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.
- 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.
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.
Before you book
4 flights (longest 4hrs); 6 day cruise.
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.
Breakfast daily; dinner day 2, full board days 3, 4, 6-15.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
The unit of currency in Chile is the Chilean peso. The ship works with US dollars and accepts credit cards.
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.
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
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
If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.