There’s wildlife—and wild life—aplenty in Antarctica

Couple gives cruise to 7th continent “seal” of approval

By Susan & David Weymouth, 11-time travelers, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Normally, vacationing south in January and February would mean packing swimsuits and sunscreen. But this time we not only brought sunblock, but packed long johns, ear muffs, and snow pants—because we were traveling to our seventh and final continent on Antarctica’s White Wilderness.

Here we enjoy a day ashore in our Grand Circle Cruise Line parkas.

I usually write travel blogs only about places themselves, not getting there. But this time, simply getting to the White Continent was one of the biggest parts of the journey. This was really a journey in two parts: first, making our way south to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost town; and second, boarding our expedition ship, the Corinthian, sailing across the Drake Passage to Antarctica.

We started out with the Bariloche, Argentina: Patagonian Andes & Lakes pre-trip extension. Bariloche, a picturesque town in Argentina’s Lake District, is situated at the foot of the Andes in Patagonia. The area is very popular with Argentines and Brazilians, who visit to enjoy its natural splendor in the summer and to ski there in the winter. Many Brazilians have never even seen snow before visiting Bariloche!

The Patagonian Andes and Lakes were breathtaking.

During our five days here, we drove to the Patagonian Steppes, and visited an estancia (ranch), and were lucky enough to be able to take a horseback ride with a couple of gauchos (cowboys) there. It was a superb day.

After a flight to Buenos Aires and a few more Argentinian beef and lamb meals (the Argentines are known to have some of the best beef in the world), we flew to Ushuaia. It’s a unique town that grows on you—it has the feel of an Alaska frontier.

Ushuaia is in Argentina, the mountains you see across the Beagle Channel are in Chile.

We also got to see some of the surrounding countryside while we were in Ushuaia. The Tierra del Fuego National Park had good hiking and fine views.

This is the green part of southern Patagonia. The water here connects to the Beagle Channel.

Visiting Antarctica is very strictly regulated so visitors don’t impact the pristine nature of Antarctica or its flora and fauna. Only one ship is allowed at a landing site at a time, and only a maximum of 100 visitors are allowed on land at a time. Our ship, the Corinthian, only carries up to 98 passengers, so we could usually all go ashore at any stop.

Our Corinthian cabin was roomy and comfortable.

While many of us wanted to spend as much time as possible watching the scenery as we sailed down the Beagle Channel, the ship’s staff wanted to make sure we were all prepared for “The Passage”—the notoriously choppy seas of the Drake Passage. But the Corinthian was made for heavy seas and ice; the crew was just concerned about the passengers.

It takes two full days to cross the Drake Passage if conditions are good. Since we got an evening start, we saw land late afternoon of the second full day at sea. Our crossing was relatively smooth.

We had our first landing that same day, after getting a thorough briefing on Zodiac raft procedures, safety and rules from our Expedition Leader. After the first couple of landings, we became quite efficient at getting dressed, heading down to the staging area, putting our boots on (with very helpful assistance from the crew), and getting into and out of the Zodiacs.

Our first landing, complete with the ever-present penguin greeter.

Over the next five days we settled into a pleasant routine of enjoying breakfast, going ashore, exploring, returning to the ship for lunch while the Corinthian sailed to a different site, going ashore again, and returning in time for the Expedition Team’s recap of the day. Then it was time for cocktails in the bar, a long and excellent dinner, and perhaps some music by the pianist as the ship made its way to our next destination.

The two main attractions of Antarctica are the wildlife and the pristine scenery. I took hundreds of pictures of both on this trip. We also stopped at three research stations—British, Chilean, and Ukrainian. It was interesting to learn what it was like to live on this isolated—but beautiful—continent.

As much as I enjoyed the wildlife, I was even more affected by the stunning vistas.

And then there were the icebergs, sculpted by nature. It was especially fun to hop on a Zodiac raft and visit them close up.

The Zodiac rafts also sometimes put you nose-to-nose with the wildlife, like this seal.

This delightful creature was floating on a chunk of ice.

And finally, we saw the penguins. They were definitely worth a giggle! They also seemed omnipresent. When walking, they usually appeared to be falling or on the brink of it. They should have renamed “The March of the Penguins” to “The Stumble of the Penguins”!

Of course these little birds are very shy, so you must use a telephoto lens to get a good picture.

Our Expedition Team was very clear that we should not approach closer than five meters to the penguins. Obviously, these penguin chicks didn’t attend the briefing.

Penguins build their nests out of pebbles, of which there is more demand than supply. This creates a hilarious game of penguins stealing pebbles from a neighbor’s nest. Of course while a penguin is out stealing a pebble, others steal three or four from his nest.

We landed at eleven different locations and saw much of the Antarctic Peninsula on our trip. The food was excellent; we both gained a couple of pounds despite our hiking. We both also gave the highest ratings to the ship staff, from the waiters to the captain, as well as our Program Directors. The staff knew all of our names by the second day and always had a cheery smile. The Expedition Team did an exceptional job of educating us, protecting the Antarctic environment, directing us to the best sights, and keeping us safe. We were very happy with this experience, and recommend it to everyone in good health and fitness.

When was finally time to leave for home, the penguins were there to wish us smooth sailing.

A penguin gets a “bird’s eye view” of the Corinthian.

See penguins and other wildlife up close and personal like the Weymouths did on Antarctica’s White Wilderness. To view a video featuring travelers like them, click here.