What are 'Fly to Antarctica & Cruise back' Trips?
- They are a new type of Antarctic trip which combines sailing in one direction, and flying the other
- They arguably offer the best of both worlds: the comfort & expediency of flying, with the adventure of the open ocean
- Your actual Antarctic experience will be the same as those who sail or fly in both directions
- By only crossing the Drake Passage once you halve the risk of getting caught in high seas
- One benefit of these trips over those that fly both ways is that there’s a wider choice of itineraries, including to South Georgia
- With the time saved by flying one way, you get to spend extra time in Antarctica
- These trips are less expensive than those which fly both directions due to the lower cost of including only one flight
How does a ‘Fly to Antarctica & Cruise back' trip work?
There is no set formula to how these trips actually operate, other than their common approach of combining both flying and cruising to get to/from Antarctica. In fact there is wide variation between the different trips based on:
- Whether they cruise south & then fly back, or vice versa
- The start and finish points, which can be in different countries
- Which areas are included in the itinerary
- Trip duration - there's a wide choice from 6 to 18 days in length
- The type of flights utilised - whether they are chartered or scheduled
Regardless of how you get to and from Antarctica, your actual experience once you arrive is the same with the ship acting as your floating hotel. Typically there are two 2-3 hour excursions each day, visiting penguin rookeries or places of historic interest, or zodiac safaris.
Where do these trips Start & Finish?
The two principal start and end points for these Antarctic voyages are either:
- Punta Arenas in Chile - for all flights to/ from Antarctica
- Ushuaia in Argentina - for all ships sailing to/ from Antarctica
As there are two different start and end points, depending on whether you are flying or sailing, it's common for the start and end points to be different on these combination trips. With flexible ‘open jaw’ flight tickets being available, this doesn’t typically make flights more expensive or complicated and the chance to experience two countries is a plus for many people. The one thing to check is visa requirements for both countries.
Direction of Travel
A question we’re often asked is whether it's best to cruise south and then fly north, or vice versa? The simple answer is that it's down to personal choice and the departure dates that work best for you.
While some people love the romance of arriving in Antarctica by ship and the excitement of glimpsing their first iceberg after the open sea, there’s no set answer. Certainly your actual experience in Antarctica won’t be affected whichever way round you fly or sail.
Choice of Trips
There’s not only great variation in the duration of these trips, between 6 to 18 days, but also in the itineraries on offer. Unlike trips that fly in both directions, which are limited by having to operate from airports, these Fly/Sail trips are much less restricted and as a result they can cover a much wider range, including:
- Antarctic Peninsula
- Polar Circle
- Weddell Sea*
- South Georgia*
- Falklands Islands*
*These areas aren’t included in trips which fly in both directions.
Most Popular ‘Fly to Antarctica & Cruise back’ Trips
Flights to/from Punta Arenas
There are two different types of flights which depart from Punta Arenas for visitors travelling to Antarctica:
Charter Flight over the Drake Passage
This is the most direct route to and from Antarctica. It's a short 2 hour charter flight between Punta Arenas and King George Island in the South Shetland Islands.
These flights are only available in conjunction with a group trip which includes both the flight and Antarctic cruise.
Scheduled Flight to the Falkland Islands
While flying via The Falklands Islands at the beginning or end of your Antarctic trip may seem a longer routing than flying direct to Antarctica, it's in fact proving to be a useful staging post. It's a once weekly scheduled flight on Saturdays only which takes approx. 1 hour 40 minutes and is operated by the airline LatAm.
The benefits for Antarctic visitors of travelling via The Falklands include:
- This route avoids crossing the Drake Passage
- Bonus of visiting an extra destination
- For South Georgia voyages, this flight saves 36 hours at sea from Ushuaia
- Scheduled flights are considerably cheaper than chartered and aren’t constricted by the narrow window of operation (Dec - Feb only ) of charter flights
Whether you are embarking or disembarking the ship in The Falklands, the short transfer between the plane and ship will be arranged for you.
While not everybody wants to sail in both directions to Antarctica, by flying both ways you risk missing out on the adventure of experiencing the open sea. We love these trips as they’re the ideal combination, without compromising the best bits.
How much do these trips cost?
With the wide difference in both trip duration and itinerary comes significant variation in price:
- The shortest trip, which is 6 days long, starts from approx. $5,000 per person, and even less if you book early and take advantage of an early booking incentive.
- A 10-11 day trip typically starts at approx. $11,000 per person, depending on your choice of ship and departure date
- Longer voyages which include South Georgia, and possibly also Antarctica, are priced from approx. $ 15,000 per person.
What type of plane?
The plane typically used for the charter flights to Antarctica is a BAE 146 plane which carries up to 80 people in a 3+3 seating configuration. The aircraft is perfectly comfortable if a bit ‘no frills’, with complimentary drinks and snacks provided on board. It's operated by a Chilean company who have been specialising in flying to Antarctica for over 20 years.
The weekly scheduled flights between Punta Arenas and The Falklands are typically operated by an Airbus Industrie A320, which is often used around the world for short-haul flights. These planes have a capacity for 168 passengers with a seating configuration in two rows of 3+3.
When do these trips run?
Those trips which utilise the weekly scheduled flight between Punta Arenas and The Falklands operate throughout the Antarctic season from November to March, however the number of departure dates can be limited.
As the airport on King George Island only operates during the height of summer in Antarctica, trips using the short charter flight between Punta Arenas and Antarctic are limited to only operating between early and the end of February. Fortunately this coincides with arguably the most optimal time to visit in terms of both weather and wildlife.
When do I need to book?
Due to the increasing popularity of these combination trips and the relatively limited number of departures each season (there’s a far wider choice if you’re happy to sail both ways), demand is high.
We strongly recommend booking 10 - 18 months in advance to be confident of getting your first choice. In short, the earlier the better. The departure dates are typically published 18 months in advance.
I sailed to Antarctica and then flew back across the Drake. Flying was so easy, taking off from King George Island and watching Antarctica fall away felt surreal, 2 hours later I was back texting photos to my family. I had to pinch myself, did I really just go to Antarctica!?
Agi, Hungary December 2016
I have visited 89 countries and islands and Antarctica was my final continent. Without doubt, the Antarctica and Falkland Islands trip was the best experience, holiday and adventure I have ever had.
Nick, UK February 2017
This was a trip I want to return on as soon as possible. I would have loved more time in Antarctica, but even with the short time it was the perfect size and timed trip. Certainly made the visit to the 7th continent special.
Boyce & Elizabeth, Mississippi December 2016
Thank you, thank you, thank you! We had a fabulous time on our cruise. Our expectations were high and they were exceeded by a million percent!
Karen, Pennsylvania February 2017
FAQs: Fly to Antarctica & Cruise back
To get to Punta Arenas you first need to fly to Chile’s capital, Santiago, and from there take a domestic flight south to Punta Arenas. Santiago itself has good international connections with direct flights from New York, London & Sydney.
Heading south from the capital, there are daily flights between Santiago and Punta Arenas operated by LatAm & Sky Airlines. Tip: make sure you're seated on the left hand side of the plane flying south for wonderful views as you fly parallel to The Andes.
Punta Arenas isn’t a large city, but has a fair selection of things to do for anyone wishing to arrive early, including some notable museums.
Given the time and effort to get there, we would heartily recommend adding on a few days at either the beginning or end of your trip to explore Patagonia a bit more. Punta Arenas is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, arguably the most spectacular and best known trekking mecca in the whole of South America. We can put you in touch with our sister company Swoop Patagonia who know this whole region like the back of their hand.
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