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Spotting Antarctica’s Big Five

Antarctica: a snowy wilderness and a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise. Experience the thrill of watching some of the world’s most extraordinary species in their natural environment as they enjoy the freedom and safety to roam amidst the icy surroundings. From a charming penguin waddling towards its nest to feed its adorable hatchlings, to a pod of orcas darting through the ocean in pursuit of their next meal, an Antarctic safari is an experience you will not forget. 



The landscape is considerably different from the African savannah or the Costa Rican jungle. Unlike an African safari, you won’t be traveling for hours down dirt roads. Instead, you’ll cruise comfortably on a top of the line ship with delicious food and warm drinks on hand.  Nonetheless, the amount of wildlife you can see as well as the action and pursuit for the perfect photograph is incredible all the same. 

There’s a whole array of wildlife you can spot in Antarctica. Although nothing can be guaranteed in nature, your captain and crew will listen out for wildlife sightings to maximize your chances. These are the local ‘big five’ to put on your ‘to see’ list! 

Humpback whales

Humpback whales are the most abundant baleen whales in the Antarctic Peninsula, but they are a sight to behold. Watch in awe as these marine giants breach the surface, showcasing their colossal bodies and gracefully diving back into the depths. Humpback whales are known for their hauntingly beautiful songs that resonate through the icy waters. Depending on the conditions, you might even be able to hear or feel it! 

Photo: Ashley Cooper


Leopard Seals

Leopard seals, named for their spotted coats, are sure to impress you. Measuring around three meters in length, these are ferocious and formidable hunters. If you are lucky enough to see one, watch how they use their powerful jaws and sharp teeth to feed on smaller seals, fish, and squid.

Photo: Ben Osborne

Adélie Penguins

You can spot an Adélie penguin by its distinctive features: the white rings that encircle their eyes. Watching these funny creatures is like being transported into a nature documentary. Living in their countless colonies, completely undisturbed in their natural habitat they continue their infinitely entertaining and lively behaviors beyond your wildest imagination. Watch as they gather pebbles to construct nests, steal from other penguins, and even get into scuffles!

Photo: Sandra Walser

Fin Whales

Fin whales are the second longest whale on the planet, reaching nearly 85 feet (26 metres). Unfortunately, overhunting in the 20th century greatly threatened their survival – their curious, friendly, and playful nature makes them easy targets. Although a ban on whaling led to their recovery, only a few hundred breeding pairs remain, making a sighting even more special.  

Photo: Dani Abras

Wandering Albatrosses

The wandering albatross, boasting a wingspan of nearly ten feet or three meters, is the largest seabird species. Some individuals can live over 60 years without ever setting foot on land during the first six years of their lives. If you get to see one soar effortlessly through the crisp Antarctic air, you’ll be awestruck.  A symbol of resilience and adaptability in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, this magnificent creature is a reminder of the incredible diversity and tenacity of life on our planet.

Photo: Jordi Plana


If you want to find out more what you can see in Antarctica or our Antarctica itineraries, speak to an Ecochile travel specialist today!

The best places to go kayaking in Chile and beyond!

Kayaking is one of our favourite ways to explore Chile and beyond. You can get up close to impressive glaciers, discover hidden treasures like sunken forests and marble cathedrals, and feel the rush of sea kayaking amongst icebergs. You’ll also get amazing opportunities to see local wildlife from a totally different perspective. Here are our kayking recommendations for Chile, Argentina, and Antarctica!


Lake District 

As its name suggests, the Chilean Lake District has an abundance of wide blue lakes and beautiful flowing rivers making it a great location for water activities. For the more experienced kayakers, you can venture down the fast flowing rivers. For beginners or those wanting a more leisurely time, head out onto the slow streams or lakes, which are great for spotting wildlife and the region’s birdlife. Some popular kayaking spots are Pumalin Park, Llanquihue Lake, the Petrohue River, and the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve.


For a more unique experience, one of our favourite places for kayaking is Chepu, a river on the main island of Chiloé. About an hour and half from the island’s capital of Castro, here you can kayak down the river to discover the eerie sunken forest. Formed by the largest earthquake recorded in 1960, trees emerge out of the water. The best time to go is early in the morning to catch the sunrise and to spot the animals enjoying the tranquility of the dawn, like the southern river otter, or huillín to locals, that can only be found in southern Chile and Argentina.


Northern Patagonia 

One of the most iconic sites for kayaking in Chile is definitely at the ‘Catedral de Marmol’. These incredible rock formations, located in General Carrera Lake in the Aysen region, look like enchanted caves as the turquoise water reflects off the smooth marbled stone above. You can kayak through the tunnels and around the monoliths in the lake for some amazing pictures or to take in the wonders of nature. 


Southern Patagonia 

The best thing about exploring Southern Patagonia in a kayak is that you can get much closer to the glaciers than you can from viewpoints. Head to the Balmaceda or Serrano glaciers in the Bernardo O’Higgins national park, near Puerto Natales, to see some awe-inspiring views from the water below, or venture out to the Grey Glacier in the Torres del Paine national park for a truly jaw-dropping experience. Alternatively, you can head over the border to Argentina to catch a close-up of the famous Perito Moreno Glacier from your kayak and feel the sway from the glacier’s famous calvings. 


Alternatively, explore the Patagonia fjords like Fjord Eberhard to take in the wild landscapes and nature of the environment around you. If you go in the summer, you can also see flamingoes here! 



Kayaking in Antarctica is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Get up close to the impressive Antarctic icebergs as you paddle around the coast of the white continent to enjoy the landscapes and nature from the unique perspective of the water. If you’re lucky, you could see penguins, birdlife, and even a whale in the water with you! Make sure you book this in advance to secure your place. 

Did you know you can skip the Drake Passage?

The Drake Passage at the southern tip of South America is one of the most tumultuous seas in the world. Between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands, it is the meeting point of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. Here, waves are 2-3 meters high on a calm day and up to 13 meters on a not-unusual choppy day.

Some travelers choose to sail across the Drake by ship as a challenge or a rite of passage. For some itineraries, like those from Ushuaia or that include the South Georgia Islands, the Drake Passage is unavoidable. But for those with less sturdy sea legs (and stomachs!) heading directly to Antarctica, an air-cruise is definitely the better option! 

Flying over the Drake Passage

Choosing an air-cruise means you will take a short and smooth 2-hour flight from Punta Arenas in southern Chile to and/or from King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, skipping the turbulent Drake Passage waters. You can view the beautiful Chilean archipelago from the sky and land in Antarctica in just two hours before taking a short walk to your expedition vessel in the much calmer Antarctic sea. 

More time in Antarctica!

Not only is this a much more pleasant option, but it also means you can really maximize your time in Antarctica! Crossing the Drake Passage by ship takes at least two days and, besides the wonders of the open sea, there isn’t much to see during the journey. You may enjoy some great food, take the time to relax and join the optional lectures if you can. But wouldn’t you rather spend those two days kayaking alongside icebergs or whale spotting off the coast of Antarctica instead of gripping the ship’s railings?

Plus, taking off and landing in Punta Arenas means you’re already in Patagonia. Make the most of it and experience life on a Patagonian ranch. Or you can head to Puerto Natales to explore the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park.

Smaller is better

As well as saving your stomach and enjoying a calmer and quicker crossing, an air-cruise will allow you to sail around Antarctica on a smaller ship. This means that when the crew hear that there is a whale sighting nearby, all the passengers can hop on a Zodiac to see the whales for themselves.

International regulations limit the number of people allowed on shore at the same time to 100, meaning that passengers on larger ships built for the Drake Passage must wait their turn to disembark. But on an air-cruise, with a maximum of 71 guests, everyone can explore beautiful Antarctica! 

Your trip is still carbon neutral

Unless crossing the Drake Passage is a non-negotiable for the tour you choose (or even for you!), air-cruises are a great option. And you don’t need to worry about the carbon emissions of flying as the provider is a certified CarbonNeutral® company that supports Antarctica-based science projects to protect the environment, including providing green hydrogen for the bases on the continent and collecting scientific data during the expeditions.


(Note that flights returning from Antarctica may be cancelled due to weather conditions. This is a rare occurrence and will only happen if there is no improvement in the weather within two days of the scheduled return date, in which case the ship will sail to your destination.)

10 things I wish I knew before visiting Antarctica

“My pictures cannot capture the absolute beauty of the surroundings, the grandeur, and vastness of the landscape, the variation of wildlife, nor the size of the ice shelves we saw. I was in awe and still am.” 


Visiting Antarctica doesn’t happen every day. Very few people are lucky enough to visit this breathtakingly beautiful wilderness. You’ll see the world like never before and return with stories to share and memories to treasure forever. Yet because so few visit this southern continent and know its extremes, it can be hard to know what to expect. Here are our top tips for anyone thinking of visiting Antarctica.

1. Visit in the summer! 

It goes without saying that Antarctica is not a warm place – it contains 90% of the earth’s ice. However, in the summer, you’ll catch much milder weather, with temperatures around 0oC (32oF), although it may feel colder with wind chill. Visiting in the summer also means sunnier and longers days so you can make the most of your excursions or take some great photos! 

2. Fly over the Drake Passage 

The stretch of sea between South America and the Antarctcan continent is known as Drake Passage – and also as one of the most treacherous seas on the planet. As the meeting point of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, these waves a big even for the strongest sea legs. Flying over the Drake Passage will not only save you days of travelling time, but it will also be a LOT more comfortable. After all, no-one wants to start their vacation with seasickness!

3. Every expedition is different

No two Antarctic expeditions are the same. Factors like the weather may determine what you can do, while a sighting of whales nearby may mean you head out on a Zodiac that day to see them! You cannot know where you will visit or what you will see in Antarctica – you only know that no matter what, it will be incredible! Stay flexible and be open to different things to have the best time. 

4. Your flights may change

Although visiting Antarctica in the summer brings far milder weather than the rest of the year, you obey mother nature at this end of the world. In cases of extreme weather flights are occasionally changed. But don’t fret. The Antarctica crew will make sure you’re well looked after and entertained without you lifting a finger. You won’t be sitting around in airports if you’re flight is delayed. Instead, you could have a bonus expedition in Punta Arenas or an extra night in the hotel! Any changes to the itinerary due to weather will be at no additional cost to you and all accommodation and food are included.*

5. Pack layers

While outside is pretty chilly, the temperature inside the ship and aircraft will be much more comfortable. This and the 20kg weight limit make layers a great option. Skiing clothes are ideal if you have them but a water- and windproof jacket and trousers will do the trick. There’s no need for formal dress on the ship so keep it comfortable and casual (expedition-style). You will be given special thermal, rubber boots for getting on and off the vessel. These are great for going out onto the outdoor deck too! 

(Additional baggage is not available due to the weight conditions of the aircraft. Any additional baggage may be left in Punta Arenas at no extra charge.)

6. UV rays are strong! 

Although it’s cold, UV protection is essential! Make sure you have good quality UV filtering sunglasses such as glacier glasses (these have leather flaps at the sides to stop the light from passing through). Due to the high reflectance of UV radiation, you will also need good sunblock lotion for your face (protection factor 30 and above) and lip balm.

7. Bring extra memory cards and chargers for cameras

Taking a bad photo in Antarctica is almost impossible and your photos will be unique souvenirs that will last you a lifetime. However, colder temperatures can mean camera batteries don’t last as long as they normally do, so don’t forget your charger! Make sure that you take a good supply of memory cards too. 

If you’re a keen photographer with all the high-tech equipment, remember to bring a good zoom lens and UV filters to capture Antarctica’s residents in their natural habitat without disrupting them. If you’re lucky, they may approach you though! 

That said, remember to put down your camera occasionally and take in the view through your own eyes! 

8. There’s no internet signal 

There is no wifi or phone signal on board the expedition ships. This makes a trip to Antarctica the perfect chance to disconnect from the world totally. If that’s not a possibility for you, internet services and satellite phones are available at an additional cost.

9. Bring extra medication 

Bring any personal medication you require for your trip as well as some additional doses in case there is any delay with flights.

Most trips to Antarctica fly over the Drake Passage to avoid its stormy seas, and the Antarctic waters are generally calm. However, if you are prone to seasickness, it may be a good idea to bring over-the-counter remedies from your home country to ensure you can enjoy your trip! The ship’s doctor is available for advice but always check with your personal doctor before departure about taking medication.

10. Get travel insurance

Travel and medical insurance are a must-have for just-in-case scenarios. For any trip to Antarctica, a travel insurance policy that covers aero-medical evacuation, including emergencies related to pre-existing health conditions, is essential. A travel insurance policy that includes trip interruption and cancellation coverage is best for additional peace of mind. 

Everything you need to know about whale-watching in Chile

If you’re planning a trip to Chile during the summer months of December through March, you’re in luck because that is high season for whale watching! During summer, migrating whales can be seen off Chile’s more than 2,485 (4,000 km) mile-long coast, heading down from the warmer waters of the north where they’ve had their young to the chilly waters of the southern oceans around the tip of South America. These waters are rich with krill and other nutrients, which help the young calves grow and gain strength, and allows the adults to store up fat reserves in their blubber to sustain them during the rest of the year when they’re traveling and breeding in less nutritionally-abundant waters. Thanks to the unique geography of Chile’s coastline, whales are able to swim very close to the shore, making Chile a great country for sightings! Here’s everything you need to know about whale-watching in Chile.



What kind of whales can you see in Chile?

From the shores of Chile you’ll be able to see migrating populations of blue, gray, and humpback whales. The blue whale is the largest creature on Earth, growing up to 30 meters (nearly a hundred feet) long. One of the main reasons people want to go whale-watching in Chile is to try and see the humpback whales doing their awe-inspiring breaching jumps, leaping from the water into the air and then splashing back into the ocean with great drama. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime sight to see a breaching whale, and many viewers have reported seeing it especially in the far south. The gray whales have also been known to breach as well.


Photography: @cristinaharboephotography


When is the best time of year to see whales in Chile?

December through March is definitely the prime time to try and go whale-watching but seeing a whale is never a guarantee. Even though tour operators work with guides and locals who know the area and can try their best to visit areas where they know there have been whales in the past (and some tour operators even collaborate with scientists and researchers to report whale activity and so can track migrations and predict where the whales will be based on recent data), there is never a guarantee that these elusive and gentle giants will make an appearance. But the sheer wonder of seeing a whale in its natural habitat is worth the patience it takes to make a sighting. Plus, there is plenty of other interesting stuff to look at in the meantime, like dolphins and seals, as well as amazing landscapes and ocean views.



Where are the best spots to go whale-watching in Chile?

-La Serena: This answer surprises a lot of people not familiar with Chile’s topography, geography, and unique wildlife, but yes, all the way in the Atacama Desert in the far north of the country you can indeed see spectacular marine life like whales and even penguins! The Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, which is about 70 miles (114 km) from the city of La Serena is mainly known as being a nesting site for Humboldt penguins but during the summer you can also do tours to see migrating whales and dolphins. The best way to do so is to take a boat out to Isla Damas, Isla Choros, and Isla Chañaral where there are great vantage points (plus the islands are lovely as well!).


Photography: ©Alberto García


-Chiloe: The main island of the archipelago of Chiloe is a fantastic place to try and spot migrating whales. The best lookout points are from Tantauco Park at the far southern end of the island and Chiloe National Park about midway down the island. Both these parks have large cliffs and bluffs overlooking the ocean, allowing one to see many miles out to sea and hopefully glimpse some whales spouts. At the far southern end of the main island, the Gulf of Corcovado has also had much success with whale sightings thanks to the width of the gulf, the depth of the water, and how sheltered the area is for migrating whales. It’s also possible (although less likely) to see whales during the ferry crossing from mainland Chile to the northern end of the island; the crossing is located near where the channel widens out into the open ocean and the channel’s depth makes it possible for whales to enter it.


Photography: @franciscoespildora


-Francisco Coloane Marine Park, Tierra del Fuego, Chile – This vast marine park covers more than 67,000 hectares of ocean, channels, fjords, glaciers, and islands in the Magallanes and Antartica region of Chile, and was a huge step forward for Chilean environmental conservation back when it was first created in 2003. Here you can see Magellanic penguins and sea lion colonies, but the area is primarily known for its humpback whale sightings, as the area is very close to their migration route and is a very popular feeding spot. Most tours leave from Punta Arenas and taking a multi-day trip allows you to fully appreciate the natural splendor of the area and increases your chances of a whale-sighting. It is generally in this area that visitors are most likely to see whales.



Is it ethical/safe for the whales to go whale watching?

In general, yes. Most reputable tour agencies always comply with the laws and regulations put in place to protect these creatures from harm or interference by humans, and tour boats keep a safe distance for marine life so they’re not disturbed or frightened. Still, it’s always a good idea to do a bit of research in advance to choose a whale-watching service that has a stellar track record for being respectful of the whales and other marine wildlife. But overall, yes, you can rest assured that the safety of the whales is paramount to all else.

Want to go whale-watching during your trip to Chile? Contact our expert trip designers here to help you plan the best vacation possible so you can have a “whale” of a good time!