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Private Journeys

Antarctica: In search of the Emperor penguin

15 days from £13,770pp



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Day 1

Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to your hotel in Recoleta.

You will be met at the airport and escorted by one of our local representatives to your hotel in the chic residential district of Recoleta where the architecture is evocative of French belle époque and Italian influence.

Buenos Aires as a whole is an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills.

The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches, as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel. The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants.

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Day 2

Guided walking tour of Recoleta and Retiro.

Looking to the Old World for inspiration, leading families sought to replicate the graceful architecture of belle époque France, covering the upmarket residential areas of Retiro and Recoleta with palatial façades lining shady cobbled boulevards.

This walking tour takes you to former palaces and mansions which now have much more practical functions; the Military Society, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Parks HQ. Retiro station, built according to British design and with British materials, was nevertheless inspired by the ornate French gares. Later, follow meandering Arroyo street with its art galleries, and finally stroll down super-smart Alvear Avenue.

To join your guide, make your own way to the statue of San Martín in the Plaza named in his honour. At the end of the tour, continue to explore independently or make your own way back to your hotel.

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Day 3

Fly to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, transfer to your hotel.

Transfer to the airport and fly to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, at the southernmost tip of the continent.  Depending on the number of intermediate stops, your flight takes 3-5 hours. 

The city has grown rapidly in recent years, partly as a result of government incentives to settlers, and its establishment as a Free Port, and partly a tourist centre – most Antarctic cruises, like yours, leave from the port here. The setting is spectacular; jagged mountains frame the town which clambers down steep streets to the shore of the Beagle Channel. 

Spend a night in a hotel here prior to embarking your expeditionary cruise vessel.

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Day 4

Transfer to the port to embark MV Ortelius and set sail.

Board MV Ortelius in the afternoon. This expeditionary ship is operated by a Dutch company, and although she attracts guests of many nationalities the language of operation is English and the atmosphere European. 

The accent will be on enabling you to have as many experiences off-board as possible, but there are plenty of on-board presentations and low-key expedition-related entertainment to keep you busy.  

Depart and head towards the Drake Passage through the Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle on which Charles Darwin travelled on his explorations around the South American continent. This serene waterway is dotted with rocky islets and fringed by the steep cliffs of forest-clad hills: it’s the last you will see of trees for the rest of the voyage. 

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Days 5-6

At sea en route to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Cross the Drake Passage, hundreds of kilometres of open water and the shortest crossing between Antarctica and the rest of the world. Pass the Atlantic Convergence where cold water wells up bringing nutrients to the surface from the sea bed, upon which a large number of seabirds feed, you will see an increase in the number of albatrosses and petrels accompanying the ship.

Very occasionally the crossing is gentle, but the odds are against it. Force 5/6 winds are considered normal conditions. Whales and dolphins can often be seen as well as an abundance of marine birds such as petrels, albatrosses and penguins. During this part of the voyage, there are briefings and presentations on the Antarctic ecosystem.

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Days 7-10

Reach the Weddell Sea, search for Emperor penguins.

The ship will arrive at the Weddell Sea on the eastern seaboard of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Weddell Sea, named after a British sealer, is a little-visited part of Antarctica owing to the prevalence of pack-ice which restricts the progress of ships. Ernest Shackleton’s vessel Endurance was crushed by the ice here. 

It will be the decision of your experienced Expedition Leader, in conjunction with the ship’s captain, as to how much progress towards the Emperor penguin colony on Snow Hill can be made. Historically, conditions have only permitted access to the island less than 50% of the time.

Should the ship make it to the Snow Island, the first two days will be spent at the Emperor penguin rookery itself, accessed by helicopter at a carefully pre-arranged landing place a 45min walk from the colony. This is a remarkable opportunity to be within a few metres of these stately creatures. (The visit and its duration are governed by the ice and weather conditions and may have to be curtailed or cancelled at any time).   

If the ship cannot reach Snow Island conditions may allow her to pass along the eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula where you will view massive tabular icebergs and remote locations – such as Brown Bluff with its steep canyon walls, ice-cap backdrop and penguin colonies. Here, the helicopters may be able to land and from the air you will have the rare privilege of observing the untamed landscapes of jagged mountains, glaciers, lava flows and pack ice. If you are lucky, the giant Emperors, among other smaller penguin species, may be observed on the ice-floes.

On previous expeditions individual Emperors at least have always been located. 


Day 11

Visit Half-moon and Deception islands.

Sail through the South Shetland Islands – most of which are permanently glaciated, with precipitous mountain peaks glistening in the sunlight. 

It is hoped that there will be landings on Half-moon Island (chinstrap and gentoo penguins; elephant seals) where there is a 2km walking track and Deception Island (chinstraps) with a visit to Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay.

Deception Island, formed by the caldera of an active volcano, creates a natural harbour for ships: for this reason fur seal and whaling stations were established here.   Commercial whaling ended in 1931 and the sites are derelict but a number of scientific bases were established of which a couple are still in operation.


Days 12-13

At sea en route to Ushuaia.

Return to Ushuaia, passing once again through Drake Passage, accompanied by a plethora of seabirds. There will be presentations, discussions and low-key entertainment such as a quiz or auction, and you can take the time or organise your photos using then onboard computers.

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Day 14

Disembark in Ushuaia and transfer to airport for flight to Buenos Aires.

Pass along the Beagle Channel to reach Ushuaia in the morning and disembark after breakfast. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Buenos Aires.  

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Day 15

Transfer to the airport for your international flight.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

View Extraordinary Inspiration

Real Latin America Experts

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Expert

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

  • Ben Line
    Ben Line - Travel Expert

    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Head of Sales.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Expert

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Expert

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia and beyond to Antarctica.

  • Evie Oswald
    Evie Oswald - Travel Expert

    It's hard to believe that Evie has had time to cram so much in to her life so far. Having lived as a child in the Americas and Europe she found herself immediately attracted to Latin America.

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Expert

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is a much valued Travel Expert in our Tailor-made Holidays and Group Tours sales team.

Meet the team