Antarctica destination research – start planning your trip of a lifetime to the White Continent!
Antarctica is a land of extremes and is one of the most exotic places on Earth: the highest, driest, windiest, coldest, and darkest continent. As the fifth largest in the world, Antarctica is scarcely touched by humans; the frozen land boasts breathtaking scenery. There is no significant land plant life and no native land mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. However, its shoreline serves as a nesting ground for many species of migratory birds and penguins, and the Southern Ocean surrounding it is home to many fish and marine mammals, including whales. If you love pristine beauty, amazing sights, incredible wildlife opportunities, and you don’t mind a bit of cold – this is a trip of a lifetime.
The wildlife and landscape is a visual feast and a photographer’s fantasy. The myriad of sights include blue, green, and odd-shaped icebergs, calved-off glaciers, and wildlife on ice floes such as penguins, seals and birds. Massive sheer cliffs with jagged peaks drop straight into the sea. Watch out for the minke, humpback, blue, sperm and orca whales. Observe elephant, fur and leopard seals in their natural environment. Experience close encounters with hundreds of thousands of king, emperor, adelie, gentoo, rockhopper, royal, macaroni, and chinstrap penguins. While visiting Antarctica you will see why it is one of the most difficult places on earth to travel to and it’s one of the most pristine places in the world.
When to Visit
Antarctica is best visited during the austral summer from about November through March. During the height of the summer, the sun does not really ever set.
November & Early December (Late Spring / Early Summer)
Courting season for penguins and seabirds – see spectacular courtship rituals. Seals are visible on fast ice. Spring wildflowers in bloom in the Falklands and South Georgia. Elephant and fur seals establish their breeding territories. Winter pack ice is starting to melt and break up. The scenery is white, clean and pristine with pack ice.
Mid-December and January (Mid-Summer)
Normally Antarctica’s warmest months. Longer days create great light conditions and fabulous photo opportunities at midnight. Antarctic chicks hatch. South Georgia and the Falklands – first penguin chicks emerge and fur seals are breeding. Seal pups visible on South Georgia and the Falklands.
February and March (Late Summer)
Whale sightings are at their best on the Peninsula. Penguin chicks start to fledge. Receding pack ice allows ships to explore further south. More fur seals on the Antarctic Peninsula.
How to Choose a Trip
Expedition-style tour operators will give you the most value for your money. Trips usually include an educational component with top-notch lectures and experts to personalize your experience through daily recaps, lectures, and guided excursions via foot and zodiac cruising. Most companies also have a commitment to preserving the Antarctic environment.
Standards of accommodation and budget vary as well. Ships range from research vessels to 5-star luxury. Smaller expedition style ships (50-100 passengers) referred to as “icebreakers” rather than “ice-strengthened” ships are the way to see wonders up close. See the places big ships are unable to go. Landings are limited to only 100 people at a time, and the smaller ships allow for the most time spent ashore with the least amount of people while visiting historic sites, kayaking or hiking.
What to Expect
Voyages operate during the five-month austral summer – November through to March – when the white continent is spectacular and ideal to explore. Weather and ice, not clocks and calendars, set the schedule for a journey here. You can expect about 20 hours of daylight a day. For most activities, a relatively moderate level of exertion is required. You will need to climb into and out of Zodiacs for shore excursions. While ashore, you must be able to walk moderate distances, over rough terrain and occasional ice and snow on the Antarctic Peninsula.