The South Shetland Islands are a haven for wildlife. Vast penguin rookeries, beaches ruled by Antarctic fur seals and southern elephant seals make every day spent in this amazing island group unforgettable.
The Antarctic Peninsula’s remarkable history will provide you with a type of excitement often only associated with the early explorers. You will have time to explore its amazing scenery, a pristine wilderness of snow, ice, mountains and waterways, and an incredible wide variety of wildlife. Apart from penguins and seabirds you are very likely to see Weddell, crabeater and leopard seals as well as Minke, killer (orca) and humpback whales at close range. Hope to navigate some of the most beautiful waterways (depending on the ice conditions), such as the Antarctic Sound and the Northern Gerlache Strait. Plan to make at least two landings per day. However, your exact itinerary will be determined by local conditions on sea and land. The following destinations are among those you can hope to explore:
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 you may visit today. Your Captain will expertly pilot the ship through a narrow gateway in the icy cliffs of the island, taking the MV Ushuaia into the caldera itself. Stark volcanic landscapes wait for you 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!
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. A short climb uphill over the cobbled beach is required to reach the first of the breeding Chinstrap 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.
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. This would also be a continental landing.
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, which you might also visit.
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. Once you have climbed uphill – 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.
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.