In our opinion the best all-around "Antarctica Voyage" is actually one that includes the Antarctic Peninsula, plus South Georgia Island, and the Falkland Islands. These sub-Antarctic islands are where the bulk of the wildlife is found and critical to really seeing the diversity of the region. The Peninsula is amazing for jaw-dropping scenery and bragging rights, but overall lighter on wildlife.
Second most important to us when selecting a voyage is that it be long enough that you are really able to see and experience the areas fully, ideally with 2 - 5 days in each area: Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands.
Of course you also want to have lots of time ashore to observe and photograph the amazing things you are here to see. That means selecting a vessel that is 100 participants or fewer (larger vessels must stagger groups ashore meaning everyone has less time on land, and more time onboard the ship).
Of course it would be nice if the ship was also well suited to expedition travel, riding the waters well and with good observation areas inside and out. For most of us that rules out the smallest ships.
Selecting a Tour Operator that specializes in the region is also important, for both the experience they bring to their programs, as well as expert expedition teams.
For nearly 20 years, since 1998, the Galapagos Travel team has been traveling to the area. We brought our first group in 2000 and have returned frequently since that time.
We know the Tour Operators, the ships, the islands and visitor sites, the wildlife, and the gateway cities. In short Galapagos Travel knows the region! We are also full members of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) so we are up on the news and conservation issues.
We would love to help you plan your perfect trip to "Antarctica." For a bit of added incentive we'll also give you a free hotel night pre-departure in the gateway city.
Each year when we review the coming season's departures one trip often stands out for us. Such is the case with the 2017/2018 season. That departure is "Christmas in Antarctica": December 14-30, 2017.
Why this departure? The quick answer is it gives you the best ratio of "shore days" to "sea days" of any trip. "Sea days" can be great but you're there to spend as much time ashore as possible. This expedition starts with a quick flight from Punta Arenas across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, where you join the ship. At the conclusion you again fly from the Falkland Islands back to Chile. These two flights save you more than 4 days at sea. The itinerary for this departure follows.
Just because this is the departure that speaks to us doesn't mean that it's the right voyage for you. If you're interested in something earlier or later in the season, or a voyage that might cross the Antarctic Circle, or an activity-based trip, or anything else, drop us a note and we can fill you in on other offerings!
Also don't forget to ask us if there are any early-booking discounts, or last minute deals offered by the ships.
We look forward to working with you!!
Day by Day Itinerary:
Day 1: Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island, Antarctica
Our journey commences in Punta Arenas, located in southern Chile, where we board our two-hour flight across the Drake Passage to Antarctica. Upon arrival at the King George Island in Antarctica, we embark our ship via Zodiac inflatable crafts.
Days 2 - 4: Antarctic Peninsula
Overnight we navigate through the Gerlache Strait and awake to the towering peaks of the Antarctic continent laid out before us. For the next three days we have a varied itinerary exploring the Gerlache coastline. Southerly Petermann Island, is home to a sizeable penguin rookery where both Adelie and gentoo penguins nest side by side. The landscape all along this section of the Antarctic coastline feature heavily glaciated mountains permanently covered in ice and snow. Our activity program is in full swing by now, and each day we enjoy guided walks on shore, visits to wildlife colonies, and Zodiac cruising among the ice with our expert guides providing insight and interpretation. Wilhelmina Bay is another favorite location where we frequently encounter pods of humpback whales.
Day 5: Weddell Sea
We are now heading north towards Antarctic Sound – the gateway into the icy Weddell Sea. Along the way we hope to make a planned visit at Deception Island. If weather conditions permit, we 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 us as we 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. Our goal is to enter the icy Weddell Sea, through the broad channel that separates the continent of Antarctica from Joinville Island. This region is also home to some of the largest Adelie penguin rookeries found in Antarctica.
Day 6: Elephant Island
After several busy days of exploration along the Antarctic Peninsula and entrance to the Weddell Sea, we 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. Shore landings here are notoriously tricky due to often gale force winds and pounding surf onto the rocky beach. This is a thrilling location for anyone with a passion for polar history.
Days 7 - 8: Scotia Sea
As we depart Elephant Island we 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. We make a much easier time of the crossing in our state of the art expedition ship. Onboard experts keep us busy with fascinating presentations and lead lively discussions throughout the day. The great pelagic seabirds are sure to keep us company – and we 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 our arrival at South Georgia.
Days 9 - 12: South Georgia
South Georgia has often been called the most staggering wildlife show on earth and as we approach the deep bays of this rugged, rocky outcrop you begin to see why. Dark sand beaches, tussock covered hinterland and a backdrop of towering peaks and glaciers are a feast for all the senses. Seals cover the beaches, seabirds fill the skies and living in rookeries of immense size, live the majestic king penguins. Our 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 we hope to visit include Gold Harbour, Royal Bay, St Andrews Bay and Salisbury Plain. A highlight is a visit to Grytviken – the largest of the former whaling stations on the island, and where we visit the gravesite of Shackleton, buried here in 1921.
Days 13 - 15: Southern Ocean
Sailing north towards the Falkland Islands commences. Much of our time is spent scanning the horizon in search of whales and other marine mammals. The spectacular seabirds including several albatross and petrel species are our constant companions as they soar above the ship. Our onboard educational program continues and our experts recap our 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.
Day 16: Falkland Islands
After several days crossing, Sea Lion Island marks our arrival into the Falkland Islands. This windswept location, situated in the southern archipelago provides one further day of activity. We launch our Zodiacs and go ashore to view the remarkable wildlife colonies found here. Three species of penguins including Gentoo, magellenic and rockhopper exist in the vicinity. Southern Elephant seals and South American sea lions are found hauled out on the beaches. Once ashore we also look for King cormorants and striated caracaras. Weather permitting we may have time to visit neighbouring Bleaker Island, another settlement on the exposed south-eastern coast of the Falklands.
Day 17: Stanley, Falkland Islands and Punta Arenas, Chile
This morning we navigate through the narrows and into the port of Stanley. We have time to explore before we make our way to the airport for our return flight to Punta Arenas in southern Chile.
Triple Cabin: $15,295 per person
Twin Semi-private Cabin: $17,495 per person
Twin Private Cabin: $19,495 per person
Superior Cabin: $20,795 per person
Shackleton Suite: $22,495 per person
One Ocean Suite: $24,295 per person
All prices are listed in USD. If traveling alone the ship will attempt to match you with another travel of the same gender - if no roommate is found you will have the cabin to yourself at the shared rate.
If single travelers prefer a guaranteed single cabin the supplement is 1.5x for the twin occupancy cabins and 2x for the suites (single supplements not available for the triple share cabins).
This voyage includes flights: Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island, Antarctica & from Stanley, Falkland Islands to Punta Arenas, Chile.
Optional Sea Kayaking program: $795 per person
The ship for this voyage is the Akademik Sergey Vavilov - our favorite Polar vessel!
Early, mid or late season? When is the best time to go?
The season is short in the far south, varying by location, with itineraries based on anticipated ice conditions. Following is a brief explanation of what you might expect around the Peninsula, Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. The earliest expedition vessels begin visiting the Antarctic Peninsula and the sub-Antarctic islands in October or early November (springtime in the southern hemisphere), and wrap up the season typically in March. While the wildlife and natural wonders abound throughout the season, there are variations caused by the weather and currents.
In October and November the temperatures start to climb and the pack ice that forms each winter begins to break up making access possible. The landscape is pristine, blanketed with snow, with patches of rock and earth beginning to peek out. Occasional snowfall is still common. Meanwhile the wildlife colonies are bustling; penguins and seabirds are returning to their nesting sites. King Penguin chicks who have overwintered are still in crèches or groups, while parents who do not have a chick are often balancing an egg on their feet as they hobble about the colonies. Courtship, mating and egg laying are all the order of the day as everyone rushes to breed during the short season. On South Georgia peak Southern Elephant Seal breeding is in October, with males fighting for dominance and breeding rights, while the females are ashore to pup. November and December see the Fur Seals on South Georgia ashore in the greatest numbers, occasionally limiting landing options due to their numbers. Only in October is it possible to land on Prion Island where the Wandering Albatross nests. Weather is less settled early in the season and depending on conditions drifting ice might keep the ship or zodiacs from reaching some sites in the South Shetlands and Antarctica.
Mid/high Season: December and January are the height of the Austral summer, and even in the sub- Antarctic islands the sun is likely to be up 18 or more hours a day. The temperatures have generally been above freezing for a couple of months so the snow and ice have largely receded, making landings easier (you’ll still see plenty of snow though!). The bird colonies are their most active with chicks hatching, and slightly older chicks chasing after their parents for food. Whale sightings along the Antarctic Peninsula increase this time of year. Elephant Seal colonies are mellower, while the juvenile Fur Seals on South Georgia are busy mock-fighting with anything that moves. Expeditions are very likely sold out this time of year, and prices might also be higher..
Late Season: Penguin colonies remain very active into the late season - February & March - with chicks beginning to molt into their adult plumage. Fewer adults are seen on shore as it takes both parents to get enough food for the growing chick. Soon they will leave the chicks behind to discover the world on their own. Leopard Seals and predatory Skuas are very active this time of year. By early March many penguin colonies are empty, or nearly so (the Adelies being the first to leave, followed by the Chinstraps and Gentoos). King Penguins are an exception, with their large chicks taking 18 months to raise. Late season is the peak time for whales, particularly along the peninsula. Aside from the glaciers, icebergs, and ice shelves the setting is more brown by late season (brown = mud and penguin poop). The first stages of sea ice are beginning to form and winter storms are on the horizon.
photography by Mark Grantham