Quite simply the most beautiful place we have ever been. Everywhere you look you are in awe of amazing wildlife, dramatic scenery and stunning landscape. It is a place that feels so pure and untouched.
The Antarctic expedition we booked was a very activity focused expedition which included kayaking, snowshoeing, mountaineering and camping all included in the price.
The Drake Passage
The Drake passage is known to be one of the most notorious ocean crossings in the world. You either get the Drake Lake or the Drake Shake. On the way there we had the Drake shake which involved 25 knot winds with 8m waves. We ended up having to change course and it took 66 hours to get to Antarctica. After the first night, the breakfast room was basically empty from so many passengers falling ill to sea sickness.
On the bright side there is an unexpected amount of wildlife you can encounter on the Drake. We came across Killer whales, humpback, various petrels, wandering albatross and dolphins which make the drake much more bearable.
The camping could be described better as surviving. We thought we would be given a tent, however we were wrong. Basically what is involved is getting two down sleeping bags and a bivi bag. You then get given a shovel which you dig a hole in the snow (dig your own grave) to try to give some protection from the wind.
We had this adele penguin walking around us all night squawking at us, keeping us awake. If it wasnt the adele penguin keeping us awake it was the constant light where the sun doesn’t really go fully down so it was always quite light.
The experience was truly unique, we were lucky enough to spend the night there with our new-found friends and we stayed up for most of the night talking, sledging down the mountain and having fun. When it came to sleeping, some of us were simply too cold an didn’t sleep at all. We where delighted when we got picked up at 4.30am to go back to the boat for a hot shower before breakfast. As the expedition leader Troels kept telling us, “this is not a holiday but an expedition” and therefore no need for sleep ins.
This is one of the activities available which I would highly recommend if there is the opportunity. You will meet with the guides and talk about your mountaineering experience and the guide will decide on the type of climb which will best suit your experience. We were lucky enough to be able to climb up a peak which had not been climbed before and have the most fantastic 360 degree view of the landscape.
Tip – you are only able to do the mountaineering if you have the appropriate boots. These are generally very expensive and heavy. Since we had been travelling for a while at this point there we did not have the appropriate boots for crampons to fit onto. We thought that we would be able to rent the boots in Ushiaia, however after walking into to every single shop we soon realised our error. In the end we the spoke to the person who owned Extreme Ushuaia, who said that if we bought the boots he would by them back off us for 50% of the price. Since there was a lot sales on at the time we went this worked out really well for us and in the end ended up using new shoes and selling them again, only costing us $65. Also, you can still do the mountaineering activity with the snow shoes instead but the terrain they take you on would be a lot more tame.
Every time you don’t do an “organised” activity you have the option to attach the snowshoes the your boots and walk around on Antarctica. They make it a lot easier to get around up and down the different mountains.
Depending on the ship you go on, they will provide everything you need for the kayaking, from boots to spray skirts. You do not need any experience with kayaking before as the guide will put you together with other people of the same level as you. However it does help having experience in kayaking before or at given it a go. This is an amazing experience to kayak in between icebergs, penguins and the spectacular landscape.
There are more penguins than you can shake a stick at. The picture below is chinstrap penguins. The one on the left is definitely more into it than the one on the right
We saw lots of different types of penguins including, adelie, gentoo, chinstrap and macaroni penguins.
Of course there were a lot of seals, birds and whales too.
We were lucky enough to come across a group of 5 Killer whales on the hunt with one of their baby killer whales. The whales were creating waves to try push the seals off their icebergs.
Some tips on choosing a boat
- The smaller the boat the better, Antarctic treaty rules only allow 100 passengers to land at a time. So if you are on a massive boat, you will need to take turns
- Go on a boat that has less than 499 passengers, this seems like the same tip as above, but currently any boats over 499 passengers are not allowed to land on Antarctica at all
- On some expeditions, if you choose the kayaking option, you may pay up to $1000 usd to be a kayaker. When we talked with some people who did this, they only really wanted to go one or two times rather than feeling like they are wasting their money if theyre doing a landing instead of kayaking. Variety is the best
Should I book last minute?
Before booking this trip I was told that booking a last minute deal from Ushuaia would always get us the best deal. After a lot of reaserch we decided to not wait until Ushuaia and book a “last minute deal” instead we opted for booking through the agency Swoop Travel around 10 months before the trip. We spoke with John from Swoop, who asked us a lot of questions, what the ideal would be, what we wanted to get out of this trip and with his experience and guidance we ended up booking the base camp expedition with Oceanswide expeditions.
After looking around in Ushuaia we soon realised that the “last-minute prices” were not that cheap (the price was higher than the “normal” price we paid) and you could be waiting around for a couple of week before finding a boat. A friend of ours ending up and Ushuaia for two weeks before returning home as there were no affordable boats leaving with on his timetable. Of course there are also success stories of people being very lucky and getting a price that suits them at the last minute. Since this is something we had wanted to do for a very long time we decided that we didn’t want to take the risk and booked in advance.
Overall this is one of the best experiences we ever had and worth every single penny we paid for it.