The Drake Passage is an approximately 1,000 kilometre-long stretch of open water that provides the shortest route between South America’s most southerly point and the outlying islands of Antarctica. This is where the Southern, South Pacific, and South Atlantic Oceans all collide, often resulting in wild and unpredictable conditions.
When possible, you will be able to spend time on deck and spot some of this icy region’s animal specimens. Albatrosses, whales, dolphins, penguins, and giant petrels are all common creatures to see during a voyage across the Drake Passage.
The passage is named after Sir Francis Drake, an English privateer of the 1500s who was taken there unexpectedly by strong winds from the Strait of Magellan. Apart from his somewhat accidental discovery of the passage, Drake’s historical achievements include leading the second circumnavigation of Earth in one expedition and being second-in-command when the English fleet clashed with the Spanish Armada in 1588.
There are some who instead call the passage ‘Mar de Hoces’ as there is a possibility that Francisco de Hoces, a Spanish navigator, spotted the body of water prior to Drake’s discovery.
Many worldly travellers consider crossing the Drake Passage to be a rite of passage of sorts, an initiation that invites adventurers to fully experience what this extreme part of the world has to offer. Just about all Antarctic cruises feature this seafaring section as part of their itineraries.
As the Drake Passage is a body of water, there is no port. You will remain on board your cruise ship as you sail through the passage.
The Drake Passage stretches between Cape Horn on South America’s southern tip and the South Shetland Islands, an Antarctic archipelago that is typically where cruise ships first visit after traversing the passage.
As there is no port, there are no port facilities. However, your cruise line should provide everything you need on board during the voyage.
How To Get Around
If conditions are calm enough, you are free to move about the ship as you please during the voyage across the Drake Passage. Be respectful of any restricted areas and take care when on deck.
Currency – If any items are available for purchase on board, they will most likely need to be paid for in the currency of your cruise line’s home country. However, such expenses are most often covered in your ticket price anyway.
Time Zone – Your cruise ship will probably operate according to its point of origin’s time zone throughout your Antarctic journey.
Weather – The weather on the Drake Passage varies dramatically from day to day. Conditions may be pleasant or you may encounter heavy storms. If the latter occurs, staying inside is advisable. The temperature should gradually become colder as you get closer to Antarctica (or warmer as your ship heads back to South America).
Antarctic Scenery – Towards the south end of the Drake Passage, icebergs begin to break up the ocean views. Some of these stunning blocks of ice can be several times larger than your cruise ship, making them quite a spectacle to behold – and to snap pictures of! The Drake Passage is also where many expeditions will get their first looks at the ice-capped mountains and glaciers that await them on their Antarctic voyage.
Wildlife Spotting – There is a wide variety of sea and sky creatures that may travel alongside your ship as you make your way across the Drake Passage. From glorious albatrosses and giant petrels to friendly hourglass dolphins and fish-hunting penguins, these waters are home to many animals. If you are lucky, you may also get to do some humpback whale watching during the trek.