Tailored from £8,850 per person excl. flights
13 Days South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula
13 Days South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula
Take a trip on the wild side of the white continent, with exploration of the notorious icy clutches of the Weddell Sea and the less-visited east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula on an intrepid, yet luxurious, Antarctica expedition.
You’ll start in Punta Arenas, Chile, where you’ll take a charter flight over the Drake Passage to King George Island of the South Shetland Islands. From there, you’ll start your wild Antarctica expedition, heading down the difficult-to-reach east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, into the infamous “ship-eating” waves of the Weddell Sea! Then, you’ll loop around and explore the scenic west coast before heading back north, across the Drake Passage and into the port city of Ushuaia, Argentina.
You’ll stay in a specially-strengthened cruise ship with luxury facilities, including a wellness spa and gym, a multimedia room (where you can take a photography course and learn how to capture the best polar mementos), as well as a variety of interior and exterior observation spaces, so you can enjoy the epic views throughout your trip.
Sail past monster ice bergs in the Antarctic Sound as you whale-watch the waters for marine mammals. Then, delve into history and exploration of fossil fields with the ship’s resident palaeontologist, as well as the more modern era of global exploration, following the footsteps of Antarctic pioneers Shackleton and Nordenskoljd. This Antarctic expedition offers a side to Antarctica rarely seen by visitors.
You’ll arrive in Punta Arenas, the capital of Chile’s most southerly region, Magallanes and Antarctica Chilena. This lively and historic port, located on the Strait of Magellan, will be your gateway to Antarctica. Once you’ve checked into your hotel, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the town; visiting the penguin colonies of Magdalena Island, Los Penguinos Natural Monument or Museo Nao Victoria, where you can see life-size replicas of historic ships from the age of discovery.
Spend the evening relaxing, ready for your voyage to Antarctica. Make sure you eat a hearty meal of Chilean fare to give you the energy you need – we recommend La Marmita and Damiana Elena for local delicacies, or Sotito’s for fresh seafood.
Skip the rocky waters of the Drake Passage on your journey into Antarctica with a scenic flight over the ocean to King George Island, in the South Shetland Islands. This archipelago lies just 120 kilometres north of the Antarctic Peninsula and here is where your wild Antarctica expedition truly begins.
You’ll board the expedition cruise ship, which is specially strengthened to allow navigation through difficult, icy passages in the Weddell Sea. This means that you’ll be able to access remote destinations off the beaten track, less frequented by travellers to Antarctica.
Sailing through the Antarctic Sound to the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll be treated to views of ice-filled ocean waters as you approach the Weddell Sea. Take the time to explore your cruise ship, meet the expedition team and discover all the luxury facilities aboard.
The ship has been designed with views in mind, so there are no pokey portholes here. There are plenty of observation spaces to enjoy, indoor and outdoor, ideal for those keen on birdwatching, wildlife spotting or simply watching the scenery float past. The open bridge policy also means that you can visit the captain and officers to observe their navigation and mapping techniques.
During your time cruising the Antarctic Sound, you’ll stop off at Gourdin Island, the largest of a group of islands found north of the Prime Head of the Antarctic Peninsula. The island will enthral keen birders, as the site has been certified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) due to the breeding colony of around 28,000 Adélie penguins, as well as over 1,000 gentoo penguins.
Another popular stop on your way to the Weddell Sea is Brown Bluff, a basalt tuya (flat-topped volcano), named for its steep slopes and brown-black hyaloclastite material. This strange, other-worldly place makes for unique photo opportunities and is also an IBA due to the populations of penguins and other seabirds which roost here.
Today you’ll reach the Weddell Sea, part of the Southern Ocean and fringed by ice shelves. The sea is also known to have the clearest waters of any sea in the world, with a clarity comparable to distilled water. When the waves are calm, the views down into the depths are a sight to behold and have inspired local tales of green-haired mermen spotted in the frigid abyss.
However, the Weddell Sea is also known to be a treacherous place to visit due to “flash freezes” which can trap ships in the ice floes. It was here that Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance became stuck and crushed in the ice, stranding the captain and crew for months until they braved the open ocean to find help, with an incredible trip through hurricanes and across the throes of the Drake Passage to South Georgia.
You’ll stop off at Seymour Island and James Ross Island, both known for their rich fossil fields. These sights of paleontological significance include incredible rock formations, fossils of long-extinct species and an extensive marine fossil collection.
Seymour Island is nicknamed the “Rosetta Stone” of Antarctic palaeontology due to the historic and biological insights discovered there, including evidence of a mass extinction in this area in pre-historic times. James Ross Island was connected to the Antarctic Peninsula by an ice shelf until 1995, when the shelf collapsed. Today, the island is the site of the Mendel Polar Station, the first Czech Antarctic Base.
Another popular stop in the region is Paulet Island, noted for its large penguin colony. This too is identified as an Important Bird Area due to the hundreds of thousands of Adélie penguins which call the island home, as well as imperial shags, snow petrels and kelp gulls.
The island also has a historic significance, as it was here that the crew of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, led by Otto Nordenskiöld, was stranded after their vessel became stuck in the ice and later crushed. The Antarctic Sound is named after their expedition ship.
Heading back up north and around to the Antarctic Peninsula’s west coast, you’ll enjoy calmer waters. Depending on the weather, there are opportunities for two to three excursions ashore each day, with activities ranging from penguin encounters to exploring ancient ruins on the mainland. With 15 Zodiacs available, your time on shore is maximised.
There are also plenty of optional and additional activities available, such as kayaking, skiing, diving and even climbing.
Excursions and stop-offs are dependent on weather and sailing conditions, as well as other factors, but here are a few ideas for places you’re likely to visit:
Stop off at Astrolabe Island, home to thousands of chinstrap penguins and the Dragon’s Teeth rocks – cruising between them is known as “flossing.” Visit the ghostly shipwreck of the whaling vessel Gouvernoren near Enterprise Island to see the icy bow protruding above the surface. Or explore the scenic waters of Paradise Harbour, home to glaciated mountains, ice cliffs and floating icebergs.
One of the most thrilling ways to explore the Antarctic is to navigate the chilly waterways by kayak on a sea kayaking excursion. Led by a team of experts, you’ll paddle around icebergs, under ice cliffs and past penguin rookeries, enjoying the scenery and unobstructed wildlife watching as part of a truly immersive Antarctic experience.
Back aboard the ship, warm up with a dip in the spa or some time in the sauna, get your blood pumping with a session in the gym, or curl up with a book in the library. If you’re feeling a little stiff after all the excitement, pamper yourself with a massage at the Wellness Centre.
Antarctica offers views of truly unique landscapes and endemic wildlife encounters you’ll desperately want to record and take home to share with loved ones. So, if the ship’s multimedia room has you inspired (it’s filled with artwork and epic photography from Antarctic expeditions), then opt for a photography workshop organised by the guides aboard the ship.
Catering to all abilities, amateurs to professionals, the photography guides deliver one-on-one instruction from the decks, Zodiacs and during landings, to ensure that you get the perfect shot. Capture a breeching whale, a nesting penguin or a serene icy landscape – perfect souvenirs from your wild Antarctic adventure.
It’s time to head back north to South America, this time via the ocean with a stretch across the Drake Passage. The passage is named for historic explorer Sir Francis Drake and provides ample wildlife watching opportunities during the journey back to land, with orca, minke whales and humpbacks in the waters, as well as albatross soaring in the skies.
Enjoy your final night aboard your Antarctica expedition with a four-course farewell dinner and drinks with the captain and other passengers. Swap stories, share photos and swap contact information, as you’re sure to have forged friendships during your time at sea together.
You’ll arrive into Ushuaia, Argentina, either during the night or early the next morning, with a cruise up the Beagle Channel. After enjoying a final breakfast aboard your expedition vessel, you’ll say your goodbyes to the team and your fellow passengers, and disembark.
Once you’re back on dry land, you can take time to explore the world’s most southerly city (playfully nicknamed “the end of the world”) and Tierra del Fuego National Park, or head to the airport for your flight home, or fly on to the next leg of your adventure.