Retrace the footsteps of early explorer, Ernest Shackleton on his Trans-Antarctic Expedition – one of the greatest survival stories of all time.

Travelling to Antarctica is easier these days, but you'll still be in awe of how Shackleton's crew survived on this unforgiving island for months after being shipwrecked. After crossing the mighty Drake Passage on the Ocean Endeavour (a big achievement in itself!), drop anchor and admire the island's dramatic peaks and the blue hues of Endurance Glacier popping against the snow. If the conditions are good, you'll jump in a Zodiac and make a landing at Point Wild to uncover the crew's survival secrets and meet the seal and penguin residents before continuing your adventure along the ice-strewn Antarctic Peninsula. An Elephant Island cruise is the stuff of polar legends.

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Highlights of Elephant Island

Point Wild on Elephant Island, Antarctica

Visit Point Wild

Named after Frank Wild, the second in command of Shackleton's shipwrecked expedition, Point Wild marks where Shackleton's crew survived four gruelling months (during Antarctic winter!) before being rescued by a Chilean naval ship. If the weather is on your side you'll be able to make a landing, but simply learning about this legendary polar tale is enough to give you goosebumps. From building a hut with upside-down life rafts to making oil lamps with seal blubber, this survival story is one of the greatest of all time.

Two southern elephant seals on Elephant Island

See southern elephant seals

If you hadn't already guessed, Elephant Island was named after the elephant seals early explorers spotted on its shores. Weighing up to a mighty 4,000 kilograms and reaching lengths of 6 metres, southern elephant seals are the world's largest seal species. They've also got a distinct trunk-like schnoz which is hard to miss. Large groups arrive on the shores every summer to mate, and it's hard not to be mesmerised as you watch them soaking up the sun’s rays or listen to males growling to compete for female attention.

A humpback whale breaching in the Antarctic waters

Spot whales from the ship

There might not be much life on Elephant Island, but the water surrounding the island is a totally different story. From humpback, minke and killer whales to leopard, Weddell and crabeater seals, crossing the Southern Ocean offers some fantastic opportunities to spot the many sea creatures that call these waters home. Look out for whales breaching or slapping their tales on the water's surface, or a family of seals hanging out on an ice floe.

The view of Endurance Glacier from an Antarctic cruise ship

Marvel at Endurance Glacier

Named after Shackleton’s ill-fated ship, HMS Endurance, Endurance Glacier is the main discharge glacier that runs onto Elephant Island. At a mighty 7 kilometres wide, this bright white glacier will catch your eye long before you drop anchor. If the conditions are calm enough you’ll be able to jump into a Zodiac and explore a little closer. Admire the blue-hued layers of ancient ice and keep your eyes peeled for any chunks that crack and plummet into the icy waters.

A gentoo penguin chick huddling at its parent's feet for warmth

Visit a penguin colony

Thousands of gentoo, chinstrap and macaroni penguins migrate to Elephant Island every spring to breed and nest on its rocky terrain. You could spend all day watching these curious critters as they waddle out to sea, show off their rowdy courting rituals, or guard their precious eggs. If you’re here from mid-December to mid-February you might see a creche of fluffy (and undeniably adorable) chicks huddling together while their parents go fishing, or proud parents keeping their chicks warm.

Albatross gliding through the sky in Antarctica

Admire albatross

As tempting as it may be to keep your eyes glued to the water for whale and seal sightings, make sure you don't forget to look up at the sky. Albatross might seem small from the ship’s deck, but if you grab a pair of binoculars you’ll be able to see their incredible wingspan – the largest of any other living bird in the world. When you watch these seabirds gliding effortlessly through the windy Antarctic skies, it’s not hard to see how their epic wings allow them to fly for hours at a time without a single flap.

Elephant Island tour reviews

Elephant Island FAQs

Everyone traveling on an Intrepid trip must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of carriage. 

All travelers are required to produce:  

  • Proof of COVID-19 vaccination
  • All children aged 5 to 17 years old must provide proof of vaccination (if eligible), proof of recovery or a negative COVID-19 test.
  • If you are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, you may apply for an exemption. Exemptions will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. To apply, you must provide a medical certificate from a medical professional. 

In all cases, you must be fully inoculated. This means you must receive the full dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine and allow enough time for immunity to take effect. Each COVID-19 vaccine has different dosages and timeframes for inoculation, so please check the relevant medical advice associated with your vaccine.

Learn more about Intrepid's COVID-19 proof of vaccination policy

Due to its extremely remote location there’s only one way to get to Elephant Island and that’s on a polar vessel like the Ocean Endeavour. Ships like this are specially designed to navigate the conditions as you cross the Drake Passage. Most Elephant Island cruises depart from Ushuaia in Argentina and the journey takes roughly seven or eight days depending on your itinerary and the number of stops along the way.

The weather on Elephant Island is cold and unforgiving for most of the year and the sea surrounding the island is closed with ice which makes it inaccessible between April to November. Cold, cloudy and windy conditions prevail even in the warmest months (January and February) with the average daytime temperature lingering at just 36F (2.2C). Average winter temperatures in the coldest months (June and July) plummet to -10C (14F).

The best time to visit Elephant Island – or anywhere in Antarctica – is during the summer months in January and February. This is when the sea ice melts enough to allow access for polar ships. Generally, you can’t travel to Elephant Island in winter as the weather conditions are too treacherous to travel to the island safely. Even in the hottest months most of the island is still covered in snow.

If you’re travelling to Elephant Island for the wildlife, then the best time to go really depends on what you’d like to see. Southern elephant seals frequent the shores of the island and you have a good chance of seeing large numbers of them in November – the end of the breeding season. The island is also home to a colony of chinstrap penguins and migratory gentoos. Breeding and egg hatching season runs from November/December until March, so if you want to see gorgeous fluffy chicks, this is the time to do it.

Learn more about the best time to visit Antarctica

Antarctica is one of the most isolated and unpredictable places in the world. It’s super important to pack everything you’ll need for your trip as buying supplies there isn’t an option. Some of the essentials you’ll need to bring include:

  • warm base layers – and lots of them
  • pair of waterproof and windproof pants
  • waterproof and windproof jacket (you might be provided with this on your tour)
  • well-fitted beanie
  • warm gloves
  • sun protection – yes, you can still get burnt in Antarctica!
  • moisturizer
  • camera

Read our full Antarctica packing guide

Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have.

Unfortunately there is no wheelchair access on our polar vessels. Some ships have lifts but these may not access all decks on the ship. There are often stairways, and passengers need to be mobile enough to keep themselves steady and be able to get around reasonably without being assisted. We can help you to further clarify whether the trip you’re interested in is right for you. 

However, we’re always happy to talk to travelers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.

Learn more about Accessible Travel with Intrepid

See Antarctica from the sky

Not a big fan of boats? Or maybe your idea of an unforgettable Antarctica adventure involves gazing at icebergs and ancient glaciers from the sky? If so, why not take a sightseeing flight over the region's majestic land, sea and icescapes. Departing from several locations in Australia, this once-in-a-lifetime experience is definitely one to cross off the bucket list.

Read more about Antarctica