Text & photos:  Wojciech Dabrowski  © Expedition ship to Antarctica

My   seventh continent

Did you see both Americas? Have you been to Europe, Asia and Africa? Did you pass Pacific going to Australia? Yes? So it is time to plan the travel to your last continent!

  Only few years ago very limited number of tourists visited Antarctica. Seventh continent was restricted to scientist and serious expeditions. Now it is more open, but still not accessible by hitchhiking or on scheduled flight. Practically the only way for the globetrotter who wants to get there and to see most interesting places is to embark the ship. Mike Hergert (another Globetrotter) was lucky enough to sail to Antarctica aboard Chilean supplying ship. It is probably the last expensive way, but ships are rare, capacity is limited and it is difficult to plan such trip from distant Europe or USA. Searching for possibilities to visit Antarctica I found-out that the best offer for me comes from Toronto - based company Marine Expeditions. Several travel agent work for them but I advise to book directly: +1 416 964-9069.
dwaping.JPG (6218 bytes) Most tourist expeditions to Antarctica are heading from Argentinean or Chilean ports to Antarctic Peninsula - area which has relatively good ice conditions during Antarctic summer. Because the short distance it allows also to shorten the number of „days at sea" at the beginning and at the end of journey.

Why Marine Expeditions?


Ant069.jpg (31636 bytes) In my opinion they offer best price for adventure-style cruise on small ships. Marine charter a fleet of Russian research vessels. There were five of them in the past season with passenger capacity from 44 to 120. Two midsize ships are worth to recommend: „Joffe" and „Vavilov".
Ant039.jpg (33578 bytes) During Antarctic summer - between November and March Marine offers 4 routes, all from Ushuaia: Antarctica (8 nights on a ship), Extended Antarctica (10 nights), Antarctica & Falklands (14 nights), Antarctica, Falklands & South Georgia (18 nights). Prices starts at 3000 USD + 500 USD taxes for the shortest expedition in the quad cabin. It seems a lot but have in mind that price covers also round trip flights from USA/Canada gateways, 2 nights hotel with breakfast in Santiago or Buenos, 1 night in hotel in Ushuaia, bus tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park, all transfers and farewell dinner in the hotel at the end. If you will decide to join expedition in Santiago/Buenos you can deduct 490 USD or 750 USD for ship only program.
polePing.JPG (10756 bytes) What other companies charge: rather big cruise ship „Marco Polo" makes few trips from Ushuaia to Antarctic Peninsula in December/January. 8-nights cruise-only trip costs from 2400 USD. Small „World Discoverer" (140 passenger) of Society Expeditions offers 12-nights cruises from Ushuaia for minimum 2800 USD (cruise only) in the shared cabin (but there are only 2 cabins to share). Lifelong Learning organize 11-nights expedition to the Falklands and Antarctic Peninsula aboard luxurious „Hanseatic" (170 passenger) cost from 7000 USD plus air to Buenos.

What you can expect: There are no harbors in Antarctica - all landings are „wet" - approaching coast by rubber boats (zodiacs) you will jump to the water, so knee-high rubber boots are necessary. Thousands of penguins. Unexpected additional landings. Weather is very changeable: landings often are canceled due to the rough sea. Interesting lectures and slide shows almost every day. Many friendly, enthusiastic people and informal atmosphere aboard. Open bridge policy - you can visit the bridge and ask questions at any time.    What you should not expect: On a classic trip to Antarctic Peninsula you will see only three to four species of small penguins. The biggest ones are on the South Georgia (king penguins) and deepest areas of the continent (emperor penguins). No entertainment on board except video movies. Only three meals per day: unsophisticated breakfast and lunch buffet, choice of 2 or 3 different main courses per dinner (but for me it was enough). Do not expect to sleep long except days at sea - landings starts early. Ships do not cross Antarctic Circle.

I made a choice of „Extended Antarctica" program. Here are selected notes from my diary:


Day 1

Afternoon departure from Los Angeles by LAN Chile scheduled flight. Boeing 767 is quiet comfortable but service is just standard. 8 hours flight to Lima and after stopover 3 more hours to Santiago de Chile - the end of the earth it is really far!

Day 2   At 6.30 am we are landing in Santiago. Bus transfer to five-star Hotel Plaza San Francisco - very conveniently located in the heart of the town. Afternoon walk around the town: churches, palaces, museums. 

Day 3     Substantial buffet breakfast. Morning at leisure, then at the noon bus transfer to the airport. Unpleasant surprise: our flight to Ushuaia is classified international, so they require to pay 18 USD airport tax. On the way excited views from the plane: sunny weather allows us to admire snow-capped Andean peaks and mountain lakes. In Ushuaia bus transfer to the Hotel Glaciar on the slopes of the mountains.

Day 4  Bus excursion to the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego took us 5 hours. Bays, lakes, wildlife - beautiful nature. Packed lunch in the park. -Enjoy the green of Tierra del Fuego, there will be nothing like this in Antarctica! In the afternoon return to Ushuaia and embarkation. Russian crew is very friendly but their English is just basic. At 6 p.m. we are sailing out.



Day 5

We are crossing Drake Passage - day at see. Every morning you can pick-up in the lobby new newsletter with the map and list of activities. Drake Passage, where Pacific meets Atlantic is famous of its stormy weather so everybody expected rough sea. Unexpectedly today ocean is smooth. Lucky beginning! Lectures and slide shows: remember - the animals have there right of way!

Day 6      Snowy South Shetland Islands are visible at 10 a.m. At 1 p.m. we reach our first landing place - Aitcho Island. Zodiacs took us to the gravel beach where penguins are waiting for us. Surprisely they do not escape and it is not easy for us to find the way through! They are so funny that you can stay for hours and watch them. For the first (and last) time we are watching soft, green moss on the slopes.

 Sunny weather. Crossing the island we reached another beach with a number of fur seals and elephant seals playing or competing to be a beachmaster for the harem. Fantastic day! I saw skuas and nesting chicks of giant petrel. So much excited I eventually return for the last zodiac at 4.45.               At the evening we disembark German scientist at the station on King George Island.

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Day 7   We wake up at the Paulet Island at the end of Peninsula. After yesterday’s lovely reception at Aitcho Antarctica suddenly showed us different face: overcast, wind and snow. Temperature dropped down to minus 5 degrees Celsius. Zodiac ride to the shore was bumpy. On the Paulet Island we found one of few Antarctic monuments: small stone hut where sailors from „Antarctica" forcible spent dark Antarctic winter in 1903. Adelie penguins, imperial shags and sheatbills are not shy - we photographed them from the few meter distance. Plenty of fur seals playing in the snow and ice-cold water.

Many of us were impatiently waiting for the landing in the Hope Bay scheduled for the afternoon - first opportunity to put the feet on the Antarctic continent. There is Argentinean station „Esperanza" - a chance to see people living in Antarctica, to post the postcards and perhaps to buy souvenirs. First zodiac on the water! Heading to the red, cubic huts on the shore, and soon coming back... Sorry, no landing - the waves are too high. Hope Bay landing is canceled.   Days are long and even after dinner we can enjoy the scenery and take pictures. Antarctic Sound, where we are cruising now is famous of tabular icebergs - large as a house - sailing in the deep blue ocean. Sometimes there are penguins and seals on them. The view is really spectacular!

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Day 8    At early morning at Half Moon Island we are more lucky. From the zodiac approaching the coast we can see hundreds chinstrap penguins remaining fixed on the different levels of the rocks - like Buddha statues in Japanese temple. The island has also large colony of fur seals. They are very territorial - barking and chasing you if you come too close.

Two or three landings per day? Why not! In the early afternoon we moved to Deception Island.

It is one of the most interesting places on our route. The island has a shape of the ring with large volcanic caldera inside. Very narrow entrance allows ships to sail into caldera and to give tourist opportunity to visit remains of whaling station used by Norwegians from 1910 to 1931. There are furnaces, vats, small plane and buildings inhabited presently by birds and seals.
Ant088.jpg (41316 bytes) Later on we make second landing at the end of caldera. There are geothermal springs and some fellows planed to swim in the warm water pools. They were surprised because there in no pools at all: the springs are right on the black, sandy beach. Hot water drips into caldera. It is too hot to stay in at the bank and icy cold 5 meter further. So, what you should do is to remain between this two zones - where water is 50 cm deep. What a experience in icy Antarctica!

Day 9    It is snowing at breakfast. Cuverville Island where we landed in the morning is full of gentoo penguins. A lot of funny, still nesting chicks shedding their feathers. If you come close and do not move for few minutes youngsters are coming to peck your leg - just try what are you. Big birds are flying just above my head.

Spectacular sail through narrow Errera Channel framed by huge mountains and glaciers took us to Neko Harbor - picturesque bay located at the base of huge glacier. Yes! this is the place where most of us for the first time place the feet on the Antarctic Continent. After landing I climbed the snowfield predominanting the harbor and I can say that it was worth the effort - the view of the bay with small ship and giant glaciers calving from time to time is unforgettable!

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Third time to the zodiacs! Reason? A chance to see from zodiac three humpback whales - about 15 m long. We have opportunity to see them from our inflatables, listen to their breath and take the pictures.

Day 10   They call it kodak gap - it is so picturesque. Lemaire Channel is about 4 miles long. Andrew - our expedition leader decided that we can sail the channel in zodiacs (for the first time in Marine history) and the ship will follow us. Huge mountains and cliffs of ice towering narrow sound are very impressive.

On the other end of the channel we visited small and rocky Pleneau Island. Again full of gentoo penguins. Since we saw already thousands of them everybody found more impressive zodiac cruise in the labyrinth of white and blue floating icebergs. Their shapes are so ingenious that it is real world of wonders. Yes, this is the southernmost point of our expedition.

At early evening we anchor at Port Lockroy where British have old station maintained by Antarctic Heritage Trust. Wind is quite strong but everybody is wearing his 6 or 7 layers of clothes and coming to the starboard with the hope to see very soon people living in Antarctica and to post penguin postcards. Scout-zodiac is heading to the coast, dancing on the waves and... sending by radio the message: due to increasing wind the landing at Port Lockroy is canceled.

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Day 11  While the ship is passing Andvoord Bay and I drink my „early bird coffee" served daily at 6 am humpback whales are visible again. Entrance to Paradise Bay is narrow and filled by icebergs. But captain Apekhtin deftly monoeuvred ship through this maze. The sun is shinning when we are passing Chilean station and admiring snowy mountains surrounding this beautiful place. Half an hour later, in front of Argentinean station Almirante Brown it is already snowing and raining. We made landing to find the station already abandoned for the winter season. Bad luck! Rain did not stop us to climb the hill towering the station (for the view - still magnificent) and later -to sail by zodiac to the rocky cliff for watching cormorants.       Out of the bay we catch a strong wind. There will be no scheduled cruise around Melchior Islands.

Day 12  The night was bumpy, but the day is even bumpier. Yes, this is real Drake Passage. Half of the expedition remains in their cabins all the day. All open decks are closed. Dining room is much more roomy.

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Day 13

Up and down. Up and down... It is hard to believe that at such windy weather will be possible to sail close to the Cape Horn - the last attraction on our route. At 3 p.m. land is visible again. At 5 p.m. - miracle! It is getting warmer, the ocean became calm and we can sail as close as 1 mile from the 400-meter high green rock. Everybody on the deck! This is Cabo de Hornos!

Day 14   At sunrise we approach Ushuaia. Then bus transfer directly to the airport. Flight via Punta Arenas to Santiago, where we will spend one more night in the well known hotel.

Be ready to pay 5 USD airport tax at Ushuaia airport!.

Day 15  Santiago - day at leisure (they offer optional tours if you are ready to pay extra). Farewell dinner in the hotel (drinks extra) and transfer to the airport for the late-evening flight to Los Angeles. Time for the conclusions. Despite surprising weather and landing cancellations it was a great adventure - definitely worth the money we paid!

                                                                                                   Wojciech Dabrowski

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