The Antarctic represents one of the last great pristine wildernesses left on Earth. It’s a clean and quiet haven for people who are looking to get away from both the hectic pace of their everyday lives as well as the crowded tourist-traps that suffocate the usual getaway hotspots.
That being said, what can you see and do in the Antarctic? If you head to the normal tourist destinations in (for example) Europe you know to hit the churches and the galleries and so on. But the South Pole region? What do you do once you’re there?
Here are 9 suggestions for sights to see and things to do when you reach the bottom of the world.
Penguins are obviously one of the most unique, and most fun, features of the Antarctic region. If it’s just penguins in general that you want to see then we suggest you hit up the Antarctic Peninsula or mainland during the middle of the southern summer season (breeding season). You’ll be treated to the sights and sounds (and smells) of millions of penguins crowding together on the continent’s shores to make baby penguins.
However if you’re hankering for a specific breed of penguin then you’re going to have to do a little more research before booking your Antarctic cruise. Here’s a quick list of the more popular penguin species and the more reachable places where you can find them (during the breeding season):
- Adélie – Antarctic continent, South Shetland, South Orkney, South Sandwich Islands.
- Chinstrap – Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, South Orkney, South Sandwich, South Shetland Islands.
- Emperor – Antarctic continent.
- Galapagos – Galapagos Islands.
- Gentoo – Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland, South Georgia, South Orkney, South Sandwich, South Shetland, Macquarie Islands.
- Humboldt – Coasts of Chile, Peru.
- King – Falkland, South Georgia, Macquarie Islands.
- Little – West and Southwest Australia, New Zealand.
- Macaroni – Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland, South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Shetland, Macquarie Islands.
- Magellanic – Antarctic Peninsula, Australia, New Zealand.
- Rockhopper – Falkland, Macquarie Islands.
- Royal – Macquarie Island.
2. Port Lockroy Museum.
The South Pole was the destination at the heart of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, and as such had its fair share of early 20th century visitors. The Port Lockroy museum gives visitors a glimpse into the life of such explorers as Shackleton and Scott and the conditions they endured.
Port Lockroy itself was the site of a historic British research centre, and today boasts a working post office that lets you make your friends jealous by sending them postcards from the South Pole.
3. Take a Polar Plunge.
This of course is much like the Polar Plunge you could take in the Arctic, but the southern version comes with the added bonus of there being zero chance you’re going to be eaten by polar bears. So strip off those multiple layers of clothing it took you 20 minutes to pull on and dive in!
(Bonus hint: If you take the plunge in Deception Bay the waters will be a bit warmer than elsewhere thanks to a nearby active volcano or two.)
4. Cruise the iceberg alleys.
Antarctica is the biggest iceberg-generating location on the planet. Hop in a Zodiac (a rubber outboard-engine boat) or in a kayak and steer yourself up close to these beautiful natural blue-and-white works of art. If you’re lucky you’ll get to visit with offshore penguins and sun-basking seals. And if you’re really lucky you might even spot a whale or two.
5. Camp out under the Antarctic skies.
Some plucky Antarctic cruise lines are offering you the chance to spend a night or two camping out on the continent’s shores. They’ll usually provide you with tents and sleeping bags, you provide the gumption. And if the solar system is feeling especially generous you’ll be treated to one of the most awe-inspiring sights nature has to offer – the Aurora Australis.
6. Grab a cocktail at Vernadsky Station.
The Antarctic is home to all sorts of scientific research stations. One such science lab is Vernadsky Station, run by the Ukranians since 1996. They will, on occasion, offer an invitation to some lucky cruise-goers to come in and have a drink at the world’s southernmost operating bar. Added bonus – since there is no official time zone in Antarctica that means it is, if you so choose, happy hour every hour.
7. Explore our whaling past.
If you’re in the mood for a little more history you might consider a stop at Deception Island. Here you’ll find the remains of one of the region’s major whaling stations, including abandoned boilers and whale bones.
8. Cruise the Lemaire Channel.
If you’re looking to load up your camera with stunning landscapes then set sail for the Lemaire Channel. In a land that is pretty much entirely made up of fantastic natural beauty Lemaire still stands out with its multitude of mountainous charms.
9. Whale watching.
The Antarctic sticks out as a whale watcher’s Nirvana for a surprising reason – its icy oceans are teeming with life. Antarctic cruises pass through waters that are chock full of those critters that are at pretty much the bottom of the food chain – krill. Their multitudes attract all sorts of sea life, including our gentle giant mammal cousins of the seas.