Close to Antarctica experience
With our trip to South America, we have officially traveled to all continents, except Antarctica. However, as it is not so easy to get to Antarctica and wouldn't fit into our three-week itinerary anyway, we decided that once we were so close, we would take a one-day cruise that would take us further south from the southest point of mainland South America.
This is how we chose the Solo Expediciones one-day whale watching boat tour.
At 5 o'clock in the morning, we were picked up by the bus in front of the Solo Expediciones office and taken by bus to Punta Carrera (50 km south of Punta Arenas) where we embarked on the ship and continued to the South.
There were about 50 seats on the boat. There was like an inside area of the boat, which was rain- and windproof and in the end of the boat there was access to the open deck with panoramic view.
Bytheway, I always feel cold, but it was extra cold on the boat because of the very strong wind. I wore 3 pants, plus seven layers on top + a cap, a scarf, gloves + the life jacket when we were on the deck, → and still did not feel warm.
A very nice young girl was the tour guide who told us a lot of useful information about the whales and the wildlife of the Strait of Magellan.
The furthest point of our tour was the Glaciares Helado y Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a wonderful glacier.
By the time we got there, we were already full of experiences. We saw the iconic cross built on the cliff at the southernmost point of the continental world, and then we saw loads of albatrosses flying around and seals, penguins swimming around the ship. We even saw a very special and rare kind of whale jumping out.
Then came the real eventful area, Parque Marino Francisco Coloane, where we saw the first humpback whales.
And since we are not allowed to use the engine of the boat if we are closer than a couple of hundred meters to the whales, the boat slowed down, turned off the engines and we let the whales approach us if they wanted. That's how it happened. There was a little bay-like area where we saw a lot of whales and some came pretty close. Unfortunately, they did not jump out as they show it in all whale watching brochures, but we have seen their back and tail fins numerous times as they were lifting them out of the water and then disappeared into the depths for a few minutes. When we could not see any whales, then we were amusing the sea lions swimming around the boat.
After everyone had taken hundreds of pictures of the whale tails, we set off for the glacier.
On the way there, closer to the shore we saw little Magellanic penguins toddling on the rocks, and also rare birds like vultures.
The staff was very kind. We could easily go to the captains' cockpit, and chat around with them, they explained everything nicely and even let us try to drive the boat.
When we arrived at the glacier, next to this beautiful view we had our lunch, which was cooked for us on the boat.
After that, we went very near (a few hundred meters) to the base of the glacier. This was the first glacier we had seen during our trip, and actually in our lives. To be honest, it was so impressive, that it set the standard high enough. It was simply breathtaking. It had a large branch and a smaller one on the left. We saw beautiful shades of white and blue. And we heard and saw, how smaller pieces of ice splashed into the water. Some of which were even floating around the boat. The crew of the boat fished a floating block of ice out of the water and crushed it with a pickaxe, then served us Pisco Sour with these little "ice cubes" in the glasses. It was a great and unique experience.
Slowly we started to head back to Punta Arenas because we still had a couple of hours of sailing + 1,5 hours of bus ride ahead of us.
On the way back, we stumbled upon a large sea lion colony with at least 50-60 seals and the males were fighting with each other loudly. We were able to get very close to them by boat and it was a unique experience to observe the colony in its natural environment.
Afterward, we returned to the area of the bay (where we saw a lot of whales on the way to the glacier), and we were lucky again because we saw a couple of whales again, and the weather was also nice and sunny.
After these experiences near Antarctica, we had a snack from the boat with the beautiful view, and then most of the team fell asleep. Because of the cold and the wind, plus the amazing experiences, we were exhausted.
When we got back to Punta Carrera, we changed to a bus from our catamaran and drove back to Punta Arenas along with beautiful colorful wildflowers.
After returning to Punta Arenas, we picked up our bags and went to the Bus Sur stop to try our luck. Our bus ticket to Puerto Natales was for 7 in the evening because we wanted to make sure we would reach the bus after the full day boat trip. However, due to the good sailing conditions, we were back at Punta Arenas already at half-past five, so the plan was to try to talk to the bus company to modify our tickets for an earlier departure time.
Luckily, we did not have to wait an extra 1,5 hours but could take the 17:30 bus to Puerto Natales.
Puerto Natales is a small lakeside town "close to" Torres del Paine National Park (2 hours), where we spent the next three nights and from where our daily hikes began in the following days.
A detailed blog post is coming soon about our 25km hiking adventure to Base of the Towers and highlights of Torres del Paine National Park → So stay tuned for Patagonia’s Chilean-side summary with helpful tips!
Have a nice day,