Antarctica is one of the most unique and pristine regions on the planet. A trip to Antarctica offers travelers an opportunity to witness the breathtaking beauty of this icy continent, from stunning landscapes to fascinating wildlife. Keep reading to find out what there is to see and do, as well as how to travel there.
What you can see in Antarctica
Antarctica is home to some very large and spectacular icebergs. These massive structures are created when ice breaks off from glaciers and floats out to sea. The shapes and sizes of the icebergs are constantly changing, and the blue hues of the ice make for a stunning visual display.
Mountains and Glaciers
Antarctica has a beautiful and rugged landscape, with rocky mountain peaks and massive glaciers that earned it the nickname of The White Continent. Hiking these landscapes is an unforgettable adventure that very few travelers have experienced.
Antarctica is home to several species of penguins, including the iconic Emperor penguin. These adorable birds can be seen waddling around on the ice and diving into the water to catch fish. Watching a colony of penguins in action is a truly unforgettable experience. Although it is possible to scuba dive and snorkel in Antarctica, it is an extreme sport that isn’t for everyone. If you’d like to swim with penguins, I recommend the Galapagos Islands, another adventure of a lifetime.
Seals are another common sight. Weddell seals, leopard seals, and elephant seals are just a few of the seal species that can be seen lounging on the ice or swimming in the frigid waters.
Antarctica is one of the best places in the world to see whales. Humpback whales, minke whales, and orca (killer) whales are three of the eight species that can be spotted in the waters around Antarctica. Watching these massive creatures breach the surface of the water is a truly awe-inspiring sight.
How to visit Antarctica
Most voyages to Antarctica start in South America, either in Chile or Argentina. The reason for this is that the northernmost and most accessible part of Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, extends northward toward South America. You can see this on the left side of the map below.
Most travelers visit Antarctica by ship. To get from South America to the Antarctic Peninsula by ship, you must cross the Drake Passage, which is known for its frequently rough waters. There are also some itineraries in which you fly over the Drake Passage, but if your flight is delayed or canceled because of inclement weather, there’s a risk that you could miss your cruise.
Where you’ll go
How much you’ll see of Antarctica depends on the length of your itinerary and what kind of ship you are on.
Antarctica doesn’t have large ports where cruise ships can dock. If you visit on a cruise ship that carries more than 500 passengers, you will get to see some of the amazing scenery and wildlife from the ship, but you will not be able to step foot on Antarctica.
In order to get off your ship and walk around, you need to travel on a smaller expedition ship.
Expedition ships anchor offshore, and then travelers board dinghies (inflatable motor boats) that take them to shore. The most well-known brand of dinghies is Zodiac, so you’ll often hear them called that. (It’s like calling tissues by the brand name Kleenex.)
The size of the expedition ship matters. The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators has a rule that only 100 people are allowed on land at any one time from a single vessel. So, the more people on your ship, the less time you’ll be able to spend on land.
Not all Antarctica cruises go below the Antarctic Circle. This is because the Antarctic Peninsula stretches northward beyond the Antarctic Circle. If you’d like to sail south of the Antarctic Circle, you’ll need to choose an itinerary specifically for that.
Some of the longer itineraries also include the Falkland Islands and/or the South Georgia Islands. These destinations offer some amazing wildlife experiences. If you can allow extra time for these islands, you won’t regret it.
Another factor in choosing the right Antarctica cruise is the level of luxury you desire. The accommodations and amenities on the different ships range from basic, but comfortable, to ultra-luxury.
Activities you’ll do
An expedition cruise to Antarctica offers travelers a wide range of activities to experience the icy continent up close.
Riding a Zodiac is a popular way to explore the coastline, get closer to icebergs and wildlife, and access landing sites for hiking or visiting research stations.
Kayaking offers a more active way to explore the waters around Antarctica and get even closer to wildlife, such as penguins and seals.
Hiking is a great way to explore unique landscapes and observe the flora and fauna, including mosses, lichens, and Antarctic birds.
Finally, for those who truly want to embrace the polar experience, the polar plunge is an exhilarating activity where you jump into the icy waters for a few moments, experiencing the rush of cold and adrenaline.
Planning your trip
A trip to Antarctica is a significant investment and likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so it’s important to get it right. More than a dozen different companies offer Antarctic expedition cruises. If you work with me, I can help determine the right fit for you. Read about how my services work.