The incredible wildlife and seabird richness of the Southern Oceans are calling! Considered by many to be the trip of a lifetime, our Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Antarctic Peninsula cruise is an wildlife lover’s dream come true. From penguins to whales to seeing the southernmost songbird in the world (South Georgia Pipit) there is simply no voyage to compare. The incredible beauty of ice and the serene sense of space is beyond measure. This expedition explores one of the last untamed areas on Earth—a land of ruggedly beautiful landscapes and amazingly varied wildlife.
We are booking this December with a new company and ship, new to us but not to our star guide for this voyage, John Carlson. For years we used two Russian ships, which are no longer available (the Ioffe and Vavilov) and when we tried a more luxurious vessel, the cost went up beyond reach of our regular travelers. Inspired by them to find alternatives, we have been on the search for a good mix of comfort and value in a ship, one that has the features so important to us to maximize wildlife viewing. John recommended we check out the m/v Plancius and we think it’s a perfect fit! What we like are the big windows in public areas, the spacious observation lounge with bar on Deck 5, the fully-surrounding viewing walkway on Deck 4, the ability to be out on deck with ease to catch that prime photo, but not to be removed from good viewing if conditions are cold or wet. The m/v Plancius is an ice-strengthened vessel with room for 108 passengers in 52 cabins so it is just the right size. While not luxurious, it is nicely decorated, stabilized, and all cabins have private bath—a real plus! The ship staff is just amazing, from the Captain and nautical crew to those in hospitality, expedition leaders, lecturers, and even a ship doctor, all are united to make sure this is the voyage of a lifetime.
So why go with Naturalist Journeys? First and foremost, it doesn’t cost you any more to book with us. We add the bonus of sending John Carlson as our group host (with at least 10 persons clients signed on) to share his years of Antarctic experience, keen eye for seabirds, and knowledge about Southern Ocean ecology. He is also a great help if you wish to upgrade your efforts at photography. We add a day-trip at no additional cost in Ushuaia to bird and explore Tierra del Fuego National Park. Our group within the larger group has good fun at meals, extra help with birding, and a trip report and species list at the end to cherish. We want to make your travel hassle-free so also offer the services of our travel agent at no cost to help make your travel plans and do any pre-or post-cruise bookings in Ushuaia.
- Cruise onboard the m/v Plancius, an ice-strengthened expedition vessel
- See an old whaling camp on South Georgia, walking in Shackleton’s footsteps
- Witness some of the largest wildlife colonies on Earth, home to King, Magellanic, Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Macaroni Penguins
- Experience outstanding wildlife observation on shore, on Zodiac excursions, and from the ship
- Look for Southern Elephant, Weddell, and Leopard Seals, as well as Humpback and Minke Whales, Orca, and more
- Visit historic sites and science stations
- Learn about the environment, wildlife, history, and ecology from polar experts
- Photograph penguin rookeries backed by soaring, snow-covered peaks
- Cruise past huge icebergs in the icy Antarctic waters
- Opt to join our complimentary pre-tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park
Day 1: Our Cruise Begins!
From the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia, Argentina, situated at the far southern tip of South America, we set off for a grand adventure and the chance to see at least six species of penguins. After we board the ship in the afternoon, cast off to explore the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the remainder of the evening. In the channel we may find Magellanic Penguin swimming in open waters, South American Tern, and Southern Fulmar in flight, and Magellanic Cormorant (Rock Shag) and Imperial Shag perched on rocky islands. Enjoy dinner as we set out into the open ocean by nightfall. (D)
Day 2: Birds of the Southern Westerlies
Several species of albatross, including Black-browed, Southern Royal, and Wandering, may follow the vessel into the “westerlies,” along with Slender-billed Prion, Sooty Shearwater, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, and other species. We are in the path of winds that blow around the Southern Hemisphere in the mid-latitudes, controlling much of the climate of Patagonia and southern South America. For seabirds they make foraging possible, indeed many never approach land except to breed and can relax or sleep on the wing.
We soon find a rhythm to our days at sea, with lectures on topics ranging from natural history to the human history of the places we visit. There is also ample time to look for birds from the Bridge or other observation areas, meal times to get to know your fellow-travelers, and if we encounter currents with krill, sea mammals to see as well. (B,L,D)
Day 3: The Falkland Islands
The Falkland (Malvinas) Islands offer an abundance of wildlife that is easily approachable, though caution is always advised. Our expedition guides take us to penguin colonies and open grassland areas to search for signature species. These islands are largely unknown gems, very British in feel from colonization, and still very much so after the UK prevailed in the 1982 war with Argentina. Falkland Steamer Duck may scamper away from us at our landings. Not only do some fascinating species of bird live here, but chances are great we see both Peale’s and the beautifully black and white Commerson’s Dolphin in the surrounding waters.
During this segment of the voyage, we hope to visit the following sites in our mix of landings:
Despite its name, this island is pleasantly rodent-free and hence bounteous with birdlife. Anything from breeding Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins to numerous waders and passerine birds (including endemic Cobb’s Wren and the Blackish Cinclodes, a regional specialty) live here. Striated Caracara cause a stir as they approach nesting colonies.
On Saunders Island you can see the Black-browed Albatross and its sometimes-clumsy landings, along with breeding Imperial Shag and Rockhopper Penguin. King Penguin, Magellanic Penguin, and Gentoo Penguin can also found here. Songbirds may include Falkland (Correndera) Pipit or Dark-faced Ground Tyrant. Brown Skua patrol the shag and penguin colonies.
Weather always controls our landings, but with good luck we make both landings, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. (B,L,D)
Day 4: Stanley: The Center of Falklands Culture
The capital of the Falklands and center of its culture, Port Stanley has some Victorian-era charm: colorful houses, well-tended gardens, and English-style pubs are all found here. Yes, you can order a Guinness, make a call from a red phone booth, or mail a postcard home from the local post office. You can also see several century-old clipper ships nearby, silent witnesses to the hardships of 19th Century sailors. Some 3,000 people live on these windswept islands supported by an economy of fishing, agriculture, and tourism.
The small but interesting museum is worth a visit, covering the early days of settlement up to the Falklands War. Approximately 2,100 people live in Port Stanley. Enjoy some free time to wander at will; take some cash with you as there may be small admission fees to local attractions or souvenirs to purchase in shops.
Our birders might like to work the edges of the city or the coastal shoreline in search of additional species such as Kelp Goose, Chilean Skua and Black-crowned Night Heron. Some species carry over from the South American mainland but may be easier to find here, such as Austral Thrush, Long-tailed Meadowlark, and Black-chinned Siskin. Wetland sites may hold Two-banded Plover, both Silver and Yellow-billed Teal, and Chiloe Wigeon. (B,L,D)
Days 5 – 6: Days at Sea | Seabirds Galore!
En route to South Georgia, we now cross the Antarctic Convergence. The temperature cools considerably within the space of a few hours, and nutritious water rises to the surface of the sea due to colliding water columns. This phenomenon attracts a multitude of seabirds near the ship, including several species of albatross, shearwaters, petrels, prions, and skuas. Soft-plumaged Petrel, Greater Shearwater, and Common Diving Petrel can be found. Most impressive are the swirling clouds of prions and petrels! We have found that taking photographs into the swarm, then studying them before going back out is a super identification tool. White-chinned Petrel, Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions, and Black-bellied and Wilson’s Storm Petrels can be in numbers that defy the imagination. Other rarities such as Blue Petrel are fun to search for! As we near South Georgia itself, we keep our eyes peeled for the stunning Gray-headed Albatross.
For those taking photographs, these days at sea give you time to work on your images, and your Naturalist Journeys guide, John Carlson, is happy to help with creating images and processing tips. There is a cozy library with enticing titles and ship lectures to attend. (B,L,D)
Days 7 – 10: Exploring the Wildlife Wonders of South Georgia
Today we arrive at the first South Georgia activity site. Please keep in mind that weather conditions in this area can be challenging, largely dictating the program. We participate in a mandatory deep-cleaning of our outer wear to safeguard against inadvertently bringing bio hazards to South Georgia Island.
Over the next several days, we have a chance to visit the following sites among our landings:
Near beaches inhabited by various penguins (thousands of Kings!) and seals, you have the chance to follow the final leg of Shackleton’s route to the abandoned whaling base of Stromness. This path cuts across the mountain pass beyond Shackleton’s Waterfall, and as the terrain is partly swampy, be prepared to cross a few small streams. While we are still in the realm of flowering plants, watch for miniature wildflowers including the clover-like Burnett plant, Pixie-cap lichen, Antarctic Bedstraw, and Antarctic Hairgrass.
Salisbury Plain, St. Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour
These sites not only house the three largest King Penguin colonies in South Georgia, they’re also three of the world’s largest breeding beaches for Antarctic Fur Seal. Millions breed on South Georgia during December and January. Our timing lets us witness a lot of penguin courting, and we should find adult penguins covering eggs beneath their warm folds of skin. Hear their honking calls as beaks point skyward! It is breeding time in the mammal realm as well. Watch the large Fur Seal bull keep a constant vigil (and occasionally fight) over territories where dozens of females have just given birth or are about to deliver. Populations are so high right now that it may affect our walking route—ship staff help us navigate.
Some 175,000 whales were processed here, mostly into oil, but also for meat and other products until the station closed in 1962. Now, in this haunting, abandoned whaling station, King Penguin walk the streets and Southern Elephant Seal lie around like they own the place … because they basically do. Here we visit the South Georgia Museum as well as Shackleton’s grave. Here it is customary to offer a toast of whiskey to “The Boss” prior to spreading some on his grave. Learn more about the life of Ernest Shackleton, especially of his 800-mile journey in the 22-foot wooden life boat, the James Caird. Their voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island is truly an epic feat in the annals of sea adventures. Mountains loom behind the rusting buildings and graveyard, all very picturesque and moving.
The world’s southernmost songbird, the South Georgia Pipit, has responded remarkably well to recent conservation measures to control exotic rats on the island and we should be able to find this special species at most landings on South Georgia. We should also find South Georgia Pintail and Antarctic Tern. Macaroni Penguin can be found along the southern coast near their breeding colonies and can often be found porpoising offshore as the ship moves between landings. We should also find breeding Snowy Sheathbill. (B,L,D)
Day 11: Southward Bound
We now enter areas known for whales—be on the lookout for both Fin and Humpback. We should also have our first house-sized icebergs! At sunset with a show of color they are especially incredible. Watch for South Georgia Diving Petrel.
There may be sea ice as we head south on this route, and at the edge of the ice some South Polar Skua and beautiful Cape and Snow Petrels could join the other seabirds trailing the vessel south. Ship lectures help you appreciate how seabirds survive and even thrive in these harsh conditions. (B,L,D)
Day 12: The Scenic Vistas of South Orkney Islands
Depending on the conditions, we might visit Orcadas Base, an Argentine scientific station on Laurie Island in the South Orkney archipelago. The personnel here happily show us their facility, where we can enjoy expansive views of the surrounding glaciers. If a visit isn’t possible, we may instead land in Coronation Island’s Shingle Cove. This incredibly remote area is one of great beauty, a beauty of ice and sky punctuated by seabirds. Some icebergs are now the size of small islands …. (B,L,D)
Day 13: Last Push to the Antarctic Peninsula
Enormous icebergs and a fair chance of Fin Whale or Orca sightings ensure there’s never a dull moment on this last sea voyage south. Also, our best chance to spot Antarctic Petrel is here. Southern Giant Petrel can also be found. (B,L,D)
Days 14 – 16: Awe-Inspiring Antarctica
If the ice conditions permit, we now sail into the Weddell Sea. Here colossal tabular icebergs herald your arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Paulet Island, with its large population of Adélie Penguin, is a possible stop. A December voyage provides good opportunity to see this ice-loving penguin, which is quite vocal with crow-like tones. We have other sites in mind to look for them in this region as well, and Gentoo Penguin colonies are massive. We might also visit Brown Bluff, located in the ice-clogged Antarctic Sound, where you could get the chance to set foot on the Antarctic Continent itself.
If conditions aren’t favorable to enter the Weddell Sea from the east, the ship sets course for Elephant Island (where Shackleton’s men awaited their fate) and heads into the Bransfield Strait, between South Shetland Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. Here we attempt to access the Antarctic Sound from the northwest. Throughout the area ice chunks provide haul outs for Crabeater and Weddell Seals and we may see the predatory Leopard Seal dining on penguins at sea. We also keep watch for the pretty Antarctic Shag.
The breathtaking scenery continues in the southern Gerlache Strait, and if ice conditions allow, we may even reach Lemaire Channel. The whole region seems a wonderland, with deep blue ice appearing like giant, other-worldly sculptures. The sudden crack of calving glaciers can create a large wave splashing ashore on icebergs. Each cove features ice encrusted landscapes, jagged rocks, and cliffs carved and polished by glaciers. Rock towers surrounded by snow and ice are known as nunataks. Chinstrap Penguin pose, then pop into the water where they are as agile as fish. With luck you can see them slide across the snow on their bellies.
From a previous trip diary: “Penguins porpoise, whales roll and blow, skuas, shags, terns, and petrels fly by. A Snowy Sheathbill fluttered onto the ship deck, pecking in shallow pools of water for something to eat. The air is fresh and clean most of the time, except when downwind from a penguin colony. The scenic grandeur of mountains, glaciers, floating ice, and sea has become a constant. And the sea here is alive with penguins, seals, whales, and birds. It literally churns with life, including the rivers of tiny krill that support the Antarctic wildlife. Massive swarms of krill comprise the vital broad base of the Antarctic food pyramid.”
Conditions on the legendary Drake Passage determine the exact time of departure to return north. We watch for Minke Whale and South Polar Skua. (B,L,D)
Days 17 – 18: Crossing the Drake—Passage Seabirds Abound
Our return voyage is far from lonely. While crossing the Drake, we’re again greeted by the vast array of seabirds remembered from the passage south. But they seem a little more familiar to us now as we feast your eyes on possible Black-browed, Light-mantled, Gray-headed, Southern Royal, and Wandering Albatross from the ship. Cape and White-chinned Petrels accompany us. Finally into view: Cape Horn and we’ve made it! With luck we can anchor with a view, and have calm seas for our final Captain’s dinner. We have so many memories to recount as we share our highlights of the voyage. (B,L,D)
Day 19: Land Ho! | Return to Ushuaia
Every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end. It’s now time to disembark in Ushuaia, but with memories and possibly friendships that accompany us forever. You can leave late in the afternoon or on evening flights, or you may want to overnight so you can get your land legs back before travel—if so our travel agent can help you make plans. You typically disembark in the morning with some free time ashore before going to the airport for International flights. (B)
Day 1: Tues., Dec. 1 Optional Day Trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park—Pre-Tour
We highly recommend that you come in early to explore Ushuaia, a stunning location at the “end of the world” with a good variety of hotels, restaurants, shops, and possible outings. Birders have a heyday finding waterfowl and other species right on the shoreline, including Kelp Goose, Upland Goose, possibly Ashy-headed Goose, steamerducks (commonly Flightless and possibly Flying), Crested Duck, oystercatchers (Magellanic and Blackish), both Kelp and Dolphin Gulls, and Dark-bellied Cincloides. Talk to us about added days as you may be able to book a local birding guide, or take a ride of the chair lift up to Martial Glacier behind the town to look for the rare White-bellied Seedsnipe, as well as Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant or possibly Yellow-bridled Finches on your own.
As an added value of booking with Naturalist Journeys, we offer a complimentary guided day trip for our cruise clients to nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park. Here, a lush temperate rainforest awaits, home to the fabulous Magellanic Woodpecker, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, and White-throated Treerunner. Experience the Nothofagus (Southern Beech) forest and coastal margins on leisurely trails. Ponds may hold beautiful Great Grebe or Black-necked Swan. With luck and a careful eye we may spy Andean Condor as we drive out to the park, flying high over the dramatic mountain landscape. Along the coastal route we should find Austral Negrito and Long-tailed Meadowlark. Chimango Caracara, and both Grey-hooded and Patagonian Sierra-Finches are common at our lunch spot.
We do not pre-book accommodations in Ushuaia so people are free to match their budget and style of travel, but we are happy to give recommendations. Our travel agent, Pam Davis, can secure you a booking as she does your air (our compliments, no cost for this service).
Cost of the Journey
Pricing is by cabin, per person, based on double occupancy. Please note that many cabin levels sell quickly—this is a VERY popular cruise. Let us know your preference and we can help you choose.
Twin Window: $16,300
Twin Porthole: $15,550
Quadruple Porthole: $12,850
The earlier you sign on, the better the selection. Some categories are limited and it is first come, first served for selection.
Tour price includes: Voyage aboard the indicated vessel as indicated in the itinerary; All meals throughout the voyage aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea; All shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac; Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff; Free use of rubber boots and snowshoes; Luggage transfer from pick-up point to the vessel on the day of embarkation, in Ushuaia; Pre-scheduled group transfer from the vessel to the airport in Ushuaia (directly after disembarkation); All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program; Comprehensive pre-departure material; A sea kayaking program is available (additional charge of US$795pp) and must be reserved at the time of booking your voyage (there are limited spots available) and you must have some prior paddling experience.
Tour price does not include: Any airfare, whether on scheduled or charter flights; Pre- and post- land arrangements; Passport and visa expenses; Government arrival and departure taxes; Meals ashore; Baggage, cancellation and personal insurance (which is strongly recommended); Excess baggage charges and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges and telecommunication charges; The customary gratuity at the end of the voyages for stewards and other service personnel aboard (guidelines will be provided).
Arrival and departure airport is Airport is Ushuaia (USH). Please plan to arrive at a time convenient for you on December 1. If you please to take our complimentary Tierra del Fuego day trip, please arrive at your convenience on November 30. Please plan departures on December 20 in the late afternoon or evening. We highly recommend using a travel agent to book your flights. This is a remote part of the world and, from past experience, we know that it can get tricky rebooking your flight if it is cancelled or there are significant delays. Please ask and we will connect you with our agent.
Items of Note
Our Cruise Operator and Expedition Staff are with Oceanwide Expeditions, an outstanding company with impressive experience in the region.
All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions and in order to take advantage of opportunities to see wildlife. The on-board expedition leader determines the final itinerary. Itineraries may mention places that require permission to land, which must be granted by the relevant national authorities. Such permission is not granted prior to the publishing of these itineraries. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises. Average cruising speed of m/v Plancius is 10.5 knots.
Photo credits: Banner: Gentoo Penguins on the March by Greg Smith; King Penguins by Greg Smith; Striated Caracara (Johnny Rook) by Greg Smith; Weddell Seal by Greg Smith; Spyhopping Humpback Whale by Peg Abbott; King Penguin Welcoming Committee by Peg Abbott; Kayaking in the Antarctic by Peg Abbott; Southern Elephant Seal with Brown Skua by Greg Smith; King Penguin Colony by Greg Smith; King Penguin Welcoming Committee by Peg Abbott; Antarctic Peninsula, John Carlson; Black-browed Albatross, John Carlson; Half Moon Island, John Carlson; Antarctic Peninsula, John Carlson; Ushuaia, John Carlson.