The nature of Antarctic travel
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 Antarctica with excursions 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.
Helicopter transfers: If zodiacs cannot be used, transfers will be by helicopter at Peter I Island, The Ross Ice Shelf, the Dry Valleys, Mc Murdo Station, Cape Evans (Scott’s hut) and Cape Royds (Shackleton’s hut). In theory the plan is for 5 helicopter-based landings.
Conditions may change rapidly, having its impact on the helicopter operation - safety is the greatest concern and no guarantees can be given. The vessel is equipped with 2 helicopters, but in the case that either helicopter is unable to fly owing to a technical failure, for example, the helicopter operation altogether will cease or even be cancelled, since one helicopter always needs to be supported by a second operational helicopter.
This is the ultimate in Antarctic expedition cruising, so come with a flexible approach. Expect plans to change and itineraries to vary, but expect an adventure. 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 6 species of penguin - Emperor, King, macaroni, 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 is restricted to lichen, mosses and algae but there are hundreds of colourful varieties of these.
What you may see during your voyage:
Drake Passage and the Antarctic Convergence:
Over 35 species of birds may accompany your crossing. Species include giant petrels, Antarctic fulmars, and the black-browed and wandering albatrosses with wingspans up to 3m.
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.
Adélie penguins, blue-eyed shags.
Elephant seals, southern fulmars, cape pigeons.
At sea approaching Ross Ice Shelf:
Orca whales, Emperor penguins, minke whales.
Huge colony of Adélie penguins.
Southern royal albatross, eastern rockhopper penguins, erect-crested and yellow-eyed penguins.
Of course, sightings of this plethora of wildlife cannot be guaranteed.
Before you book
1 flight (4hrs); 32-day cruise.
The hotels in Argentina are good, practical mid-range options. The ice-strengthened MV Ortelius was formerly a Russian scientific ship and has a true expeditionary ambience, along with comfortable cabins with private facilities.
Breakfast daily; full board days 4-34.
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.
• City tour of Buenos Aires.
• Shore and (if necessary) helicopter landings on the Antarctic cruise.
Summary of nights
35 days, 34 nights: Buenos Aires 2; Ushuaia 1; Antarctic cruise 31. (The cruise is regarded as a 32 night voyage as you will cross the international date line).
Included in the journey price
• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• 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.
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 a per person price based on two travelling together. If you prefer not to share a cabin you may opt to pay the single cabin supplement.
The unit of currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso. The ship works with euros and US dollars.
Meals on board ship are included. Water, coffee and tea are complimentary but other drinks are charged. You pay for your extras (in US dollars, euros or by credit card) at the end of the cruise. There isn’t much else to pay for on board.
How to take it
Cash machines are available in all major 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 with a credit card (Most accepted excluding Diner’s Card), or in euros or US dollars cash.
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 spare change 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 ship still has an expeditionary feel, as it was operated by the Russian Academy of Sciences before refurbishment for leisure travel. Accommodation is in compact but comfortable cabins and there are 2 restaurants, a bar/lecture room and a sauna.
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 need to be sufficiently agile to get in and out of small landing craft and walk over rocky terrain.
There is a doctor on board, but if you fall ill while on the cruise or have 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.
Buenos Aires is hottest January-March (very humid with tropical showers, occasionally over 40°C during the day). The weather can be cooler in November.
Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego 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 technically a desert; precipitation averages only 166mm per year. Depressions can bring in cloud and snow or rain but the sun often shines. Weather conditions can be unpredictable: periods of calm, frozen intensity give way to a sudden storm or blizzard. White-outs are not infrequent, and winds can career down from the polar plateau to the coast at velocities of up to 300km an hour – treacherous conditions for the unprepared and it can be bitterly cold.
Clothing and special equipment
The southern hemisphere summer is hot in Buenos Aires, so take loose-fitting light clothing for maximum comfort at this time. An umbrella is a good idea in case of a tropical shower. 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 at the estancias or at top of the range restaurants.
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.