Fly from Punta Arenas to Antarctica and Sail Back to Ushuaia
Day 1: Punta Arenas, Chile
Arrive in Punta Arenas, the farthest-south town in Chile 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 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 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 from Punta Arenas to King George Island—Embark Ship
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 expedition yacht, the Hanse Explorer, where our real adventure begins. Built and outfitted to navigate the daunting conditions in the world's polar regions, this elegant vessel has been designed with every conceivable amenity to make our experience comfortable and inspiring. After introductions and a safety orientation, we set sail into the waters of the Antarctic Peninsula with an eminent polar mariner, seasoned crew and Nat Hab Expedition Leader at the helm.
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 4–10: Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula by Luxury Expedition Yacht
In the South Shetlands, step ashore for our first encounter with penguins and other wildlife of this southern polar wonderland. For the week to come, we follow the best weather and safest water, exploring the remote 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. Zodiacs offer access for close-up exploration, and kayaks allow opportunities to observe wildlife, such as inquisitive seals and darting penguins, at eye-level. Where landings permit, we step ashore to hike. 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.
After each monumental day, settle into the exceptional comfort and hospitality provided on board the Hanse Explorer. Relax with a cocktail in the lounge, or if you're not quite ready to retreat from the open air, take a soak in the hot tub on the top deck and watch the iceberg parade drift past. Each evening, the chef and culinary team prepare memorable dinners, while the expanse of windows in the dining room ensures you won't miss a thing happening beyond. With the late light of the austral summer lingering until well after dinner, it's tough to pull away from the magnificent scenery surrounding our ship, but a restorative night's sleep awaits in well-appointed staterooms, renewing us for the next day's slate of adventures.
Days 11 & 12: Sailing the Drake Passage / Ushuaia
Eventually it’s time to leave the sheltered seas of the Antarctic Peninsula and sail north for Ushuaia, heading into the open Southern Ocean and the legendary Drake Passage. Named for renowned explorer Sir Francis Drake who sailed these waters in 1578, the Drake is notorious for its often-fierce gales, creating large, wind-whipped swells. But the Hanse Explorer is a hardy vessel and we are in good hands, embracing a journey that is sure to be exhilarating. The southern portion of the Drake 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 exact timing of our 600-mile Drake crossing depends on weather and sea conditions, but we generally expect it to take approximately two days.
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, Hanse Explorer enters the protected 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 13: Ushuaia / Depart
Fly homeward today from Ushuaia, with a cache of memories to last a lifetime and then some!