Nowhere on the planet compares to the pristine beauty of Antarctica, the so-called ‘White Continent’ that is revered for its dramatic snowscapes, huge glaciers, sculptural icebergs, and truly amazing wildlife. The sheer size and scientific significance of what is technically a desert exceeds all expectations, and many find going on holiday to this ice-crowned wilderness with no permanent human habitation a truly soul-stirring experience.
Measuring 14 million square kilometres and mostly covered in ice that is in parts over one-mile thick, the continent of Antarctica – the frozen wilderness at the end of the earth - is one of magnificent dimensions, scientific importance, and extreme natural beauty.
You can only visit here during the Antarctic summer, from November to March. There is no ‘best month’ to visit however the high season rates are between Christmas and February when Antarctica is at its warmest and the wildlife at its most active. Typically, penguin chicks start to hatch from mid to late December, and the feeding frenzy kicks off in January. For whale enthusiasts you will find them in their greatest numbers from February to March, whereas November is the best month to see the continent at its whitest and sail amongst the huge tabular icebergs.
Most visitors to this magical icy wilderness do so on an expedition cruise ship, typically spending two days at the start and end crossing the notorious 400-mile Drake Passage. Depending on personal preference and time constraints, cruise options include exploring the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands, or combining Antarctica with a visit to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia - the wildlife rich and historically important British Overseas Territories. Alternatively, you can spend time before or after your cruise visiting Chile’s stunning Patagonia region or venture slightly further afield to the warmer climates of the Atacama Desert and Mendoza wine region.
There are no permanent human populations on the white continent – just a few scientists residing in customised research stations – so it is unsurprising that the wildlife here is legendary. Discover all sorts of seals, sea birds and Antarctic fish who have a natural anti-freeze chemical allowing them to survive in sub-zero temperatures. You will also meet different types of penguin (such as Gentoo, Adélie and Chinstrap), and whale-watch for humpback, minke, and orca.
For adventurous souls who want to add to the richness of an already extraordinary journey, there are options to enjoy sea kayaking, snow-shoeing and hiking to name but a few. For the ultimate Antarctic thrill, you can even camp overnight in an expedition tent on the frozen landscape.
Antarctica is well-known for being the coldest, driest and windiest location on earth, making it a continent of extremes and pretty inhospitable to life. But despite this, this ice-crowned wilderness is home to a variety of species of wildlife that have adapted to this harsh environment and are surviving despite the odds. Wildlife peaks in the austral summer months, when seals, whales, penguins and a large diversity of other seabirds migrate to the continent to breed and feed on the virtually unlimited supply of krill, crustaceans and fish. Here’s our lowdown on the continent’s unique wildlife...