The Antarctic Peninsula is most traditionally accessed by ship and the journey takes a little under two days, cruising south from Ushuaia across the infamous Drake Passage – the point at which the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. The conditions you experience as you cross can vary a great deal with the Passage affectionately known as either the “Drake Lake” or the “Drake Shake”. While most will naturally want to experience calm conditions going across, from experience I must say, it does add to the sense of achievement if you do battle a few waves on the journey.
As you sail across to Antarctica you will spend the time on board getting to know your expedition team who will give a series of fascinating lectures and show various films of what you can expect once you reach Antarctica. However, if you are short on time, or braving the Drake Passage isn’t for you, then there is always the option of an air-cruise expedition. Charter flights depart from Punta Arenas in Southern Chile and the flight is just two hours to King George Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula where you will meet your ship.
Once you reach your destination, whichever way you choose to get there, you can indulge in a number of activities. Enjoy Zodiac cruises in smaller speed boats that allow you to explore shallow coastlines and secluded bays, and marvel at wildlife encounters both on and offshore guided by the onboard naturalists. If the daily landings and boat rides aren’t enough, you even have the chance to spend a night sleeping under the stars on the ice itself, surrounded by the mass numbers of (rather loud) penguins. You can also switch some of your time ashore for the adrenaline rush of kayaking the open waters, giving you the chance to get truly up close and personal with the wildlife and fascinating ice sculptured scenery. For the really brave, don your best swimmers for a polar plunge – a glass of warming whiskey waiting ashore for you after!
The variety of experiences on offer was an unexpected element of my trip, but it is exactly what you should be looking for when planning. Some operators are fantastic for thrilling Antarctic adventure experiences such as deep-sea diving or snow camping; other boats are perfect for a more gentle and erudite exploration with world-class lectures and Guest Speakers on board. All the boats we work with in Antarctica have been vetted to meet our high standards of crew, guiding and service. However, selecting the perfect exploration vessel is crucial not only to make the most of your time, but also to ensure you are doing your part to minimise the impact on the environment.
The IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) already has in place strict rules that prevent more than 100 people being on land at one site at any given time; so you will never be there with crowds of people, waddling like one large penguin colony for the best view. Another factor we take into consideration is the vessel itself; when I spoke with James during the summer, he explained that at Aurora Expeditions they have designed their ships using Ulstein X-Bow Hulls. As well as ensuring smoother sailing across the Drake Passage, this design ensures lower fuel consumption and lower air emissions, both of which are hugely important to us here at True Travel.