Emperor Penguins, including Helicopters

From Ushuaia to Ushuaia
  • All Antarctic Cruises
  • Antarctic Peninsula
  • Small Ship Cruising
  • Wildlife and Nature
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Tour Description

Embark on a one of a kind Antarctic expedition by sea and air in quest of the majestic Emperor penguins.

Departing from Ushuaia your Antarctica cruise crosses the Drake Passage and sails into the Weddell Sea. This is the domain of breathtaking tabular icebergs and vast expanses of sheet ice, stark white presented against every hue of blue. In this remote area, exploration in search of the Emperor Penguins is by ship and helicopter, giving us a good chance in finding penguins in good numbers.  This expedition cruise gives you the rare chance to see the famed emperor penguin rookery south of Snow Hill Island, numbering around 4,000 breeding pairsThe scenery in this remote part of Antarctica is breathtaking - lava flows, stunning glaciers and immense mountains. 

Trips to shore by Zodiac are also frequent on this Antarctic cruise, all the while guided by our expert crew who can educate you on all areas of this fascinating environment. Wildlife in this region is abundant and there are opportunities to photograph and get up close to several species of penguin including Adélies and Gentoos, seals, humpback whales, albatrosses and many species of sea bird who weave in the wake of our cruise ship. As our Antarctic cruise returns to Ushuaia you will be left with a lifetime of memories of this remarkable continent and it's unique inhabitants.



Viva's Best Bits...

Experience a bird’s-eye-view of Antarctica! Our helicopter capability on m/v Ortelius gives you the rare chance to see the famed emperor penguin rookery south of Snow Hill Island

"This cruise gets you off the beaten track and offers the chance to witness the famous Emperor Penguins!" Tara, Team Viva

Wonderful Ice formations will blow your mind away - the Weddell Sea is famous for its huge tabular icebergs!

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Ushuaia At Sea

Your voyage begins where the world drops off. Ushuaia, Argentina, reputed to be the southernmost city on the planet, is located on the far southern tip of South America. Starting in the afternoon, you embark from this small resort town on Tierra del Fuego, nicknamed “The End of the World,” and sail the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the remainder of the evening.

Experience the bird’s-eye-view of Antarctica! Our helicopter capability on m/v Ortelius gives you the rare chance to see the famed emperor penguin rookery south of Snow Hill Island, numbering around 4,000 breeding pairs. Heavy ice may prevent entrance to this area from the Weddell Sea, and ice at the rookery itself might break up and start to melt earlier than expected. With this in mind, the aim is to stop the vessel between the Antarctic Sound and James Clark Ross Island, close to the ice edge, and find emperor penguins on their way to open water. The thrilling helicopter flights make this search possible, enabling you to land in locations otherwise inaccessible this early in the season.

If ice conditions are favorable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice, you have the chance for ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (roughly 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin rookery). If successful, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But please remember that nature writes the final itinerary out here: Attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during the voyages of 2012 – 19 did not always succeed. However, in 2013, 2017 until 2019 and 2022 conditions were favorable to land by helicopter on Snow Hill Island and to visit the emperor penguin rookery.

Day 2-3
At Sea

Over the next two days on the Drake Passage, you enjoy some of the same experiences encountered by the great polar explorers who first charted these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale spouting up sea spray. After passing the Antarctic Convergence – Antarctica’s natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer sub-Antarctic seas – you are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Not only does the marine life change, the avian life changes too. Wandering albatrosses, grey-headed albatrosses, black-browed albatrosses, light-mantled sooty albatrosses, cape pigeons, southern fulmars, Wilson’s storm petrels, blue petrels, and Antarctic petrels are a few of the birds you might see.

Day 4-7
The Weddell Sea, Antarctica

You may sail into the Weddell Sea via the Antarctic Sound. Here huge tabular icebergs herald your arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. During this part of the cruise, the search is on for emperor penguins. Using both the vessel and helicopters, there’s a good chance you’ll find them. You might also enjoy scenic flights, and if conditions allow, helicopter landings in locations otherwise out of reach this time of year.

Helicopter flights are a true trip changer, and may include:

The west slopes of the Antarctic Sound – The western side of this area is only rarely seen from the air, though the landscape is truly worth the flight: Layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers, icebergs, and pack-ice extend as far as the eye can see. There are often individual emperor penguins and Adélie penguins on the ice floes, as well as kelp gulls, skuas, and various breeds of petrel. Jagged mountain peaks stab through the snow, and enormous walls of ice lie shattered on the slopes below.

Duse Bay – A soaring helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking this bay. There’s still a lot of snow and ice this time of year, but much of the walk in this location is over frost-shattered rock covered with lichen of all shapes and colors.

Seymour Island – This is where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901 – 4 wintered under harrowing polar conditions. Sedimentary rock, fossils, and expansive views define this location.

If conditions allow for deeper ventures into the Weddell Sea, Zodiac trips may include:

Devil Island – Home to a large colony of Adélie penguins, this island offers a magnificent vantage point for hikers willing to foot it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes forms a waterfall dropping from the cliffs close to Cape Well-met.

Brown Bluff – Maybe the most scenic location in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent: sheer canyon walls, fallen boulders, beautiful volcanic creations capped with ice. A large Adélie penguin rookery lives here, with gentoo penguins and nesting snow petrels also to be found.

Gourdin Island – Chinstrap, gentoo, and Adélie penguins love this island, which is yet another landing option for your continuing Antarctic adventure.

Esperanza Base – This Argentine research station, which operates year-round and is one of only two civilian settlements in Antarctica, could serve as an alternative landing site.

Day 5 - 6: (Alternate program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice – less than 50 % probability)
Helicopters provide an advantage in reaching the emperor penguin colony, but our ability to use them depends entirely on ice, sea, and weather conditions.

If conditions are favorable, we will visit the colony. If conditions are exceptionally favorable, we will attempt to visit more than once. Helicopter operations take a full day, and flight duration depends on local conditions.

Each helicopter can accommodate 4 – 5 passengers per flight. The landing site is carefully chosen so that the penguins are not disturbed.

Upon arrival to the site, we will walk to the colony. This may take up to 45 minutes and can be challenging in places. Please keep in mind that you are in the world’s most remote region, so there are no guarantees: conditions may change rapidly, which can impact on helicopter operations. It is important to understand and respect this fact. Safety is our greatest concern, so no compromises can be made.

We aim for all groups to spend an equal amount of time at the colony. The time at the colony (and the time to get there from landing site) will often vary, however, due to local conditions and flight times.

Day 8
Deception Island

This morning we travel to Deception Island for our last landing at Pendulum Cover or Whalers Bay. Our afternoon departure will take us to the Drake Passage (weather permitting).

Day 9-10
At sea en-route to Ushuaia

Heading north we will spot a great selection of seabirds, which will no doubt follow us while crossing the Drake Passage.

Day 11

Disembark in Ushuaia.

What’s Included

  • Included Copy 20 10 nights onboard the Ortelius
  • Included Copy 20 All meals throughout the voyage aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea.
Fees & Services
  • Included Copy 20 Voyage aboard the indicated vessel as indicated in the itinerary
  • Included Copy 20 All shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac.
  • Included Copy 20 Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff.
  • Included Copy 20 Free use of rubber boots and snowshoes.
  • Included Copy 20 Ship-to-shore helicopter transfers (with no specific amount of helicopter time guaranteed)
  • Included Copy 20 Pre-scheduled group transfer from the vessel to the airport in Ushuaia ( after disembarkation)
  • Included Copy 20 All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the programme.
  • Included Copy 20 Comprehensive pre-departure material.
  • Included Copy 7 Airfares and travel insurance
  • Included Copy 7 Gratuities and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges

MV Ortelius

108 Passengers


  • Included Ashore landings and zodiac cruises
  • Included Walk in Antarctica
  • Included Onboard educational lectures
  • Included Helicopter flight over the Weddell Sea, enjoy the amazing Antarctic wilderness from air
  • Included Visit Deception Island
  • Included Possibility to visit Snow Hill Island
  • Included Watch Adelie, Chinstrap & Gentoo penguins
  • Included Search for Emperor Penguins
Click here for dates & prices

11 days

Price from

$12,100 USD

Per person, sharing

Based On Lowest Cabin, quad

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