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Antarctica to the Cape Verde Islands: The Ultimate Atlantic Birding Experience

Atlantic Islands Birding Tours: Our Atlantic Odyssey bird watching and wildlife holiday is an epic journey from Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica, South Georgia, Gough, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension and the Cape Verde Islands. Our Atlantic Odyssey birding tour is one of the most extraordinary opportunities to see pelagic seabirds, not to mention the penguins, rarely-seen endemics, sea mammals, amazing scenery, little-visited islands and the rest. And all this at a very economical price compared to a standard Antarctica and South Georgia expedition cruise because it is a repositioning cruise at the end of the Antarctic season when the ship has to return to the northern hemisphere.

Sunday 29th March — Wednesday 22nd April 2020
(25 days)

Antarctic Peninsula Extension: Friday 20th March — Sunday 29th March (10 days)

St Helena to Ascension & Cape Verde Islands Extension: Wednesday 22nd April — Saturday 2nd May (11 days)

Leaders: Mark Van Beirs and Oceanwide Expeditions leaders

Group Size Limit: 12

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations


From the frozen wastes of Antarctica to hot, steamy, tropical seas, this extraordinary journey of over 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometres) from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to the Cape Verde Islands by way of the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena and Ascension offers the adventurous traveller the chance to visit some of the farthest flung places on earth and to experience a seabird extravaganza beyond most birdwatchers’ wildest dreams.

This superb opportunity is made possible by the need to bring expedition cruise ships back from Antarctica to Europe in spring for the start of the Arctic cruising season. Our remarkable journey on board one of these vessels will not only provide splendid opportunities for observing a bewildering array of seabirds, from penguins and albatrosses to frigatebirds and tropicbirds, at sea, but will also give us a chance to wander through their breeding colonies, as we step ashore on some of the remotest islands in the world. Opportunities for whale-watching will also be superb, especially in Antarctic waters and the Southern Ocean, where we are likely to enjoy some spectacular views of these leviathans sounding right next to our ship.

Our journey begins in earnest at Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world and our base for some enjoyable birding amidst the splendid scenery of Tierra del Fuego National Park. Soon we join our ship and sail out of the Beagle Channel into the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. We will be heading south-southeast the Antarctic Peninsula, an icy finger of land pointing towards South America and first seen by human eyes only as recently as 1820.

Antarctica is the last frontier on our ever-shrinking planet, an uninhabited continent of more than twelve million square kilometres almost entirely encrusted with ice – an awesomely silent but starkly beautiful frozen world that every traveller longs to explore but so few ever see. Here we will gaze in wonder at some of the world’s most magnificent scenery – towering volcanoes, stark mountain ranges, lowering headlands, icebergs like floating cathedrals, all enhanced by the peculiar quality of the light, which lends an ethereal beauty to the savage grandeur of the landscapes. This is a land of superlatives, at one and the same time the coldest, highest, windiest, driest, most barren and least known area on earth.

During our explorations, we plan to be able to step ashore on the continent itself, visit Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguin colonies, see immaculate Lesser Snow Petrels and striking Antarctic Petrels, cruise amongst majestic icebergs, watch many Humpback Whales, other cetaceans and seals, and experience some of the most amazing and dramatic scenery that our wonderful world has to offer. At this late period in the season there is even a slim chance of finding that most sought-after of all Antarctic birds, the Emperor Penguin.

After returning to Ushuaia, the main cruise involves sailing east to South Georgia, enjoying spectacular sea-watching as we pass through some of the richest seas on earth.

South Georgia, the most mountainous of the Subantarctic islands, appears like a series of snow-covered peaks rising from the sea, scalloped with fjords carved by more than 150 glaciers. Here we will experience some of the most unforgettable wildlife spectacles of our journey as we walk amidst huge colonies of stately King Penguins, stand close to gigantic Southern Elephant Seals and enjoy superb views of nesting Wandering Albatrosses. Among the specialities here are Georgian Diving Petrel and the endemic South Georgia Pipit.

We will also be calling in at Grytviken, a former Norwegian whaling station where we can visit the excellent whaling museum and the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Five days of open sea separate South Georgia from our next port of call at Gough Island, but the diversity and abundance of seabirds and cetaceans is sure to provide us with some of the best sea-watching imaginable, especially as we approach Gough. With its millions of breeding seabirds of 20 species, Gough Island is a strong contender for the title of most important seabird colony in the world. Although we will not be allowed to land on this strict nature reserve, we should be able to Zodiac cruise close inshore and catch site of the two endemic landbirds, the Gough Moorhen and Gough Bunting, as well as another key speciality, the Northern Rockhopper Penguin.

From Gough we will proceed to Tristan da Cunha, the remotest inhabited island in the world, where we will go ashore to meet some of the islanders and perhaps buy a few postage stamps – a major source of revenue in these islands. We also hope to be able to visit nearby Nightingale Island, with its huge seabird colony including over two million pairs of Great Shearwaters and large numbers of Atlantic Yellow-nosed and Sooty Albatrosses, large rookery of Subantarctic Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals, and three endemic landbirds – a thrush and two buntings. If we are really fortunate with the weather, we will be able to land on Inaccessible Island and seek the world’s smallest flightless bird, the incredible Inaccessible Island Rail.

Our next destination, Saint Helena, lies to the north of the Tropic of Capricorn and is another four days sailing away. As we leave the cold waters of the South Atlantic behind and enter the warm waters of the tropics, we finally say goodbye to our last albatrosses and pick up an entirely different set of seabirds and cetaceans, along with our first flying-fish. On Saint Helena, we will visit the house where Napoleon lived in exile, and look for the island’s only surviving endemic landbird, the Saint Helena Plover or Wirebird (so-named because of its long, spindly legs). We will also take a trip out in a local boat to look for dolphins and to visit a group of islets with breeding seabirds.

Continuing on almost to the Equator, we will come to Ascension Island where we will visit an enormous breeding colony of Sooty Terns, circumnavigate a small islet that supports the entire world population of Ascension Frigatebirds, and visit a beach at night to witness the amazing spectacle of Green Sea Turtles laying their eggs in the sand. Interesting seabirds in these waters include the ‘Ascension Storm-Petrel’.

Eventually, those taking the extension will reach the Cape Verde Islands, where Cape Verde and Boyd’s Shearwaters and Fea’s Petrels await us. Here, sadly, it will be time to disembark from our ship for the last time and return to the ‘real world’. There will be an option to look for some of the islands’ endemic landbirds before leaving the Cape Verdes.

We shall be sailing on the MV Plancius, a converted, ice-strengthened former Dutch naval vessel of 3434 tons and 89 metres in length operated by the well-respected Oceanwide Expeditions, who are based in the Netherlands. While significantly more comfortable and more modern than the old Russian expedition ships, this is still not a ‘cruise ship’ in the traditional manner and is designed for exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than enjoying luxurious surroundings and ‘black-tie’ dinners with the officers. Plancius can accommodate up to 114 passengers in 53 passenger cabins, all with private toilet and shower. Cabins consist of 4 quad cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and two upper, 2 triple cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and one upper, 9 twin cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds, 26 twin cabins with a window and two lower single beds, 2 somewhat larger deluxe twin cabins with a window and two lower single beds and 10 superior twin cabins which are almost 50% larger than a standard twin, with a window and one queen-sized bed. Cabins have ample storage space and an outside view.

Public facilities include a restaurant/lecture theatre, an observation lounge/bar with panoramic views, a library and a small shop. Food is plentiful, of good quality, waitress-served and prepared by experienced chefs. The ship carries a small complement of expedition staff who, as well as guiding excursions ashore and zodiac cruises, double up as guest lecturers and give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the areas visited. There will be at least one naturalist among them who will also be there to point out seabirds and cetaceans at sea. The bridge is normally open to all (except when the ship is docking) and the big ‘picture’ windows provide a great viewpoint whenever it is too breezy to stand comfortably at the bow.

Landings are carried out by means of a fleet of zodiacs/naiads, the rugged, fast-moving type of inflatables first developed by Jacques Cousteau for expedition work which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions. The speed and efficiency with which the crew and expedition staff carry out these landings allows everyone plenty of time ashore, a key factor when considering any cruise of this type.

Further information about the cruise, including photographs and details of the ship layout, including all cabin categories, are available on the Oceanwide Expeditions website: www.oceanwide-expeditions.com.

The great advantage of taking this particular cruise, if you are especially interested in seeing birds and other wildlife, is that the itinerary and day to day schedule are strongly wildlife-orientated.

Please note that the Birdquest guide will participate in the cruise provided there are a minimum of 6 participants and will not accompany the Antarctic Peninsula extension.

Birdquest has operated tours to the South Atlantic Islands since 1990.

Accommodation: For details of the ship, see the introductory section.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few optional harder walks.

Climate: In southern Argentina conditions are typically cool, with sunny periods and showers. Around the Antarctic Peninsula the temperature is generally around freezing point (around 4-5°C or 39-41°F at South Georgia) and on sunny days it can feel relatively warm if there is no wind (but it feels decidedly cold on windy days at sea). Sunny spells are interspersed with (often longer) overcast periods and some rain or snow are to be expected. At Gough and Tristan da Cunha, the climate is cool with maximum temperatures around 11-15°C (52-59°F) and a high probability of low cloud and rain. On St. Helena, Ascension and the Cape Verde Islands, the weather is usually warm or hot and humid, with maximum temperatures around 27-31°C (81-88°F). There is a possibility of some rain in this mid-Atlantic section.

Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities outstanding in the south, quite good in the north.

Important Note: This unique trip is subject to the vagaries of weather and sea conditions, especially in the South Atlantic where periods of high winds and rough seas can make landing on islands in the Tristan da Cunha group very difficult. In Antarctica, the precise itinerary may vary from year to year according to local ice conditions. Adverse weather conditions may prevent landings on exposed coasts and on some islands, but it is unusual for more than two or three landings to have to be called off during a cruise.


For Ushuaia/St Helena arrangements:

£5130, $6900, €5850 in a quad-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£5700, $7670, €6500 in a triple-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£6310, $8490, €7200 in a twin-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£6570, $8850, €7500 in a twin-berth cabin with window and private bathroom

£6870, $9320, €7900 in a deluxe cabin with private bathroom

£7410, $9970, €8450 in a superior cabin with private bathroom.

For Ushuaia/St Helena arrangements, including the Antarctic Peninsula Extension:

£8510, $11440, €9700 in a quad-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£9470, $12740, €10800 in a triple-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£10300, $13860, €11750 in a twin-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£10780, $14510, €12300 in a twin-berth cabin with window and private bathroom

£11600, $15510, €13150 in a deluxe cabin with private bathroom

£12230, $16460, €13950 in a superior cabin with private bathroom.

For St Helena/Praia Extension arrangements:

£1180, $1590, €1350 in a quad-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£1350, $1820, €1550 in a triple-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£1570, $2120, €1800 in a twin-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom

£1710, $2300, €1950 in a twin-berth cabin with window and private bathroom

£1790, $2410, €2050 in a deluxe cabin with private bathroom

£1970, $2650, €2250 in a superior cabin with private bathroom

The tour price covers the cruise arrangements from embarkation on the ship at Ushuaia port to disembarkation from the ship at Ascension or Praia port. Includes transportation, accommodations, meals, some soft drinks, entrance fees.

Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew, and any fuel surcharge that may be imposed by the cruise operator, Oceanwide Expeditions, are not included in the tour price. The level of gratuities is entirely a matter for personal discretion. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we have been told that most passengers give gratuities of around US$300-450 for such a cruise (plus around US$100-150 for each extension).

Single Cabin/Room Supplement: Single occupancy of twin-berth cabins can be obtained in return for a 70% supplement on top of the tour price. Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement.

Deposit: 20% (including any single supplement).

This tour is priced in Euros. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Important: Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants have two nights at Ushuaia prior to the cruise. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor ourselves can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you in Ushuaia on request.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

Many of the flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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