Planning & Tips

What is the Best Month to Cross the Drake Passage?

The Drake Passage. A name that is renowned amongst many of the most adventurous globetrotters, and one that even the most experienced of explorers can be apprehensive to consider.

This stretch of sea is one of the most unpredictable bodies of water in the world. But don’t let that frighten you, because the Drake Passage is the gateway to Antarctica, marking the memorable start of your journey in the White Continent. 

Fine weather on the Drake Passage

While it’s possible to skip the sea route and fly direct to Antarctica, those with a taste for adventure should definitely consider tackling the Drake crossing. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget, and one that will leave you feeling victorious as you arrive in Antarctic Peninsula having successfully undergone one of the continent’s true rites of passage 

If you’ve made up your mind that you’re ready to take on this sea crossing during your trip to Antarctica, you may be wondering what is the best month to cross the Drake Passage. In this article we’ll answer this all-important question and unpick what makes the Drake Passage such an essential part of an Antarctic adventure.

What is the Drake Passage?

The Drake Passage is a body of water lying between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s named for the English explorer Sir Francis Drake, who rounded South America in 1578, and surmised its existence –  though ironically he never actually sailed the Drake Passage itself. In Spanish it’s called the Mar de Hoces after the Spanish sailor Francisco de Hoces, who passed through here 50 years before Drake. 

A ‘fogbow’ seen crossing the Convergence on the Drake Passage

The Drake Passage can offer up some of the most turbulent and fiercest seas in the world, leading to its somewhat notorious reputation among tourists and navigators alike. It typically takes around 48 hours to make the crossing, but thankfully ships have improved considerably since the days of Drake and de Hoces, so even in stormy weather you’ll be in very safe hands. 

The Drake Passage also offers some of the best birdwatching you’ll enjoy on your trip. From the moment you depart the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia, will be continuously followed by a parade of albatrosses, petrels, prions and other seabirds. They skip and soar effortlessly on the wind, making your comfortable vessel seem positively ungainly. There is a possibility of seeing whales, though you’ll need particularly calm seas to spot them. Icebergs on the other hand are easily seen on the latter stages of the Drake Passage – seeing your first is always an exciting point in any cruise.

Where is the Drake Passage?

The Drake Passage lies between South America’s southernmost tip at Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands just north of the Antarctic Peninsula. 

The Beagle Channel, gateway to the Drake Passage

While the Southern Ocean swirls in an unbroken circle around Antarctica, with strong winds building up massive waves, between South America and the tip of the Peninsula it’s forced to funnel through this narrow 600 mile (965 km) strait. This bottleneck is relatively shallow as well as narrow, which makes the easterly currents through the Drake Passage particularly strong. 

What is the Drake Passage Weather Like?

This specific geography is what lends the Drake Passage its slightly forbidding reputation.  It can be one of the roughest sea crossings on the planet but it is also unpredictable: as many people experience a smooth Drake crossing as a lively one. 

Photographing seabirds on the Drake Passage

Temperatures in the Drake Passage typically hover just above or below freezing, with the mercury dropping the closer you get to Antarctica. There can be piercing winds that whip across the passage, as you cross the ‘furious fifties’ into the ‘screaming sixties’ degrees of latitude on your journey south. 

Part of the reason for the temperature drop is that while crossing Drake Passage you also cross the Convergence, also known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, where the cold water of the Southern Ocean meets the relative warmth of the Atlantic Ocean. This fast moving current, along with strong winds, can at times combine to produce Drake passage waves up to 10 metres in height. 

These rough conditions can lead travellers to believe that the Drake Passage crossing is dangerous. Whilst the conditions experienced within its waters can make sailing rough and routes difficult to navigate, the technological advancements that have been made by the cruise industry – as well as thorough safety procedures and knowledgeable polar experts onboard vessels – make the sailing as safe as possible. Modern ship designs include such innovations as underwater stabilisers or X-Bow hulls to reduce the effects of such waves. 

A Southern giant petrel on the Drake Passage

Not all travellers to Antarctica crossing the Drake Passage experience uncomfortable conditions, which have been dubbed ‘the Drake Shake’. Most travellers actually have a smooth sailing experience as they make the Drake crossing, with beautifully calm and relaxing conditions. Coined the ‘Drake Lake’, there may be nothing but gentle winds and small swells during the day voyage. However, you tend to hear less about these as they make for far less dramatic videos on Instagram or YouTube!

What is the Best Month for Crossing the Drake Passage?

The conditions beg the all-important question for Antarctic travellers: when is the best month for crossing the Drake Passage? 

The summer months are the best time to visit Antarctica, no matter your plans. The period between November and March is the prime time to explore the White Continent and, as such, to cross the Drake Passage. 

Cape petrels on the Drake Passage

But, throughout the summer season, no one month is said to offer considerably more favourable weather conditions or wildlife-watching opportunities when making the Drake crossing. Sadly, it’s impossible to predict what the weather will be like on the Drake Passage. Take comfort that only around 1 in 4 crossings tend to experience turbulent seas.

Whilst this may not be the answer you were hoping for, there’s not really a ‘perfect’ time to venture across the Drake Passage, this does free you up to choose your Antarctica cruise based on other experiences you want to have whether that’s focused on wildlife-watching or activity-oriented.

How Can I Prepare for Crossing the Drake Passage?

As you’ll never be able to predict the conditions on the Drake Passage, it’s all the more important to be prepared for all eventualities. Remember too that you’ll be sailing with an experienced Captain, crew and expedition team, who will guide you through your Drake crossing to make it as comfortable as possible. 

Spotting the first iceberg of an Antarctic cruise on the Drake Passage

There is always the possibility of feeling seasick during your Drake crossing. Even the most experienced sailors can experience this, so there’s no shame in needing some time to find your sea legs.  Take time before you travel to research the tablets, wristbands and patches for you, talking to your doctor if needed. The ship will also have an on board doctor who will be able to help during the voyage. 

During the Drake crossing it’s important to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and eat lightly and regularly during the trip. Some people swear off alcohol entirely during the Drake Passage, though others have found a shot of something strong to have distinct medicinal benefits. Rest is also good: seasickness tablets can cause drowsiness, so if you’re feeling sleepy, one of the best options may be to embrace the power nap to help you get through the trip in as relaxed a manner as possible.

Sunrise over a ‘Drake Lake’

However, just because you’re venturing across the Drake Passage, it doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to experience the worst of its conditions or suffer any symptoms as a result, so don’t let this put you off experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime crossing. 


The Drake Passage certainly has a name that precedes it, but a voyage across it is by far the most iconic way to travel to Antarctica. Whilst you can never be sure of what the Drake Crossing will have in store, Antarctica is always  a destination of adventure and excitement – so by embracing whatever journey you may face across the Drake Passage, you truly join the ranks of the Antarctic explorers.