Wildlife Cruises to Antarctica
Its unusual environment is both icy and dry. Despite its cold, the area is technically considered a desert since it has such little precipitation. It also has the highest average elevation of any of the continents, which contributes to its extreme windiness.
The area has no settled population or government. There are a number of research stations from different countries in the Antarctic, which often work together in their research.
Where and When to Start Your Trip
Due to its remoteness and the challenges of travelling to and around the Antarctic, any visitor will inevitably be part of a formal travel group. You don't need a visa to go to the Antarctic, but you may need a visa for the country that will be the home base of your Antarctic adventure. The most common countries from which you can find Antarctic cruises departing are Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Reaching the Antarctic is a trip in and of itself regardless of your starting point. However, the quickest way to get there is from one of the South American countries.
It is impossible to reach the Antarctic during its winter as the ice sheet is too thick for ships to break through. Furthermore, it's dark almost 24 hours a day during this time, which can make it difficult to go site seeing. The Antarctic winter, since it's located in the southern hemisphere, is during the American summer time.
Instead, the time to visit is during the austral summer, which runs from late October to early March. There are different events that occur at different times during this period, so if you're particularly interested to see the penguin chicks born or local wildflowers bloom, you'll want to time your visit accordingly.
Types of Wildlife
Regardless of when you go, one of the Antarctic's greatest adventures is viewing all the wildlife in their natural habitat. There are a number of hearty creatures that thrive in the Antarctic's harsh conditions. You can see six different varieties of whale, numerous types of sea birds, as well as various types of penguins and seals.
One of the hallmarks of the best Antarctic cruises is that they'll have local wildlife experts on board. These experts offer seminars and guided tours on and off the ship to ensure that you can see and enjoy the widest scope of Antarctic wildlife.
Places to See
While majestic glaciers, ice floes, and sub-glacier lakes are all over the region, there are specific places in this ungoverned region that are worth visiting.
Paradise Harbour is a natural harbour surrounded by ice cliffs and glacier mountains. It's also home to a wide variety of sea birds, seals, penguins, and whales. You can't dock here, but smaller skiffs will usually get you closer it’s to calving glaciers and wildlife. The beauty of Paradise Harbour makes it one of the area's most popular sites.
The Dry Valleys earned their name due to the fact that it's not rained here for an estimated two million years. As a result, their lack of ice makes them unique among other areas you can visit in the Antarctic. While they look absolutely desolate, there are some exceptionally unusual life forms here. Unfortunately, they tend to live within the stunning rock formations. Scientists believe that the Dry Valleys are Earth's closest approximation to the landscape of Mars.
King George Island is part of the Shetland Islands and is home to many research stations. Anyone interested in meeting with local research teams and learning about what they're doing must have King George Island on the itinerary. In addition to the researchers, there is also a local museum on the area as well as a whaler's cemetery where you can visit Shackleton's grave.
The Antarctic Peninsula is a narrow stretch of land jutting out into the sea from the Shetland Islands. It has a number of fascinating and beautiful sites to see. Hope Bay is in "Iceberg Alley" and home to a year-round settlement that includes a school and a post office. The Lemaire Channel runs between Booth Island the peninsula where sheer drop cliffs thousands of feet high create some of the world's most spectacular scenery. Paradise Harbour is also located in the peninsula.
If you want to take a dip in the water, you might want to visit Deception Island. This island was created due to a major volcanic eruption. The volcano is still active, but that just means the local waters are warm enough for you get in them. The water isn't so deep that you can swim in it, but you can enjoy a dip.
Things to Do
While most cruises will focus on giving you as many opportunities to see the local wildlife, you can find other activities to enjoy as well. Ideally, engaging in any of these activities will only provide you ways to get even closer to the wildlife.
In addition to the smaller skiffs that will take you closer to glaciers, you can also go sea kayaking. Kayaking is best done in calm waters and isn't terribly physically taxing, which makes it a great way for anyone to get as close to the waters as possible.
Cross country skiing is a heartier activity for those who want to explore the inland areas. There are also mountaineering and glacier walks that can be less vigorous than skiing.
Some travel outfits will provide flight seeing opportunities where you can see wide swathes of the area with a bird's eye view.
Your camera will be your most prized possession, so make sure you enough batteries, memory cards, or whatever paraphernalia you'll need to keep it working.
While cold, the sun is also intense. Make sure you have all the different kinds of sunscreen you'll need. This includes having sunglasses and hats.
Finally, have a comfortable waterproof backpack that is large enough to carry all you want with you on off-ship excursions, but not so large as to be inconvenient. It and you will get wet, so make sure you both have a waterproof layer for protection.