Antarctica anyone?

Travel Forums General Talk Antarctica anyone?

1. Posted by Ils1976 (Respected Member 202 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Since my visit to Argentina a few years back, I am dreaming of that one unreachable destination on my long travel list, but now it seems that dream is slightly coming true.

Although I am limited in time, I am planning for that cruise of a lifetime towards Antarctica in 2024 - 2025. Is there someone who can tell me which is the best season to go between November and March.

My friend would like to see the Emperor penguin but I have been told that the Weddell Sea is the least beautiful place (especially when wildlife is concerned) and they all recommend the western side of the Peninsula. November should be the best time to visit the Weddell Sea. Is this true?

I can only book an 11 - 12 day cruise leaving from Ushuaia and back, so my mean question is ... which company can you recommend and if travelled to this destination, which month is the best?

2. Posted by Sander (Moderator 6027 posts) 1y 1 Star this if you like it!

When to go depends, I think, primarily on your focus wrt wildlife, and how important it is for you to see fully pristine fields of snow everywhere you go. Do your own research to confirm, as this is completely from memory and I might be off by a couple of weeks, but as I recall whales are present in greatest numbers from February onward (there's probably quite a few around earlier than that as well, but in March we saw literally hundreds), and the main draw are the penguins, which you can expect to be sitting on the nests in November/December (thus 'boring', and the necessity to keep your distance, although it allows for nice pictures of entire colonies), still mostly on the nests in January (but now with tiny chicks being ever more frequently visible underneath, and waddling around), and then in February there'll be lots of free-roaming chicks, which will turn into very inquisitive teenage birds by March (not so photogenic due to them switching from the fuzzy grey down feathers due to their adult plumage, plus the adult birds will be molting).

I don't think there's a bad season to go. It's always superlatively amazing.

That said, I personally went in March, and despite the occasional mud on the landing sites, I probably would opt for that time of the year again on a subsequent visit (in a decade or two, when I'll have forgotten my promise of "never again" wrt the Drake Passage :D), as I absolutely fell in love with the penguins, despite not particularly caring about them beforehand. (Pro tip: you're required to keep your distance from the penguins, but they aren't required to keep their distance from you. So lie on the snow near a main route to the water, and let them come to you. I had one particularly inquisitive teenage penguin tap my sunglasses with its beak, and that's just... wow!) Maybe late February instead, but no earlier than that.

I haven't done the Weddell Sea / Emperor penguins, so can't compare. I can tell you that on my trip down the peninsula, we saw Gentoos (soooooo many), lots of Adelies, a couple of Chinstraps, and one single Macaroni. Also, insane numbers of Humpback whales, a large pod of Orcas, and a couple of breaching Minkes. Anyway, the peninsula is absolutely gorgeous in its own right, with stunning mountains that would be the main attraction anywhere else.
large_where.jpg

That's the Lemaire channel, one of the main draws on the west side, which almost every single tour will try to pass through, as long as there's no ice bergs blocking the route.

I went with Oceanwide Expeditions (a Dutch company), and then specifically their "basecamp" cruise, which includes kayaking, mountaineering, camping and snowshoe hiking (other cruises also offer some or all of those as possibilities, but then for extra costs). I actually don't know if I'd do a basecamp again. Kayaking was pretty amazing, but also very cold. Mountaineering was cool to have done, but I hate the forced walk when roped together (never time to take a good photo, and my ankles were telling me very clearly that they would've liked some more training). Camping was extremely uncomfortable (amazing to hear the white thunder and the breathing of the whales all night long - but it made me completely useless the day after). Snowshoe hiking was interesting, but in the end, I much preferred wandering around shore by myself, alone with the penguins and the landscape. The other main draw for me with them was their "expedition"-style travel; smaller ships (important, since only 100 people per ship may land at a time), and not as luxurious as some of the other cruises, so drawing a more diverse crowd. For that, they'd probably be my first choice on a second trip again. So yeah, I can recommend them, but from my research back when, I have never seen anyone not recommend whoever they went with, so generally any company should offer you an unforgettable experience.

It can pay to sign up to the newsletter of any and every company going, since they tend to give $1000-$2000 off for specific cabins if sales for any particular voyage/cabin are lagging behind (which mostly tend to be the earliest and latest departures of the season), and those newsletters are the best way to hear about it. Still, if you've settled on going and are picky about the time of the year (and of course also want decent prices for flights), don't expect to actually benefit from this and just book when you've made up your mind, as mostly these offers are pretty last minute.

(FWIW, I just read the descriptions of the two November Weddell Sea expeditions which Oceanwide offers, and despite bringing along helicopters, it sounds like it's far from guaranteed that you'll actually get to see Emperor penguins from up close.)

[ Edit: Edited on 9 May 2023, 13:35 GMT by Sander ]

3. Posted by Ils1976 (Respected Member 202 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Thanks for the feedback. I looked into the Dutch company and I thought it was very interesting, not sure who are the other main players. I saw the basecamp you referred to as well, thought it was amazing but I guess it is better to stick to a classic one and just go for as many landings as we possibly can.
I hear you when you say it will be amazing whenever or whatever you choose. I would love to see as much ice as possible, so I thought that March was going to be too late for that, so it seems I am wrong, so thanks for sharing February seems nice for the penguins. Lots to think about!
Which boat did you go with?

4. Posted by Sander (Moderator 6027 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Quoting Ils1976

Thanks for the feedback. I looked into the Dutch company and I thought it was very interesting, not sure who are the other main players.

Quark is the big name. Others I remember or recognize after a quick search are "G adventures", Antarpply, Polar Latitudes, Poseidon. There's a couple more that I can't recall offhand. There's a ton of resellers and tangled relations where it's unclear who's actually running the show, e.g. National Geographic tours, which go through... Lindblad, looks like.

Quoting Ils1976

I saw the basecamp you referred to as well, thought it was amazing but I guess it is better to stick to a classic one and just go for as many landings as we possibly can.

We actually got 10 landings (and 2 zodiac cruises, which are amazing in their own right) in six days there, so getting many landings is not a reason to avoid the basecamp. (And that's not counting the camping, even.) They kinda need to do these landings for most of the activities. (In retrospect, the best thing about the activities was that it leaves a much smaller group of people not doing activities, and just wandering around by themselves.)

Quoting Ils1976

I would love to see as much ice as possible, so I thought that March was going to be too late for that, so it seems I am wrong, so thanks for sharing

You indeed see it mentioned everywhere that ice bergs are most prevalent in November/December, so maybe I lucked out with seeing a ton of those in March (or probably I just have no basis for comparison?). We did a zodiac cruise through a bay filled with grounded bergs south of Lemaire Channel, all gorgeously sculpted by the water. "The antarctic museum of modern art" is what our zodiac driver called it. That was probably my favorite activity of the entire trip, next to the penguin encounters. They're very much a mixed blessing, though, as they can prevent access to many places. (When I was camping, the ship had to keep moving around all night long to dodge icebergs!)

Quoting Ils1976

Which boat did you go with?

Plancius, but I don't think the specific boat matters at all.

[ Edit: Edited on 10 May 2023, 07:24 GMT by Sander ]

5. Posted by Ils1976 (Respected Member 202 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Thanks so much for the info. I still have time to think of which program and which company, but till now I got the best feedback from oceanwide expeditions.