The majority of Antarctic expeditions begin in Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, which is a stunning setting and so much more than an embarkation point. It is worth at least a couple of nights here to explore the Tierra del Fuego National Park and take a journey on the old railway to ‘the End of the World.’ As you set sail through the Beagle Channel you will start to encounter seals, sea lions and sea birds, which is a great preview for what’s to come on the voyage.
Unless you take one of the more expensive ‘fly cruises’ you will be sailing at least once over the infamous stretch of ocean known as the ‘Drake Passage.’ Seasickness tablets are advised as the Drake Passage (above) is known for its tempestuous waters, although the general consensus is that the crossing is never as bad as advertised and can often be perfectly calm.
The main course of the itinerary is reaching the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula itself. For many it is the alien landscapes that provide the biggest draw, with enormous icebergs, volcanic shorelines, glacial cliffs and snow-capped summits dominating the horizon. For others the splendour of the continent is its fauna; as zodiac excursions take you up close to the countless penguins and majestic whales that typify the region.
Some cruises will dip south of the Antarctic Circle where the sun can remain continuously above the horizon for a whole day. Here you may follow in the footsteps of former explorers and discover the research stations that give us our current day understanding of the continent.
If you have over two weeks then it is a must to head further east to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. These rank as the best cultural and wildlife destinations that the Antarctic has to offer. The Falklands is home to a plethora of marine and birdlife with more than sixty different species including rockhopper (above) and magellanic penguins, as well as albatrosses. The islands are a fascinating destination in their own right, with an intriguing human history. In Stanley, meet the hardy local inhabitants whose colourful houses provide contrast to the long, dark winters.
South Georgia is arguably the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Antarctica. Known as Shackleton’s final resting place, the islands are a unique animal paradise famous for their colonies of emperor penguins, which cannot be found on the Antarctic Peninsula. The area is also a haven for ornithologists and is home to large numbers of fur (above) and elephant seals.
Whilst you are at sea, the cruise’s expert guides will enhance your knowledge of the region’s wildlife and history with informative lectures, and there is the opportunity to spot whales and endemic birds from the ship’s deck.
Whichever cruise you choose, a trip to Antarctica is the definition of an epic expedition, one which is unlike anywhere else in the world and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
To find out more about the region, explore our tailor-made holidays to Antarctica.