Antarctica is the most spellbinding and staggeringly beautiful destination on the planet. A completely untouched ice-covered land mass, with craggy mountain peaks, hanging glacier shelves and translucent icebergs that come in all shapes and sizes imaginable. Seeing Antarctica first hand is a sensory overload. It is a once-in-a-lifetime destination and offers a truly special experience. Read on to hear about Latin America Expert, Scarlett’s remarkable journey to the Great White Continent.
With over 46 countries now under my belt and every continent ticked, nowhere comes close to Antarctica when it comes to landscapes and wildlife. For me it is the most magical place, but it is also the most remote, hostile and difficult continent to visit and getting there can have its challenges. Antarctica is not a holiday but a true travel adventure where Mother Nature is boss.
Untainted by human influence (a rarity in this day in age) Antarctica is home to a prolific amount of wildlife whom today still rule the lands. See playful penguin colonies in the hundreds, travel down alongside breaching whales and watch seals lounging on floating icebergs. Albatross chase the waves and petrels and cormorants are in abundance. It must be one of the few places left on the planet where the animal kingdom remains in charge.
The Antarctic peninsula is virtually uninhabited and untamed. There are no towns or villages, but endless horizons punctured by icebergs and snowy peaks. There is no infrastructure nor community save the few scientists happy to welcome friendly faces into their research stations and the closest you will get to mixing with the locals is on one of the many penguin rookeries. You couldn’t be further from civilisation. It is one of the last truly wild places, and so if you are looking to escape the crowds and discover a place only visited by a lucky few, there’s no better place on earth than Antarctica.
The most common way of getting to Antarctica is on a cruise ship that departs from Ushuaia in Argentina and takes two full days and nights across the infamous Drake Passage. The Drake Passage is the body of water between Cape Horn in South America and the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica and is where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans converge, giving it its notorious reputation of rough seas. Those who have sailed the Drake affectionately refer to its crossing with pet names that reflect the passage’s two main temperaments: the “Drake Shake” and the “Drake Lake”. Fortunately for me, on the way down to the South Shetland Islands, I was welcomed by a Drake Lake, which was calm and offered ample opportunity to spot whales, watch an array of sea birds swoop around the ship and enjoy the many informative lectures on board delivered by incredibly experienced geologists, penguinologists (yes, this is a profession and one I am very envious of!) and naturalist guides.
On my return, however, the swells picked up to 7-10 metres high and felt like what I can only imagine it’s like to be inside of a washing machine. All you can do in these situations is ride it out and trust in the excellent crew to chart the smoothest course possible. Scott Dunn have carefully handpicked a small number of expedition ships that have advanced construction and modern satellite and weather monitoring abilities so when the weather is rough your safety is not an issue. Whilst, it might mean a day with a few missed meals and leave you feeling rather queasy, sailing across the Drake Passage leaves you with a great sense of achievement. Once you see the beauty that awaits you on the other side, you’d happily cross again (and again) to experience spectacular Antarctica.
When preparing for your Antarctica voyage, you will notice that the day-by-day itinerary provided is subject to change and to be used as a guide; there are no guarantees of where your disembarkation will take place nor what you are likely to encounter on each day. Mother Nature is in total control here, and the weather can change in an instance meaning the guides on board have to have a plan A, B and C in place at all times. Luckily for travellers to Antarctica, whilst no voyage is the same as the last, each one is just as impressive. During my expedition, I and the other guests were contacted the day before we were due to embark ship and informed that there was a fuel shortage in Ushuaia. This meant we were doing a ‘slight detour’ to the Falkland Islands to go get fuel. Whilst this wouldn’t have been my first choice, as it meant a day less on the peninsula, the last-minute stop in the Falklands turned out to be an unexpected treat and a special opportunity to visit these beautiful islands, so rich in wildlife and history. The Falklands are quintessentially British, emblematic of a bygone era and evoking a real feeling of nostalgia.
After two and a half days of sailing, with a stop in the Falkland Islands, we were back on course and arrived at South Shetland Islands, overlooking Penguin Island to see out first penguin colony in all its glory. All suited and booted and eager to disembark the winds dramatically picked up, rendering it too unsafe to unload the zodiacs. The plan was changed again as we set course down to the peninsula so that we could maximise our time there and avoid the storm brewing around the South Shetland Islands. For the next three days we were rewarded with the most glorious weather – blue skies, little wind and mild temperatures. We witnessed parts of the ice shelf crashing into the water, tabular icebergs that extended as far as the eye could see, leopard seals snoozing on chunks of ice, hundreds of penguins nesting and a pod of orca whales feeding in the bay. Whilst plans may change, the dedicated expedition team are continually working in the background to ensure your experience is not compromised. Where you may lose out on one experience, you gain in another in its place and no trip to Antarctica will see you return disappointed.
Getting to Antarctica takes time and however you choose to experience it, it is undeniably expensive. It is one of our costlier trips, but it is also one of the most outstanding and life changing. They say that travel is the only thing you buy that makes your richer, and the experiences and memories you will take home with you from Antarctica are priceless. The only question is when are you going? I have already started saving to return as soon as possible.
For more information on the cruises that we offer here at Scott Dunn and on how to maximise your experience in Antarctica give us a call and we can start planning your epic Antarctica adventure.