Our Medical Conference & Small Group Tour to Antarctica in January 2019 saw us returning to the earth’s southernmost continent after a break of 10 years. Besides being the world’s coldest and driest continent, Antarctica is also the most requested conference destination in our annual polling of past Amaco participants.
It is a destination unlike any other where visitors are able to witness glacial mountains rising from the sea, radiant skies and a range of wildlife not found anywhere else on the planet. Throughout the centuries, explorers from across the globe have been captivated by the ice continent and now it is your turn. Few experiences can compare to the feeling you’ll have as you join us on this luxury expedition cruise.
The adventure began in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina where participants, presenters and Amaco staff all met for the first time. Those with a little extra time enjoyed the 5 day Pre Conference Buenos Aires extension which included New Year’s Eve in Buenos Aires as well a range of tours and activities.
The group then flew south to the southernmost tip of South America. Located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, Ushuaia is the departure point for most Antarctic cruises and has resulted in this small town being nicknamed the “End of the World”. We arranged an afternoon tour of the local national park which provided participants with an opportunity to see beautiful waterfalls, glaciers and mountains. We then all boarded the luxurious expedition cruise ship Le Soléal late in the afternoon for the 10 night cruise.
Departing Ushuaia there is only one way to and from Antarctica and that is across Drake Passage. We were blessed with the best possible weather conditions… barely a wave to be seen. This resulted in us reaching the Antarctic Peninsula in record time and adding an additional stop to our itinerary.
Our first stop was Neko Harbour – without doubt one of the most beautiful sites on the Antarctic Peninsula. Mountains, ice and wildlife combine to form a truly unique landscape. Animals are as abundant as they are exotic. We saw seabirds (gulls, Cape petrels, cormorants) and marine mammals (seals, orcas and other whale species). Then it was onto Paradise Bay – home to spectacular landscapes composed of towering glacial peaks plunging down into the icy waters of the Antarctic. With some luck, we were privy to an unforgettable underwater dance between passing whales.
We woke the next morning at Pleneau Island, a refuge for gentoo penguins, elephant seals and fur seals. A ‘fleet’ of imposing ice formations sat like anchored ships along its shores. Like works of art, these unusually-sculpted icebergs range in colour from white to blue and every shade in between. It was then onto Port Charcot, located in Salpêtrière Bay. A guided walk through the snow allowed us to see the remains of a stone cabin where early explorers conducted studies on magnetism. From the nearby summit you can enjoy unobstructed views of the vast field of icebergs scattered over the bay like white tombstones – an eerie, mystical site like no other.
Next stop was Port Lockroy which has served over the years as a stopover for whaling ships, a British military base and later a research station. The port is currently one of the most visited sites in the Antarctic thanks to its tiny museum which allows visitors to experience the base as it was in the 1950s and to take home a souvenir from its gift shop.
Situated just above the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, our next stop – Deception Island – was easily recognisable thanks to its distinctive horseshoe shape. The crater of this former volcano caved in 10,000 years ago and the resulting caldera was flooded, creating a natural harbour. Deception Island still bears traces of its past as a long time hub of the whaling industry.
Our final full day on the Antarctic Peninsula was spent amidst the eerie stillness of the Weddell Sea – a veritable labyrinth of majestic table icebergs. Sweeping ice platforms sculpt a landscape unlike any other, populated by fur seals, penguins, wandering albatross and other imposing seabirds.
The cruise concluded back in Ushuaia with us having again crossed the Drake Passage and returned to South America.
The itinerary was quite flexible, allowing us to seamlessly integrate the accredited medical education delivered by our presenters with the daily excursions offered by the ship and the briefings and lectures provided by the on board naturalists. Our planning ensured that particpants didn’t miss a thing!