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!
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.
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. Why not experience life on a Patagonian ranch while you’re there or head to Puerto Natales to explore the Torres del Paine National Park?
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!
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.)