Where you will visit will depend on where and how you set off from your starting point in South America. The ice channels of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, filled with rookeries of penguins, and across the Drake Passage are amongst some of the most common stops along the expedition route and are amongst the just some of the highlights of Antarctica's attractions. The Falkland Islands and South Georgia, long off the radar for travellers, are now also increasingly popular for their uniquely pristine beauty. This region has never been so accessible to explore; with travel to the region having developed a lot over the last 20 years, now is the time to visit.
The dramatic extremes of this frozen continent are truly felt in the highly mountainous Antarctic Peninsula – the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica. This breathtaking landscape is a unique icescape comprised of small offshore islands and contains a high density of wildlife, ideally explored on Zodiac. Upon first arrival at the peninsula, nothing can really prepare you for the sheer pristine beauty of it; a dazzling experience and astonishing abundance of wildlife awaits you on an exhilarating expedition into this region.Wildlife within the peninsula includes Weddell, crabeater and elephant seals, skuas, other seabirds, plus an almost unfathomable number of penguins, including huge colonies of the entertainingly comical Adelie penguin. Whale watching can also be impressive in these waters with the gentle humpback, orca and minke whales all known to frequent the area, and the Zodiac trips will endeavour to spot them.
At just 400 miles, the Drake Passage is the shortest crossing of Antarctica, a body of open sea located between the southernmost tip of South America and the northern tip of the mainland ‘White Continent’. Entirely comprised of open water with no land mass around at these latitudes, crossing Drake Passage is considered an integral part of the Antarctica adventure, and is a unique spot like no other in the world. It was Sir Francis Drake who first discovered this stretch of water during his crossing in 1577, and it has a reputation for being one of the world’s toughest to navigate. Allowing the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar it connects the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean basins. At this unique conjunction the oceans flow freely and immensely, the force of which is said to equate to 135 times all the rivers on earth. It is the continuity of the Circumpolar Current that keeps Antarctica so defiantly cool, and forms its ice-cap. Despite its reputation and notoriety, one should not be deterred, as only occasionally is crossing the Passage more furious, and usually it is rather benign and surprisingly calm.
Forgetting the instant association with its chequered history, the windblown archipelago of the Falkland Islands is actually a fantastic place to visit, each island with its own unique combination of stunning, desolate landscapes, curious wildlife and all with an air of sheer isolation and anonymity that belies the ubiquitous name. Located to the southeast of South America approximately 480 kilometres, close to the Antarctic and Cape Horn, the infamous islands were discovered in 1520 during a Spanish expedition, before settlers from Saint-Malo arrived only to be chased away by the Spanish. Later populated by Argentina and conquered by Great Britain in 1833 they have long been the subject of well-documented power struggles, but the serenity of the landscape and position at the end of the earth could not be more aloof from this.
Widely heralded as one of the world’s most understated wildlife sanctuaries, the sheer isolation of this island is just part of its appeal. A wonderland of snow, ice and inquisitive wildlife, South Georgia offers its visitors magnificent and pristine scenery. It was British explorer James Cook who first set foot on the island during his second worldwide voyage of exploration, and after his initial disappointment at not finding a vast mainland, he described it as follows: "A country doomed by nature never once to feel the warmth of the sun's rays, but to lie for ever buried under everlasting snow and ice.” The island is a true paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, with literally millions of creatures going about their lives completely uninterrupted. At Prion Island it is possible to see the breeding efforts of the huge wandering Albatross and enjoy watching their displays. At Salisbury Plain, the second largest King Penguin colony in South Georgia, you can also see elephant seals, whilst at Grytviken you may visit an abandoned whaling center where king penguins roam freely, and the Whaling History Museum and Shackleton’s grave are also of interest. Reindeer were also introduced to the island by Norwegian whalers, and can often be spotted grazing around the Fortuna Bay area. Read more about South Georgia.
Set parallel to the Antarctic Peninsula, across a stretch of ocean of 540 kilometres, this archipelago is formed of some 20 islands and islets, first discovered in February 1819. This is the first area of landmass that you will reach after crossing the Drake Passage, and the islands teem with wildlife, making them an essential stop on a voyage into Antarctica, with densely populated penguin rookeries and beaches that throng with seals. Deception Island is arguably one of the most infamous spots in the Shetland Islands and is one of the southernmost islands. An ideal place to make Zodiac boat landings, this island was once a whaling station and due to its shape was a refuge from storms and icebergs. Today it is home to some of the Antarctic’s most vast colonies of chinstrap penguins, but the island itself however is of equally geological interest. A volcanic caldera whose interior is filled with crater lakes and half the island covered in spectacular glaciers, here is also one of the few spots in the Antarctic where you can bathe in naturally warm geothermal waters, and dig your feet into warm black sands, at Pendulum Cove for example. Read more about the South Shetland Islands.