you’ll sail through the Beagle Channel and across the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands. After some island-hopping around the west coast, you’ll arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula with twice-daily activities and excursions onto the Antarctic mainland.
The Antarctic cruise ship holds 134 passengers, including an expert team of crew, historians, marine biologists and naturalists, who are on hand to provide information and answer any questions you may have. Choose from a range of cabins and suites to stay in, all ocean-facing with a porthole window. All meals are provided onboard.
Our Classic Antarctica Holiday covers all the main Antarctic sites on an 11-day cruise expedition. Encounter penguins, whales and albatross in their natural habitats, feel the awe of towering glaciers and mountainous icebergs, then take a dip in the waters yourself with a chilly “polar plunge!” Are you ready to take on the adventure?
Arrive at Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s most southerly city and playfully nicknamed “the end of the world.” This is where your intrepid Antarctica holiday begins. Though the city is best known as the starting point for Antarctica tours, there’s plenty to see and do here whilst you’re waiting to board your Antarctic cruise ship.
Explore the outdoors with adventure activities such as hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park (at Ushuaia, the Andes meets the Beagle Channel with the snowy peaks of the Martial Mountain Range), skiing at Cerro Castor, sailing, kayaking and even scuba diving. In the evening, dine at one of the many fine restaurants serving up local specialities of king crab, sea bass and mussels.
You’ll spend the morning in Ushuaia at your leisure before embarking on your Antarctica expedition in the afternoon, boarding your polar expedition cruise ship and sailing out of the port, down through the Beagle Channel and out across the Drake Passage.
Be warned that the Drake Passage, an open expanse of water between South America and Antarctica, is one of the roughest patches of sea on the planet – it’s where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide. However, the seasickness is known as a rite of passage for keen explorers and a test you have to pass in order to earn your first glimpses of Antarctica.
Your cruise across the Drake Passage towards the Antarctic Peninsula continues today with regular talks from the ship’s expedition team, introducing you to the region’s wildlife and natural landscapes. You’ll spot your first icebergs, humpback and minke whales, as well as albatross on your journey.
The first points of call on your Antarctic cruise are the South Shetland Islands, which offer some of the best wildlife watching opportunities, as well as spectacular frosted scenery. Lying around 120 kilometres north of the Antarctic Peninsula, this group of islands is used by multiple countries for research purposes without sovereignty, under the agreement of the Antarctic Treaty.
The South Shetlands are one of the continent’s most visited areas due to their close proximity to South America, however with four major groups of islands as well as 150 unique islets, there are hardly any crowds.
The islands cover around 3,688 square kilometres, with 80% of the land glaciated. The highest peak on the archipelago is Mount Foster on Smith Island, which stands 2,105 metres tall and was first conquered in 1996.
One of the most notable of the South Shetland Islands is Deception Island, a horseshoe-shaped caldera of an active volcano that last erupted in 1967 and 1969, both unpredicted despite continuous monitoring from the stations that were once there. Deception makes for a fascinating lesson from Mother Nature.
Next, you’ll move past the South Shetlands to the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost stretch of land attached to the main body of Antarctica. Weather permitting, you’ll stop off on the peninsula twice a day to explore and encounter the local wildlife; take your first steps on the Antarctic continent and meet the animals which call this harsh environment home.
Species you’ll encounter here include penguins, such as gentoo, chinstrap and Adélie penguins, all of which have rookeries in the area. Mammals include crabeater, Weddell and leopard seals; whilst in the water you’ll see the undulating dorsal fines of orca, as well as minke and humpback whales.
You’ll continue your exploration of the peninsula on the west coast, filled with breath-taking scenery of dazzling snowy peaks, jagged icebergs plunging into the sea, glistening mountains and silent, icy passages.
You’ll learn why the west coast is preferred in history lessons about the east and the Weddell Sea, which has a cutthroat reputation as an ice-choked ship-eater! Famous explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed his Endurance into the Weddell Sea in 1914, only for the vessel to be crushed and frozen into the ice. Shackleton and his crew attempted to wait out the cold weather until the ice thawed, staying for six months, however the crush proved too much.
The ship didn’t sink until the ice melted in the spring, finally escaping the Weddell’s icy clutches and slipping beneath the surface, leaving the crew stranded. Eventually, Shackleton and his men sailed their lifeboats across a perilous stretch of open ocean through hurricane-force storms to the South Georgia whaling stations – an incredible feat that ensured the crew’s survival.
Did you remember to pack your swimsuit? Be daring and experience the true Antarctic chill with a polar plunge into the freezing ocean waters (weather permitting)! Other activities include a trip out on one of the ship’s 14 Zodiac boats and daily excursions based on the weather and ice conditions, as organised by the expedition team.
Make sure you bring more camera memory than you think you need – it’s guaranteed that your devices will be full of ethereal and otherworldly Antarctic landscapes, towering bergs and glaciers, as well as adorable penguin encounters and other memorable moments with Antarctica’s endemic wildlife.
The ship holds up to 134 passengers and includes facilities such as a lounge, dining hall, library and lecture hall, where you’ll receive talks from the expedition team. With a ratio of one team member to every 10 guests, there are plenty of historians, marine biologists and naturalists on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Take advantage of the daily lectures from knowledgeable and professional guides given on a range of topics, from Antarctica’s incredible wildlife, to the region’s fascinating geology, to the continent’s intriguing history, including the Antarctic’s first explorers (both successful and unsuccessful). Make the most of these daily doses of education to enhance the experience of your trip and provide some context for this remote and unique destination.
Your intrepid exploration of the White Continent comes to a close as you head back up north to the Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia.
The 1,000-kilometre stretch of the Drake Passage is named in honour of Sir Francis Drake, an English sea captain and explorer of the Elizabethan era. Drake was the second person recorded to circumnavigate the world in a single expedition and the first to do so as captain, between 1577 and 1580. A controversial figure, he was a hero back in England but an enemy of the Spanish, who branded him as a pirate with the nickname “El Draque” (the Dragon).
On your last waves across the Drake Passage, keep your eyes peeled on deck for your final wildlife sightings. Enjoy a spot of birdwatching for black-browed, light-mantled sooty and wandering albatross, as well as cape and Prion’s petrels, amongst other seabird species.
Relax and review the adventures you’ve had during your week aboard an Antarctica cruise and enjoy the final lectures from the ship’s resident experts.
Having arrived back into Ushuaia during the night or early in the morning, you’ll disembark your Antarctic cruise after breakfast. If you have an earlier flight, you’ll be transferred directly to Ushuaia Airport; if you have a later flight, you’ll be able to store your luggage and spend the day exploring the city.
Your incredible Antarctica holiday sadly comes to an end, though you may wish to add time in Argentina or another destination in South America before or after your 11-day Antarctic expedition. Filled with once-in-a-lifetime memories and the least visited continent ticked off your list, you’ll depart Ushuaia dreaming of your next intrepid adventure.