Antarctica is big. Like, really big. Spread out over 14 million km2, it’s bigger than Mexico and the U.S. combined. That means there’s no way you’re going to be able to take in all of our southern-most continent’s offerings in one Antarctic cruise.
Let’s take a look at some of the hotspots on and around the world’s coldest continent so you can make sure that you pick the cruise that best suits what you’re looking for in an Antarctic adventure.
Swimming and diving
Yep, people do in fact go swimming in the Antarctic. Mind you, it’s not for very long… more of a cannonball followed by a scream followed by a hasty scramble back to shore than actual swimming. These polar plunges can take place just about anywhere along Antarctica’s shorelines, much to the bemusement to the local penguin population.
Diving on the other hand usually occurs around the Antarctic Peninsula. Divers are taken out on Zodiacs and use the buddy system as they slip under the water to explore the underside of icebergs and ice caps. Keep in mind though that cruises that offer diving usually reserve it for the experienced and often require certifications and log books of previous dives before they let you join.
It’s a bit trickier to see the Southern Lights than the ones in the North. The main reason is lack of real estate that is reachable during the southern hemisphere’s winter months.
Winter in the southern half of the world runs from March through September. The problem is that the waters freeze over during the season, and temperatures plummet as far as -50°C.
That leaves a very slim margin of time in March and perhaps later in September when the Antarctic cruise season overlaps with the best times to see the Southern Lights. If you do manage to book a cruise during one of these small chunks of crossover time there are two spots we can suggest for you to maximize your Aurora-viewing pleasure.
The first is to find yourself a cruise that offers overnight camping. Yep, that’s right, some cruises allow you to camp out under the Antarctic night sky. They’ll generally provide the tents and the gear, you just have to provide the sense of wonder.
The other spots to get in some quality Aurora-gazing are on the islands that dot the ocean between the embarkation point of Ushuaia, Argentina, and Antarctica itself. Look for cruises that have stops at either the Falkland Islands or South Georgia.
Penguins are one of the biggest draws for Antarctic cruises. If you’re just looking to make some new tuxedoed friends in general, then cruises than anchor anywhere along the Weddell Sea’s coastline should serve you well.
If you’re looking for specific species of penguin, you’re going to have to do a little more research before you book your trip. Here’s a quick list giving you some of the prime locations of various penguin species:
- Adelie Penguins –The Adelie are migratory, chasing the sun around Antarctica’s coastline.
- Chinstrap Penguins – The Peninsula, South Georgia, South Orkney, South Shetland, South Sandwich Islands.
- Emperor Penguins – West coast of the Peninsula, Ross Sea, Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean coasts.
- Gentoo Penguins – Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, South Shetland Islands.
- King Penguins – Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands.
- Macaroni Penguins – Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, South Shetland Islands, southern tip of South America.
- Magellanic Penguin – Southern tip of South America.
- Rockhopper Penguins – Southern tip of South America, Falkland Islands.
If you’re really looking for an adventure (and to burn off a lot of excess calories) find yourself an Antarctic cruise that offers a ski trek across part of South Georgia.
The cruise drops you off, leaving you with your guides, your supplies that you pull behind you on a sled, and your skis. And that’s it, you’re on your own. You ski, you camp out, and you follow part of Shackleton’s famous 1916 route.
Icebergs abound around Antarctica. Icebergs calve from glaciers (masses of ice on land) and head off across the oceans to see what they can see.
So if majestic blue icebergs top your list of Antarctic cruise must-sees than set your sights on a trip through the Lemaire Channel.
Long story short
To condense all of the above (and more) your biggest consideration for what will make for your own best Antarctic trip is how much wildlife you want to see.
If you’re all about the activities and the landscapes then almost any cruise to the continent will suffice.
But if you’re interested it spotting more wildlife, then you’re going to want to look for cruises that also make stops at the islands (especially the Falklands and South Georgia).
They key is to remember that Antarctic cruises aren’t just a vacation, they’re an adventure. The best Antarctic trips will be the ones where you push the furthest into what you have never experienced before.