Take a moment to imagine this. You wake up from a wave-lulled sleep on a state-of-the-art low emission vessel and hastily throw an expedition jacket over the top of crumpled pyjamas. You draw the curtains, unlatch the door, and step out on to your own private balcony. At -5⁰C, the air is the kind of bitter cold that flushes even the hardiest cheeks a shade of crimson. Welcome to the Great White Continent, a place where penguins outnumber visiting humans at a staggering scale of 3,000 to 1.
Since you’re here, we’re guessing that travelling to the seventh continent has held a long-standing place on your travel wish list and you’re finally primed to take the (polar) plunge? Well, deciding to travel to Earth’s final frontier is just step one. Next comes the fun part – picking your voyage! Potential explorers of the coldest, highest, driest, windiest and most isolated place on the planet have an entire polar portfolio to choose from, so whether you see yourself soaring over the Drake Passage or skiing to the South Pole, our round-up of Antarctica’s eight best voyages should help you decide.
Cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula
Travelling on an expedition ship to the most accessible chunk of the Great White Continent – but no less spectacular – this trip is the classic exploration of the gateway to Antarctica. The ideal introduction to the Earth’s last pristine wilderness, visitors to the Antarctic Peninsula get to count themselves among the few who have crossed the notorious Drake Passage while seeing massive wildlife populations that thrive in the milder coastal climate.
Our Recommendation: Antarctica’s Floating Basecamp
Specifically suited to those with their sights set on making the most of their time in Antarctica, this trip offers everything from camping and snowshoeing to photography workshops and kayaking. Utilising an expeditionary vessel as a basecamp, this voyage bypasses lengthy sailings in favour of amplifying time spent exploring. More akin to a floating hotel than a means of transportation, the boat lingers for multiple days in pristine locations and allows its passengers the unique opportunity to study the daily fluctuations of a familiar Antarctic landscape. This trip also presents the opportunity to snuggle inside a bivouac for a night of polar camping under the midnight sun, swapping the alarm clock for the sounds of a nearby penguin rookery. In the company of expert polar guides who specialise in glaciology, marine biology, ornithology, geology and history, take casual strolls over untrodden snow or don crampons for a vertical climb on a glacier crevasse.
When to Go: late October to early April
Fly to Antarctica & Cruise the Peninsula
Cutting out the two-day sailing across the Drake Passage in favour of arriving to the Antarctic Peninsula in style, air-cruises opt instead for a two-hour flight from Chilean Patagonia to King George Island in the South Shetland Islands before boarding a boat in situ. Decidedly exclusively in feeling, these trips are ideally suited to travellers who are short on time, keen to add an extension or anxious about sailing the Drake Passage.
Our Recommendation: Air-Cruise Antarctica
Utilising a private charter flight to reach Antarctica before sailing in the Peninsula’s sheltered waters, this comfortable journey operates in a small group setting of no more than 73 people, meaning there is less time spent waiting for disembarkations and more time spent exploring. Many air-cruise passengers capitalise on “saving” the four days that would ordinarily be spent crossing the Drake Passage by adding an extension to Patagonia, the Amazon Rainforest or the Galapagos Islands. Aside from the unrivalled birds’-eye view this option gives of the continent, one of the most celebrated components of air-cruises are their high guide to passenger ratio and expert polar guides. Depending on the departure, you might find yourself taking a dip in the hot geothermal springs of Pendulum Cove, kayaking alongside a breaching whale or walking amongst chinstrap penguins on Half Moon Island.
When to Go: December to February
Fly to Antarctica & Sail the Peninsula
Like the traditional air-cruise option, this trip eliminates the two-day navigation across the Drake Passage in favour of a two-hour charter flight from Chilean Patagonia to King George Island in the South Shetland Islands. However, that is where the similarity ends. This highly exclusive option sees intrepid explorers boarding a 72-foot-long ice-strengthened sailing boat that accommodates only seven passengers in addition to a highly experienced crew.
Our Recommendation: Antarctica by Sailing Boat
Intended to appeal to those who wish to make like the explorers of old, this authentic sailing voyage around the peripheries of the continent feels more like a polar expedition than it does a cruising holiday. Special permits afforded to this sailboat by the National Science Foundation allow its passengers to go ice camping on the Great White Continent for up to a whopping six nights. Suited to the most adventurous of wayfarers, this exciting trip takes advantage of the perpetual light of the midnight sun and encourages passengers to kayak among icebergs, land on remote beaches and zodiac through ice-strewn waters. Placed amongst the most adrenaline-filled Antarctic expeditions, the flexible route follows the best weather and safest waters so passengers can expect to be struck by the depth of silence and surrounded by a cacophony of crackling ice all in one day.
When to Go: late October to early April
Crossing the Circle
One of the longest sailing voyages on offer in Antarctica, circle-crossing journeys set off from Ushuaia in Argentina – otherwise known as “the end of the world” – before navigating the Drake Passage, sailing along the Peninsula, and eventually crossing the Antarctic Circle. This route presents opportunities to embark on rare zodiac explorations and visit abandoned research stations, but its biggest lure is the arrival at 66.5 degrees south latitude.
Our Recommendation: Cross the Antarctic Circle
An exclusive passage made for those who are keen to travel to one of Earth’s least-visited latitudes, navigations across the Antarctic Circle are longer and more limited sea journeys that bring more opportunities for outstanding wildlife encounters and secluded excursions. Travelling at the height of the season when ice conditions are such that the vessels can sail further south, voyagers sign up for the feeling of utter solitude and the impressive achievement of arriving at the official start of the Antarctic (the perfect spot for a champagne toast). And if crossing the famed line was not quite enough, the opportunities to snorkel in crystal clear waters, visit abandoned scientific outpost Base W, or spend a night bivvying out on the seventh continent will up your bragging rights.
When to Go: December to March
Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica
Perhaps the most sought-after cruise on Earth, this is a long sailing voyage that combines the ‘Big 3’ – Antarctica, South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands. Travelling to little-seen ecosystems and navigating between extremely remote locations like Carcass Island and Sea Lion Island, this is the most staggering wildlife show on Earth.
Our Recommendation: Ultimate Antarctica, South Georgia & Falkland Islands
An expeditionary cruise that offers an in-depth exploration of the ‘Big 3’, this wildlife-centric journey visits some of the planet’s most inaccessible islands as well as the coveted Great White Continent. Intrepid travellers taking this route are invited to follow the path of the great polar explorers across the Drake Passage before witnessing crabeater seals, elephant seals, orca whales and millions-strong populations of penguins. The unique wonders of the South Atlantic Ocean are brought to the fore during this voyage, which allots time to sipping a tipple in a colourful English pub in the Falklands and sailing to a unique location where the evening sun paints the cliffs gold. Days are spent cruising ice-clogged channels by zodiac, and it is also possible to camp out on the ice, kayak alongside icebergs, and visit both abandoned whaling stations and working research stations.
When to Go: October to March
South Georgia In Depth
Spending twice as much time in South Georgia Island than most other options do, this navigation sets aside seven days for dedicated exploration of this world-renowned wildlife haven. Inviting passengers to walk among the millions of king penguins that call this place home while learning more about Shackleton (and even toasting him as his gravesite), this journey focuses on the jewel in the crown of the South Atlantic Ocean.
Our Recommendation: Sail South Georgia and the Falkland Islands
Travelling in the early season, when South Georgia is veiled in a phenomenal light, this journey is geared towards those who have already visited the continent and now want to give the “creche of Antarctica” their undivided attention. Veteran wildlife photographers flock to discover the astonishing compositions that lie around every rock and rookery, drawn by the island’s staggering population of over 50 million seabirds, 5 million seals and 4 million penguin pairs. Time is allotted to seeking out the relics of old abandoned whaling stations and visiting the graves of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his right-hand man Frank Wild, and it may even be possible to follow their epic crossing of 1916 by hiking across the saddle separating Fortuna Bay from Stromness. Set against a backdrop of permanently snow-covered 3,000-metre-tall mountains and phenomenal wildlife scenes that includes brawling beachmaster elephant seals, those adventurous travellers who sign up for a South Georgia voyage get a privileged insight into the marvels of this glacial region.
When to Go: November
A route that is synonymous with British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men, expeditions to the far side of the Antarctic Peninsula and the ice-chocked Weddell Sea are among the most adrenaline-charged navigations on Earth. Moving through one of the least studied places on the planet, this option focuses on utilising helicopters to find the elusive emperor penguins of Snow Hill Island.
Our Recommendation: Cruise and Helicopter in Search of Emperor Penguins
Suited to intrepid types seeking an exhilarating and adventuresome passage, this option is unique in that it utilises helicopters to explore newly discovered emperor penguin habitats – the aircraft carry small expeditionary groups of just 4-6 people and will soar above otherworldly Antarctic ecosystems before landing in the heart of the untouched wilderness. Owing to the expeditionary nature of this trip, on-board experts will determine the daily route and goings-on based on local ice, weather, and wildlife conditions, so this quest for emperor penguins is really designed to appeal to those who wish to snub prescriptive daily itineraries in favour of embracing the spirit of exploration. In this remotest of environments, characterised by high altitude and bitter cold, passengers can rendezvous with majestic emperor penguins at their remote inland rookeries and take birds’-eye-view photographs of places that are rarely viewed from above like the western slopes of the Antarctic Sound.
When to Go: November
Voyages to the geographic South Pole – where all 360 lines of longitude meet and a few lengthy strides can take you “around the world” – are at the apex of expedition travel. These trips see adventurous folks taking one of the world’s rarest charter flights, being among the few people who have stood at 90° South, and mingling with pioneers and leading polar scientists at South Pole Camp.
Our Recommendation: South Pole Private Jets & Expedition Camps
Step one, get to the Antarctic Peninsula. Step two, hop on a private jet and fly five hours before landing on a blue ice runway at the Amundsen-Scott Research Station – welcome to the last frontier. An extraordinary alternative or add-on to expedition cruising in Antarctica, a pilgrimage to the South Pole is a once in a lifetime experience. In this remotest of environments, characterised by high altitude and bitter cold, we can arrange some truly spectacular experiences – whether you feel like pitching up a tent next to an emperor penguin rookery or running an ice marathon, we will curate a tailor-made escapade into the wild heartland of the seventh continent, far beyond the Peninsula. Wildly different to sailing voyages, journeys to the interior unveil an ethereal side to the continent that must be seen to be believed. In this area of unmatched isolation, we can arrange 60-mile skiing expeditions to the geographic South Pole, jaunts to the ice pools of Elephant Head Valley, ascents of the most remote peak of the Seven Summits and fat-biking routes in lows of -24°.
When to Go: December to January