Sailing Antarctica: The Ultimate Polar Nature Expedition
(Fly from Punta Arenas/Sail to Ushuaia)
17 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Punta Arenas, Chile
Arrive in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in continental South America. Located at the bottom of Tierra del Fuego overlooking the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas was once a gold rush boomtown in the late 19th century. By the early 20th century it was a center for large-scale sheep farming, which remains an important economic enterprise today. Meet your fellow travelers at a welcome dinner on this first evening of your Antarctic adventure.
Day 2: Magallanes National Reserve / Punta Arenas Highlights
This extra day is included as a "reserve day" in case of delays with arriving flights. There's plenty to see around this scenic region, and we begin with a hike in the Magallanes National Reserve. This nearly 50,000-acre nature preserve contains a diverse range of native flora and fauna, including puma, Andean and gray foxes, Darwin's leaf-eared mouse, and abundant birdlife—look for Magellanic woodpecker, Chilean flicker, black-chested buzzard eagle, austral thrush and many more. On a walk through the mixed deciduous forest, we'll observe native trees such as lenga and Magellan's beeches and stunted nirre trees with their crinkled, irregular leaves.
Return to Punta Arenas for lunch, then visit its famous cemetery, established in 1894, with elaborate tombs lining neat pathways flanked by manicured cypress trees. Continue to the Nao Victoria Museum, containing life-size replicas of notable explorers' ships. The museum is named for its exact copy of Ferdinand Magellan's 1519 expedition ship and perfectly recreates the context in which the Nao Victoria set sail from Spain to circumnavigate the globe and unite two oceans. Also on display is a replica of the James Caird, a lifeboat from Shackleton's ill-fated Endurance expedition, which sailed 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1916, still considered one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever undertaken. After our visit, there's free time to explore town before dinner this evening.
Day 3: Fly to King George Island—Board S/V Australis
The only airstrip on the Antarctic Peninsula archipelago that can reliably be served by the South American continent on a regular basis is located on King George Island in the South Shetland group. We plan to fly here today to meet our intrepid polar expedition vessel, the S/V Australis. Ashore, we have our first encounter with penguins and other wildlife of this southern polar wonderland.
Our real adventure begins when we board the Australis, a 75-foot-long ice-strengthened motorsailer, designed and outfitted to navigate the polar waters of the Southern Ocean. After introductions and a safety orientation, the Australis sets sail into the Antarctic waters surrounding the South Shetland Islands, headed south to the Antarctic Peninsula. We're excited to be cruising with one of the world's preeminent mariners in polar waters and his seasoned crew. [Note: It is our intention to fly to King George Island today, but occasionally weather conditions may delay us. If that is the case, we will spend today exploring Punta Arenas.]
Days 4–12: Cruising and Camping on the Antarctic Peninsula
For the next 8-9 days we follow the best weather and safest water, exploring the bays and fjords of the Antarctic Peninsula. Nothing prepares us for the scale and scope of this icebound wilderness, and the phrase "awe-inspiring" takes on totally new meaning here. Walls of blue ice rise 300 feet from the surface of the steel-gray sea, and it is as if the entire landscape is one massive glacier. Though our environs are austere, these waters are a haven for a remarkable collection of wildlife, including vast penguin rookeries and beaches ruled by Antarctic fur seals and southern elephant seals. Taking advantage of the perpetual light, we spend long days sailing among the icebergs, watching for whales and seals bobbing by. Sometimes, we get so close we can hear a whale blow, and we may even feel the spray. Birdlife is extraordinary, with huge populations of albatrosses, petrels, skuas, gulls, terns and cormorants.
Every day holds something different. While at times we are struck by the depth of the silence, other times we're amidst a cacophony of squawking penguins, honking seals and crackling ice. The kayaks carried on board the Australis allow opportunities to observe wildlife at eye-level, and where landings permit, we step ashore to hike. And, with our special permit from the National Science Foundation, we have the option to camp for up to three nights, weather and local conditions permitting, on deserted beaches, sharing the solitude only with the legions of wildlife. There are few places on the planet where the natural world feels more intact, while we have never felt smaller.
Days 13–15: Crossing the Drake Passage
As the Australis continues northward, the most adventurous portion of our journey commences: navigating the fabled Drake Passage. Named for renowned explorer Sir Francis Drake who sailed these waters in 1578, the Drake Passage is notorious for its often-fierce gales, creating large, wind-whipped swells—we're likely to have some raucous sailing! But the Australis is a hardy vessel and her skipper and crew second-to-none—we are in good hands, and the journey is exhilarating.
Leaving the icebergs and snow-clad mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula behind, we sail into the Antarctic Convergence. This southern portion of the Drake constitutes a rich biological zone where a great upwelling of nutrients draws an amazing variety of seabirds. Keep an eye out for the many big albatrosses that often follow in our wake. The exact timing of our Drake crossing depends on weather and sea conditions, but we generally expect it to take approximately three days.
Day 16: Ushuaia, Argentina
As we sail northward, eventually we may be able to discern Cape Horn in the distance, and the mass of Tierra del Fuego rising ahead. Land ho! As the peaks of Patagonia come into view, the Australis enters the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel, our scenic marine route into Ushuaia. Drink in the vista of endless mountain ridges lining either side of the channel as we cruise toward civilization once more. Once safely docked in Ushuaia harbor, we disembark, saying a poignant farewell to our skipper and crew. An overnight at a comfortable local hotel is included here in the southernmost city in the world. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with our Expedition Leader, reflecting on the indelible memories we've made on this truly singular adventure.
Day 17: Ushuaia / Depart
Fly homeward today from Ushuaia, with a cache of memories to last a lifetime and then some!
All This Included
Intrepid explorers passionate about serious adventure won't find a more exhilarating way to experience Antarctica than on this one-of-a-kind polar expedition. With just seven travelers on a handful of departures each season, this is the most exclusive of opportunities! Explore the Antarctic Peninsula aboard an ice-strengthened motorsailer, surrounded by seals, whales, penguins and icebergs. In a world where "adventure travel" has become a relative term, we've reclaimed it with this total immersion in the planet's last, most pristine wilderness. While larger, well-appointed ships have made Antarctica travel downright cushy, they have also removed travelers from a primal encounter with nature. Our exclusive small-boat voyage—with a world-class skipper and seasoned polar crew—brings it back. This genuine adventure will reward expeditionary travelers with a rare experience of one of the most remote and magnificent places on Earth.
Punta Arenas: Hotel Rey Don Felipe
Cruising: Cabin onboard S/V Australis
Ushuaia: Alto Andino Hotel
Terms and Conditions
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* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.