What will the weather be like during the expedition?
Our expedition from South America to Antarctica is scheduled during the Austral Summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Generally in the Antarctic, temperatures during the day are between 20º and 40º F. Although it can be very sunny, expect rain, snow, fog and a high wind chill factor.
Please see Seasons in Antarctica for more information.
Our exact route and program will vary to take best advantage of local weather and ice conditions and opportunities to view wildlife. Changes will be made by the Captain and/or Expedition Leader to facilitate the best results from the prevailing conditions. Flexibility is the key to success.
How often will we get off the ship?
We endeavour to make two landings per day while in South Shetlands Islands and Antarctic Peninsula via our fleet of zodiacs.
Please keep in mind that many of the places we will visit on the voyages are unique. Your Expedition Team will accompany you on daily shore excursions and provide you with extensive information. You will receive our Antarctic Guidelines with your travel documents.
Which is the electrical current on board?
Electric current on board is 110 V/ 60 Hz and cabins are fitted with multi-type sockets suitable for several international plugs. However, we recommend to bring necessary converters and any special adapters with you as only a limited number can be borrowed on board.
Some outlets in public areas are 220v-240v and are clearly marked. However, they are fitted with Argentine outlets. This plug has two flat pins in V-shape and also has a grounding pin. The ungrounded version of this plug with only two flat V-shaped pins or a plug with two thin round pins also work.
Pull-on, unlined, knee-high boots are required for wet landings. Boots must be 14”-16” high with strong, rubber-ridge, non-skid soles. These specifications are very important. You may be stepping into water up to 10” deep on wet landings. Moon or leather boots are NOT appropriate.
A supply of rubber boots or Wellingtons, are available on board the USHUAIA and includes a wide variety of sizes. It is recommended that you bring your own only if you require a special size. Please note that the boots on board have been used by previous passengers.
Parka (Water-repellent hooded parka)
Waterproof gloves or mittens
Hat, scarf, or other face protection
Jacket or sweaters
It is best to bring at least one lightweight and one heavy jacket or sweater. Sweatshirts, turtlenecks, and fleece pullovers are also good Insulators. Layering with wool, silk or synthetics fabrics, rather than cotton, is recommended.
Thermal or long underwear
Light-weight shirts and T-shirts
Clothing on board
Comfortable and casual clothing, in the expedition spirit, is recommended for the vessel. Appropriate footwear includes at least one pair of deck-type, rubber-soled shoes.
Sunscreen and lip protection (Minimum SPF 15)
Plastic bags – Plastic zip-lock bags will protect your camera and binoculars from wave splash and spray while in Zodiacs
Seasons in Antarctica
Antarctic Peninsula & South Shetland Islands
Antarctic wildlife is at its most active during the southern summer. The beauty and solitude of Antarctic seas and mountains conceals the frantic activity of the shoreline colonies of birds and mammals. In this five-month period, from late October to March, we operate our expedition cruises. Summer arrives first in the South Shetland Islands and spreads south along the Antarctic Peninsula. As the Antarctic year progresses, from spring to autumn, the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands change in appearance and character each season offering a different range of spectacular sights and possibilities to the visitor.
Late October – December (spring – early summer)
After the winter darkness, spring fever hits Antarctica and the sun causes an explosive growth of phytoplankton in areas of mineral upwelling. The phytoplankton provides food to the astronomic swarms of zooplankton, including krill. Krill forms the base of the food chain for squid, fish and ultimately for seabirds, seals and whales, which flock in to fatten themselves and to produce their young.
Crabeater seals are born between September and November.
Elephant seals guard their harems aggressively until December.
The first big whales come down to Antarctica to feed, among them humpback, Minke and southern right whale.
Amazing displays of the penguins’ courtship ritual, including nest building, sky pointing and stone stealing.
Penguin, petrel and cormorant eggs are laid in November and December.
Penguin chicks start to hatch at the end of December in the South Shetland Islands.
Wintering scientists at the research stations welcome the first visitors of the season.
Longest days in December create longer daylight hours – photographs can be taken at midnight!
Last winters sea-ice offers sometimes spectacular sailing among the floes with seals everywhere on the ice.
January – February (summer)
In Antarctica’s warmest months wildlife activities are in full swing. Most penguin chicks hatch in January, earliest in the South Shetland Islands and later more to the south at the Peninsula. The frantic activity continues in the colonies in February as the young get older and bolder and are gathering in crèches.
Fur seal and leopard seal pups are visible.
Whale watching is at its best in February.
Penguin colonies at their busiest, fetching krill and feeding chicks.
In February receding ice allows exploration further south along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Concentration of fur seals increases.
Nightly darkness returns as the sun sinks farther below the southern horizon, but temperatures are still above zero, though we may experience a touch of Antarctic winter with night frosts, creating beautiful patterns of thin sea ice on the surface. The snow cover is at its minimum allowing for easy and extensive walks in the South Shetland Islands.
Penguin chicks are in their adolescent state now and quite curious about visitors.
The adult penguins moult and the young go to sea.
Receding ice allows exploration farthest south along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Spectacular green and pink algae blooms on snow-slopes and ice cliffs.
Whale watching is still very good.
In Falkland Islands and South Georgia spring and summer arrive earlier than in the South Shetlands & the Antarctic Peninsula and consequently the breeding activities of sea-birds and sea mammals start earlier there. South Georgia is home to several birds with a cycle longer than one year, so eggs and young in King Penguin colonies can always be found from November to March. November is full spring in South Georgia, comparable with December in the South Shetlands, but without sea-ice.
IAATO Visitor Guidelines
Visitor Guidelines Recommendation XVIII-1
Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic
Recommendation XVIII-1, adopted at The Antarctic Treaty meeting, Kyoto, 1994
Activities in the Antarctic are governed by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and associated agreements, referred to collectively as the Antarctic Treaty System. The Treaty established Antarctica as a zone of peace and science.
In 1991, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties adopted the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which designates the Antarctic as a natural reserve. The Protocol sets out environmental principles, procedures and obligations for the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment, and its dependent and associated ecosystems. The Consultative Parties have agreed that as far as possible and in accordance with their legal system, the provisions of the Protocol should be applied as appropriate. The Environmental Protocol was ratified in January 1998.
The Environmental Protocol applies to tourism and non-governmental activities, as well as governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty Area. It is intended to ensure that these activities, do not have adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment, or on its scientific and aesthetic values.
This Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic is intended to ensure that all visitors are aware of, and are therefore able to comply with, the Treaty and the Protocol. Visitors are, of course, bound by national laws and regulations applicable to activities in the Antarctic.
Protect Antarctic Wildlife
Taking or harmful interference with Antarctic wildlife is prohibited except in accordance with a permit issued by a national authority.
Do not use aircraft, vessels, small boats, or other means of transport in ways that disturb wildlife, either at sea or on land.
Do not feed, touch, or handle birds or seals, or approach or photograph them in ways that cause them to alter their behavior. Special care is needed when animals are breeding or molting.
Do not damage plants, for example by walking, driving, or landing on extensive moss beds or lichen-covered scree slopes.
Do not use guns or explosives. Keep noise to the minimum to avoid frightening wildlife.
Do not bring non-native plants or animals into the Antarctic, such as live poultry, pet dogs and cats, or house plants.
Respect Protected Areas
A variety of areas in the Antarctic have been afforded special protection because of their particular ecological, scientific, historic, or other values. Entry into certain areas may be prohibited except in accordance with a permit issued by an appropriate national authority.
Activities in and near designated Historic Sites and Monuments and certain other areas may be subject to special restrictions.
Know the locations of areas that have been afforded special protection and any restrictions regarding entry and activities that can be carried out in and near them.
Observe applicable restrictions.
Do not damage, remove, or destroy Historic Sites or Monuments or any artifacts associated with them.
Respect Scientific Research
Do not interfere with scientific research, facilities or equipment.
Obtain permission before visiting Antarctic science and support facilities; reconfirm arrangements 24-72 hours before arrival; and comply with the rules regarding such visits.
Do not interfere with, or remove, scientific equipment or marker posts, and do not disturb experimental study sites, field camps, or supplies.
Be prepared for severe and changeable weather and ensure that your equipment and clothing meet Antarctic standards. Remember that the Antarctic environment is inhospitable, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous.
Know your capabilities and the dangers posed by the Antarctic environment, and act accordingly. Plan activities with safety in mind at all times.
Keep a safe distance from all wildlife, both on land and at sea.
Take note of, and act on, the advice and instructions from your leaders; do not stray from your group.
Do not walk onto glaciers or large snow fields without the proper equipment and experience; there is a real danger of falling into hidden crevasses.
Do not expect a rescue service. Self-sufficiency is increased and risks reduced by sound planning, quality equipment, and trained personnel.
Do not enter emergency refuges (except in emergencies). If you use equipment or food from a refuge, inform the nearest research station or national authority once the emergency is over.
Respect any smoking restrictions, particularly around buildings, and take great care to safeguard against the danger of fire. This is a real hazard in the dry environment of Antarctica.
Keep Antarctica Pristine
Antarctica remains relatively pristine, the largest wilderness area on Earth. It has not yet been subjected to large-scale human perturbations. Please keep it that way.
Do not dispose of litter or garbage on land. Open burning is prohibited.
Do not disturb or pollute lakes or streams. Any materials discarded at sea must be disposed of properly.
Do not paint or engrave names or graffiti on rocks or buildings.
Do not collect or take away biological or geological specimens or man-made artifacts as a souvenir, including rocks, bones, eggs, fossils, and parts or contents of buildings.
Do not deface or vandalize buildings or emergency refuges, whether occupied, abandoned, or unoccupied.
Antarctica is Earth’s southernmost continent, containing the geographic South Pole. It is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14.0 million km2 (5.4 million sq mi), it is the fifth-largest continent in area after Asia, Africa, North America, and South America. For comparison, Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages at least 1 mile (1.6 km) in thickness.
Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. Antarctica is considered a desert, with annual precipitation of only 200 mm (8 inches) along the coast and far less inland. The temperature in Antarctica has reached ?89 °C (?129 °F). There are no permanent human residents, but anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at the research stations scattered across the continent. Only cold-adapted organisms survive there, including many types of algae, animals (for example mites, nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades), bacteria, fungi, plants, and protista. Vegetation where it occurs is tundra.
Sites of Interest
Argentinean Antarctic Station Esperanza Another possibility to actually step onto the continent would be a visit to the Argentinean Antarctic Station “Esperanza”. The year round station in the Antarctic Sound counts with a small school, as some of the personnel did come with their children to Antarctica. In the immediate vicinity there is a colony of Adélie Penguins.
The passage to the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula traverses Antarctic Sound, which is 30 miles (48 km) long and 7-12 miles (11-19 km) wide and runs northwest-to-southeast. This is where huge tabular icebergs roam. All-white, Black-pupiled, and Black-billed Snow Petrels are likely to be coursing over the scenery, often joined by Pintado Petrels and early in the spring, by Antarctic Petrels streaming south to nesting territories on slopes fringing the Weddell Sea.
Bay of Isles
The magnificent Bay of Isles is studded with numerous islets. Some of them are open for visitation.
The spectacular rust-colored promontory on the Tabarin Peninsula, Brown Bluff, is located south of Hope Bay. On its long beach more than 20,000 Adélie penguins and a smaller group of Gentoo Penguins have found their home. There is also a potpourri of Kelp Gulls, Snow Petrels, and Pintado Petrels swirling above.
Cooper Bay is at the southeast extremity of the South Georgia where fascinating volcanic rocks towering over small fiords. There is a wealth of wildlife at this site, in a spectacular setting. Chinstrap, Gentoo and Macaroni Penguins dot the tussock slopes and there are plenty of fur seals on the beaches.
Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Long ago, volcanic pressure on Deception Island resulted in a tremendous eruption that caused the island’s peak to explode. The resulting caldera flooded with seawater, creating the unique landmass we may visit. Stark volcanic landscapes wait for us on the inside. Brave souls may don their bathing suits for the unusual opportunity of a swim in the Antarctic, since the waters around Deception Island are usually geo-thermally heated!
Drygalski Fjord & Larsen Harbour
Although Drygalski Fjord´s glaciers have retreated significantly in recent decades, they remain one of the most striking features of this coastline, particularly the Risting and Jenkins Glaciers. A small colony of Weddell seals, South Georgia Pipit, Smaller Burrowing Petrels and Prions may be seen on Larsen Harbour.
Gold Harbour offers some of the most spectacular scenery; an amphitheatre of hanging glaciers and vertical cliffs rise straight out of the sea and the towering snow-covered peaks of Mt. Patterson create an unforgettable backdrop to an exceptional abundance of seabirds and seals. The surrounding cliffs of Gold Harbour provide habitat for nesting Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, which can often be seen soaring above the beach. There is a large colony of King Penguins and the sandy beach is a favorite haul-out spot for massive southern elephant seals.
Once a thriving whaling station, the ruins of Grytviken stand as a reminder of an era of exploitation that thankfully grows more distant by the day. In Grytviken, another former whaling town, we would also like to invite you for a visit to the most interesting Museum about Natural History and Whaling in the area, as well as to the last resting site of Sir Ernest Shackleton at the nearby graveyard in King Edward cove.
This beautiful little harbor is the only visitor site on the island where colonies of Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses can be viewed from zodiacs within the protection of sheltered inshore waters.
Fortuna Bay & Stromness Bay
Today the whaling station which operated here from 1907 is abandoned and King Penguins as well as seals roam free through the streets. Buildings are occupied by elephant seals and guarded by fierce fur seals.
Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands
The crescent-shaped island lies in the entrance to Moon Bay between Greenwich and Livingston Islands. There are some excellent hiking opportunities and some truly glorious scenery.
This small island group of islets lies east of Two Hummock Island in the Palmer Archipelago. Chinstrap Penguins, Blue-eyed Shags, and Kelp Gulls are confirmed breeders. The island rises to approximately 25 meters above sea level – the views of the northern Gerlache Strait with its steep ice-covered mountains in the backdrop are stunning.
King George Island
The largest of the South Shetland Islands, features colonies of nesting Adélie and Chinstrap Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Blue-eyed Cormorants, Antarctic Terns and Southern Giant Petrels and is home to scientific bases of many different countries. Macaroni, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins as well as elephant seals await you at Livingston Island.
Perhaps the most aptly named place in the world and we attempt a landing on the continent proper. There are bustling Adélie Penguin (over 100,000 pairs breed here) and Blue-eyed Cormorant colonies on Paulet Island. The Nordenskjöld expedition built a stone survival hut here in 1903. Today its ruins have been taken over by nesting penguins.
Portal Point served as the gateway for a route to the Peninsula plateau. The snow slope from the landing rocks rises steeply toward the plateau. There are large glacial tongues extending down to sea level. These terminate against the sea in high ice cliffs. Nearby Charlotte Bay is often filled with icebergs.
On the tussock-grass covered islet, there is a breeding colony of Wandering Albatross.
Right Whale Bay
A beach formed by black volcanic ashes, home to fur seals, elephant seals and King Penguins amongst other bird species, such as Prions and Giant Petrels.
Salisbury Plain sometimes called the “Serengeti of the South” is a wildlife site without parallel. Several large glaciers provide a dramatic backdrop for the tens of thousands of King Penguins that nest in the tussock grass of this remarkable ecosystem. Elephant and fur seals also abound, as well as Southern Giant Petrels and the occasional wandering Gentoo Penguin.
A medium-sized penguin recognised by its white eye-ring. Feathers on the back of the head are slightly elongated and can be raised to form a small crest. Adelie Penguins breed in open colonies from a few dozen to many thousands and use stones to line their nests.
Chinstrap Penguins are medium-sized penguins, easily recognised by their white face and the fine black line across the cheeks. The demarcation between the black and white lies above the eye, isolating the dark eye in the white plumage. The bill is black.
Usually breeds on hillside slopes and rocky outcrops in colonies that sometimes can be enormous. At the South Shetlands, Chinstrap Penguins often breed amongst other penguins, though usually on steeper slopes.
Gentoo Penguins are characterised by a white patch around and behind the eye that joins on the crown. The orange-red lower mandible is also a distinct feature. In the sub-Antarctic the nests are often found amongst tussocks, whereas on the Antarctic Peninsula they nest on stony ice-free areas and beaches.
Macaroni’s are probably the most abundant of all penguins in terms of total numbers. In contrast to the other crested Penguins, they have orange, not yellow, feather plumes.
They breed on rocky slopes, beaches and amongst tussocks. Most birds build a small nest from pebbles and by scraping out some mud or sand, but many pairs are content with laying their two eggs on bare rock.
King Penguins have the longest breeding cycle than any other bird. They take 14 to 16 months to fledge a single chick. During the winter, chicks may be left to fast for from one to five months (May to September/October). Adults can rear a maximum of only two chicks every three years.
They breed in dense colonies, which can number several tens of thousand pairs, are located amongst tussocks, gently sloping beaches, and sometimes can be over a kilometre inland. No nest is built, but pairs still maintain territories within pecking distance of each other.
The crabeater seal is the most abundant seal species on Earth. Strangely, crabeater seals do not eat crabs (there are no crabs in Antarctic waters), but consume more krill (shrimp-like crustaceans) than any other species on the planet.
Adults are relatively slender and pale-colored, with an average length of 7-8 feet (2.5m) and weight of 450 pounds (200kg). Females are slightly larger. The crabeater seal’s skull and snout are longer than those of other Antarctic seals, often giving their face a dog-like appearance.
Southern Elephant Seal
This is the largest species of seal in the world, surpassing even the walrus in size. The male elephant seal is distinguished by his immense size, large inflatable proboscis and a dark gray colour. The females are brownish, and lack the enlarged nose of the male.
As its name suggests, this seal is a predator. A portion of its diet consists of penguins, but it also eats fish and krill. They are typically dark gray fading into a lighter belly marked with leopard-like spots. Leopard seals are long and sinuous and have a very powerful head and neck, said to look like that of a snake.
This is the most southerly of the seals – and indeed the most southerly of all mammals – breeding as far as 78° S. Weddell seals spend much of their time in the water but can often be seen on large flat chunks of floating pack ice or on gently-sloping beaches around Antarctica and adjacent islands.
Weddell seals are dark gray above and light gray below, and the entire body is covered with distinctive blotches and streaks. The face is small, but the eyes are extremely large to facilitate hunting in deep, dark waters under the ice.
Humpbacks are a highly energetic, acrobatic species and often leap completely out of the water to land on their backs with a tremendous splash.
Its coloration is basically black or dark gray with a white throat area. Whereas the underside of the pectorial fins is white, Humpback Whales can easily be identified by the underside of their flukes. There is a huge variety in colouring, marks and pigmentation. The pigmentation on the flukes becomes more distinct as the whale gets older and the pattern seldom changes.
This is the smallest whale also known as piked whale. This species is a fast swimmer, and in places where krill are not readily available it often eats small fish and squid.
Its coloration is dark bluish gray above and light gray underneath with two lighter bracket marks above the flipper extending across the back. Its relatively large dorsal fin is located far back on the body and its snout is narrow and very pointed.
The killer whale or orca is the largest of the dolphins and probably the most easily recognized. Killer whaled are heavily bodied with a blunt head. Their coloration is very striking with most of the body a glossy black, except for a highly contrasted bright white belly and a patch just behind the eye. Killer whales normally travel in pods of 5-20 individuals, usually an extended family.
The Black-browed Albatross, also known as the Black-browed Mollymawk, is a large seabird of the albatross family. Black-browed Albatross are mostly white with yellowish-orange webbed feet, grey highlights and a bright yellow beak. A conspicuous black eyebrow gives them their name.
Black-browed Albatrosses spend months and months out at sea, only returning to land to breed on the steep, tussock-covered, coasts of the islands in the southern oceans. The Falklands and South Georgia together have over 75% of the world’s black-browed albatross population with the birds usually returning to the same nesting sites year after year.
The wandering albatross is the largest of seabirds, with a wing span reaching 3m and a body mass of 8-12 kg.
The adult Wandering Albatross appears entirely white from a distance. Close up, the fine black wavy lines on the breast, neck and upper back become visible. The bill can vary in colour, but is normally yellowish-pink. The white tail is occasionally tipped with black and the back of the wing changes from black to white with age.
Cape or Pintado Petrel
The Cape petrel, also known as the ‘painted one’ because of the striking pattern on its back and wings is a dark brown-black and white petrel smaller than the Antarctic Petrel. They breed on cliff ledges.
Southern Giant Petrel
The largest of the petrel family, Giant petrels, unlike albatrosses, forage on both land and sea. On land, they kill birds as large as King penguins and scavenge in seal colonies. At sea, they eat fish, squid and crustaceans, scavenging dead whales and seabirds, as well. Their carrion-feeding reputation earned them the nickname ‘stinkers’ from whalers.