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Penguins in Antarctica

Guide to Antarctic Cruises

If you’re looking to go where few have gone before, Antarctica should be on top of your list. While it may seem extreme, Antarctica is the ultimate destination for adventure and excitement, and a polar trip to the southern tip of the world is sure to be absolutely unforgettable! Camp with penguins, watch whales, and see landscapes you won't forget.

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Visit Antarctica

Tourism in Antarctica began in 1960 via sea, and 1970 via plane. Because tourism to this extreme destination is still relatively new, and the continent is mostly unpopulated, a trip to Antarctica is a trip to one of the last untouched areas on the planet. Popular destinations in the area include the Falkland Islands, a remote archipelago off the coast of Patagonia that's home to about 3,000 people, and South Georgia, an uninhabited cluster of islands perfect for exploring the region’s rugged nature. The Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost point of the continent, is home to a few permanent residents: scientists living in research bases.

Of course, Antarctica is also home to the South Pole, the southernmost point of the planet. This region also houses a substantial research base, but very few people have seen this isolated region for themselves.

Map of Antarctica
Map of Antarctica

Did you know?

The coldest temperature on Earth was recorded in Antarctica's Vostok Station.
It dropped to minus 89.2 degrees Celsius (128.56 degrees Fahrenheit) on 21st July 1983.
Antarctica contains about 70% of the planet's total fresh water.
And about 90% of the planet's freshwater ice!
The highest peak of Antarctica is Vinson Massif.
The peak's elevation reaches 16050 ft / 4892 m.

Best time to visit Antarctica

Penguins on South Pole
  1. High season

    From October to March

    There’s only one tourist season in Antarctica, which takes place from late October to late March. During this time, the weather is relatively warm enough, and the conditions are clear enough, for tourists to make the trip. December and January, especially, often see temperatures rise above 5 degrees Celsius, and the sun shines for 20 hours a day!

  2. Low season

    From April to September

    Tourists are unable to reach Antarctica in the winter season, from April through September, due to adverse weather conditions. Temperatures regularly dip below -50 degrees Celsius, and brutal snowstorms ravage the area. Generally, the only people in Antarctica during this time are scientists and film crews.

What to see in Antarctica

Rockhopper penguins in Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands, off the coast of Patagonia, are a cluster of islands home to around 3,000 people. The Falklands are famous for their incredibly diverse nature and their friendly locals. These rugged, remote islands have the feel of a small town with something to do for every kind of traveller! For the adventurers, enjoy viewing spectacular bird life, endless whale watching opportunities, unique food, and jaw-dropping hiking trails. If you’re looking to slow down and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life, you’ll find it in the Falkland Islands as well. Have a cup of tea and some homemade cake in a local cafe, or go for a walk around a village and take in some of the breathtaking scenery.

What to do in the Falkland Islands:
  • Spot five species of penguins - King, Gentoo, Rockhopper, macaroni and Magellanic. The Falklands are home to 500,000 breeding pairs!
  • Watch over 200 species of birds with 22 protected important bird areas
  • Visit Sea Lion Island - home to sea lions and elephant seals
  • Travel around Stanley - the Islands' capital and most populous area
See all Falkland Islands tours
King penguins on South Georgia Islands

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a series of small islands in the South Atlantic ocean. While the islands only have a population of about 36 people in the summer months, they’re an increasingly popular destination for travellers looking for adventure. Much like Antarctica itself, the islands are largely inhospitable and only occupied by scientists and researchers. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t ripe for exploration! Many Antarctic tours travel to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and travellers are treated to views of many native species, such as penguins, seals, and whales.

What to do in South Georgia Islands:
  • Get perfect photos of 6 different penguin species - gentoo, king, macaroni, chinstrap, adelie, and rockhopper
  • Observe the breeding ground of 95% of the world's population of Antarctic fur seals
  • Admire majestic landscape untouched by the human hand
  • Visit Shackelton's grave, the final resting site of a famous polar explorer who died in the early 20th century
See all South Georgia cruises
Icebergs in Antarctica

The Antarctic Peninsula

The Antarctic Peninsula is the most-visited part of the continent. Home to several research stations, the peninsula is often where tour operators will bring lucky travellers to whale-watch and explore this unspoilt part of the world. The northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula is considered the gateway to all that this continent has to offer. Here, you’ll find four different species of penguin, four species of seal, and countless seabirds, as well as rare, ancient volcanoes, called tuyas. In the summer, temperatures average around 2 degrees Celsius, and in the winter, the average is about -20 degrees Celsius.

What to do in the Antarctic Peninsula:
  • Watch whales as they jump and dive
  • Kayak between spectacular icebergs
  • Spot emperor penguins, the welcoming locals of this continent
  • Visit research stations
See Antarctic Peninsula cruises
Penguins in the South Pole

South Pole

One of the least-visited places on the planet, the South Pole is a sight very few people get to enjoy in their lifetime. Here, you’ll find vast ice and snow, thousands of native penguins, and the odd research scientist. For those able to make the trek to the South Pole, you’ll find a permanent research base - and not much else. The average summer temperature at the South Pole is -28 degrees Celsius, and visitors must bring all their provisions. Some scientists at the research base have been known to conduct tours for visitors, and there is a small welcome centre nearby.

What to do in the South Pole:
  • Cross 66 degrees south and go further than most travellers ever have
  • Tour a research station and visit the welcome centre
  • Catch a glimpse of some of the thousands of penguins who live here!

Popular Antarctica cruises & tours

Wildlife

  • Penguins

    Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Islands are home to seven species of penguins: adelie, chinstrap, gentoo, emperor, macaroni, king, and rockhopper, with occasional visits from Magellan penguins breeding in the Falkland Islands. The best time to see penguins in Antarctica and sub-Antarctic is from December to late February. At this time of year, penguin chicks will start hatching and exploring their surroundings. Antarctic penguins, especially in the South Georgia Islands, are known for their cheeky modelling skills, ensuring the perfect photo opportunity for camera-ready travellers! The Emperor penguin is the southernmost species and can be spotted on Antarctic ice, while all the other species can be found across the entire sub-Antarctic area.
  • Whales

    There are fifteen species of Antarctic whale, including humpback, sperm, and even the massive blue whale, making Antarctica a perfect destination for all whale enthusiasts. The end of the touristic peak is the best season to see whales in Antarctica, with February and March considered to be the best months. You can join a zodiac excursion and observe diving and dipping calves with mothers up-close: surely one of the most memorable experiences a traveller will ever enjoy.
  • Seals

    Six species of seal live in Antarctica: Ross, Weddell, crabeater, leopard, fur, and elephant. This might not seem like a lot, but those six species make up the majority of all seals on earth. Antarctic seals reside not only on the Antarctic Peninsula, but also on and around the surrounding islands, such as the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. If you’re looking to see adorable seal pups, plan your visit from December to January. Seals tend to be very curious and unafraid of humans, so make sure you always to maintain a safe distance. While they look cute, they can be fiercely protective of their young, and they have deceptively sharp teeth! 

Things to do in Antarctica

Choose your Antarctic adventure

Antarctica tours for everyone

Which polar ship is right for you

While it’s possible to get to Antarctica by both sea and air, the most accessible option is sea, via an Antarctic cruise. There are two types of ships available: expedition and luxury.

Expedition ships are former working ships, providing an authentic experience with few frills, and accommodating about 80 passengers at a time. If you’re looking to see the Antarctic the way scientists and explorers have in the past, an expedition cruise is an ideal choice.

Luxury ships, on the other hand, accommodate double the amount of passengers (160) and are more focused on comfort. Here, you’ll find hotel rooms, fine dining, and generally, a more comfortable experience - which increases the cost. If you want to splurge and spend your trip to Antarctica in a more relaxed environment, a luxury ship offers rooms with a sleek design and a generally more upscale experience.

No matter which option you choose, you can expect to travel with expert guides. Each guide has their area of expertise, from the history of the continent to the wildlife you’ll discover around every corner. The size of the expedition team varies depending on the size of the ship, time of year, and your touring company. Some ships have specific lecture rooms for travellers to learn more about the wild environment around them! You’ll also be able to experience excursions regardless of which ship you cruise on, from Zodiac trips to sleeping out under the stars, to visiting with some of the locals - the thousands of penguins that call Antarctica home!

Antarctica
Antarctica

Antarctica cruises by duration

Luxury Antarctica cruises

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FAQ

  • What is a fly and cruise tour?

    Fly and cruise tours allow you to discover Antarctica in different ways. Given the nature of exploring this region, in some instances, you will fly to a region and then sail to a sightseeing destination. Some tours will give you the option to save on sailing time with a flight option one way and a cruise option the other. It all depends on the type of tour you pick.
  • Where do Antarctic cruises leave from?

    Embarkment ports vary. However, most Antarctic polar cruises depart from locations such as Montevideo in Uruguay, and Ushuaia and Buenos Aires in Argentina. 
  • How much does a cruise around Antarctica cost?

    A cruise to Antarctica doesn’t come cheap, but the memories you’ll make exploring this vast wilderness are priceless. At TourRadar, our Antarctic voyages start at around $6,000 for ten days, and go all the way up to $44,000 for a whole 30 days.
  • How risky is polar travel?

    Weather and ice can cause problems on shore and on the ship. However, cruise operators will always prioritize the safety of their guests and crew, so you shouldn't have anything to worry about! The ships are designed and built for the polar region, equipped with GPS and other necessary equipment, and are manned by a highly experienced crew. Antarctic cruises are scheduled during the summer for optimal expedition success.
  • Do I have to be in good shape for a polar tour?

    To enjoy the trip in full, you should be in good general health and able to walk reasonable distances, sometimes over uneven terrain, and be able to get in and out of a Zodiac with ease. For those who are seeking more adventure, some cruise operators offer one or more activities such as sea kayaking, cross-country skiing, camping, snowshoeing, mountaineering, or diving as options where a higher level of fitness is required. Remember, you are always welcome to stay on board if you prefer.
  • What is there to do on the polar ship?

    There are plenty of activities to choose from while sailing to the polar regions. Depending on the selected itinerary and cruise operator, you will be able to learn about the history and environment by attending on-board lectures conducted by regional experts. There are also other activities available, such as board games to play in the lounges and fully-stocked libraries.
  • What documents must I complete to participate in the expedition?

    Forms may differ depending on the tour operator and destination. Generally, you will need to sign a cruise contract and fill in personal and medical forms. Your tour operator might also ask for your flight information to arrange a pickup. Keep in mind to always check visa requirements before your departure.
  • Can I extend my stay in the disembarkation city?

    An extension of stay is usually possible, but it can vary depending on the tour operator. If you wish to have extra time exploring the disembarkation city, contact your tour operator and ask for possible options.
  • What additional major expenses will I incur?

    You will have to arrange transportation to the embarkation and disembarkation point. If you wish to extend your trip you will also have to cover any additional cost of accomodation. You might also have to purchase outdoor clothing suitable for polar conditions. Some tours will include a complimentary parka, so double-check with your tour operator beforehand.
  • Are single travellers allowed?

    Single travellers are welcome on Antarctic cruises! You will be assigned a room with a traveller the same gender as you, or, if you prefer to travel alone, you may also be allowed to pay extra for a single room. Solo travel to an exciting destination such as Antarctica is a great way to meet like-minded travellers!
  • Are there family polar tours?

    Although children are not discouraged from taking an Antarctic trip, some cruise operators won't accept passengers who are under 6 or 12. Please check with your TourRadar Polar Specialist for cruise operators who offer family expeditions.
  • How far in advance should I start planning my Antarctic cruise?

    We recommend travellers book their tour 12-18 months in advance. Booking in advance allows you to secure your preferred cabin size and choose any additional activities you may wish to take part in. Depending on the cruise, you might opt to kayak, camp, or hike. Keep in mind that Antarctica is accessible only between late October and late March, with each month having different highlights, so plan in advance to be able to enjoy your dream cruise.
  • Are expedition jackets provided?

    Check with your cruise operator before departing, as many do provide a parka suitable for polar conditions. Most operators also provide rubber boots for those who want to pack lighter.
  • Should I expect rough seas cruising from South America to Antarctica?

    You should expect rough conditions at some point during your cruise. Depending on the weather conditions, you may also experience water as clear and smooth as glass! Take care when walking around the ship, as you could bump into things during rough seas. Always wear rubber-soled shoes to help your grip.
  • Is there anything I can take to prevent sea sickness?

    If you are prone to car sickness, then you may be sensitive to the movement on a ship. Consult your physician before you depart for advice and bring over-the-counter medication with you, or, if you prefer, patches are also a popular and fairly effective option. Crystalised ginger is often a good home remedy to ease queasiness, and you may find it offered in the ship’s dining room.
  • What will the weather be like?

    Expect the unexpected! The weather can change in an instant in the polar regions, so take your outer layers and insulating layers ashore with you. The sun may be shining before you set off, but by the time you reach the shore, it could be snowing with blazing winds!
  • Is there a doctor on board?

    Yes, polar cruises will most likely include a doctor on board to ensure the safety of all passengers. Some ships also have clinics with medical equipment for emergencies.

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