To fly or not to fly?
For many travellers, the circa 50 hour crossing of the Drake Passage is an integral part of the Antarctica 'expedition' experience. Withstanding one of the most notorious bodies of waters in the world stands as a badge of honour for the serious explorer. Others might see it as a more daunting prospect, even a barrier to embarking on a cruise to the great white continent.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, or whether you are more focused on the prospect of penguins and icebergs, foregoing either one or both crossings and flying direct to Antarctica is an option worth considering, with both merit and drawbacks.
Crossing the Drake
Let's first start with the most obvious issue. The Drake Passage has gained infamy for its rough seas, making the prospect of sea sickness for some passengers a realistic one. However, whilst stormy seas can generate large waves and make for challenging conditions, it is just as feasible for you to enjoy sustained periods of relative calm. You therefore need not fear the passages, though if you are prone to sea sickness, then flying provides an attractive alternative.
It should also be pointed out the most boats are equipped with stabilizers to help smooth the journey and an on-board doctor at hand. There are plenty of ways to try to minimise the effects of sea sickness and the return journey is usually aided by a degree of acclimatisation.
The Cruise Experience
Another important factor in deciding whether to fly to Antarctica or not is the experience you will miss out on during the voyage. Taking the above into account, the crossing of the Drake Passage could be a relatively smooth one, a bumpy ride or somewhere in-between. The idea of the cruise option though is not just to shuttle you from A to B, but also to give you time to settle into your surroundings and enjoy the experience.
As you leave Ushuaia and navigate the Beagle Channel, you will begin to observe the remote beauty of Tierra del Fuego from your comfortable vantage point aboard your expedition vessel. You will later take your last look at South America and turn your thoughts to the immensity of the experience which lays ahead.
The Silver Explorer provides a luxury on-board experience
As well as building anticipation, you can also attend regular lectures and presentations to inform you of what you will likely encounter on the Antarctic Peninsula, learning about the unique geographical, historical and environmental forces at play and the remote wildlife which resides on the frozen continent. There will be plenty of time to relax and enjoy the on-board facilities and, on the return trip, reflect upon the extraordinary things you have seen and discovered. For the more curious traveller, the open bridge policy of most boats will also occupy you as you converse with the crew.
Throughout the journey there will hopefully be ample opportunities to spot sea birds and perhaps even some whales.
Open bridge on the Plancius ship
A major considering is of course the time saving afforded by flying over the Drake Passage. Flying from Punta Arenas in Southern Chile or Ushuaia in Argentina reduces the crossing time from 50 hours to just two. Those who want to squeeze in a (literal) flying visit to Antarctica are able to condense what would normally be a nine or ten night 'classic' itinerary into a seven night visit. This particular example includes a four day cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula aboard the boutique Ocean Nova or Hebridean Sky boats, both limited to the 71 passenger capacity of the BAE-146 UK manufactured aircraft used. A similar itinerary can taken with a cruise on the newly refurbished and renamed Ocean Adventurer. This is generally a less expensive option and is a bigger vessel, with a 132 passenger capacity.
The Ocean Nova experience
An even quicker 'express' option is a five night itinerary which actually combines a cruise through Tierra del Fuego, across the Drake Passage and a shorter time exploring the Antarctic Peninsula with a return flight to Punta Arenas. This can also dramatically cut the cost of your cruise and, weather permitting, allows you to visit the mythical Cape Horn, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.
Having taken this into consideration though, it should be said that visiting Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will form the core of your trip. Given the cost and remote location, not to mention the extraordinary experiences and wildlife encounters that it offers, it does not lend itself to be squeezed into tight schedules. Visiting Antarctica should be something you savour every moment of, with the requisite time to anticipate, absorb and reflect upon the adventure.
The Falklands Option
One option that flying discounts is the possibility of undertaking a longer three week cruise, which first wings out east to the penguin colonies, British pubs, war relics and windswept beaches of the remote Falkland Islands. From here, you then continue on to the rugged and wild South Georgia island, another British territory. During the summer months (November to February) millions of fur seals and elephant seals arrive, competing for space alongside countless penguins of up to six different species.
Vast penguin colony on South Georgia (photo by Quark Expeditions)
So, returning to the original question - can you fly to Antarctica? As you can see here the answer to that question is a resounding yes, but a far more pertinent and more difficult to answer question is... should you fly to Antarctica?
Air-cruises are ideal for those concerned about the prospect of sea sickness in the Drake Passage or those short on time or who just want to arrive in the quickest time possible, without a long sea crossing. They certainly fulfill this need and, in certain cases, their lower passenger limits make for a more intimate experience once at the frozen continent. The express cruises which combine a cruise with a flight might be a good compromise, but the truth is that the majority of our clients opt for the 'full' experience, with two crossings of the Drake.
Ultimately, the choice of whether to fly or cruise to Antarctica, or a combination of both, should be an entirely personal one. All trips here will offer an unforgettable and truly immersive experience in the pristine frozen wilderness, however you get there.
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