Kayaking in Antarctica

Ximena Urjel, Antarctica21 Team Member, tells us about her once-in-a-lifetime experience kayaking in Antarctica and encountering whales along the way.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Kayaking in Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure where travelers can explore the pristine and tranquil world of the Antarctic waters. During the 2019-2020 season, Ximena Urjel, Market Manager MICE & LATAM at Antarctica21, went with us to Antarctica.  Below she tells us about her experience kayaking in Antarctica and encountering whales along the way.

”For me, Antarctica is the most beautiful, wild, and pristine place on earth. You can experience nature closer than anywhere in the world. It is a place where you can appreciate magnificent landscapes and have unique life experiences. When I decided to go kayaking in Antarctica, I did not know it would be etched forever in my mind.

I was able to contemplate the Antarctic landscapes from the inside of my red kayak and feel the immensity of our planet. The continent has this impressive silence, a sound of its own with its pristine frosty cover. Now and again, that silence was broken by the sound of the ice cracking. The world seemed slower, gliding through the cold water. I saw penguins and seals arriving at the shoreline – some peeping up through the foam and others plunging into view.

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As if this were not enough to fill my wonder, my group and I could also hear whales vocalizing somewhere nearby. I had this feeling they could see us, but they were out of sight. Then suddenly, the calm water was broken, and the whales appeared in perfect view from our kayaks. My group, led by our Kayak Master, was astounded by their choreographed movements across the sea, their harmonization.

As we do with all wildlife in Antarctica, we maintained our distance, but the whales had their own plan, were curious, and approached us. I held my breath in awe and surprise as one of the whales passed under my kayak and, when breaching the surface, sprayed what seemed like rain. Tiny droplets fell on my face, cold water that came not from the sky but from this majestic animal of the ocean.

The experience was surreal and not something that happens on every kayaking expedition, to be sure. It was a blessing by nature, here among the ice, water, and snow, this was my “welcome.” The moment passed as quickly as it began. My group was led in a different direction by our kayak leader, leaving the whales behind, unbothered and satisfied with their investigation.

The entire expedition in Antarctica was one of my dreams. However, the memory of kayaking in Antarctica will stay with me always. To be so connected with the most remote place on earth is not something I will forget.”

– Ximena Urjel, Market Manager MICE & LATAM at Antarctica21

Kayaking with Whales in Antarctica 2 - Antarctica21

What you need to know about Kayaking in Antarctica

Kayaking will take your Antarctic experience to another level and have a more intimate connection in the Polar Seas. Antarctica21 provides top-quality equipment to each guest. An expert Kayak Master will accompany you as well as a safety zodiac boat at all times. Here’s what you need to know.

How many people can participate in the Antarctica kayaking program?
The Sea Kayaking program is a small-group activity led by a Kayak Master and supported by a safety Zodiac. Only 10 spots are available during each voyage. Due to limited availability, it is highly recommended that the activity is booked together with the original trip reservation.

Is there an age limit?
The minimum age for participation is 16 years.

Do I need to have experience kayaking?
To take part in the program, participants must have previous kayaking experience and must be able to swim.

Where can I kayak in Antarctica?
The program is available and can be performed in Antarctica and South Georgia, during the following trips:

How does the kayak program work?
Participants join the program at the beginning of their expedition. They attend a briefing and training session to review the operating procedures and the equipment. Each excursion unfolds based on the local conditions and the skill level of the group. When possible and desirable, during the excursion some time is also spent exploring on land.

What is the difficulty level of this activity?
On a 5-point scale, the difficulty level is 2/5. The program offers multiple extended, non-strenuous excursions. It involves physical exercise, potentially on challenging sea conditions and uneven terrain.

Difficulty level scale

  1. Non-strenuous activity, suitable for all skill levels.
  2. Extended but not a strenuous activity.
  3. Involves physical activity, potentially in challenging conditions.
  4. Strenuous, extended activity. Requires good physical fitness.
  5. Very strenuous activity on untracked terrain. Technical skills needed.

What equipment is provided?

  • Double or single kayak based on experience
  • An adjustable paddle
  • Top-quality dry suit
  • Booties, pogies and warm hat
  • Spray skirt and life vest

What equipment should I bring?

  • Thermal under layer
  • Comfortable pants and few crew neck tops
  • Two pairs of waterproof gloves
  • Thermal socks
  • Warm hat and neck gaiter

I am an experienced kayaker. Can I go on excursions by myself?
The Antarctic environment presents special challenges. In the interest of safety, the sea kayaking program operates only as a group activity guided by an experienced Kayak Master and supported by a safety Zodiac. Independent excursions are not possible.

I would like to try out kayaking but only once or twice. Can I do it?
Kayaking in Antarctica requires fitted equipment and special preparation. The group program offers progressive skill development that can only take place with participation in the full program. For these reasons, it is not possible to try kayak only once or twice. Participants can opt out of an excursion (to spend more time at a landing site, for example) if they wish. However, the kayak excursion is reserved only for travelers who have signed up for the entire program and if they opt out the excursion will not be open for other travelers to join in their place.

For more information about our Antarctica excursions, see our Kayak Program details or see our brochures for the upcoming seasons.

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