After our first visit to Antarctica in 2018, we knew that we’d be back to explore more of the peninsula, and a goal to visit South Georgia was added to our bucket lists.
So, when the opportunity to join a late-season sailing that included Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands presented itself to us, we jumped at it!
This is the ultimate trip to Antarctica. A trinity that is at the top of many intrepid traveler’s bucket lists, especially if you like exploring remote places and viewing wildlife.
Traveling with Aurora Expeditions to Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands
Table of Contents
Why did we choose Aurora Expeditions?
Aurora Expeditions is an expedition company that has been on our radar for some time. They are one of the legacy polar companies, meaning they’ve been around for as long as tourist travel to Antarctica has been offered.
They are very sustainability-forward, participate in several citizen science programs, and emphasize providing jobs for women.
We were also very interested in traveling on their very modern X Bow ships, as they are touted to sail smoother through the rough seas. So, when the opportunity presented itself to join their last sailing of the season to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands, of course, we said yes.
We sailed on the 21-Day South Georgia & Antarctic Odyssey itinerary.
Full disclosure: We traveled on this itinerary with Aurora Expeditions as hosted media so that we could share more about their company, our experiences with them, and experience with this special itinerary. All opinions, insane love for Antarctica, and penguins are 100% ours, as always!
Our Ship: The Greg Mortimer
The ship features an ice-strengthened hull and an innovative Ulstein X-BOW design that enhances stability and passenger comfort by minimizing wave impact. The ship literally cuts through the water like a dolphin, making the rough seas much smoother.
It is designed to hold a maximum of 130 passengers and offers amenities like balcony cabins, a dining area, a lounge, a library, a presentation room, and a wellness center. The ship is beautiful and very comfortable. We had no issues spending 21 days on this ship.
One of the things that really stood out to us was the experienced expedition leaders. Aurora Expeditions has a high retention rate on their expedition team members, many of them have been with the company for more than 5 years, and some even 20 years. In an industry that is rapidly expanding with new companies and an influx of new staff, this is an invaluable asset to a company.
The ship also heavily prioritizes environmental responsibility, using advanced technology for reduced emissions and waste management. It offers diverse itineraries for exploration, including wildlife-rich areas and historic sites, too.
Snorkeling Program Option
Lastly, before we get into the thick of our incredible itinerary, is that Aurora Expeditions is the only company that offers a snorkeling program as an optional activity! Of course, we had to sign up.
Again, I must impress that this opportunity is rare. No other companies offer it, and it is capped at a set number. It ended up being one of the most unique, amazing things we have ever done in our travels.
This optional activity costs extra, for our trip it was an additional $830, and operates as a program. This means if you sign up, you’ll be able to snorkel whenever it is offered for the duration of your trip. For us, that would be the entire 21 days.
We snorkeled multiple times in both Antarctica and South Georgia. The program provides you with all the gear you need including a dry suit, booties, fins, gloves, hoods, and snorkel equipment.
Before joining the trip we had to obtain medical clearance from our primary physician to ensure we had no medical history of breathing or heart problems.
If you’re looking for something truly unique, we’d highly recommend this program to enrich your visit to the end of the world.
21-Day Antarctica & South Georgia Odyssey Expedition Overview
Before I offer an overview of our expedition, I want to point out that no trip to Antarctica will be the same. Every stop, landing, and zodiac cruise is dictated by weather, wildlife, permits, and a host of other factors. You really need to embrace the magic of being on an expedition and just go with the flow.
That said, I want to share the stops we made, and some of my favorite moments from these visits. Along with stories of how even the best-laid plans were altered but still opened us up to unforgettable moments.
This trip started and ended in Ushuaia, Argentina. This is the most southerly town in the world and is considered the gateway to Antarctica. We happen to LOVE Ushuaia and recommend that you plan to spend a couple of extra days here, too.
South Shetland Islands & Antarctica
Crossing the Drake Passage (again)
While many people fear the Drake Passage, I’ve come to love it because I know what’s waiting for me on the other side of it! This would be my 5th crossing since 2018, and when we boarded the ship, we were being prepped for a rough couple of days.
Read more of my thoughts on crossing the Drake Passage
A storm system had been tracked pushing its way into the Drake Passage but not crossing it. So, our Capitan was departing as planned with the warning that it could be rough. We went to bed that night in the calm waters of the Beagle Channel and woke up on the Drake Passage to a soft roll. Turns out the storm decided to just head north.
We crossed in 2 days as planned and it was a relatively mild crossing, almost the Drake Lake. This made for a beautiful crossing, where we could enjoy the outer decks and the balcony in our room.
People like to showcase the rough days on social media, but in my now six crossings, four times have been the Drake Lake or close to it. Something to think about if the crossing intimidates you.
After crossing the Drake Passage, we would spend 7 full days exploring the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. This is much longer than your standard trip to Antarctica, which would typically spend around 5 days.
Livingston Island & Half Moon Island (South Shetland Islands)
After crossing the Drake Passage, the South Shetland Islands came into view on the horizon. Unlike my last two visits, we were met with temperamental weather that made it too challenging to conduct a landing.
So instead of getting off the ship, our experienced expedition staff made the decision to instead enjoy a scenic ship cruise near Livingston Island and Half Moon Island. These are two places in the South Shetland Islands that I’ve never visited, so it was interesting to see more of this island chain, despite not being able to land.
Even from the ship, I could see that these two islands were a bit different from Deception Island (visited in 2018 on our first expedition) and Barrientos Island (visited in 2021 on my second expedition).
The starkest feature was the Camara Base which sits on the beach of Half Moon Island. Unlike the massive ruins of the whaling station on Deception Island, this base is modern and small.
Cuverville Island (Antarctic Peninsula)
Cuverville Island is a small but remarkable island known for its abundant wildlife and stunning scenery. This pristine island is home to one of the largest colonies of gentoo penguins in the region. So, it’s no surprise that out of three expeditions to Antarctica, this was my third visit.
The island’s landscape is dominated by towering glaciers and breathtaking ice cliffs, creating a dramatic backdrop for your wildlife encounters. This makes it a great place to observe Gentoo penguins courting, building nests, breeding, sitting on eggs, and raising chicks throughout the Antarctica tourist season.
Brown Station (Antarctic Peninsula)
Brown Station was originally established as an Argentine research station and served as a base for scientific exploration. Today, it stands as a reminder of the early expeditions and the efforts of those who braved the harsh Antarctic conditions in the name of scientific discovery.
Paradise Harbour (Antarctic Peninsula)
Paradise Harbour is another site that I’ve visited before, but revisiting wasn’t a disappointment for me. This is one of the most beautiful places you can visit along the Antarctic Peninsula.
It’s a spectacular place for a zodiac cruise, as this serene bay surrounds you with towering mountains, glaciers, and floating icebergs, creating a truly surreal atmosphere. It’s classic Antarctica.
Honestly, I love zodiac cruising and often prefer it to make landings. Mainly because you can cover a lot of ground and see loads of wildlife and ice.
Lemaire Channel (Antarctic Peninsula)
The Lemaire Channel, often referred to as “Kodak Gap” due to its breathtaking beauty, is a narrow passage located on the Antarctic Peninsula. This iconic channel stretches for about 7 miles and is flanked by towering mountains and towering glaciers, creating a dramatic and picturesque landscape.
The history of the Lemaire Channel is rooted in the exploratory expeditions of the early 20th century. It was first discovered by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache in 1898-1899.
The channel was named after Charles Lemaire, a Belgian explorer who accompanied de Gerlache on the expedition. Their pioneering voyages laid the foundation for future Antarctic exploration and scientific research.
We are lucky to have cruised the Lemaire Channel three times, and each time was just as good as the one before it. The exception was that on this visit, we were able to cruise the Lemaire Channel at sunrise.
We began entering just before the first light and sailed slowly to relish the entire narrow channel in an array of unbelievable colors. Antarctica gave us a purple sunrise that morning and I will never forget it. This is one of the advantages of taking a late-season trip, as experiencing both sunrise and sunset in Antarctica is truly unique.
Yalour Islands (Antarctic Peninsula)
The Yalour Islands were a new stop for us, and we now consider them a hidden treasure teeming with wildlife. The islands were discovered by a French Antarctic Expedition in 1903-05 led by J.B. Charcot.
These rocky outcrops serve as nesting grounds for numerous seabird species, creating a symphony of calls and a flurry of activity. Additionally, roughly 8,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins nest on these islands.
The surrounding waters offer ideal hunting grounds for leopard seals and crabeater seals are often spotted. We saw both during our visit! The Yalour Islands offer a remarkable opportunity to observe and appreciate the diverse wildlife that thrives in the Antarctic ecosystem.
Petermann Island (Antarctic Peninsula)
Petermann Island, another new stop for us, was discovered by a German expedition in 1873. It was named for geographer August Petermann but gets its notoriety for the 1908-1910 French Antarctic Expedition that wintered in one of the island’s coves.
The expedition was led by Captain Jean-Baptiste Charcot aboard the Pourquoi-Pas. Today you can still see the letters P.P. etched into the rocks (we saw them!) as you head to shore to visit the large colony of 3,000 breeding pairs of Gentoo along with a smaller population of Adelie penguins.
Funny story about the above photo with the whale breaching. I was on land framing this photo to capture the gentoo penguins on the rocks, the water, and the beautiful glacier in the background.
Suddenly, something black flashed into the frame so I just laid on the shutter out of instinct (something that comes with photographing a lot of wildlife) and started telling the people near me that a whale was breaching in the water.
By the time I lowered my camera, there was no sign of the whale. Nobody believed me. So I started going through my photos and sure enough, a random humpback whale had breached right into my frame!
Port Lockroy (Antarctic Peninsula)
Port Lockroy, located on Goudier Island, is a historic site that provides a glimpse into the past explorations of Antarctica. Once a British research station, it now serves as a museum and a post office. This was our second visit to Port Lockroy, and despite the blizzard, it was just as fascinating as the first time.
You can visit the meticulously restored buildings and explore the exhibits that showcase the daily life of researchers in the past. Admire the artifacts and photographs that tell the story of Antarctic exploration. At the post office, you can send postcards stamped with unique Antarctic stamps, providing a tangible connection to this remote continent.
Goudier Island is also home to a thriving colony of Gentoo penguins, and you can observe their behavior and interactions up close. The island’s rich history and stunning wildlife make it one of our favorite stops in Antarctica for understanding more of Antarctica’s past and present.
Jougla Point (Antarctic Peninsula)
Jougla Point is one of our favorite places to observe Antarctic cormorants and kelp gulls. They both nest in large numbers here, so even on our third visit, we had plenty to see.
You’ll also find nesting Gentoo penguins, which makes the perfect buffet for the brown skuas who swoop overhead with their predatory nature on full display.
Additionally, there are several almost fully intact whalebone skeletons on this island. The penguins nest among them, offering a unique look at the circle of life in these harsh polar regions.
Orne Harbour (Antarctica Continental Landing)
Orne Harbour is a place of extraordinary beauty and would be the place for our continental landing on this trip – the moment you get to step foot on the actual continent of Antarctica versus the islands that dot the Antarctic Peninsula.
This harbor is characterized by towering mountains and hanging glaciers. The tranquility of this bay is interrupted only by the occasional crackling of distant icebergs, creating a truly magical atmosphere. Not to mention the water was ripe with leopard seals, humpback whales, and gentoo penguins.
Our day here was pure magic, with a morning continental landing, followed by a zodiac cruise and evening BBQ on the ship.
I’ll never forget standing out on the deck during the BBQ and watching four humpback whales bubble net feeding right off the bow of the ship while the sun set a soft orange all around us. It was unreal and I missed dinner that night because I couldn’t pry myself away!
Hydrurga Rocks (Antarctic Peninsula)
Hydrurga Rocks is a small group of rocky islets located near the Antarctic Peninsula and this was the first time we have visited them.
What makes them unique is that they provide a geological wonderland shaped by centuries of glacial activity. They offer vertical cliffs adorned with vibrant mosses and lichens, creating a kaleidoscope of colors against the backdrop of ice and snow.
During our visit, we were able to observe large numbers of Antarctic fur seals, some Weddell seals, and, of course, penguins, along with many species of sea birds.
Cierva Cove (Antarctic Peninsula)
Cierva Cove would be our last stop in Antarctica for this trip, but I couldn’t think of a better place to wrap up our third visit to the Great White Continent. It was our first visit to Cierva Cove, but it left a lasting impression and is now one of our favorite stops along the Antarctic Peninsula.
This sheltered bay is surrounded by towering glaciers and snow-capped peaks, creating a landscape straight out of a dream.
We had some amazing Leopard seal encounters here! They were everywhere; swimming, hunting, hauling out on ice, and we even saw one predating on a penguin. It was full-on Trials of Life out there.
We also enjoyed getting up close and personal with some massive ice, which is always a treat while in Antarctica and in a way a fitting end to an absolutely mind-blowing week.
Penguin Island & Elephant Island (South Shetland Islands)
Leaving the Antarctic Peninsula, we headed back towards the South Shetland Islands, intent on landing. The weather had a different idea and our arrival at Penguin Island was met with strong weather. So, our expedition leader opted to move on toward Elephant Island with the hopes that we could make a landing there.
Elephant Island is situated in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, and it holds great historical significance. It was here that Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew sought refuge after their ship, the Endurance, was crushed by pack ice in 1915 during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The island’s inhospitable conditions forced the crew to set up camp on the beach, enduring extreme cold and winds for several months.
Today, Elephant Island remains a testament to their survival and a symbol of human resilience in the face of adversity. Unfortunately for us, the weather was too strong to attempt a landing or zodiac cruise, so the captain brought us in as close as possible for some scenic cruising.
Crossing the Scotia Sea (2 days)
Leaving the South Shetland Islands, we headed for the open sea again. This time we would cross the Scotia Sea, a stretch of water that is known to rival the Drake Passage when it comes to rough seas.
I’ll admit, this crossing was much rougher than the Drake Passage but still tolerable. I am a firm advocate for being proactive with sea sickness medication because there is nothing worse than experiencing that!
This experience was made more intriguing by thinking of Shackleton and his men crossing this same stretch of water in nothing but a wooden lifeboat and surviving. Knowing that history puts even the roughest seas into perspective.
Drygalski Fjord (South Georgia)
Our first stop along the southern coast of South Georgia would be the visually striking Drygalski Fjord. Formed by glacial activity during past ice ages, the fjord features a deep, U-shaped valley flanked by towering mountains that reach heights of up to 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) and massive glaciers to admire.
Beyond its breathtaking scenery, Drygalski Fjord holds importance for scientific research. Scientists study the fjord to gain insights into the region’s glacial history and the impact of past and present glacial activity on the surrounding ecosystem.
Cooper Bay (South Georgia)
Cooper Bay’s historical significance lies in its association with the whaling era that once thrived in South Georgia. In the early 20th century, the bay served as a hunting ground for whales, contributing to the island’s economy during the whaling period.
Today, the remnants of this chapter in history can be observed in the form of abandoned whaling stations and scattered artifacts, providing a glimpse into the island’s maritime past.
Despite its human history, Cooper Bay now stands as a sanctuary for wildlife, including a large colony of macaroni penguins! This is a penguin you’re not likely to see in Antarctica, so being able to see them in such large numbers was a real treat during our visit.
Gold Harbour (South Georgia)
I’ll never forget our visit to Gold Harbour. It is probably the most memorable visit from our time in South Georgia. When our zodiac landed on the beach, I was met by instant overwhelm.
Not only did we have a beautiful fluffy cloud day, but it felt like we were being personally greeted by the thousands of King penguins, combined with a few Gentoo penguins, Antarctic Fur seals, and Elephant seals that call this bay home.
I froze in pure amazement, not sure where to even point my camera. That has never happened to me before. I even cried a little. I had wanted to visit South Georgia since the first time I learned of its existence, and I had finally made it. It was surreal.
Much like the rest of South Georgia, there is a strong whaling history at Gold Harbour, but we were entirely focused on the King penguins. They were coming and going from the water, walking along the beaches, and gathering around us, full of curiosity.
St Andrews Bay (South Georgia)
Our expedition team told us that Gold Harbour was only a warmup to what we would encounter at St Andrews Bay. We were told that St. Andrews Bay stands as a remarkable testament to the island’s vibrant wildlife. It is recognized for hosting one of the world’s largest colonies of King penguins, numbering in the hundreds of thousands!
It was something I couldn’t wrap my head around but was excited to experience. This bay is also quite exposed, so getting a zodiac to the beach can sometimes be impossible when there are waves and swell.
Unfortunately, this was the case when we visited, and we were unable to attempt a landing. We could, however, see the vast colony across the landscape and of course, we smelled them all the way on the ship.
Grytviken (South Georgia)
Established in 1904, Grytviken was one of several whaling stations in the region, processing whale blubber for oil and other products during the early 20th century. It was humbling to visit a place that played a large part in the near extinction of several species of whale and the Antarctic Fur seal.
Today, the station’s remains, including rusting machinery and abandoned structures, stand as tangible reminders of the island’s whaling past. The bay also houses the South Georgia Museum, offering insights into the island’s history, the whaling industry, and Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions.
Ernest Shackleton & Grytviken
The bay gained additional historical importance due to Shackleton’s connection. In 1916, during his ill-fated Endurance expedition, Shackleton and his companions reached Grytviken after a perilous journey across the Southern Ocean and a treacherous crossing of South Georgia’s mountains.
Years later, during the Quest expedition in 1922, Shackleton passed away and was buried at Grytviken’s cemetery. His grave overlooks the bay, becoming a focal point for visitors paying tribute to his remarkable achievements in exploration.
It was surreal for me to stand at this grave. I have obsessed over the exploits of Shackleton and must admit that I share with him a passion to explore the polar regions. Even before our first trip to Antarctica in 2018, I had read plenty of tales from his explorations.
Being able to see a replica of the lifeboat that he and his crew used to sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia, was also insane! I’ve seen countless photos, but it’s hard to gauge size from that. Seeing it in person added to the shock that they actually survived to tell this tale. It was truly a full-circle moment for me.
Hercules Bay (South Georgia)
Hercules Bay is a great stop in South Georgia for its significant colony of Southern Elephant seals. These massive marine mammals, named for their size and distinctive trunk-like proboscis, inhabit the bay’s beaches and rocky shores.
It is here that we were able to witness the impressive size and behavior of these creatures in larger numbers than the other landing stops.
Like most other landings in South Georgia, Hercules Bay is exposed to open sea, which means too much wind, waves, or swell will make it impossible to conduct operations. Unfortunately for us, this was the case, and we were unable to visit during our time in South Georgia.
Godthul (South Georgia)
Like several other places in South Georgia, Godthul was a whaling station during the early 20th century. Today it’s possible to see a larger collection of rusted machinery and abandoned buildings. Whale bones litter the ground, making it impossible to ignore the history of this island.
With this sad story, though, comes a story of resilience, as it’s one of the best places to see Antarctic Fur seals, a species that was hunted almost to extinction not too long ago.
Seeing the massive numbers of seals with the dramatic backdrop of mountains and glaciers filled me with the hope that despite human interference, nature will survive and remain resilient in the years to come.
For us, Godthul will always be a special place because we not only experienced the amazing sight of large numbers of Antarctic fur seals on land but also in the water! At the end of our landing, our small snorkel group set off to a protected rock cove, where we were able to get in the water with a very large number of playful pups.
While we’ve snorkeled with wildlife all over the world, it just hits differently when you’re in a remote location like South Georgia. Not to mention, that the number of seals getting in and out of the water with us was uncountable. There were so many!
Jason Harbour (South Georgia)
Our visit to Jason Harbour was met with temperamental weather, but we didn’t care because it didn’t cause any swell and we were able to land! In the pouring rain, we explored a beautiful stretch of beach that was surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers.
Antarctic Fur seals growled at us from the giant tussock grass mounds, King Penguins sat on eggs while battling with predatory Skuas, Elephant seals jousted, and Gentoo penguins swam in the waters. Sure, it was raining, but it was pretty darn magical!
Historically, there are still some early 20th-century remains of the Jason Harbour whaling station to look at, too. This includes a few abandoned structures and machinery.
Salisbury Plain (South Georgia)
Salisbury Plain is the ultimate bucket list stop for anyone that books a trip to South Georgia and we were treated to a beautiful weather day, meaning we were able to visit! It’s hard to put into words, something that is just so real that it feels surreal.
Home to one of the largest king penguin populations in the world, the plain hosts thousands of these iconic birds, providing an extraordinary spectacle against the backdrop of rugged mountains.
To level with you, when I say thousands, I mean 250,000 to 500,000 individuals during breeding seasons. It is the most amazing sight to behold. The sheer number of penguins here is made present in the water, on the beach, in the grass, on the hills, and beyond.
I truly consider that Gold Harbour was just our appetizer, while Salisbury Plain is the frosting on the cake. We both know that few other wildlife encounters will ever come close to the day we spent in this remarkable place.
Elsehul (South Georgia)
Our last stop in South Georgia would be Elsehul on the north coast. This special place is known for its nesting albatross populations. This includes the massive Wandering albatrosses, with their impressive wingspans of up to 3.5 meters, and courtship rituals.
Several other albatross species also prefer to nest on the cliffs surrounding Elsehul, so the chances are high that you’ll spot a chick (we did)!
We landed on a small beach on the backside of Elsehul Bay that offers some remnants of a past whaling station and opted to hike to the top of a ridge for a stunning panoramic view of Elsehul in her full glory. Oh, and to stalk some nesting albatross, too!
As we climbed, we were greeted by young Antarctic Fur seals hauled out on the spattered tussock grass mounds while albatross, did indeed, fly overhead. The view was great, but the highlight was watching a Light-Mantled Sooty albatross land in its nest to feed its massive fluffy gray chick. Seriously, pinch me.
It was the most perfect end to a truly magical first visit to South Georgia. We cannot wait to come back.
Crossing the South Atlantic Ocean (2 Days)
Yep, you read that right, another 2 days at sea! This trip had 6 total days at sea, and while that might seem like a lot, we didn’t mind them at all. Exploring both Antarctica and South Georgia is pretty full on, so we welcomed the rest days and a chance to sleep in.
Much like the Scotia Sea and the Drake Passage, this stretch of the South Atlantic can be rough with big seas, too. I know some people are very deterred by this, but honestly, crossing these rough seas is totally worth it. I can’t express that sentiment enough.
Yes, we had some rocking. Yes, we had some waves slam against the ship. BUT, the ship handled it like it was designed to, with ease. That said, it was less rough than our Scotia Sea crossing but worse than the Drake Passage. At least on this trip.
Port Stanley (Falkland Islands)
I won’t lie, arriving in Port Stanley after spending 2 weeks in Antarctica and South Georgia was a total shock to the system. While the Falkland Islands are a remote destination, this tiny capital has a population of around 2,000 people. It felt civilized and very connected to the world, even though it really isn’t.
We had originally planned to book a tour to visit some of the wildlife areas, but the wind was so bad that we opted to stay in town. That said, once the initial shock wore off, we really enjoyed our time exploring the town.
It’s a place where colorful houses line the streets and local pubs serve as hubs for socializing and storytelling. We even enjoyed a classic pub meal of fish ‘n chips with mushy peas.
During our visit, we visited the main museum and learned that Port Stanley’s history is tightly intertwined with its role in the 1982 Falklands War, a conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom. Today, relics of the war can still be found throughout the town, from memorials to war museums, serving as solemn reminders of the island’s resilience.
Before hopping back on the zodiac to the ship, we stopped in at the Falkland Islands Distillery to purchase some gin, securing one of only 3 bottles left to sell!
21 Days with Aurora Expeditions – Final Thoughts
This trip was undoubtedly the trip of a lifetime. It was the ultimate bucket list check and a trip we have been dreaming about for the past 10 years. To have finally experienced it, and to have had so, so, many special moments along the way is truly a gift.
How to Book Your Own Trip
Our trip was booked and organized by the amazing team at Adventure Life. They work closely with many operators in the Antarctica space, including Aurora Expeditions, and are Expert Trip Planners who help streamline the trip planning process and save you hours researching the best options.
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