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Antarctica: Journey to the Antarctic Circle

18 days from £12450pp

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Antarctica: Journey to the Antarctic Circle:
Trip Dossier

Our new holiday for the 2016-17 season begins with a visit to Patagonia's finest National Park, Torres del Paine. Stay at a lodge within easy reach of the park's walking trails and lakes. Next, we take you to Antarctica. By flying from Chile to the Falkland Islands and returning to Chile by air from Antarctica, this efficiently-planned expedition aims to give you eight days of off-ship exploration along the Antarctic Peninsula, visiting a large number of landing sites and cruising among the ice floes in Zodiac boats.

The ship travels south from Port Stanley in her attempt ultimately to arrive at the Antarctic Circle. Returning north, visit several classic locations with staggering ice formations; some with hiking opportunities. Each day when a landing is possible you explore on shore by foot, observing wildlife colonies, visiting historically significant buildings and science bases. Complete the voyage at the South Shetland Islands, including Deception Island. Disembark at King George Island and fly back to South America in just two hours – avoiding sailing the frequently stormy waters of the Drake Passage.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to your hotel close to the centre of the capital.

Day 2

Fly to Punta Arenas in Patagonia; continue by road to Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 3-4

Expeditions in Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 5

By road to Punta Arenas, overnight.

Day 6

Transfer to airport to fly to Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands, 2hrs.

Days 7-8

At sea sailing towards Antarctica

Days 9-10

King George Island and Antarctic Peninsula

Days 11-13

Towards the Antarctic Circle and Gerlache coastline.

Days 14-15

Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands.

Day 16

King George Island – return to Punta Arenas, Chile.

Day 17

Transfer to airport and fly to Santiago, overnight.

Day 18

Transfer to airport for international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to your hotel close to the centre of the capital.
 

You will be met at the airport and escorted by one of our local representatives to your hotel in a up-and-coming residential district Lastarria, close to the colonial centre and the arts and entertainment quarter Bella Vista. 

Santiago

Day 2

Fly to Punta Arenas in Patagonia; continue by road to Torres del Paine National Park.
 
Fly to Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia. Continue by road across the vast expanse of Patagonian grasslands, remote and sparsely populated. Wildlife to look out for includes guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea (ñandu).  

After about 5hrs on the road, arrive at your accommodation, a first class lodge on the edge of magnificent Torres del Paine National Park.

The park is dominated by a granite massif of smooth rock towers and icy pinnacles. Milky blue and gem-sharp emerald lakes, sinuous rivers, glaciers and wind-scoured steppes have created a remarkable and unique environment. Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the area is a natural habitat of over 150 species of birds (flamingos, condors, eagles and ostriches) and 25 species of mammal (including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas).

Torres del Paine National Park Chile

Days 3-4

Expeditions in Torres del Paine National Park.
 

From your remote accommodation on a cattle ranch just below the vertical towers of granite which give the park its name, you can venture out on guided walks, excursions by car or on horse-back to discover the steep rocky valleys, iceberg-speckled rivers, lakes plugged by glacier walls and whispering grasses of the Patagonian steppes.    

Torres del Paine

Day 5

By road to Punta Arenas, overnight.
 

Travel by road back to Punta Arenas, an atmospheric and often blustery Patagonian city, once an important commercial outpost. 

Its centre is lined with elegant mansions (built on the wealth of sheep farming and mining during the late 19th century) and colourful buildings with corrugated iron roofs. Overnight at a hotel right in the centre of town on the main square.

Day 6

Transfer to airport to fly to Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands, 2hrs.
 

Stanley is currently home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a coastal town in 1950s Britain. There are rows of brightly painted wooden houses with flower-filled gardens lining quiet, almost vehicle-free streets, a quayside cathedral, several old-style pubs and a few gift shops. 

There are many references to the war of 1982 including a waterfront memorial built to commemorate the lives of the servicemen lost during the conflict. 

There is time to explore the town before you embark ship and meet the expedition team and fellow passengers before casting off. 

Port Stanley Falkland Island

Days 7-8

At sea sailing towards Antarctica
 
The ship charts a southerly course for Antarctica. This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its bio-diversity and showcases an abundance of wildlife. Scores of seabirds including the wandering albatross, giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels accompany the ship. 

A photography expert will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of the vessel. 

Throughout the day on- board experts inform and entertain you with a series of presentations about the environment, the wildlife and history and the locations it is hoped that you’ll visit in the coming days. If you are lucky there may be time to visit Elephant Island from where Shackleton set off in an open boat to South Georgia 100 years ago.

Giant Petrel

Days 9-10

King George Island and Antarctic Peninsula
 
If weather conditions have permitted, the ship will reach King George Island – the largest in the South Shetlands group. In good conditions Penguin Island and nearby Turret Point offer opportunities for shore landings to view Adelie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins. Southern giant petrels, kelp gulls and Antarctic terns also nest here.

In the afternoon navigate the Bransfield Strait, an important migration corridor for wildlife including whales. Large icebergs will be present from this point onward.

By morning, the towering mountain peaks of the Antarctic continent loom into view and the ship should make landfall around Wilhelmina Bay, where sizable pods of humpback whales may be encountered. Navigate under the towering cliffs of Spigot Peak and into the Errera Channel hoping for a shore landing at Cuverville Island – home to a rookery of Gentoo penguins. 

Gentoo and young

Days 11-13

Towards the Antarctic Circle and Gerlache coastline.
 

Given favourable ice conditions, the goal for the next 3 days will be to sail south of the Antarctic Circle and into Crystal Sound. A favoured landing site here is Detaille Island - home to an abandoned 1950s British science hut.

From here the ship will return in a northerly direction exploring the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula, including a visit to a working scientific base. A hike over the snowy saddle of nearby Winter Island allows exploration of a British Antarctic Survey hut. If the conditions are right, you may be able to camp overnight near here. 

Petermann Island is home to Adelie and gentoo penguin rookeries, also offering views of Mounts Shackleton and Scott: towering granite sentinels marking the southern entrance to the Lemaire Channel. Pleneau Island offers more opportunities for shore landings. Just off shore, massive icebergs run a round in the shallows. Constant wind and wave action sculpt these gargantuan chunks of blue ice into fantastic shapes. For many, a zodiac cruise here may well be a highlight of the voyage.

Lemaire Channel

Days 14-15

Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands.
 

The plan is to transit the Lemaire Channel on the way north towards Paradise Harbour. This may be the first opportunity to stand on the continent of Antarctica itself. Nearby Neko Harbour offers another continental landing. Both have opportunities for seas kayaking and to hike up to panoramic view points.

Proceed to the South Shetland Islands. If the weather conditions allow, the ship will sail into the flooded volcanic caldera at Deception Island. Explore the abandoned whaling station, with the rusted boilers and dilapidated wooden huts. There is also an outstanding hike here, high up onto the rim of the crater. There are several other landing sites in the vicinity including Half Moon Island, or the broad pebbly beach at Yankee Harbour, where Weddell seals sun themselves. Finally, the ship sails for King George Island. 

Neko Harbour Beach Antarctica

Day 16

King George Island – return to Punta Arenas, Chile.
 
This morning the ship is anchored off King George Island. Transfer ashore by zodiac: time permitting, explore the surrounding area. There are several important science bases here including Chile’s Frei Station and Bellingshausen Station.

Transfer to the airstrip for the 2hr flight to Punta Arenas in southern Chile. On arrival, a transfer is provided to your hotel.

Antarctic Peninsula

Day 17

Transfer to airport and fly to Santiago, overnight.
 

Transfer to the airport and fly back to Santiago (4hrs). You overnight in a hotel close to the international airport.

Santiago Chile

Day 18

Transfer to airport for international flight.
 

Return to the airport building for your international flight.

Essential information

The nature of Antarctic travel

Once on board ship many factors play a role in shaping the expedition's progress - the prevailing wind, weather and ice conditions, for example. Ideally, depart the ship by zodiac to explore the peninsula with at least 2 excursions daily - on land, by zodiac or a combination of both, lasting anything between 2-4hrs.  There are no man-made jetties in Antarctica so landfalls are 'wet landings' where you scramble ashore from the zodiac in wellingtons and waterproofs. You are then free to explore on your own or in groups, before later being picked up again by zodiac. Evenings may be spent relaxing, reliving the days' events with a briefing or lecture, or out on the deck, keeping an eye on the dramatic, ever-changing scenery. Itineraries will vary from the original plan if conditions demand/permit. 

It’s a long time at sea, but the variety and intrinsic fascination of what can be seen is spell-binding.

What to see and when

The theatre of wildlife in Antarctica as a whole displays an ever changing narrative of birth, struggle, pleasure, fulfilment and death. You may witness the comedy of a waddling penguin building its nest, a mother bird feeding its young or reuniting with a returning mate; a wily seal escaping the clutches of a hunting whale.

A large variety of marine birds includes 17 species of penguin, of which 4 breed in Antarctica (emperor, chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie) visit the White Continent. Mammals abound here: blue, orca, humpback, minke and southern right whales prowl the chilly ocean, while Weddell, Ross, crab-eater, leopard and elephant seals sprawl on the beaches. 

Plant life in Antarctica proper is restricted to lichen, mosses and algae but there are hundreds of colourful varieties of these. 

What to see as the season unfolds:
December – January:
  • Long days of summer light, milder temperatures.
  • Penguin chicks hatch in the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Whale sightings increase.
February :
  • Excellent whale-watching opportunities.
  • Penguin chicks begin to fledge.
  • Fur seals increasingly numerous on the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Colourful snow algae break the snow white domination of the landscape.
  • Spectacular sunrises and sunsets add a rosy glow to the ice.
Specific to your cruise:

South Shetland Islands:
Visitors include chinstrap, gentoo, macaroni and Adélie penguins; giant petrels, Wilson’s and black-bellied storm petrels, brown and south polar skuas, Cape pigeons, Antarctic terns, blue-eyed shags, Dominican gulls, elephant, fur, 
leopard and crab-eater seals; humpback, minke and orca (killer) whales offshore. 

Antarctic Peninsula:
Chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie penguins abound. Breeding birds include skuas, Antarctic terns, giant petrels, snowy sheathbills, Antarctic shags, kelp gulls, Wilson’s storm, and Antarctic and snow petrels.

Transport

4 flights (longest 4hrs); 6 day cruise.

Accommodation

The accommodation in Santiago and Punta Arenas is in good, practical mid-range options; the Santiago hotel is a small boutique-style property. The hotel in Torres del Paine is a comfortable, long-standing favourite with its own kitchen garden and wide range of guided excursions. MV Akademik Sergey Vavilov is a sturdy expeditionary cruise vessel with plenty of hotel-worthy facilities and amenities.  

Meals

Breakfast daily; dinner day 2, full board days 3, 4, 6-15.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

  • A full programme of excursions to Torres del Paine National Park
  • Shore excursions on the Antarctic cruise.

Summary of nights

18 days, 17 nights: Santiago 1; Torres del Paine 3; Punta Arenas 1; Antarctic cruise 6; Punta Arenas 1; Santiago 1.

Included in the journey price

  • Services of our team of experts in our London office.
  • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives, local and cruise guides.
  • All land and domestic air transport; ocean cruise. 
  • Accommodation as specified.
  • Meals as specified.
  • Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.

Optional excursions

These adventure activities are offered on selected departures:
  • Kayaking (no previous experience  required but basic paddling skills necessary).
  • Camping out on the land. (No experience required).
  • On-land hiking. A variety of hikes of differing difficulty means that everyone will have the chance to do some walking if they like.
It is advisable to pre-book (and pre-pay) any optional activities, as many of these have limited numbers and can fill up before the cruise commences.

Travelling alone

Cruise ships will accept individuals travelling alone who are willing to share a cabin with a person of the same sex, they will be charged the per person price based on two travelling together. If you prefer not to share a cabin you can opt to pay a single cabin supplement.

Currency

The unit of currency in Chile is the Chilean peso.  The ship works with US dollars and accepts credit cards.

Daily spend

Meals and some drinks are included on board the Sergey Vavilov. You pay for your extras (in US dollars or by credit card) at the end of the cruise. All meals and soft drinks are included at your lodge in Torres del Paine.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major Chilean cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

On the cruise ship you can pay your bill for extras at the end of the cruise with a credit card (Visa or Mastercard, excludes American Express and Diner’s Card), or in US dollars cash or travellers' cheques.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have an allowance for cruise ship staff, hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants. On the cruise, a tip of $US 8-10 per person per day for the crew and guides is considered appropriate. 

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Make sure your insurance covers you for the full amount if you have to cancel.

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

The flight to Punta Arenas is a regular departure operated by a Chilean national airline using a commercial jet 

The flight from Antarctica back to Punta Arenas: 

The aircraft BAE-146 was manufactured in the UK by British Aerospace (which later became part of BAE Systems. It is operated by Aerovías DAP, which has more than 20 years of experience of flying in Patagonia and Antarctica.

The cruise:
Antarctica is very remote: once committed to your journey, you are at the mercy of the weather and ocean conditions, the melting and freezing of ice-packs, and the movement of icebergs. This is expeditionary cruising: you will be facing the same environmental challenges as the early explorers, albeit in much greater comfort, and with the assistance of modern technology and communications. 

You must be in good health generally and you should be able to walk over slippery and rocky terrain, although the expedition is ship-based and physically not very demanding. Although you spend as much time as possible ashore, you are welcome to remain aboard the ship if you like. To join most excursions, you must be able to get up and down the steep gangway from the ship to the water level to board the Zodiacs. Staff will assist you in and out of the boats. This will become progressively easier with practice. 

There is a doctor on board but bear in mind that if you have a health issue while on the cruise or an accident it could be a long time and maybe an arduous journey before you return to a destination with good medical facilities, so bear this in mind if you have a pre-existing condition. 

Climate

Santiago is hottest January-March with temperatures of 30°C but it should be dry. 

Patagonia is best to visit in the summer (December-February) when days are long and mild.  March and November can be sunny and clear, but it can be windy. 

Antarctica is visited from late October to March, the southern hemisphere summer. Outside this period days are short and dark. The Peninsula has a typical maritime climate with average temperatures during the cruising season varying between 1°C and -15°C. Antarctica is a desert, so you won’t see much precipitation.

Clothing and special equipment

The southern hemisphere summer is hot in Santiago, so take loose-fitting light clothing for maximum comfort at this time. Spring and autumn are milder and less predictable.

South America is in general a relaxed continent and you won’t need clothes for formal dining but you may wish to take some smart casual wear for dining on the mainland. 

Your requirements for your stay in Torres del Paine will be covered by the recommendations for Santiago and the cruise.

On the cruise: 
Protective clothing is the single most important way of ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable cruise and the key is to dress in layers. For Antarctic landings we recommend a breathable, thermal base layer to wick away perspiration; a warm mid-layer such as a fleece or down sweater and a wind and waterproof (but breathable) outer shell garment. Trousers should have a thermal lining (or wear a base layer of thermal leggings) and you will need waterproof trousers to wear over them. Plus of course warm socks, hat, scarf, gloves and sunglasses. Rubber boots are essential for Antarctic landings; these can be pre-ordered and are loaned on board free of charge.  Dress on board ship is informal and it’s sensible to bring a spare change of warm, dry clothing for wearing out on deck between landings.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements. 

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.
Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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