Natural Habitat Adventures

Sailing Antarctica: A Polar Wildlife Expedition

Sail from Ushuaia to Antarctica and Fly from Antarctica to Punta Arenas

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

Day 1: Ushuaia, Argentina
Arrive in the world's southernmost city, Ushuaia, located at the tip of Tierra del Fuego. Meet your fellow travelers at a welcome dinner on this first evening of your Antarctic adventure.

Day 2: Tierra del Fuego National Park / Maritime & Presidio Museums
This extra day in Ushuaia is included as a "reserve day" if flights are delayed. You don't want to take a chance of missing your sailing tomorrow! But there's plenty to see in the Ushuaia region, too. We've included a half-day tour of scenic Tierra del Fuego National Park, which combines coast, islands, mountains and the southernmost subantarctic Andean forests. Beneath the deciduous lenga, beech and wild cherry trees, we find a moist understory of moss, ferns and peat bog. On easy hikes, look for red fox, guanaco, otter, geese, ducks, woodpeckers and 90 more bird species that are among the native fauna found in the park. The landscape shows typical signs of glacial formation, with broad valleys filled with lakes and rivers alternating between rows of mountain ranges. Throughout the park are signs of its past inhabitants, the Yamanas people.

Following lunch in town, we visit the impressive Maritime and Prison Museums, housed in the former national penitentiary built by convicts who were relocated to this remote region in 1906. The infamous prison, finished in 1920, was designed for 380 inmates, though it held up to 800 before it closed in 1947. The maritime exhibits chronicle the history of seafaring in the area, including a scale model of the ship Magellan sailed in 1520 through the strait that now bears his name. It was Magellan who dubbed this southerly mosaic of islands Tierra del Fuego, meaning "Land of Fire"—a reference to constantly burning fires indigenous people lit to stay warm, even inside their bark canoes. There's free time later this afternoon to explore Ushuaia, a lively tourist town catering to the many adventurous climbers, trekkers and sailors that set forth from here. We'll enjoy dinner together in town this evening. 

Day 3: Ushuaia—Board S/V Australis / Beagle Channel
Today our real adventure begins as we board our expedition sailboat Australis in the Ushuaia harbor. The Australis is 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, we set out into the calm waters of the Beagle Channel, admiring the endless ridgelines of the mountains that line either side. We're excited to be sailing with one of the world's preeminent polar mariners and his seasoned crew. Drink in the views of Patagonian peaks that unfold as we make our way south, enjoying the long daylight of a southern summer and dreaming of the adventures that lie ahead.

Days 4–6: Crossing the 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, creating large, wind-whipped swells—we're likely to have some raucous sailing! But the Australis is a hardy vessel and her skipper second-to-none—we are in good hands, and the journey is exhilarating. The southern portion of the Drake also marks the Antarctic Convergence, a biological zone where a great upwelling of nutrients draws an amazing variety of seabirds, including many albatrosses that follow in our wake. The first sightings of icebergs and snow-clad mountains indicate that we have reached the South Shetland Islands. The exact timing of our Drake crossing depends on weather and sea conditions, but we generally expect it to take approximately three days. If conditions are favorable, we'll step ashore for our first encounter with penguins and other wildlife of this southern polar wonderland.

Days 7–14: Cruising & Camping on the Antarctic Peninsula
For the next eight 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 the 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 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.

Day 15: King George Island—Disembark
The only airstrip on the Antarctic Peninsula archipelago that can reliably serve the South American continent on a regular basis is located on King George Island in the South Shetland group. We arrive here today, one day prior to meeting up with our return flight home, as a hedge against potential weather problems. Tomorrow morning, after a fortnight of extraordinary adventure, it will be time to say farewell to the Australis and her valiant crew.

Day 16: Fly to Punta Arenas, Chile
Weather permitting, we board our airplane for the 3-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 from King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula, weather determines all schedules. If weather does not allow us to travel as scheduled, we must wait on King George Island 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.

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