Choosing Your Route To Antarctica
Antarctica has to be experienced to be believed. This pristine and tranquil paradise, largely untouched by humans, is home to a plethora of wildlife, living on land, in the sea and gracing the skies. Wildfoot offers many Antarctica cruise itineraries and here we break them down for you.
There are many routes to consider when you are planning an expedition cruise to this destination. How do you know which route is the right choice for you?
Your decision may simply depend on your budget or how much time you can commit. It may also be about the type of wildlife, the wilderness or the activities you’d like to experience on your Antarctica itinerary. Here, Wildfoot Travel’s Dave Cheetham details the different routes on offer and runs through the pros, cons and the cost of the options.
Which Antarctica Cruise Itinerary Should I Choose?
There are many routes to consider when planning a trip to this region.
Your decision may simply depend on your budget, and how much time you can commit. But it may also be about the kind of wildlife, wilderness or the activities you would like to experience.
Expeditions range from 9 to 32 days in length and are all vessel based. The vast majority of these expeditions embark from Ushuaia, the southernmost port in Argentina.
Before we run through your options, I should point out that the prices mentioned in this video are ‘expedition only’. They do not include flights or accommodation on land, are based on the lowest grade quad or triple cabin-spaces and are always subject to availability and to change.
If you are travelling alone, we can usually arrange same-gender shared-cabins which help to keep the cost down. Or you can opt for ‘sole occupancy’, taking a cabin to yourself which usually comes with an additional 50% supplement.
Twin cabins, higher grade cabins or suites are available but you should expect to pay more. Our travel advisors are always happy to help you get an accurate quote for your perfect Antarctica itinerary.
So, with the small print out of the way, here are the routes you can consider, in order of popularity.
The Antarctic Peninsula
The most popular expedition route, often referred to as the classic route, can take between 9 and 13 Days. The first, and last, two-and-a-half-days are spent crossing The Drake Passage to Antarctica and the South Shetland Islands.
This is an excellent choice for those who only have 2–3 weeks available including travel. You should expect to pay between £4,000 and £6,000.
A superb destination, easily reached on a zodiac, this bay is dominated by some of the most fascinating ice features you will see. Icebergs that have been set free from the glacier at the harbour’s head provide a backdrop of stunning formations and in the foreground penguins, and seals can be spotted on the many ice floes that surround you. Horns, terns, petrels, cormorants, and even whales can also be seen here.
A magnificent island, this circular rock may only be 1 mile in diameter, but with a volcanic cone that towers 1100 feet high, it is a sight to behold. Famous not only for its huge number of Adelie penguins, Paulet Island is also home to the historic hut that sheltered the survivors of a failed Nordenskjöld expedition in 1903.
This natural harbour can be reached via the Neumayer Channel. The buildings here were originally built by the British in 1944 but since 1996 have been used by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust where they have an interesting museum.
Another volcanic island, this one rises 500 feet above sea level and has a permanent ice cap that covers more than half it. Home to Adelies and gentoos, the island was first discovered by a French expedition in 1909. You will also see skuas here and Wilson’s storm petrels too. For anyone wanting to stretch their legs, a hike to the top is always an option.
Budding photographers will love getting snap happy along this most beautiful of straits. Discovered on a German expedition in the 1870s, the channel was first crossed by a Belgium explorer by the name of Adrian de Gerlache. It takes about an hour to sail the 7 miles, and the beauty reveals itself to be even more spectacular as each minute passes.
The Shackleton Route
Following Shackelton’s historic route will take between 20 and 24 days. This fascinating Antarctica cruise itinerary also takes in South Georgia and The Falklands.
It must be considered that this expedition demands a longer commitment and is suitable for those with a little more time to spare. Prices start at just over £8000 and rise up to a little over £11,000 in peak season.
King Haakon Bay
On the south coast of Georgia a trip down this long and narrow inlet is an exciting addition to this tour. Relatively undiscovered and still to be mapped fully, this stretch of water remains somewhat uncharted. Home to a delightful array of seabirds, you may also have the opportunity to step on land and walk among fur seals, king penguins and elephant seals too.
Ernest Henry Shackleton gave his name to many features of the Antarctic and rightly so. His epic trip across South Georgia in May 1916 ended in what is now known as Shackleton Valley, a valley at which the Shackleton Waterfall cascades at its head.
It seems fitting that given Shackleton visited South Georgia many times on his expeditions of the Antarctic that he be buried here. In fact, it was on this island that he completed one of his most famous polar treks. The grave sits at the abandoned whale station of Grytviken. When you visit, the tradition is to make a toast to the explorer (with a whiskey if you have any!)
Stromness Whaling Station
Named after the Orkney town in Scotland by the whalers that first used this place, this is the location that Shackleton finally got to where he could get help after his ship, the Endurance, sank in the Weddell Sea. The Norwegian station manager offered him sanctuary here after his ordeal. Originally run as a whaling station from 1907 to 1931, then a ship repair yard before being left to ruin in 1961, today all of the buildings and machinery make for an interesting visit.
Crossing The Circle
This wonderful Antarctica trip takes around 14 days. Exploring the more remote areas and reaching the actual Antarctic Circle is a dream come true for most of our passengers. The rich wildlife and glorious scenery make this a very special trip indeed.
You should expect to pay between £6500 and £8000 for this slightly longer expedition.
Often overlooked by visitors in the past, this port is now a hub of activity. Although most people will bypass the town itself, it is definitely worth an hour or two’s exploration. Historically important, its museum was once a prison for serious offenders, many of whom were key in the construction of Ushuaia. The railway, built by the prisoners, was aptly named Tren del Fin del Mundo.
The channel in which Ushuaia lies is one of three routes that link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the tip of South America. Thanks to the expedition on the ship that gave the channel its name, the stretch of water has been mapped and makes for a beautiful part of any Antarctica itinerary. It was on the Royal Navy Beagle’s second voyage that Charles Darwin joined and played a significant role in the surveying.
The phenomenon of the midnight sun is one of the most wonderful things you’ll experience on an Antarctica cruise itinerary. Hard to imagine that there is no night, but during the summer, the sun stays above the horizon 24 hours a day (thanks to the seasonal tilt of the Earth that favours the sun in the Arctic and Antarctic summer) and there is no sunrise or sunset. The constant daylight offers plentiful extra photo opportunities.
These beautiful creatures always seem very happy to share their space with visitors when they are relaxing on the beaches. Of course, we would never go too close, but we can get close enough to enjoy their company and get some great pics too. After a brief decline in numbers thanks to commercial sealing, they are now one of the most abundant species in Antarctica (and one of the largest too, growing up to 3.3m long). They are very good divers and it is incredible to note that they have been recorded diving to depths of 2000ft for up to an hour at any one time! One thing is for sure, you will become very familiar with these beauties no matter which Antarctica cruise itinerary you choose.
Fly The Drake Cruise
Distilling the experience down to a neat 6 to 8 days, this option is a good choice for those who would prefer not to sail across the infamous Drake Passage, or for those who are simply more time-sensitive. Fly from Punta Arenas in Chile to King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, where you will pick up the cruise vessel.
An express 6-day Antarctica trip can be available for as little as £3,700 and you should expect to pay up to £9,000 for a longer 9-day fly-cruise.
The Weddell Sea
Taking 11 days, the Weddell Sea Expedition’s main draw is a chance to see the elusive emperor Penguin.
The usual price tag for this trip is about £6,600 but it is definitely worth considering choosing a vessel which offers helicopter access to improve your chances of reaching the penguin colonies. This upgraded experience will take the cost up to somewhere around £9,200.
Discovered by the British sealer James Weddell, in 1823 this stretch of water reaches far south into the Antarctic and is therefore very cold. The waters of the Weddell Sea have been described as some of the clearest on earth and are even said to be on a par with distilled water. Humpbacks, orcas and minke whales make this place their home, as do leopard, Weddell and crabeater seals, so whale watching and seal spotting are an everyday pastime. There are more than 100,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins here which nest on Paulet Island and in recent times a colony of emperor Penguins has also been found on Snowhill Island.
The Epic Ross Sea
Considered the ultimate Antarctica trip for most passengers and taking between 30 and 32 days this one-way trip comes with two options. You can choose to embark from New Zealand and disembark in Ushuaia, Argentina or take the trip in reverse and disembark in New Zealand. The price starts at £22,800 and is rarely the choice of first-time travellers to cold weather destinations.
The “Last Ocean” on Earth
Known as the ‘Serengeti of the Antarctic’ this pristine stretch of ocean that spans 598,000 square miles is now heavily protected by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Lying south of New Zealand the Ross Sea, also known as the ‘Last Ocean’ is one of the few places on earth largely untouched by humans. Its waters provide a thriving ecosystem of around 16,000 species that is maintained by the density of nutrients that support it.
This ocean is so important for many of the species that make the Antarctic their home, with intact communities of crabeater seals, orcas, minke whales, Adelie penguins and more. So far the waters have escaped the pressures of fishing and shipping despite threats of fishermen looking for new waters to work. Today 432,000 square miles of the protected area is completely free from fishing. The remaining part of the protected area will allow toothfish fishing in a specially designated zone.
A Pick of Our Favourite Itineraries
Antarctica, Patagonia & Falklands Special
This mighty cruise itinerary is a classic, taking in South America, Patagonia, the Falkland Islands and Antarctica and combining the perfect mix of wildlife and adventure. From the historic highlights of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to the natural wonders of the Antarctic peninsula, you will explore the hidden bays by zodiac and step foot on the White Continent itself to get up close and personal to the penguins and seals.
Ideal for anyone who has limited time to spend in the region, this trip misses out the crossing of the Drake Passage. Flying from Punta Arenas in Chile to King George Island in the South Shetlands, you make your way back by sea through the stunning waters of the Antarctic Peninsula. Days are spent exploring the fjords by zodiac vessel or even by kayak. You can always head onland and immerse yourself in the beautiful scenery while enjoying a snowshoeing or hiking expedition.
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
One of our most spectacular Antarctic cruise itineraries, this one offers the opportunity to cross the Antarctic Circle, an experience that will round off the trip in style! Spending days soaking up the magnificent tranquillity of this incredible region and photographing the towering icebergs that provide your daily backdrop, you will also have the chance to enjoy penguin and seal spotting and regular zodiac excursions that are included in the price.
Extended Antarctic Explorer with Helicopters
Discover this magnificent continent from a whole new perspective – by air! Not only is a helicopter trip exciting in itself, to experience it while flying over this beautiful region is extra special, especially when it includes a landing at historical Cape Horn and the off the beaten track Diego Ramírez Islands. Also taking in a cruise through the Drake Passage, this remarkable Antarctica cruise itinerary has it all.
There you have it – all the routes you have to choose from. If you’d like to discuss any of the trips in more detail, feel free to give us a call. One of our expert team members will be at the other end of the phone to answer any questions you have. We are a company with a passion for travel in this stunning part of our world and our dedicated specialists are on hand to help you choose the Antarctica itinerary that is perfect for you. We thrive on adventure and are dedicated to providing extraordinary travel experiences to those who have a desire to travel the less trodden paths of our world.
Our commitment to wildlife conservation as well as environment protection sets us apart from our competitors so if you are keen to leave behind nothing but footprints when you are on your next adventure, book with Wildfoot Travel and you can rest assured that we have it covered. We are proud of our tight ties with several conservation organisations and work closely with charities such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Save the Albatross and South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project, among many others.
In the next video in this series, I’ll be unveiling a few top tips to help you get the best value from your Antarctica trip. Make sure you don’t miss it.