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Sailing Antarctica: The Ultimate Polar Nature Expedition

Fly From Punta Arenas Itinerary

On this sample itinerary, we fly from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the Antarctic Peninsula and motor-sail back from Antarctica to Ushuaia, Argentina.

Day 1: Punta Arenas, Chile
Arrive in Punta Arenas, the city at the bottom of Tierra del Fuego overlooking the Strait of Magellan. Punta Arenas was a gold rush boomtown in the late 19th century. By the early 20th century it was a center for large-scale sheep farming, which remains an important economic enterprise today. Meet your fellow travelers at a welcome dinner on this first evening of your Antarctic adventure.

Day 2: Magallanes National Reserve / Punta Arenas Highlights
This extra day is included as a "reserve day" in case of delays with arriving flights. There's plenty to see around this scenic region, and we begin with a hike in the Magallanes National Reserve. This nearly 50,000-acre nature preserve contains a diverse range of native flora and fauna, including puma, Andean and gray foxes, Darwin's leaf-eared mouse and abundant birdlife—look for Magellanic woodpecker, Chilean flicker, black-chested buzzard eagle, austral thrush and many more. On a walk through the mixed deciduous forest, we'll observe native trees such as lenga and Magellan's beeches and stunted nirre trees with their crinkled, irregular leaves. 

Return to Punta Arenas for lunch, then visit its famous cemetery, established in 1894, with elaborate tombs lining neat pathways flanked by manicured cypress trees. Continue to the Nao Victoria Museum, containing life-size replicas of notable explorers' ships. The museum is named for its exact copy of Ferdinand Magellan's 1519 expedition ship and perfectly recreates the context in which the Nao Victoria set sail from Spain to circumnavigate the globe and unite two oceans. Also on display is a replica of the James Caird, a lifeboat from Shackleton's ill-fated Endurance expedition, which sailed 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1916 and is still considered one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever undertaken. After our visit, there's free time to explore town before dinner.

Day 3: Fly to King George Island—Board S/V Australis
The only airstrip on the Antarctic Peninsula archipelago that can reliably be served by the South American continent on a regular basis is located on King George Island in the South Shetland group. We plan to fly here today to meet our intrepid polar expedition vessel, the S/V Australis. Ashore, we have our first encounter with penguins and other wildlife of this southern polar wonderland.

Our real adventure begins when we board the Australis, a 75-foot-long ice-strengthened motorsailer, designed and outfitted to navigate the polar waters of the Southern Ocean. After introductions and a safety orientation, the Australis sets sail into the Antarctic waters surrounding the South Shetland Islands, headed south to the Antarctic Peninsula. We're excited to be cruising with one of the world's preeminent polar mariners and his seasoned crew. [Note: It is our intention to fly to King George Island today, but occasionally weather conditions may delay us. If that is the case, we will spend today exploring Punta Arenas.]

Days 4–12: Cruising and Camping on the Antarctic Peninsula
For the next 8-9 days we follow the best weather and safest water, exploring the bays and fjords of the Antarctic Peninsula. Nothing prepares us for the scale and scope of this icebound wilderness, and the phrase "awe-inspiring" takes on totally new meaning here. Walls of blue ice rise 300 feet from the surface of the steel-gray sea, and it is as if the entire landscape is one massive glacier. Though our environs are austere, these waters are a haven for a remarkable collection of wildlife, including vast penguin rookeries and beaches ruled by Antarctic fur seals and southern elephant seals. Taking advantage of the perpetual light, we spend long days sailing among the icebergs, watching for whales and seals. Sometimes, we get so close we can hear a whale blow, and we may even feel the spray. Birdlife is extraordinary, with huge populations of albatross, petrel, skua, gull, tern and cormorant.

Every day holds something different. While at times we are struck by the depth of silence, other times we're amidst a cacophony of squawking penguins, honking seals and crackling ice. The kayaks on board the Australis allow opportunities to observe wildlife at eye-level, and where landings permit, we step ashore to hike. And, with our special permits, we have the option to camp for up to three nights, weather and local conditions permitting, on deserted beaches, sharing the solitude with the legions of wildlife. There are few places on the planet where the natural world feels more intact, while we have never felt smaller.

Days 13–15: Crossing the Drake Passage
As the Australis continues northward, the most adventurous portion of our journey commences: navigating the fabled Drake Passage. Named for renowned explorer Sir Francis Drake who sailed these waters in 1578, the Drake Passage is notorious for its often-fierce gales that create large, wind-whipped swells—we're likely to have some raucous sailing! But the Australis is a hardy vessel and her skipper and crew second-to-none—we are in good hands, and the journey is exhilarating.

Leaving the icebergs and snow-clad mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula behind, we sail into the Antarctic Convergence. This southern portion of the Drake constitutes a rich biological zone where a great upwelling of nutrients draws an amazing variety of seabirds. Keep an eye out for many big albatrosses that often follow in our wake. The exact timing of our Drake crossing depends on weather and sea conditions, but we generally expect it to take approximately three days.

Day 16: Ushuaia, Argentina
As we sail northward, eventually we may be able to discern Cape Horn in the distance, with the mass of Tierra del Fuego rising ahead. Land ho! As the peaks of Patagonia come into view, the Australis enters the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel, our scenic marine route into Ushuaia. Drink in the vista of endless mountain ridges lining either side of the channel as we cruise toward civilization once more. Once safely docked in Ushuaia harbor, we disembark, saying farewell to our skipper and crew. An overnight at a comfortable local hotel is included here in the southernmost city in the world. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with our Expedition Leader, reflecting on the indelible memories we've made on this truly singular adventure.

Day 17: Ushuaia / Depart
Fly homeward today from Ushuaia, with a cache of memories to last a lifetime and then some!

Important note regarding flights: When flying to King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula, weather determines all schedules. If weather conditions do not allow us to travel as scheduled, we must wait in Punta Arenas for the weather to clear. Though historic weather patterns dictate that we should not be delayed for more than a few days, we can never predict when, or even if, inclement weather will clear to allow our departure. While we have "padded" our itinerary a bit as a precaution against such circumstances, we ask that all guests purchase trip cancellation and interruption insurance to cover tour costs, should your adventure be delayed or canceled because of the weather.

Physical Rating: Extreme Adventure

This is a true expeditionary polar sailing trip in an exceptionally remote wilderness area far from medical facilities. This adventurous journey was developed specifically to provide a unique adventure for a select few intrepid travelers whose desire for the thrill of discovery goes beyond even that of Nat Hab’s usual guests. This expedition requires more independence and self-reliance than our other trips do, and, in return, offers even deeper rewards. In Antarctica, we follow an exploratory itinerary based on safety, and the exact activities we engage in on any given day are determined by weather, sea conditions and the judgment of our skipper and Expedition Leader. Given the unique and often unpredictable elements of this trip, its successful operation requires a commitment to group unity and a willingness to embrace the unexpected and overcome any challenges we might face. Guests must be prepared for typical activities that take place in a rugged polar setting, such as hiking on snow and rocky shorelines, enduring unpredictable and changing weather conditions including cold temperatures and high winds, and traveling in close quarters aboard a compact boat.

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