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 when possible (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.
Our preference is for mid-season voyages, although “spring” and “autumn” have their merits too. More on the seasonality of the region at the bottom of this page.
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 small enough that we will know you, and help get you prepared for the incredible adventures ahead. In short we would love to help you plan your perfect trip to "Antarctica."
Each year when we review the coming season's departures one trip often stands out for us. For the 2020/2021 season we instead have 2 preferred expeditions. Following is a quick side-by-side overview.
December 8-28, 2020:
Christmas in Antarctica, South Georgia and Falkland Islands
21 days in total: 20 days on board, plus an overnight in Ushuaia
ship: Greg Mortimer
100 landing participants, plus roughly 20 water-based adventure participants
day 1 - overnight Ushuaia
day 2 - embark the Greg Mortimer
day 3 - at sea
day 4 - Falkland Islands
days 5-7 - at sea
days 8-12 - South Georgia
days 13-14 - at sea
days 15-19 - Antarctic Peninsula & South Shetlands
day 20 - Drake Passage crossing
day 21 - disembark Ushuaia
While itineraries are always subject to the whims of weather and conditions you might anticipate up to 11 days with possible shore excursions, plus 9 sea days.
Departs from: Ushuaia (Argentina)
Returns to: Ushuaia
January 16-February 2, 2021: Antarctica, South Georgia & Falkland Islands
18 days in total: 17 days on board, plus an overnight in Punta Arenas
ship: RCGS Resolute
146 participants maximum
day 1 - overnight Punta Arenas
day 2 - fly to King George Island, Antarctica
days 3-4 - Antarctic Peninsuala
day 5 - South Shetland Islands
day 6 - Antarctic Sound
day 7-9 - at sea
days 10-13 - South Georgia
days 14-16 - at sea
day 17 - Falkland Islands
day 18 - fly to Santiago
While itineraries are always subject to the whims of weather and conditions you might anticipate up to 11 days with possible shore excursions, plus 6 sea days.
Departs from: Punta Arenas (Chile)
Returns to: Santiago (Chile)
*Flights from Punta Arenas to Antarctica, and the Falklands back to Santiago included.
For 15 years we have had a preferred Polar vessel that we worked with whenever possible (the M/V Vavilov). However that ship was abruptly recalled to service in Russia by their government in mid-2019 causing a bit of a scramble for the next best alternatives. We’re happy with both alternatives we are suggesting here for the 2020/2021 season: neither ship is Russian owned! The trend these days is towards larger and more deluxe vessels rather than simple expedition ships. While both of these vessels are more upscale than we are used to, they both also buck the “larger is better” trend by keeping their numbers lower. The Greg Mortimer is a brand new vessel, with a totally new design, celebrating its inaugural expedition in October 2019. Meanwhile the RCGS Resolute is a lovely ship which was totally updated in 2018 (and which we had the opportunity to travel aboard in early 2019).
Both expeditions offer you as much as 11 days with shore excursions, visiting the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, South Georgia Island, and the Falkland Islands. Both are mid-season affording you the peak wildlife activity which you are there to see. Both vessels offer a generous mix of indoor and outdoor viewing spaces, perfect for any weather. And, both are operated by specialized Polar travel experts with a long history of operating in remote areas.
Between the two I can’t say that we have a strong preference. The RCGS Resolute’s itinerary is a fly in/fly out option which allows you to skip several “at sea” days, including the Drake Passage. The downside of Antarctic flights is they can always be delayed by weather. Alternately the Greg Mortimer is a more traditional itinerary with more sea days at the start and conclusion of the expedition. The ship is built to carry more passengers than will be aboard as they are capping the number of participants signing on who wish to participant in the shore excursions at 100. 100 is a magic number in Antarctica as no more than 100 guests may be ashore at any one time. While the Greg Mortimer will likely have another 20+ passengers on board in a kayaking or water activity program, those participants are only allowed to land after sufficient shore excursion participants have returned to the ship - this means you have the option of more time on shore. The RCGS Resolute will do something similar but starting with a larger number there might be some limitations on the amount of shore time.
Both programs are very likely to sell out; space is fairly limited on both itineraries already. If interested in cabin availability let us know. Both Tour Operators currently have “early booking” discounts available - ask us what the current offers are!
We look forward to working with you!!
A word on seasonality in the far south…
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. Some ships might offer a Falklands Island and South Georgia voyage earlier as those areas are accessible earlier in the season. 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.
The upshot is there is always wonderful behavior to be seen anytime throughout the season!
photography by Mark Grantham