Best Places to Visit in Antarctica
A Voyage To The World’s End: Treading The Icy Antarctica!
An expedition to the edge of the world promises an adventure of a lifetime!
The seventh continent at the bottom of the globe, Antarctica is an esoteric land mostly covered in ice. The remote blocks of ice harbor a variety of polar wildlife and marine life and are awe-inspiring to see. A land of adventure and peril, Antarctica is for those few who aren’t afraid of pushing their limits and stepping out of their comfort zones. It is for those few whose appetite for adventure, the unknown and the unseen, can never be fulfilled. While the journey may seem daunting, the experiences of sailing through iceberg filled waters and setting foot on the farthest continent is sure worth it. If you’re daring enough, you can travel to Antarctica and take part in what could become one of the greatest expeditions of your life. Here is a definitive guide to visiting the continent of ice.
Why visit Antarctica
Going to Antarctica is not everybody’s cup of tea. It requires a significant amount of mental strength and physical fitness to sail perilous seas and explore the farthest corners of the world. But the few that make the journey return with unforgettable experiences and an increased understanding of the world. Gone are the days of Amundsen and Scott, when polar exploration seemed like a one-way ticket to hell. Nowadays, with expert tour operators using the latest technologies, expeditions to the Antarctic shelves are becoming a huge draw for those who lust for adventure. From whale and penguin encounters to trekking the South Pole, from kayaking in the icy waters to sailing into an active volcano, the mesmerizing ice blocks of Antarctica are unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
How to Get to Antarctica
One of the first things that comes to mind is how do we even reach Antarctica. You know about the scientific expeditions and those of documentary crews whose voyages mostly begin in New Zealand or South Africa. But as a traveler, your best bet is via South America, through Argentina. Fly into Buenos Aires in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile. From there take another flight to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.
Most of the expeditions to Antarctica begin at Ushuaia. The vessels take the Drake Passage, a 1000 kilometer long body of water that separates the Antarctic peninsula from South America. The crossing takes about a day and a half in the open seas and is a prime time for watching polar wildlife such as humpback whales, leopard seals, orcas, albatross and of course, penguins.
Alternatively, you can also fly directly to an island in Antarctica from Punta Arenas or Ushuaia.
When to Visit Antarctica
The best time to travel to the remote ice shelves of Antarctica is between the months of October and March, during the southern summer. The seas open up to allow expedition vessels to sail through the Antarctic peninsula and wildlife is abundant. During this time, there are plenty of voyages to and from Ushuaia. The expedition season continues till the Antarctic autumn. Transport remains grounded during the winter months and visiting Antarctica is almost impossible.
9 Best Places to Visit in Antarctica
Hidden in the endless ice shelves are a few spots that you cannot afford to miss. These include prime locations where penguins gather, mystical waterways, and a few remote outposts with historical significance.
1. Drake Passage
A wide stretch of water at the confluence of the Southern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Drake Passage inspires adventure. The seas are rough and some waves might even give you goosebumps. But the views right from the beginning are absolutely breathtaking. This passage is filled with fascinating wildlife not found anywhere else on the planet. Watch albatross fly by your vessel and get up, close and personal, with leopard seals lazing around on icebergs. See whales swimming playfully in the icy waters and penguins on their own turf. As you slowly reach Antarctica, you are greeted by gigantic icebergs, a scene that seems straight out of a folk legend. The Drake Passage is an experience and because of this, most travelers prefer sailing the seas over a direct flight.
2. Falkland Islands
Known for its stunning remote landscapes and magnificent bird life, Falkland Islands is one of the major attractions before reaching mainland Antarctica. Because of the architecture and design of the settlements, the islands somewhat resemble Great Britain. There are many nesting spots in these islands which attract a lot of exotic birds and marine creatures. Watch giant albatross fly overhead while four distinct species of penguins nest on the shoreline.
3. South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
A long, narrow island often referred to as the Alps in the middle of the ocean. The island is covered with towering glaciers, extensive fjords and low-lying grasslands. The beaches of this remote island are packed with penguin colonies and seals, while whales and orcas are found in abundance in the surrounding waters. There are remains of several whaling stations on the island, a testament to the bygone days, when the brutal practice was carried out indiscriminately. These remains also hold a lot of historical significance as they tell the story of how these islands were transformed from a treacherous region to a haven for penguins and travelers.
4. South Shetland Islands
About 160 kilometers away from mainland Antarctica, most of the area of these islands are almost entirely covered with ice. Filled with fjords and glaciers, the coastlines are inhabited by elephant seals, penguins and sea lions. Around 8 countries maintain research stations on these islands with the majority of them on Kings Island.
The southernmost island in this cluster, known as Deception Island, provides one of the rarest opportunities - to sail inside an active volcano. The island also has a secret harbor, and its ice is covered with volcanic ash. Deception Island is also the only island in the area where you can plunge into the ocean, thanks to the presence of geothermal currents.
5. Antarctic Peninsula
The northernmost part of Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, is scattered with giant icebergs and is home to a wide range of polar wildlife. The narrow waterways are a gateway to the rest of the continent and are frequented by expedition vessels from Argentina. A mix of clear blue skies, marvelous glaciers and gigantic icebergs along with the playful wildlife make this a breathtaking scenery and the landscape feels almost alien. Apart from the mesmerizing views, these waters and glaciers are mating and nesting grounds for penguins and aquatic birds. The migration season also brings whale species such as Minke, humpback, and killer to its shores.
6. Port Lockroy
A natural harbor in the northwestern shore of Wiencke Island, Port Lockroy is one of the most popular places among travelers to Antarctica. The history of this harbor goes back to almost a hundred years, when it was a prolific whaling station. The remains of the whaling industry is evident here with rusted mooring chains and long lines of bleached whale bones. During the great wars of the nineteenth century, the British kept a battalion stationed here to deny their enemies the chance to land on Antarctica. Now, it is a well known historic site in Antarctica with a museum and a post office.
7. LeMaire Channel
The LeMaire Channel is filled with colossal glaciers, icebergs and cliffs, while humpback whales and orcas swim the waters below. The gateway to the far south Antarctic peninsula, this 11 kilometers long stretch, is a paradise for nature lovers and shutterbugs. These are precarious waters, as there are a lot of loose icebergs in the channel. The giant glaciers also drop huge amounts of ice into the ocean floor - a clear indication of global warming. Nevertheless, the channel with its mirrored landscape of spartan rocks covered in ice is a fascinating and surreal sight to behold.
8. Ross Island
The largest ice shelf in Antarctica, with a thickness of several hundred meters, Ross Island is an extraordinary natural wonder. Home to two active volcanoes - Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, this floating ice island is also historically significant. You can see the century old cabins of famous explorers of the area such as Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott. The island is also home to one of the largest scientific research stations on Antarctica - the McMurdo station maintained by the USA. The ice shelf is also frequented by several species of penguin colonies, and the surrounding waters bring a diverse array of aquatic species to its icy shores.
9. Amundsen Scott South Pole Station
First traversed by explorer Roald Amundsen over a hundred years ago, the South Pole is synonymous with mystic, peril, and the sheer human spirit that allowed the first expedition to reach its fruition. It is here that the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station stands proudly at an elevation of 2,835 meters surrounded by the vast, merciless ice sheets. A place where history was made and an outpost diligently carrying the torch of the famous explorers, this is indeed a once in a lifetime experience.
The remotest corner of the world is no longer out of reach for the avid traveler. An experience that you will cherish for life, Antarctica is unlike any other place on Earth. It is a journey fraught with peril, even in this age of advanced technology. But those who traverse these treacherous lands and waters are sure to come back with treasured memories and a bagful of impressive stories.