EliteVoyage Travel Designer Michal Patek returns home from Antarctica with this incredible trip report and photos.
Expect diving penguins, breaching whales, massive icebergs, wild landscapes and Michal’s recommendations.
Antarctica is remote. Yet it’s a very achievable travel destination. This is Michal’s experience travelling on Quark’s World Explorer expedition.
The Antarctica Feeling and Experience
Antarctica felt like one experience. Rather than remembering specific events or places, I remember all the days together.
Antarctica was a constantly evolving experience.
On day one I went to an observation deck and thought wow, there’s a whale. And look, there are penguins too!
On the second day I saw more whales and seals and penguins.
I went on a zodiac cruise and there were 20 whales all around me, some just five metres away.
In Antarctica I was always seeing more, enjoying more. I was always learning.
On day one I was “wow, there’s a whale!” Later I was learning how a whale dives, the sounds they make, why they make certain behaviours.
I was amazed at seeing a penguin for the first time. Later in the trip I was surrounded by penguins.
I struggle to pick out any specific highlights. Every experience was building on the experience before. Every moment was completely new and unique.
Different Activities and Wildlife Encounters
Usually we did two activities per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were three main types of activity.
I highly recommend kayaking, even if you have no experience. It was very special because it gets you closest to the natural environment.
On one kayak trip we were watching penguins on an iceberg. They were having fun, hopping in and out of the water.
Then we paddled to see a minke whale, around 8 – 9 metres in length. She swam down, around and underneath my kayak. Now I understood how big she really was.
Cruising in a small Zodiac boat is the most common activity. These nimble boats are ideal for exploring what’s along the shoreline, like seals, penguins and icebergs.
We saw whales in the distance and some penguins. Then we heard them. A Zodiak is quite fast so we quickly followed the sounds.
There were dozens of whales feeding close to an island. Four came out of the water at once, showing their fins. Birds were diving down to feast on the krill too.
Landings are also good. You travel on a Zodiac boat to land, then explore on foot. Usually the landings are on an island, but if it’s safe they also land on icebergs. My first was a penguin colony. Later I stepped onto the Antarctica mainland for the first time.
On my second landing we walked onto a hill populated by penguin colonies, with views onto icebergs and mountains all around.
I also landed at Deception Island, an old whaling station. It was completely different, all black with volcanic sand, unlike Antarctica which is all ice. It’s the caldera of an active volcano and I could smell sulfer.
The On-Board Quark Experience
I travelled on the World Explorer ship with Quark Expeditions. World Explorer offers a 4* deluxe level of accommodation. Quark’s newest ship, the Ultramarine, is more luxurious.
Quark is focused on the adventure and the experiences. All the guides and leaders were true specialists. There were scientists, kayaking guides, hiking guides, and many other experts.
I think you can see Antarctica in a different way when you understand more. You need to learn how these animals live.
On board there’s a spa with a sauna and massage rooms, a lounge, observation deck, bar and restaurant.
Lectures educated me on different animals we encountered. Informal chats in the lounge were fun too.
How do penguins make love? Are they monogamous over the seasons or not? One scientist was following a penguin couple and discussed his experience in the lounge. I didn’t even know penguins had very long legs!
On my boat there was a complete mix of ages and nationalities. People in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, two children aged seven and ten too.
There were 96 people on board and the atmosphere was great. Everybody had a similar thinking and was sharing this same incredible experience.
I’d love to travel on Quark’s Ultramarine, as it specialises in helicopter excursions and landings. With the Ultramarine you could experience even more of Antarctica, with the included flightseeing excursions.
How Can You Travel to Antarctica
There is a lot of practical information I can tell you personally, over a coffee or on a call.
In brief, I flew via Madrid to Santiago de Chile, then to Punta Arenas in Chile.
Punta Arenas is a nice small town where you must stay overnight before the expedition. Consider first exploring Patagonia, then travelling onwards to Punta Arenas.
One of the biggest advantages of my itinerary is that we flew over the Drake Passage. Quark call this “Fly the Drake.”
This saves two to three days of bumpy cruising to Antarctica, across the Antarctic Ocean. It’s more comfortable and you can then enjoy more time in Antarctica itself.
We flew from Punta Arenas to King George Island. It was a normal charter plane with only economy seats, plus an open bar and a steward in a tuxedo.
Don’t worry about not having the right equipment for Antarctica. Quark provided us all with special boots and a parka.
It was all pretty easy in the hands of such specialist guides. We had safety briefings and always knew what would happen next.
Just be prepared for some unpredictability. Itineraries can change due to the weather, so you could spend an extra day in Punta Arenas waiting to fly. I had five days of sunshine and one morning of snow. But we almost didn’t fly back because the winds were so strong.
Experience Antarctica. It’s a special place and a completely different holiday to anywhere else. And it’s not difficult to do.
My main recommendation is that you should set aside enough time for Antarctica.
Don’t be afraid you will be bored on the boat. I did the shortest cruise and had five days in Antarctica, after flying the Drake. Everywhere is so beautiful, I would have loved to spend more time on the boat.
They have different itineraries. The longest is 23 days, including the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Shetland islands. With more time you can see different environments and animals.
You will always have fun, always see something new, learn something and experience a totally different place.
Secondly, definitely book a paddle excursion, even if you never did it before. In this incredible environment you should try all the activities, even the polar plunge!
The most challenging part is the long journey to the south of South America. I recommend at least one stop on the way out and one on the way back. Madrid is a great destination for a weekend. There are beautiful vineyards near Santiago de Chile.
My final recommendation is to make Antarctica part of a bigger trip. Many people on my boat were also exploring Chilean Patagonia. This is my recommendation too, although you can also visit another country in South America. Antarctica is a remarkable place and there are many remarkable places to stop on the way to the edge of the world!
Your Antarctica Expedition?
Before travelling to Antarctica I had so many questions and doubts. This is normal for such an unexplored destination.
I can advise you personally on Antarctica. So you can explore this final frontier easily and comfortably.