Natural Habitat Adventures

Sailing Antarctica: A Polar Wildlife Expedition

Fly Round-Trip: Antarctica to/from Punta Arenas

Itinerary Map
On this sample itinerary, we fly from Punta Arenas, Chile, explore the Antarctic Peninsula by motor-sailboat, then fly back to Punta Arenas from King George Island.

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 had become a center for large-scale sheep farming, which remains an important economic enterprise today. Meet your Expedition Leader and fellow adventurers at a welcome dinner this evening.
 
Day 2: Magallanes National Reserve / Punta Arenas Highlights
There's plenty to see around this scenic region, and we begin with a hike in 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 observe native trees such as lenga and Magellan's beech and stunted nirre, an Antarctic beech with 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 Vessel
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 archipelago. We plan to fly here today to meet our intrepid polar expedition vessel. Ashore, we have our first encounter with penguins and other wildlife of this southern polar wonderland. Our real adventure begins when we board our ice-strengthened motorsailer, designed and outfitted to navigate the polar waters of the Southern Ocean. After introductions and a safety orientation, we set sail into the Antarctic waters surrounding the South Shetland Islands, headed south to the Antarctic Peninsula with an eminent polar mariner and seasoned crew.

Please 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 and attempt to fly tomorrow. Other times, the flight schedule might be pushed up and some activities missed so we can fly during a clear weather window.

Days 4–14: Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
For the next 10 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 cruising 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 from its spout. 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. Kayaks on board 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, weather and local conditions permitting. On these on pristine polar beaches, we share solitude with the legions of wildlife. There are few places on the planet where the natural world feels more intact and grandiose, while we have never felt smaller.

Day 15: King George Island—Disembark
We return to King George Island in the South Shetland group today, lying off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Our arrival is one day prior to our intended return flight, as a hedge against potential weather problems. Tomorrow morning, after a fortnight of extraordinary adventure, it will be time to say farewell to our hardy vessel, captain and valiant crew.

Day 16: Fly to Punta Arenas, Chile
Weather permitting, we board our airplane for the 2-hour flight back to Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chilean Patagonia. On arrival, we check in to our hotel. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner in town, regaling one another with stories and indelible memories of this truly singular adventure.

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

Important note regarding flights:
When flying to and from King George Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, weather determines all schedules. If weather does not allow us to travel as scheduled, we must wait on either end until until it clears, or other times pushing up the flight to be ahead of weather. Though historic weather patterns indicate 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 somewhat 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 weather. 

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