This extraordinarily diverse trip is an opportunity to do something truly different this Christmas and New Year.
First, the luxurious expedition ship Island Sky will take you into the heart of the White Continent to spend Christmas Day among giant icebergs, prehistoric glaciers and penguins numbering in their hundreds of thousands. As if that weren’t enough, you’ll then fly on to Rio de Janeiro to spend New Year’s Eve watching fireworks explode over the legendary Copacabana Beach.
Begin in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, on the windswept island of Tierra del Fuego, with a pre-cruise stay at the beautiful Arakur Hotel & Resort, a member of Leading Hotels of the World.
Then on 19 December, embark Polar Latitudes’ state-of-the-art expedition ship Island Sky to begin crossing the Drake Passage. One of the best in its class, this intimate ship boasts spacious, well-appointed suites (some with balconies), stylish common areas, ice-strengthened hulls and some of the finest guides, naturalists and expedition crew members in all polar travel.
As you edge ever closer to the White Continent, you’ll learn all you need to know about the wildlife, history and geography of Antarctica. You’ll even have the opportunity to participate in Polar Latitudes’ exclusive ‘Citizen Science’ programme, which could see you tracking whales, surveying penguins or mapping phytoplankton in the name of science, with the data you help gather sent to research facilities like NASA and the Scripps Institute.
After two days crossing the Drake Passage, your first sight of land will be the volcanic South Shetland Islands, home to sub-Antarctic species like chinstrap penguins and southern elephant seals. The Captain and Expedition Leader will create a flexible itinerary based on weather, ice and opportunity, ensuring you have as much time as possible to venture ashore by zodiac boat or even kayak.
South of the islands, the Antarctic Peninsula beckons like an outstretched arm. Here adelie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins abound, and weddell and crabeater seals are often found hauled out on the ice to rest alongside predatory leopard seals and inquisitive Antarctic fur seals.
Minke, humpback and orca whales can be seen in the icy waters. Wandering albatross soar overhead. Icebergs sculpted into fabulous shapes dazzle in shades of cyan blue and aquamarine. And sunsets turn snow-laden landscapes the most delicate shades of peach and pink.
On Christmas Day itself, the ship is wreathed in decorations, carols play out, Christmas dinner is served with all the trimmings and you may even find Santa Claus driving your zodiac. Come Boxing Day, the ship begins its return across the Drake Passage, arriving in Ushuaia on 28 December.
Swap snowscapes for sunshine the following day by flying to Rio for a New Year to remember. Temperatures in the high twenties mean conditions on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana are just about perfect.
To make the most of the city, we’d recommend a couple of private tours. A visit to the iconic statue Christ the Redeemer is a must, with a stop afterwards in the hillside district of Santa Teresa, home to gourmet restaurants, trendy art galleries and charming cobbled streets.
Also not to be missed is the chance to ride a cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain for breathtaking views of Rio’s island-flecked bays and golden beaches. This is followed by lunch at one of the city’s best barbecues, which will leave you in no doubt as to whether Brazil can give Argentina a run for its money in the meat grilling business.
To make your visit truly special, stay at the Belmond Copacabana Palace. Built in 1923 at the birth of the Jazz Age and set right by the sands of Copacabana Beach, this iconic hotel remains the symbol of Rio glamour and romance.
Your stay will include complimentary access to the hotel’s legendary New Year’s Eve party – one of the hottest tickets in town. We can think of few better ways to see in the new decade than from the hotel’s terrace, watching fireworks burst over Copacabana Beach as the Twenties roar into life once again.