Category Archives: Antarctica Holidays

Guide to Antarctica

One of our clients recently summed up her holiday to Antarctica rather well:

“”Antarctica is like nowhere else on earth.

It is a truly unique and unforgettable experience. Penguins dancing around your feet, whales and dolphins following the boat, navigating past icebergs and glaciers while watching from the bridge and the most incredible sunsets are all memories I will keep for a long time.”"

The White Continent, as Antarctica is known, is one of the least visited places on earth. A truly pristine environment which must be preserved and respected for future generations.

Responsible Travel

At Pura Aventura we promote only responsible travel to Antarctica. In our opinion, well regulated small ship travel is the only sustainable means of tourism.

We are strongly of the opinion that flying to Antarctica is not acceptable as it will quickly lead to unsustainable increases in visitor numbers. Nor do we feel that large ships belong in such a sensitive environment.

The small ship crossing of the Drake Passage maintains the White Continent for those dedicated enough to make the crossing.

Pura Aventura is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators.

As members of IAATO we are committed to procedures and guidelines that ensure appropriate, safe and
environmentally sound travel to the Antarctic.

Our Antarctic Boats

We work with a carefully chosen selection of small ships on our Antarctic cruise holidays.

With usually less than 100 passengers, there is no limit to the length of shore landings, and you will get more from your time in Antarctica.

The guides, zodiac drivers and lecturers on our Antarctic vessels are amongst the very best in the business making your holiday to Antarctica not only safer but also more interesting and rewarding.

All of our Antarctic boats are full members of IAATO.

If you wish more information about Antarctica, you can continue tu read our Travel Tips, the M/V Antarctic Dream, the Antarctic Explorers, the Drake’s Passage, and the Wildlife in Antarctica guides we got for you.

Guide to Antarctica: Antarctic Dream

Information specific to Antarctic Dream including facilities, food, entertainment and a typical day on board. In short, information useful in helping you prepare for your Antarctic cruise holiday on board Antarctic Dream.

M/V Antarctic Dream

Facilities

Lobby
Main dining room / lounge area with chairs and sofas
Bar
Library
Conference room (for lectures)
Small fitness Room/Sauna
Passenger Bridge

Guides

There are at least five expedition staff onboard all speaking excellent English. These range from the zodiac drivers to the naturalist guides. The guides also deliver the onboard lectures in the conference room.

Food

Food onboard is good and there is plenty of it, but don’t expect gourmet cooking. The chef has a difficult job catering for so many without fresh supplies.

Dietary requirements can generally be well catered for if advised in advance. Breakfast is served buffet-style with hot and cold options. Lunch and dinner are both three-courses and served at your table. Wines or soft drinks are included.

Afternoon tea is served daily at 4pm.

Bottled water, tea and coffee are freely available throughout the day without charge.

Entertainment

There is no formal entertainment. Passengers tend to spend time chatting in the lounge area, out on deck or relaxing in the cabin.

Each cabin has a closed loop TV showing films and documentaries at regular intervals. The evening film starts at 21:30.

Daily schedule

A daily schedule is prepared each evening which lists all activities, lectures and films that will be available the following day. During the days at sea, staff will present lectures and talks.

The Navigation Bridge is open to passengers at most times and is a popular area to gather. From here you can watch the ship negotiating ice-filled waterways, watch for birds and wildlife with the guides and chat to the Captain and officers.

Once you reach the penisula you typically have two shore landings per day. Please be aware that all shore landings are dependent on the weather conditions and can be cancelled at any time.

Typical day

A typical day is as follows:

07:00 – 08:30: Buffet breakfast

08:30 – 09:00: Get dressed for this morning’s excursion. Meet at reception at 09:00 wearing plenty of layers, boots, parka and life jacket.

09:00: Disembark into the zodiacs for the ride to the shore. Your guides are on shore waiting for you. Typically an excursion lasts two hours but you can return to the boat at any time (drivers stay with the zodiacs to take you back whenever you want).

11:00: Return to the boat. After hot chocolate or soup, get out of your wellies and parkas.

12:00: Three-course lunch with wine or soft drinks.

14:00: Afternoon shore excursion.

16:00: Return to the boat in time for afternoon tea.

16:00: Tea / coffee biscuits and sandwiches.

16:30 – 19:00: Time to relax and reflect on the day. Stand out on deck and take in the views as you navigate to your next destination.

19:30: Three-course dinner with wine or soft drinks.

21:30: Watch a film or documentary on the closed loop TV in your cabin or chat over a drink in the bar.

Guide to Antarctica: Antarctic Explorers

A brief introduction to the early explorers of Antarctica. If nothing else, read about Shackleton’s expedition as it is truly one of the greatest stories of human endurance.

Antarctic explorers

Most of us have heard about the expeditions of the great explorers such as Scott and Shackleton.

When you are in Antarctica and experience the remoteness and sense of wilderness first hand, you realise the scale of their achievements.

If you factor in the size of their boats and lack of any modern-day equipment you wonder how on earth they did it!

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s story in particular is truly amazing.

The lectures on board, the documentaries in the cabins, and the books in the library all touch on the explorers. It is good to read up before you depart.

To get you in the mood here is an abridged version of Antarctic discovery:

The history of Antarctica stems from early western theories of a southern continent known as Terra Australis.

In 1773 James Cook was the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle and came within 75 miles of the Antarctic Peninsula before being blocked by pack ice.

Cook concluded that if there was a southern continent it must be inaccessible and of no economic value.

The first sighting of mainland Antarctica is disputed and cannot accurately be attributed to one single person.

Fabian von Bellinghausen of the Russian Navy came within 20 miles of the mainland in January 1820 and reported huge ice fields that were probably part of the continent although he didn’t know at the time.

A few days later British naval officer Edward Barnsfield reported sight of the Antarctic Peninsula. The first landing on the continent was probably just over a year later when American Captain John Davis, a sealer, set foot on the ice but this is also disputed.

The first person to realise he had actually discovered a whole continent was Charles Wilkes, the commander of a United States Navy expedition, in 1840.

This discovery sparked a frenzy of expeditions. It culminated in 1895 when the International Geography Congress decided to make Antarctica the focal point of new exploration. This marked the beginning of the Heroic Age.

Heroic Age

Nov 1902: Robert Scott, Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton make the first serious attempt to reach the South Pole. They reach 82°16? S before turning back.

Jan 1909: Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams make another attempt at reaching the Pole. They reach 88°23? S (97 nautical miles short of the Pole) before being forced to turn back.

Jun 1910: British Antarctic Expedition led by Scott sets sail for Antarctica

Sep 1910: Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reveals to his crew they are heading for the South Pole. His original intention was the North Pole. Amundsen sends a telegram to Scott: “”beg leave inform you proceeding Antarctic. Amundsen”".

14 Dec 1911: Roald Amundsen arrives at the South Pole (90°00′S) after a 57-day trek with dogs.

17 Jan 1912: Scott, Bowers, Wilson, Evans and Oates arrive at the South Pole after a 78-day trek without dogs to find a tent with a note inside from Amundsen.

Feb 1912: Evans dies after a fall on the return journey from the Pole.

16 Mar 1912: Oates appears to committ suicide as he announces “”"I am just going outside and may be some time” and walks into a blizzard of ?40.0 °C.

29 Mar 1912: Scott, Wilson and Bowers die in their tents from exhaustion, hunger and extreme cold.

Aug 1914: Now the race to the Pole was over, Shackleton turns his attention to crossing the entire continent via the Pole. He sets sail with his crew of 28 on Endurance.

Jan 1915: Endurance becomes trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea.

Oct 1915: After drifting for nine months in pack ice Shackleton decides to abondon Endurance as she is getting crushed. The crew set up camp on the pack ice and take the life boats from Endurance.

Nov 1915: Endurance sinks.

Apr 1916: Shackleton and his crew set off in three 22-foot open lifeboats and row to Elephant Island.

They arrive seven days later after an exhausting journey in some of the worst conditions imaginable. On arrival Shackleton knows there is very little chance of being rescued by passing ships so decides to head for South Georgia where he knows there is a whaling station.

He chooses the strongest boat – James Caird – and sets sail with five crew members. This is a journey of 1,300km across some of the world’s roughest seas. The rest of the crew build a camp on Elephant Island.

After 16 days they arrive on South Georgia but on the wrong side of the island. They trek for 36 hours across mountains to the other side and find help.

Aug 1916: On his fourth attempt Shackleton finally manages to rescue his remaining crew members from Elephant Island. Not one member of the original expedition team died.

5 Jan 1922: Shackleton dies of a heart attack just off the coast of South Georgia Island on his fourth expedition to the Antarctic. He is buried on the island.

Guide to Antarctica: Antarctic Wildlife

The wildlife in Antarctica is completely fearless of visitors. Curious penguins will come and sit on your knee if you sit still for long enough. You will probably get nothing but a disinterested yawn out of the seal population as they laze around on the beaches.

Penguins

Think of Antarctica and most people think of penguins.

There are seven species confined to the southern hemisphere and of these the Emperor, Chinstrap and Adelie breed entirely in Antarctica – these three species make up about 90% of the bird population in the Antarctic.

Emperor penguins are the largest of the species and stand over three feet tall but are probably one of the most difficult to spot as they do not go on land.

They live in loose breeding colonies on the pack ice. They are the only Antarctic birds to breed in winter.

As most other birds are heading north for the winter, Emperors move south. Their dense feathers (about 70 feathers per square inch) keep them insulated as temperatures plunge. Most Emperor penguins are found in the Ross Sea.

King penguins are very similar to the Emperor but slightly smaller and distinguished by the orange colouring on their breasts.

They breed north of the pack ice around South Georgia in colonies of as many as 100,000. King penguins were hunted by sealers in the early 19th century – the skins were used as fuel and clothes – and the species was close to being extinct. There are now around 2 million pairs in the Antarctic.

Gentoo penguins are found all over the Antarctic Peninsula but are the least common of the penguin species. There are around 300,000 pairs.

Gentoos are more timid than other penguins and tend to keep their distance. They are identified by their bright orange bill.

Chinstraps are one of the most common breeds with over 7 million pairs. They live in huge colonies along the coast of the South Shetland Islands.

Adelie penguins are small and are distinguished by the white ring surrounding the eye. They have quite a comical way about them, as they tend to do everything in groups.

So you will see a large group waddling off to the sea and then all jumping in off the rocks. Being small they are vulnerable and less than two-thirds of the chicks survive the first three weeks.

Despite the high mortality, there are 2.5 million pairs found throughout the continent.

Seals

In Antarctica you are likely to come across a variety of seals. The most common are Crabeater seals (a peculiar name as they don’t eat crabs) and Weddell seals.

There are about 30 million Crabeaters making it one of the world’s most abundant mammals. They spend long periods of time at sea and on the shelf ice so you are unlikely to see them on shore.

Weddell seals live further south than any other mammal.

They have long whiskers and are very placid animals.

You are also likely to see Leopard seals cruising the shores of the penguin colonies waiting to pounce when the curious chicks first venture into the sea.

Leopard seals are the largest of the Antarctic ‘true’ seals and are the only species to eat other seals.

Antarctic fur seals are also very common but can be very aggressive so you will need to keep your distance. Fur seals are not ‘true’ seals as they have ears.

They were hunted close to extinction during the 19th century which may account for why they are so aggressive towards man.

Sea birds

At the start of the polar spring millions of sea birds arrive in Antarctica for the breeding season. Besides penguins, the most common are petrals and albatrosses.

Albatrosses are considered to be the most majestic of all birds. With a wing span of up to 11 feet they are beautiful gliders. Adults can cover up 550 miles per day at speeds of over 50mph.

There are 13 species of Albatross making a population of around 750,000 breeding pairs. The largest is the Wandering Albatross. These birds often follow the ship for hours at a time.

There are many varieties of petrals but the one most people look out for are Giant Petrals which, like the albatross, are great fliers. They forage on both land and sea and can kill anything up to the size of a king penguin.

The snow petral is one of the most beautiful birds in the Antarctic. It is pure white with grey feet.

Whales

Whales come to Antarctica to feed in the austral summer.

They then migrate north at the end of the season. You are most likely to see humpback and minke whales as well as Orcas (killer whales).

When the captain spots whales from the bridge he will often stop the boat or at least slow down so you can spend some time admiring these magnificent mammals.

If you are lucky you may see a blue whale.

Guide to Antarctica: Travel Tips

Pura Aventura’s brief guide to the practicalities of travelling to Antarctica. We’ve included practical tips on money, health and vaccinations, safety and language to help you plan your holiday to Antarctica.

Weather

Probably not as cold as you expect but you still need to be prepared as weather conditions can change within the hour from bright sunshine to cold biting winds.

The coldest temperature you can expect to encounter on the Antarctic Peninsula is freezing point 0°c

However the wind chill can make it feel colder.

What to pack

During your time on the boat things are really informal, there is no dress code at all.

It is quite warm on the boat so most people will be in jeans and t-shirt whilst on board.

For shore landings you are provided with wellies and parkas so really you just need to wear a shirt, fleece on top and then the parka on top will keep you sufficiently warm.

On your legs you need comfortable trousers, hiking trousers are good as they are generally wind proof and quick drying.

You might want to take some thermals, particularly for your legs. If the wind is up then it can be biting cold.
Good socks are very important.

Equipment

Wellington boots: provided by the boat. You can take your own if you prefer.
Waterproof jacket: provided by the boat.
Technical shirt: having gone to all the trouble of buying a breathable waterproof jacket, you should avoid wearing cotton shirts underneath as cotton retains moisture, making you feel cold once you stop walking.
Sun protection: the sun is very strong and the ozone layer is severely depleted in Antarctica. Minimum factor 50 sun protection. Sunglasses.
Warm mid-layer: a thick good quality fleece for underneath your waterproof jacket.
Thermals: non-syntheticn thermal base layers are not always necessary but good to have just in case. They are very light and easy to pack.
Hiking trousers: loose, comfortable, wind/rain proof, quick drying.
Waterproof over-trousers: to protect you on the zodiacs. Also easier to wash and dry than hiking trousers.
Feet warmers: thick hiking/ski socks and heated thermal insoles. Wellington boots do not insulate your feet and the soles are quite thin. Thick socks will help keep your feet warm. Consider heated insoles for a treat.
Hat & gloves: for shore landings. Gloves should be waterproof for the zodiac rides. Consider taking a thinner pair to wear underneath, as it is difficult to take photographs in bulky gloves.
Daypack: for shore landings though you are only generally on shore for a couple of hours at a time so not essential.
Small waterproof bag: if you prefer not to carry a daypack ashore (they can be quite cumbersome to carry with all your layers) just protect your camera with a waterproof bag.
Swimming costume: for the hot ‘bath’ on Deception Island.
Binoculars: for wildlife watching.

Practical information

Time: Antarctica is GMT -4
Electricity: 220V, 60Hz, US style two pin plugs.
Telephones & Internet: not surprisingly there is no mobile phone coverage or internet access on board. The Captain has a Satellite phone and you can use this for emergencies but it is very expensive.

There is a computer in the library where you can download photographs. Consider taking a USB stick if you plan on downloading your photos.

Language: most of the crew are Chilean so speak Spanish. All of the guides onboard speak fluent English. The dining room and cabin staff speak very little English so it is a good idea to brush up on some basic Spanish before you go.

Money: all drinks and extras onboard such as souvenirs are priced in Chilean pesos.

Any extras are signed to your cabin and you pay on the last evening. Credit cards are accepted along with US Dollars or Chilean Peso.

A small beer costs +/-2,500 Ch pesos (approx £2.50) a bottle of wine approx 15,000 Ch pesos. Wine and soft drinks is included with meals.

Tipping: there is a ‘general tip’ box for the crew and staff on board. When you pay for your extras on your last day you will be given an envelope for tips which you then post through the tip box.

If the crew have performed to your expectations, and their service has been excellent: US$10 per person per day for the whole crew is a general guideline.

Therefore the total tip would be US$100 per person for a 10-night cruise. This is just a suggestion as tipping and gratuities are a very personal matter.

Checking in

Luggage labels for the MV Antarctic Dream will be at your hotel in Ushuaia along with confirmation of the collection times.

Fill in the luggage labels and leave your luggage at hotel reception on the day of departure. The staff from MV Antarctic Dream will come and collect it at around 10:00.

They will then return to collect you at approximately 16:00 to take you to the dock.

Once on board you will be shown to your cabin. You will be asked to leave your passport at reception.

Valuables & safety

There is an open door policy onboard so all cabins are unlocked at all times. This is standard practice on small vessels and adds to the informal friendly atmosphere.

There is a safe deposit box at reception if you feel you need it.

You will be given a full safety briefing when you board the ship.

Health

For up to date, journey specific health advice, consult your GP. You might also like to visit FitForTravel.nhs.uk

No vaccinations are needed to visit Antarctica. There is a doctor onboard for any health issues.

Seasickness

Drake’s Passage is rough stretch of sea and even on a calm crossing you are likely to feel nauseous at first.
The vast majority of people adapt within half a day and then feel fine for the rest of the trip.

Whether or not you take medication is entirely a personal choice. Taking medication is no guarantee of preventing seasickness. If you do decide on taking medication there are a number of choices:

The motion sickness patch is probably the most popular these days – to be placed behind your ear 4 hours before boarding and changed if necessary after 72 hours. This is quite an effective way to prevent seasickness but causes things like a dry mouth and blurry vision.

Homeopathic medicines work for many, ask at your local homeopathic shop. Remember that anything with ginger will be helpful – even chewing on some crystallised ginger can work for some.

There is even an audio tape called ‘travelwell’ endorsed by none other than Ellen MacArthur.

Acupressure bracelets – a drug-free product causing no side effects – the motion sickness band is worn one on each wrist for the duration of your trip. Some contain small magnets, others just a stud, which should be aligned with a pressure point on your wrist and pressure applied periodically. This won’t work very well if you miss the pressure point.

If you do start to feel your cheeks turn green the best remedy is to go out on deck and breathe in the fresh air. Eat small amounts little and often.

The ship’s doctor is also available to advise you and he/she will have medication if you need it.