It’s a Zoo Out There
Excellent animal encounters abound on winter's five best wildlife cruises
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1. ANTARCTICA Play among hundreds of thousands of penguins and follow migrating whales on Mountain Travel Sobek's 11-day cruise on the expedition ship Akademik Ioffe. Departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, you'll cross the Drake Passage, 620 miles of the world's wildest sea, then follow the Antarctic Peninsula to Paradise Bay. Feeling burly? Launch a sea kayak from the ship. (December, January, March departures, $3,890–$8,790 per person; 888-687-6235, www.mtsobek.com) 2. SEA OF CORTEZ This is where the whales are—besides the blues (at up to 100 feet long, the largest creatures ever to inhabit the earth), keep an eye out for California gray, humpback, sperm, fin, minke, and pilot whales. Mexico's Baja Expeditions offers eight-day trips aboard the 14-passenger Don Jose. (February, March, April departures, $1,695–$1,895; 800-843-6967, www.bajaex.com) 3. GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS These remote volcanic isles—600 miles off Ecuador's coast—deserve their reputation as one of the world's greatest wildlife-watching destinations. During a ten-day Lindblad Expeditions trip, you'll likely cross paths with giant tortoises, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, lava lizards, and tropical penguins. Back on board, dive into Darwin's The Origin of Species. (Departures November–March, $3,370–$5,980; 800-397-3348, www.expeditions.com) 4. AMAZON RIVER Add oddities like wattled jacanas and pink freshwater dolphins to your life list. International Expeditions' nine-day voyage includes a visit to five-million-acre Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, the largest protected wetland on earth. (Departures November–March, $2,198–$2,898; 800-633-4734, www.ietravel.com) 5. TIERRA DEL FUEGO Sip Chilean wines and get loaded on gorgeous Beagle Channel scenery aboard Cruceros Australis's 233-foot Mare Australis, or visit an elephant seal colony and storm-pounded Cape Horn. (Departures October–April, $681–$2,229; 877-678-3772, www.australis.com)