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 20 years 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 2019/20 season. That departure is "Falkland Islands, South Georgia & Antarctica": December 28, 2019 - January 13, 2020.
Why this departure? The quick answer is it gives you the best ratio of "shore days" to "sea days". Sea days can be great but you're there to spend as much time ashore as possible. This expedition starts with a short flight (included) from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the Falkland Islands, where you join the ship. At the conclusion you again fly, this time from the Antarctic/King George Island across the Drake Passage to Punta Arenas. These two flights save you more than 4 days at sea, while also avoiding the Drake Passage. The other major draw for this expedition for us is the vessel; the Vavilov is one of the few ships that carries fewer than 100 passengers, thereby allowing everyone more time ashore rather than being forced to split landings. 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 (a similar expedition is offered November 9-27 at a lower early-season rate), 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 Port Stanley, Falkland Islands
Our journey commences this morning in Punta Arenas, located in southern Chile. We meet at a central location before transferring to the airport for our scheduled flight to Stanley, in the Falkland Islands (flight included in the price of your voyage). After a short 90-minute flight we are met on arrival and transferred to the pier. Stanley is currently home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a rural town in coastal Britain. It is charming with brightly colored houses, pretty flower-filled gardens, a quaint cathedral and several local pubs. There is time to explore the town before ship embarkation. Excitement is in the air as we cast off for the adventure of a lifetime.
Day 2: Falkland Islands
Overnight we have navigated down the eastern coast of the Falkland Islands. Approaching Sea Lion Island, we first note the very barren and windswept landscape, exposed to the prevailing weather that originates in the Drake Passage. We launch the zodiacs and go ashore 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 we expect to see. Weather permitting, we may have time to visit neighboring Bleaker Island - another settlement on the exposed south-eastern coast of the Falklands - equally rich in wildlife.
Days 3 & 4: at sea - towards South Georgia
We chart a south-easterly course bound for South Georgia. The seabirds join us in the Southern Ocean and our educational presentations 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. Perhaps you will pick up some valuable tips from our onboard photographic guide, learning about image composition, the subtle polar light and all the basics of good camera craft. We will also learn about Polar conservation - a theme particularly close to the hearts of our One Ocean Expeditions’ guides and crew.
Day 5 - 8: exploration of South Georgia
South Georgia has often been called the ‘Serengeti of the Southern Ocean’ – and as we approach the deep bays of this rugged, rocky outcrop, you will begin to see why. Launching the Zodiacs we begin our 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 Harbour. The island is also home to large numbers of nesting albatross as they fill the skies above, coming and going from the nest.
South Georgia is a thrilling location for history lovers and the rusting relics of the early whaling industry are all around us. We hope to observe several of the old stations at locations including Leith, Husvik and Stromness. A highlight is a visit to Grytviken – the largest of the whaling stations, situated at the head of Cumberland Bay. It is here we visit the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton. For many, being in the presence of the great explorer will be a highlight of the trip. 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.
Day 9-11: at sea - towards Antarctica
Weather and ice will dictate our crossing of the Scotia Sea from South Georgia to Antarctica, leading us perhaps to the South Orkney Islands or Elephant Island. As with all of our itinerary planning, our 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 doesn’t come often. As we edge ever closer to the frozen continent, large icebergs announce our arrival in Antarctic waters. If conditions allow, we will hope to see the dark cliffs of Elephant Island appear on the horizon. Shackleton and his men were encamped here for many months, having lost HMS Endurance in the thick sea ice, far to the south in the Weddell Sea in 1915. From the tiny beach at Point Wild, Shackleton and six companions set off on the rescue mission to South Georgia, aboard the tiny lifeboat, James Caird. To this day, the epic ocean crossing is considered one of the greatest in history. If conditions allow, we will attempt a landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island.
Days 12 - 16: South Shetland Islands & Antarctic Peninsula
Around 60 miles off the coast of the Antarctic mainland we find the South Shetland Island chain. Possible landing sites could include King George Island, Half Moon Island or Yankee Harbour. Weather conditions permitting we 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.
After so much anticipation, we enter the icy waters of the Antarctic Peninsula in the vicinity of Mikkelson Harbour 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 we hope to encounter. Gulls, skuas and cormorants are also found nesting and feeding at many sites along the Antarctic Peninsula.
We explore by Zodiac boat and ashore where a range of exciting activities await. Locations we hope to visit include Wilhelmina Bay, Orne Harbour, Cuverville Island and the Errera Channel. Join the photographic guide taking pictures of stunning icebergs. Or enjoy a hike to the top of a snowy mountain saddle with one of our 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. As our voyage comes to an end we chart a course for King George Island.
Day 17: King George Island - return to Punta Arenas, Chile
This morning we say goodbye to our expedition team and transfer ashore by Zodiac. We walk from the shore landing site past the Chilean research station and up towards the airstrip where we board our special charter flight. This flight takes a little over two hours and is included in the price of your voyage. Upon arrival into Punta Arenas a transfer from the airport into town is provided.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This itinerary includes a complimentary post-voyage hotel night in Punta Arenas for all guests returning from voyages that conclude at King George Island. This evening is at your leisure. Punta Arenas is home to some cozy restaurants, cafes and bars – including the historic ‘Shackleton Bar’ at the Hotel Jose Nogueira – a fitting location to reflect on your journey to Antarctica.
Day 18: Punta Arenas
After a leisurely breakfast, check-out, make your own way to the airport for your onward journey. (We recommend you book flights after midday). Otherwise, why not continue your exploration of Patagonia. Just a few hours north, lies the celebrated Torres del Paine National Park – home to towering peaks, glaciers and spectacular wilderness - a paradise for hikers and nature lovers.
Triple Cabin: $16,995 per person
Twin Semi-private Cabin: $19,395 per person
Twin Private Cabin: $21,495 per person
Superior Cabin: $22,895 per person
Shackleton Suite: $24,795 per person
One Ocean Suite: $26,695 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 Stanley, Falkland Islands, and King George Island, Antarctica 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