Top 5 Reasons to Fly Across the Drake Passage on your Antarctic Expedition

September 13, 2019 Doug O'Neill

I remember planning my very first overseas hiking trip to Scotland in my early 20s. I had planned to hike a specific stretch of the West Highland Way Trail which—with a couple of diversions—would take 12 days.  I bought all of my gear. I trained. I booked time off work—my entire two weeks’ vacation. Then my dream trip and I hit a wall: my allotted two weeks wasn’t enough once I factored in flight arrival times and the necessary train journeys within the country to get me to the trail ahead and back to the airport in time.

In short: I had to abort a much dreamed-about trip because I didn’t have enough travel days in my budget.

Being strapped for time is a universal conundrum faced by many travelers. Over the years I’ve watched as many (too many) friends have postponed or outright canceled their dream trips because of time restrictions. Luckily for polar travelers who dream of going to Antarctica to see whales, penguins and unforgettable ice formations, there’s an excellent solution for time-crunched folks who long to set foot on the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s called “Fly the Drake.”

Total time-saver: It’s the fastest way to reach Antarctica!

Plane with Penguin Livery in Antarctica

Quark Expedition guests arriving at King George Island. Photo credit: Jimmy MacDonald

It used to be that a trip to Antarctica would take weeks—if not an entire month. If you didn’t have heaps of time on your hands, a voyage to the Antarctic wasn’t a viable option. Quark Expeditions, in response to travelers who were time-challenged, now offers the time-saving option of flying rather than sailing across the 800-kilometre wide Drake Passage, which separates the foot of South America from Antarctica. In fact, Quark Expeditions offers the largest portfolio of Fly/Cruise options to Antarctica.

Why let a shortage of time stop you from experiencing a polar expedition full of memorable wildlife moments like this! Photo credit: David Merron

Passengers who book Quark Expeditions’ Antarctic Express: Fly the Drake, for instance, can now journey to Antarctica on an 8-day trip, which our team has made possible by eliminating the 2-day crossing of the iconic Drake Passage. They simply fly from Punta Arenas, Chile, to King George Island, Antarctica, in a staggeringly short 2 hours. This is the fastest and most direct way to reach the 7th Continent. Guests are able to experience the best of Antarctica (Zodiac cruises by icebergs, wildlife observations from the deck of a ship, shore excursions in remote parts of the polar region) in a relatively short time.  

The Fly the Drake option is also available on the Antarctic Express: Crossing the Circle. A short, comfortable flight from Punta Arenas, Chile, to King George Island in Antarctica, will have you on the 7th Continent and on your way to crossing the magical Antarctic Circle in no time.

Enjoy aerial views of the Antarctic landscape

Guests can luck out with views like this as the plane begins to descend down onto the South Shetland Islands. Such vistas are unlike any other views of the Antarctic. Photo credit: Dave Merron

Passengers on the short flight across the Drake Passage will enjoy their first glimpse of the dramatic Antarctic landscape as their plane descends in the South Shetland Islands. Our seasoned expedition team advises guests to keep their eyes open for breaching whales and seabirds (such as kelp gulls, skuas, giant petrels and terns) soaring over the surface of the water. And just as the flight comes in for a landing at King George Island, guests can look out and see the much-talked-about science stations down below.  

Flying across the Drake Passage is an ideal option for time-strapped travelers.

Avoid the potentially choppy waters of the Drake Passage

Some people, of course, would rather avoid sailing across the Drake Passage because of the unpredictable weather conditions. If you’re sensitive to seasickness, or simply prefer not to take the risk of encountering choppy waters, then why do it? The flight option makes total sense for you.

Use the time you save to explore Punta Arenas

Spending time exploring Punta Arenas, Chile, is possible by taking a time-saving flight across the Drake Passage to Antarctica. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

So you’ve flown across the Drake Passage and ended up saving yourself several days. If you’re not in a rush to head home, you can always use those extra days you’ve shaved off your schedule to explore the lively Chilean metropolis of Punta Arenas. Sample Chilean dishes such as lomo a lo pobre (steak, fries and a fried egg) or freshly-caught king crab or locally produced lamb, and then explore popular tourist options such as Lord Lonsdale shipwreck, excursions to the small island of Isla Magdalena y Mara to spot sea lions and penguins, and the replica ships at Museo Nao Victoria. 

Don’t deny yourself a polar dream trip!

Zodiac cruises are one of the immersive polar activities guests can enjoy during an Antarctic voyage with Quark Expeditions. Photo credit: Ken Hand.

Quark Expeditions’ “Fly the Drake” option can make or break a much-awaited dream trip to Antarctica. Why allow a matter of days crush your polar dreams? Saving a handful of days by flying across the Drake Passage could be the deal-breaker in making your dream come true!

Discover more about the Antarctic Express: Fly the Drake or Antarctic Express: Crossing the Circle.

Buen Viaje! Bon Voyage!

About the Author

Doug O'Neill

Even though I’m a seasoned traveler and travel writer, I was 27 years old when I hopped on an airplane for the first time. As one of eight children in a rural Ontario family, travel was limited to road trips to Wasaga Beach – in a very crowded Pontiac. But I eventually caught the travel bug and have now visited 40-plus countries. Landing at Quark Expeditions as Brand Copywriter seems like a natural step on a journey that started with a degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo followed by a Certificate in Magazine Journalism at Ryerson University, which ultimately led me to a print-and-digital publishing career at various Canadian magazines. One of my most fulfilling career experiences was launching a travel blog that I produced for several years at a national magazine. Hiking (or simply time spent in nature) tops my list of passions. In 2015 I completed the 800-km Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain. I’m a certified hike leader with Hike Ontario and I volunteer with the Bruce Trail Conservancy. I’ve co-authored a nature book, “110 Nature Hot Spots in Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” released by Firefly Books in April 2019.

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