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Crossing The Drake Passage To Antarctica – What Is It Really Like?


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Guillema Spalding



Imagine a journey like no other, traversing a treacherous body of water that separates South America from the vast wilderness of Antarctica. The Drake Passage, often referred to as the world’s roughest sea, is a legendary stretch of water that has captured the imagination of adventurers and explorers for centuries. This narrow passage, located between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands, serves as the only route for ships traveling to and from the Antarctic Peninsula.


With its notorious reputation for unpredictable weather and monstrous waves, crossing the Drake Passage is a rite of passage for those embarking on an Antarctic expedition. It is a thrilling and awe-inspiring experience that tests the limits of human courage and resilience. But what is it really like to make this daring crossing?


Before setting sail, travelers must prepare themselves mentally and physically for the challenges that lie ahead. The significance of the Drake Passage cannot be overstated – it marks the transition from the familiar comforts of civilization to the remote and harsh beauty of Antarctica. It is a journey that holds the promise of incredible wildlife encounters, breathtaking landscapes, and a deep sense of adventure.


In this article, we will delve into the realities of crossing the Drake Passage and provide a firsthand account of what it truly entails. From the moment you step foot on the ship to the exhilarating moments of sighting Antarctic land, we will guide you through the awe-inspiring experience of this unique expedition.


Why is the Drake Passage significant?

The Drake Passage holds a special place in the realm of adventure travel and exploration. It is known for its unpredictable weather patterns, fierce winds, and towering waves, making it one of the most challenging waterways in the world. But beyond its treacherous reputation, the Drake Passage is significant for several reasons.


Firstly, it serves as the main conduit for circulating Antarctica’s cold waters into the rest of the world’s oceans. This makes it a critical region for the global climate system, as the mixing of warm and cold waters here influences climate patterns on a larger scale.


Secondly, the Drake Passage showcases the raw power and beauty of nature. As you navigate its waters, you’ll witness the immense power of the Southern Ocean, with waves that can reach heights of 30 feet or more. This untamed nature adds to the sense of adventure and excitement as you make your way to the White Continent.


Moreover, the Drake Passage also has significant historical and cultural importance. It is named after Sir Francis Drake, the English explorer who is believed to have been the first to sail through it in the late 16th century. The passage has since been crossed by countless explorers, scientists, and adventurers, each seeking to uncover the mysteries of the Earth’s southernmost continent.


For travelers, crossing the Drake Passage is a badge of honor, a symbol of their willingness to push boundaries and embrace the unknown. It is an experience that evokes a deep sense of awe and humility, as you witness the forces of nature in their purest form. It is a journey that immerses you in the immense wilderness and pristine beauty of Antarctica.


In addition to its natural and historical significance, the Drake Passage is also a hotbed of wildlife activity. The convergence of cold Antarctic waters with warmer currents from the north creates an abundance of nutrients, attracting a wide variety of marine life. Whales, seals, and seabirds can often be spotted during the crossing, providing memorable encounters and photo opportunities.


As you embark on this epic journey, remember that crossing the Drake Passage is not only about reaching your destination but also about the transformative experience itself. It is a test of courage, a dance with the elements, and a chance to connect with the untouched wonders of Antarctica.


Preparing for the Crossing

As you embark on the adventure of crossing the Drake Passage, proper preparation is essential. The journey can be physically and mentally demanding, so it’s important to be well-equipped and ready for the challenges ahead.


First and foremost, ensure that you have appropriate clothing and gear for the Antarctic environment. Dressing in layers is key to staying warm and comfortable. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, followed by a insulating mid-layer, and top it off with a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Don’t forget to bring sturdy, waterproof boots to protect your feet from the wet conditions on the ship.


Another crucial aspect of preparation is combating sea sickness. The Drake Passage is notorious for its rough seas, and even the most seasoned travelers may experience some discomfort. Consult with your healthcare provider about the best medications or remedies to prevent or alleviate motion sickness. Remember to pack them in your carry-on bag for quick and easy access.


Mental preparation is equally important. Crossing the Drake Passage requires patience and resilience. The journey can be long and challenging, with limited opportunities for sightseeing or exploration. Embrace the downtime and use it to relax, read, socialize with fellow travelers, or attend educational lectures and workshops offered on board. Having a positive mindset and being open to new experiences will enrich your journey.


It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the safety protocols and procedures on the ship. The crew will conduct safety drills and provide instructions on emergency situations. Pay close attention to these briefings and ask questions if needed. Knowing what to do in case of an emergency will give you peace of mind throughout the journey.


Lastly, don’t forget to pack essential personal items such as toiletries, medications, and any necessary travel documents. Check with your tour operator for specific guidelines on what to bring and any restrictions on luggage size and weight. Keep in mind that space on the ship may be limited, so pack efficiently and bring only what you truly need.


By adequately preparing for the crossing, you’ll set yourself up for a smoother and more enjoyable experience. Take the time to gather the right gear, address any potential health concerns, and mentally prepare for the unique challenges and rewards that await you on this extraordinary expedition.


Boarding the Ship

The moment has arrived – it’s time to board the ship that will carry you across the mighty Drake Passage. As you step on board, you’ll be greeted by the friendly crew who will be your guides and companions throughout the journey. Here’s what you can expect when boarding the ship for your unforgettable crossing.


Upon arrival, you’ll be directed to your designated cabin. These cabins are designed with comfort in mind, offering cozy accommodations for rest and relaxation. Depending on the ship, you may have a private cabin or share a cabin with a fellow traveler. Regardless, each cabin is equipped with essential amenities, including a private bathroom, storage space, and a comfortable bed to ensure a good night’s sleep.


Once settled in your cabin, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the ship’s communal areas. These areas often include a dining room, lounge, library, and observation decks that provide panoramic views of the surrounding ocean. Spend time getting acquainted with the ship’s layout and familiarize yourself with the available facilities and amenities.


During this time, the crew will also conduct safety briefings to ensure that everyone is aware of the ship’s safety protocols. Pay close attention to these briefings as they will provide important information on emergency procedures and life-saving equipment. It’s crucial to have a good understanding of these procedures to ensure your safety and that of your fellow passengers.


As the ship sets sail, you’ll feel a sense of excitement and anticipation fill the air. Find a spot on the deck to watch as the coastline fades away and the open ocean stretches out before you. Take in the crisp, salty air and embrace the feeling of embarking on a true adventure.


Throughout the crossing, the ship will provide a variety of amenities and activities to keep you entertained. From educational presentations by expert naturalists to leisurely walks on deck, there will be plenty to occupy your time. Engage in conversations with fellow travelers, sharing stories and building connections that often last a lifetime. And don’t forget to take advantage of the onboard dining, where you’ll be treated to delicious meals prepared by talented chefs.


As you settle into the rhythm of life on board, allow yourself to fully immerse in the experience. The crossing of the Drake Passage is not just a means to an end; it is an integral part of the expedition, offering a chance to connect with your surroundings, reflect on the magnitude of your journey, and appreciate the vastness of the world’s oceans.


So, as you step on board the ship, embrace the adventure that lies ahead. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the experience, cherishing each moment as you make your way through the legendary Drake Passage towards the pristine and surreal landscapes of Antarctica.


Life on board

Life on board a ship crossing the Drake Passage is a unique and unforgettable experience. As you embark on this adventure, you’ll find yourself immersed in a vibrant community of fellow travelers, crew members, and the captivating wonders of the Southern Ocean. Let’s explore what life is like on board during this incredible journey.


One of the highlights of life on board is the opportunity to connect with like-minded adventurers from around the world. As you mingle with fellow travelers, you’ll find yourself engaging in fascinating conversations, sharing stories, and learning from their diverse experiences. The ship becomes a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds, fostering an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship.


Throughout the day, the ship’s crew will organize a variety of engaging activities and educational programs to enrich your understanding of the Antarctic region. Expert naturalists, historians, and scientists will share their knowledge through informative presentations and workshops. Learn about the unique wildlife that inhabits the area, the history of Antarctic exploration, and the fragile ecosystem that exists on the continent.


In addition to educational opportunities, the ship offers various forms of entertainment and relaxation. You can curl up with a good book from the ship’s library, enjoy a refreshing drink at the onboard bar, or simply unwind on one of the observation decks, taking in the breathtaking scenery around you. The 24-hour daylight during the summer months allows for extended periods of wildlife spotting and marveling at the ethereal beauty of the Southern Ocean.


When it comes to dining, you’ll be treated to delicious meals prepared by skilled onboard chefs. Indulge in a diverse range of dishes, often featuring fresh and locally sourced ingredients. The dining experience is not only a chance to savor delectable cuisine but also an opportunity to connect with fellow travelers, sharing stories and forging new friendships over a delightful meal.


It’s important to note that due to the unpredictable nature of the Drake Passage, the ship’s itinerary and activities may need to be adjusted to ensure the safety and comfort of all passengers. Flexibility is key, and the crew will make every effort to provide alternative options and maximize your Antarctic experience even in challenging weather conditions.


As night falls, retire to your cozy cabin and be lulled into a peaceful sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship. The sounds of the ocean and the anticipation of what lies ahead create a tranquil ambiance that enhances the sense of adventure and wonder.


Life on board a ship crossing the Drake Passage is an immersive and enchanting experience. It’s a chance to disconnect from the outside world, embrace the rhythm of the ocean, and foster deep connections with fellow travelers. As you navigate through the majestic waters, you’ll realize that the journey itself is just as remarkable as the destination.


Sea Sickness and Safety

When embarking on a crossing of the Drake Passage, it’s important to be aware of the potential challenges that the rough seas can present. Sea sickness is a common concern for many travelers, but there are measures you can take to minimize its impact and ensure your safety throughout the journey.


Sea sickness, also known as motion sickness, occurs when there is a conflict between the body’s senses and the motion being experienced. The rocking and swaying of the ship can cause symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. However, don’t let the fear of sea sickness deter you from experiencing this incredible adventure.


One of the most effective ways to combat sea sickness is through medication. Consult with your healthcare provider about suitable options, and consider starting a preventive medication regimen a day or two before the crossing. Over-the-counter remedies such as motion sickness bands and ginger supplements may also provide relief for some individuals.


In addition to medication, there are practical measures you can take to reduce the risk of sea sickness. It’s recommended to keep your stomach settled by eating light, easily digestible meals and avoiding heavy or greasy foods. Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoid alcohol, as it can exacerbate symptoms.


Consider spending time on the deck or in open-air areas where you’ll have a clear view of the horizon. Fresh air and visual stimulation can help alleviate symptoms. If you feel unsteady, try focusing on a fixed point in the distance, such as a distant cloud or a passing bird.


While sea sickness is a common concern, it’s important not to overlook the importance of safety on board. The crew is well-trained and experienced in navigating these challenging waters, and they prioritize the well-being of all passengers.


During your time on board, the crew will conduct safety briefings and drills to familiarize you with the ship’s emergency procedures. Pay close attention to these instructions and seek clarification if needed. In the event of an emergency, follow the crew’s guidance and stay calm.


It’s also important to respect the rules and guidelines set by the crew. Always adhere to safety protocols and avoid going to restricted areas of the ship. The Drake Passage can be unstable, and it’s critical to stay within designated safe areas at all times.


If you have any concerns or questions about safety during the crossing, don’t hesitate to reach out to a crew member. They are there to ensure your well-being and can provide reassurance or assistance when needed.


By taking precautions to manage sea sickness and adhering to safety guidelines, you can navigate the Drake Passage with confidence and peace of mind. Remember, while the journey may present challenges, it is these very challenges that make the crossing a truly adventurous experience.


Wildlife Spotting

One of the most exciting aspects of crossing the Drake Passage is the opportunity to witness the incredible wildlife that calls Antarctica and the surrounding waters home. The Southern Ocean is teeming with a diverse array of marine species, and as you make your way through this vast wilderness, you’ll have numerous opportunities to spot and observe these magnificent creatures.


One of the iconic species you may encounter during the crossing is the albatross. These majestic seabirds are known for their impressive wingspan, graceful flight, and unique ability to traverse vast distances over the open ocean. Spotting an albatross soaring through the sky is a mesmerizing sight and a reminder of the untamed beauty of the Southern Ocean.


Keep a lookout for other seabirds as well, such as petrels, shearwaters, and skuas. These birds have adapted to the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean and are skilled hunters and scavengers. They often follow the ship, gliding effortlessly over the waves or diving into the water in search of food.


Beneath the surface, the waters of the Drake Passage are home to a rich marine ecosystem. Keep your eyes peeled for the distinctive blows of whales as they surface to breathe. Species like humpback whales, orcas, and minke whales are commonly sighted in these waters. Witnessing these gentle giants in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience.


Seals are another delight to watch out for during the crossing. Weddell seals, crabeater seals, and leopard seals may be spotted lounging on ice floes or basking on rocky outcrops. These charismatic marine mammals provide fantastic photo opportunities and offer insights into their unique adaptations and behaviors.


As you approach the Antarctic Peninsula, the biodiversity and wildlife encounters will only intensify. Colonies of penguins will steal the show, with species like the gentoo, chinstrap, and Adélie penguins delighting travelers with their playful antics and adorable waddles.


While wildlife sightings are not guaranteed, the crossing of the Drake Passage offers a high probability of encountering a wide range of captivating creatures. Whether it’s the graceful flight of an albatross, the breach of a whale, or the comical antics of penguins, these wildlife encounters will leave an indelible mark on your memory.


Remember to respect the animals’ natural habitats and keep a safe distance to avoid disturbing or endangering them. Adhere to any guidelines provided by your expedition guides and follow the principles of responsible wildlife viewing to ensure a positive and sustainable experience for both you and the animals.


Keep your camera ready, your eyes peeled, and your senses attuned to the wonders of the Southern Ocean. Each wildlife encounter is a special moment that embodies the true spirit of a journey across the Drake Passage.


Antarctic Landfall

After the exhilarating crossing of the Drake Passage, the moment you’ve been eagerly anticipating finally arrives – your first glimpse of the pristine and surreal landscapes of Antarctica. As the ship approaches the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll experience a sense of awe and wonder as you make your long-awaited landfall.


Stepping foot on the Antarctic continent is a significant milestone, marking the realization of a dream and the beginning of an extraordinary adventure. The moment you disembark from the ship, you’ll be greeted by a world unlike any other – a vast expanse of ice, snow, and towering glaciers that stretch as far as the eye can see.


Antarctica’s landscapes are incredibly diverse, ranging from dramatic ice cliffs and massive tabular icebergs to expansive ice fields and majestic mountain ranges. The pristine beauty and serenity of this frozen wilderness are truly humbling, reminding us of the raw power and fragility of our planet.


Exploring the Antarctic landscape offers endless opportunities for awe-inspiring experiences. You may embark on guided hikes along predetermined paths, allowing you to immerse yourself in the stunning surroundings while learning about the unique flora and fauna that have adapted to this extreme environment.


Adventurous travelers may have the chance to partake in activities such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, gaining a deeper appreciation for the pristine beauty of Antarctica while enjoying the tranquility of its untouched landscapes. The opportunity to set foot on remote and rarely-visited locations adds a sense of exclusivity and adventure to your Antarctic landfall.


In addition to exploring on land, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the frigid waters surrounding the continent. Zodiac cruises provide a chance to get up close and personal with ice formations, glaciers, and unique marine wildlife. Cruise amidst colossal icebergs that have calved from glaciers, marvel at the shimmering blue hues of ancient ice, and keep a watchful eye for seals resting on ice floes and penguins porpoising through the water.


During your time ashore, you’ll be astounded by the incredible wildlife that thrives in this extreme environment. Spotting penguins waddling across the ice, observing seals basking in the sun, and encountering curious whales breaching from the ocean will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.


As you explore the Antarctic landscape, it’s important to remember the principles of responsible and sustainable travel. Antarctica is a precious and delicate ecosystem, and it’s crucial to minimize our impact and leave no trace of our presence. Follow the guidance of experienced expedition guides and maintain a safe distance from wildlife to ensure their well-being and preserve the natural environment.


Antarctic landfall is a privilege and a rare opportunity to connect with a place of unmatched beauty and wonder. Take the time to absorb the magnitude of this extraordinary environment, savor each moment, and appreciate the privilege of being one of the few to experience the magic of Antarctica firsthand.


Activities and Excursions

When you set foot on the remote and pristine continent of Antarctica, a world of awe-inspiring activities and excursions awaits you. From up-close encounters with wildlife to exhilarating adventures across the icy landscapes, there are myriad ways to immerse yourself in the Antarctic experience.


One of the highlights of any Antarctic expedition is the opportunity to witness the abundant wildlife that calls this icy wonderland home. Take part in zodiac cruises and venture into the frigid waters to observe seals basking on ice floes, witness playful penguins porpoising through the water, and marvel at the majesty of whales as they breach the surface. These encounters provide extraordinary photo opportunities while giving you a profound appreciation for the unique wildlife of Antarctica.


Exploring the Antarctic landscape on foot is an experience like no other. Guided hikes allow you to venture deeper into the awe-inspiring scenery, walking amidst towering ice formations and snow-covered landscapes. Trained guides will lead you along predetermined paths, sharing their knowledge of the local flora, fauna, and geography. As you trek through this pristine wilderness, you’ll encounter breathtaking vistas of glaciers and mountains, creating lifelong memories.


The more adventurous can partake in activities such as kayaking or paddleboarding, allowing you to glide through tranquil waters surrounded by towering icebergs and dramatic scenery. These activities offer a unique perspective, enabling you to appreciate the scale and beauty of Antarctica from a different vantage point.


If weather conditions permit, camping on Antarctica’s icy terrain is an option that adds an element of exhilaration to your adventure. Spending a night in a remote and secluded location gives you the opportunity to truly connect with the pristine environment, experiencing the tranquility and sense of isolation that defines this extraordinary continent.


Photography enthusiasts will be in their element, as every moment in Antarctica presents an opportunity to capture breathtaking shots. Whether it’s the stunning landscapes, the vibrant wildlife, or the ethereal light that illuminates the frozen expanse, there are endless subjects to fuel your creativity. Be sure to bring your camera equipment and plenty of spare batteries, as you’ll want to document every moment of this remarkable journey.


During your time in Antarctica, educational lectures and presentations by knowledgeable guides and scientists provide valuable insights into the history, geology, and conservation efforts of the region. Gather in the ship’s lecture hall or gathering spaces to learn about the importance of preserving this pristine wilderness and the ongoing research being conducted to understand and protect Antarctica.


Each activity and excursion in Antarctica offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience. Engage in these opportunities with a sense of wonder and respect for the fragile environment. Remember to follow the guidance of your knowledgeable guides, embrace the spirit of adventure, and fully immerse yourself in the unparalleled beauty of this remote and extraordinary continent.


The Return Journey

As your time in Antarctica draws to a close, the return journey across the Drake Passage begins. The return voyage offers a chance to reflect on the incredible experiences and memories made during your expedition, while also providing further opportunities for wildlife spotting and relaxation.


After days of exploring the wonders of Antarctica, you may find yourself reminiscing about the breathtaking landscapes, mesmerizing wildlife encounters, and the sense of awe that filled your heart. The return journey allows you the opportunity to hold onto these memories and relish in the transformative experience that Antarctica has offered.


During the crossing, take advantage of the ship’s amenities to wind down and recharge. Spend time in the lounge, engaging in conversations with fellow travelers, or participate in lectures and workshops that delve deeper into the history, geology, and ecology of Antarctica. These moments of reflection and education serve to deepen your appreciation for the remarkable journey you have undertaken.


While the focus may shift from the anticipation of landing to the anticipation of arrival back on the mainland, don’t forget to keep a lookout for any wildlife that may still be present in the surrounding waters. The Drake Passage is known to surprise with unexpected sightings of seabirds, whales, and other marine life, providing additional opportunities for connection with the natural world.


Onboard, you’ll have the chance to capture the essence of your Antarctic experience through photo sharing and storytelling sessions. Share your favorite moments, exchange pictures, and engage in conversations with fellow travelers who have embarked on this incredible journey alongside you.


As with the initial crossing, sea sickness can still be a concern during the return voyage. Be sure to continue using any preventative measures or remedies that have worked for you to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable journey.


As you make your way across the Drake Passage, take the time to reflect on the impact that this expedition has had on your perspective. The remote and pristine landscapes of Antarctica have a way of reshaping one’s understanding of our planet and the importance of its preservation. Consider how you can incorporate the experiences and lessons learned into your daily life, becoming an advocate for the protection of this delicate ecosystem.


Finally, cherish the bonds that you have formed with your fellow travelers and crew members. The shared experiences and camaraderie forged during the expedition create a unique and lasting connection that transcends time and distance.


As the ship docks and you disembark, you’ll step back onto solid ground with a heart full of cherished memories and a newfound appreciation for the natural wonders of our world. The return journey from Antarctica marks the end of an incredible adventure, but the impact of this transformative experience will remain with you for a lifetime.



Embarking on a journey across the Drake Passage to Antarctica is an experience like no other. From the moment you set foot on the ship, the anticipation and excitement build, leading to moments of pure awe and wonder as you sail through this legendary waterway and make your long-awaited landfall on the white continent.


The significance of the Drake Passage and the challenges it presents only serve to heighten the sense of adventure and accomplishment. Crossing this treacherous stretch of water is a testament to human courage and resilience – a test that brings with it the reward of witnessing the raw beauty of Antarctica.


During the crossing, you’ll have the opportunity to engage in a range of activities and excursions that allow you to truly connect with the Antarctic environment. From wildlife spotting and exhilarating zodiac cruises to guided hikes and opportunities for photography, each experience adds another layer to your understanding and appreciation of this remote and pristine wilderness.


The return journey offers time for reflection, allowing you to absorb the impact of the expedition and contemplate the tremendous beauty and fragility of Antarctica. As you share stories and memories with fellow travelers, you’ll form connections and friendships that endure beyond the journey itself.


A crossing of the Drake Passage is an immersive and transformative adventure. It offers a chance to disconnect from the demands of daily life, allowing you to fully appreciate the untouched landscapes, diverse wildlife, and majestic ice formations that define Antarctica.


But perhaps most importantly, a journey to Antarctica prompts a deeper understanding of our planet and our role in its protection. Witnessing the breathtaking beauty and fragility of this pristine environment serves as a powerful reminder of the collective responsibility we hold to safeguard our natural world for future generations.


As you bid farewell to Antarctica and return to mainland, you carry with you not only memories and photographs, but a newfound appreciation for our planet’s remarkable diversity and the need to protect it. The crossing of the Drake Passage and the exploration of Antarctica leave an indelible mark on the soul and shape a lifelong commitment to preserving our fragile ecosystems.


So, embrace the challenge, immerse yourself in the journey, and let the magic of Antarctica captivate your heart. The crossing of the Drake Passage is an adventure that will leave you forever transformed and inspire a deep reverence for the wonders of the natural world.