Emperor penguins in Antartica

Emperor penguins in Antartica

Expedition to the Antarctic – Emperor Penguins, Diving and Helicopter Flights

This is the once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of a real expedition. The travel itinerary is determined by the forces of nature, participants completely conform to the wind, weather and ice conditions.

You spend almost 14 days in the eternal ice on one of the best expedition ships of the Antarctica, the MV Ortelius. On board are prominent scientists, zoologists, ornithologists, geologists, and other professionals.

On top of this, there will be two Chilean helicopters, which give the chance to observe Antarctica from an unprecedented perspective and help to gain an insight into the fascinating world of the flora and fauna of the seventh continent.

The ship

The MV Ortelius has a length of 92.5 meters and is 17.61 meters wide. It displaces 4575 tons and has a maximum speed of 14.3 knots (25 km/h). The ship has the highest possible ice classification which makes it absolutely seaworthy in the waters of the Antarctic. The Ortelius offers the comfortable standard of a hotel with two restaurants, a bar and a lecture room. The ship has eleven zodiacs and is the only Antarctic expedition vessel with helicopters on board. These helicopters allow to experience the Antarctic from a unique view that would otherwise not be possible.

Each cabin on board has a private bathroom with a sink, toilet and shower. The ship has the following cabin categories:

  • 4 four-bed cabins with bull’s-eye
  • 3 three-bed cabins with bull’s-eye
  • 27 double cabins with bull’s-eye
  • 12 double cabins with window
  • 2 double cabins de Luxe with three windows (corner cabins)
  • 6 superior cabins with windows, two double beds and sofa


Click in the map to enlarge

"This is the once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of a real expedition!"


Day 1: Arrival in Ushuaia

Boarding the MV Ortelius in the afternoon. After moving into the cabins, departure is in the late afternoon. It is a journey of four hours through the wild and rugged Beagle Channel before you continue in a south-east direction to the Atlantic.

Day 2 -3: Drake Passage

Cape Horn and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula are separated by approximately 1050 nautical miles from each other by the Drake Passage. The offshore tip of South America brings warm water to the south that meets polar water in the Antarctic. This meeting point of the polar and sub-polar ocean currents is called convergence. It affects not only the scope and direction of the iceberg movements but also provides for a particularly rich food supply in the South Atlantic. So it is not surprising that snowy albatross, grey-headed albatross and black-browed albatross as well as various storm petrels like the Wilson’s petrel, the Antarctic petrel, the snow petrel and the cape petrel count to our permanent companions. Also silver-grey Fulmar, and blue petrel say hello. In the vicinity of the South Shetland Islands the first icebergs can be recognized.

Day 4 – 7: Weddel Sea

You steer into the Weddell Sea if the Antarctic Sound is accessible and the tour is not blocked by the ice. You see the gigantic tabular icebergs that announce the arrival on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. If the ice situation allows, you visit Devil Island and Vega Island to explore the large Adelie penguin colony. After hiking to the top of a hill, enjoy a magnificent view. Melting ice creates a spectacular waterfall from the cliffs in the vicinity of “Well-Met”. Further to the south, a stop is planned at Seymour Island, where many fossils can be found.

The Argentinian station Esperanza on the Antarctic continent is also worth a visit. Maybe there is also time for a landing on Gourdin Island which habitates three types of penguins: Bearded penguins, Gentoo penguins, and Adelies. The team of the MV Ortelius also keeps searching constantly for emperor penguins on the ice floes. The helicopter will be used a lot in these days in order to assist to find the biggest species of penguins. If the conditions permit the helicopter also lands on tabular icebergs and other places that are otherwise inaccessible so early in the season. For example, at Brown Bluff, probably one of the most beautiful places at the entire northern tip of the Antarctic continent which is home to thousands of Adelie penguins and a couple of Gentoo penguins. A beautiful scenic helicopter flight over huge blue icebergs and pack ice is also possible in the vicinity of Duse Bay.

Alternative programme on day 5 – 6: Passage to Snow Hill Island (if conditions allow, 50% chance)

One emperor penguin colony with approximately 4, 000 breeding pairs is located in the south of Snow Hill Island. If the conditions are favorable, the ship stays in the vicinity of the colony for the first two days. The helicopter takes up to six passengers to the landing site which has to be chosen carefully in order not to disturb the animals. Therefore, all passengers walk about 45 minutes to the breathtaking location where the emperor penguins are at home.


Day 8: South Shetland Islands

In the morning, a landing on the semi-circular island Half Moon Island is planned where bearded penguins, Gentoo penguins, different kinds of birds, elephant seals and Weddell seals can be observed. Afterwards the ship proceeds to Deception Island, the small bay Pendulum Cove is the last landing. Diving in the Antarctic should be reserved for divers who have experience: AOWD and at least 100 dives are a requirement before you can trust yourself to dive under these conditions. Proper training and experience in dry diving are further requirements for the participation in the diving package. Experience in ice diving is also recommended. Expect water temperatures around 0° to 8 °C. Every participant requires two separate first stages, these should be safe for ice diving and/or equipped with a glycol anti-icing protection membrane. Rebreathers are logistically not supported and full face diving masks are too risky. The dives are done in small groups using three or four zodiacs. Twelve-litre steel tanks with double valves are available. The dive time is limited to 45 minutes, the diving depth to a maximum of 25 meters because the participants have to be able to quickly emerge at all times, without risking a decompression illness. Pack and drift ice is always in motion, and if the ice guard sets off the alarm (revving up the engine multiple times), each diver should be able to emerge quickly. Individuals who adhere to these basic rules are able to experience the most fascinating diving experience in the Antarctic that they can imagine – because it is breath-taking to glide into the depth along the ice walls, to search for nudibranchs in the Polar “reef”, or to feel the adrenalin level beyond of what is tolerable when a leopard seal or penguins enrich the dive! Hopefully, approximately two dives per day can be offered. The dives take place at the same time with all other program activities during the mornings and afternoons. The diving program depends on the prevailing weather and ice conditions. The expedition leader on board is supported by the dive master and dive instructors in all safety aspects before he or she makes the final decision where and in what way the dives take place. The basic equipment is provided: Diving tanks, boats, weights, weight belts, as well as compressors. Divers bring their personal equipment and dry suits; rental equipment is not available.

Day 9 – 10: Open sea

Time to let the many impressions of this unique expedition pass in review once again. By now, the photographers will be busy editing the pictures from the last few days. Anyone who has not yet enough of them can take pictures of albatrosses that accompany the ship on its way back. You can enjoy the peace and quiet of a cruise, preferably in the warm panoramic lounge.

Day 11: Return to Ushuaia

You reach the port of Ushuaia in the early morning hours. After breakfast, it is time to say goodbye to MV Ortelius and its crew.

Travel dates

26.11.2018 – 06.12.2018


  Rate Per
Four bed Cabin € 9.850.- Per person
Three bed Cabin € 10.800, – Per person
Twin cabin with bull’s-eye € 11.450, – Per person
Twin cabin with window € 11.950, – Per person
Twin deluxe cabin € 12.450, – Per person
Superior Cabin € 13.550, – Per person
Diving Package incl. tank, lead and guide € 580, – Per person

Rates include

  • 10 overnights in the booked cabin category
  • Full board including the following beverages: water, coffee and tea
  • All zodiac excursions, land excursions and helicopter flights
  • Excellently trained guides
  • Lectures

Rates exclude

  • Flights to/from Ushuaia
  • Transfers between airport Ushuaia and port Ushuaia
  • Booking fees for IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) 65 €
  • Beverages (except for those mentioned above)
  • Gratuities

General notes

  • This itinerary is an exemplary program which serves as an orientation. The route and shore landings are dependent on and conform with the local prevailing ice and weather conditions, the landing provisions, the availability of the landing places as well as the possibilities of animal observations and environmental protection requirements of the IAATO. The expedition leader on board will decide on the final travel program. Flexibility is a basic precondition for expedition vessel travel.
  • To all photographers and videographers who are planning to bring along their video drone: This is only possible with the approval of the Bundesamt für Umweltschutz (Federal Department of Environmental Protection). You can only perform controlled video flights with drones in the Antarctic if you have this permit. For Swiss and Austrian citizens: Please inquire with your local authorities where this permit can be obtained.
  • Divers have to bring their own dry suits as well as the complete diving equipment. Provided will be tank, lead, lead belt, boat, and dive guide. No entitlement for the accompaniment by a dive guide.
  • Lined rubber boots can be borrowed on board of the Ortelius free of charge.

Contact and booking

If you wish to book a programme or require more details, please feel free to contact us here. The team of Wildlife Observations Worldwide will be happy to assist you.

Pictures are taken by Arjen Drost, Monica Salman, Elke Lindner