Elevate your expedition cruise experience with prime Antarctica attractions
There’s a reason people go to such lengths to visit Antarctica, and its abundance of whales, seals, penguins, and other near-limitless seabirds are only part of the polar story.
Even if you put its exotically beautiful wildlife aside, Antarctica is undeniably mythic in both scale and scenery: The largest glaciers and icebergs are found there, drawing polar newcomers and the certifiably snow-mad alike.
But even if you strike these incredible surroundings from the list, you still have a wealth of activities that make Antarctica more than worth the trip: kayaking, mountaineering, hiking, scuba diving, camping, and more.
Here we’ll cover some of the top Antarctica attractions, filling up your must-see list in case you ever make the supremely wise decision of an(other) Antarctic cruise.
1. Peruse penguins and colossal penguin colonies
Penguins and penguin colonies can be found in many places around Antarctica, but there are a few key locations they’re best found. One of the best among them is the emperor penguin colony at Snow Hill Island.
Snow Hill Island is located in the Weddell Sea and is seldom visited since it is often locked in ice, making approach by even ice-strengthened vessels impossible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get there using other means, which we’ll cover later in this article.
In addition, the Antarctic Peninsula is a great place to spot penguins, especially Adélies, gentoos, and chinstraps. In fact, Adélies only live in Antarctica, unlike other penguin species.
More great penguin colonies exist farther north, in the sub-Antarctic islands of South Georgia (another amazing Antarctic attraction we’ll tell you more about later on).
2. Kayak around Antarctic sea ice – or scuba dive under it
It’s inarguably lovely to sit on the deck of an ice-strengthened polar vessel or sturdy Zodiac boat and simply watch the procession of glacier fronts, icebergs, and perhaps a few surfacing whales pass your field of vision.
But few things get you closer to Antarctica’s aquatic attractions than kayaking.
In a kayak, you can get away from the noise of the motorized vessels and enjoy the scenery in a pure way, powered only by your paddles – i.e., the strength of your own arms.
Neumayer Channel’s Wiencke Island is a fantastic Antarctica attraction for this purpose. And Port Lockroy, or more specifically Jougla Point, offers you the chance to not only kayak but also meet gentoo penguins and blue-eyed shags, two beloved Antarctic seabirds.
Pléneau Island and Petermann Island are equally prized Antarctic kayaking attractions, granting opportunities to view Adélie penguins, blue-eyed shags, humpback whales, minkes, and leopard seals.
And if you’d rather see Antarctica’s underwater attractions, consider polar scuba diving. You have to have extensive cold-water dive experience to book this supplement, but no other activity immerses you more fully in the sea life of Antarctica.
The Melchior Islands, a stunning polar landscape where you can view icebergs, leopard seals, crabeater seals, and whales, is an excellent area for both for kayaking and scuba diving.
3. Cruise (and helicopter) the spectacular Ross Sea
If you get the chance to travel the Ross Sea, you are sure to experience one of Antarctica’s finest and least-visited attractions.
Pendleton Strait is an occasional landing site that, if sea ice allows it, can afford you a visit to the southern tip of Renaud Island. This Antarctic attraction is home to Adélie penguins as well as dazzling blue-white icebergs.
The Amundsen Sea is another major Antarctic attraction we visit during our Ross Sea cruises. There you can find emperor penguins, groups of seals lounging on the ice floes, possible orcas (killer whales) and minke whales spouting along the ice edge, and different species of fulmarine petrels.
And then there’s the Ross Ice Shelf, which pretty much speaks for itself.
Lastly, the satellite islands around Campbell Island are excellent Antarctic attractions. Consider just the albatrosses: wandering, Campbell (of course), grey-headed, black-browed, and light-mantled.
But there are also three penguin species on Campbell Island: eastern rockhopper, erect-crested, and yellow-eyed penguins. Elephant seals, fur seals, and sea lions likewise live there.
Because the Ross Sea is often filled with ice and is one of Earth’s largest conservation areas, however, expedition cruises there don’t typically take place every year. So if you see a Ross Sea voyage come available, don’t waste any time to book!
4. Observe Antarctic whales on a whale-watching cruise
Not surprisingly, whales are among the chief attractions in Antarctica.
Like penguins, you can see whales in many offshore areas around Antarctica. But also like penguins, there are a few ideal hotspots: Cuverville Island, Danco Island, Petermann Island, and Pléneau Island are all great whale-watching Antarctic attractions.
They’re also good for gentoo penguins, seals, and skuas.
Neko Harbour and Paradise Harbour, iconic Antarctica attractions in themselves, are also great places to spot humpbacks and minkes – along with gargantuan glaciers.
In Wilhelmina Bay, you can see humpback whales while also taking a Zodiac cruise to the ghostly wreck of the Guvernøren, a whaling vessel that caught fire in 1915. And around the Melchior Islands, you might encounter even more whales, leopard seals, and crabeater seals.
By any reckoning, Antarctica’s whale attractions can go fearlessly toe-to-toe with any other region on the planet.
5. Or cruise (and helicopter) the wondrous Weddell Sea
Since Ross Sea trips tend to be offered less often and are more extensive affairs (usually over 30 days), many polar travelers prefer the Weddell Sea for their Antarctic expedition cruise.
And this goes double if they like emperor penguins.
Most Weddell Sea cruises take about 11 days, taking in many ideal Antarctic attractions. One of the best are the west slopes of the Antarctic Sound.
The western Antarctic Sound is rarely seen from the air, though it’s truly worthy of a helicopter flight: layered sandstones, lava flows, and glaciers, with emperor penguins, Adélies, kelp gulls, skuas, and various breeds of petrel.
Duse Bay is another Antarctica attraction we have to mention. There a helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking this charming bay.
Seymour Island is also a fine place to see sedimentary rock, fossils, and vast Antarctic views.
You might also visit Devil Island (home to a large Adélie colony), Brown Bluff (which also has an Adélie colony and is perhaps the most scenic location in the northern tip of the continent), and Gourdin Island (with chinstrap, gentoo, and Adélie penguins).
6. Camp under the Southern Hemisphere skies
There’s really no better way to feel like a real Antarctic explorer than digging a snow dugout, throwing a bivouac bag into it, and flopping down for some good solid sack time.
There are many polar-perfect places for doing this, but three of our regular haunts are Paradise Bay, Port Lockroy, and Errera Channel.
Paradise Bay, located north of Lemaire Strait, could easily have its own entry on this list, as it is one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous places in all Antarctica.
Mammoth glaciers jab out of the steel-blue sea, icebergs lie shattered over the rocks like pulverized cathedrals, and the water is thick with whales, gentoo penguins, and crabeater seals. The whole scene looks like the fantastic sculpture of some all-powerful ice spirit.
Now just imagine camping there. Sound like a fair Antarctic attraction to you?
Port Lockroy is no slouch either, even next to Paradise Bay, and is certainly an attraction that draws its own share of Antarctic cruisers. You’ll likely camp a few miles away at Damoy Point, in Dorian Bay, on the northwest side of the mountainous Wiencke Island.
And speaking of Port Lockroy, you can even mail a letter from its post office, enabling you to make all your friends jealous the old-fashioned way: with paper and pen.
Mightier than the sword, indeed.
7. Mail a letter from Earth’s southernmost post office
The former research base of Port Lockroy, which is now post office also known as the Penguin Post Office, is the most southerly mailing depot on Earth.
This, we feel, is another no-brainer Antarctica attraction.
While you’re writing your letter, which will make you feel like Seinfeld is still only in its fourth season, take a moment to appreciate all the gentoo penguins wondering why you’re not just texting – or watching Seinfeld.
8. Go for a birdwatching cruise in Antarctica’s bird paradise
If you haven’t noticed already, birds are a big thing in Antarctica. You might even say they’re an Antarctic attraction.
The species you’re likely to see on an Antarctica cruise are too numerous to name in full, but leaving out the previously stated penguins makes it easier.
So suffice it to say that your Antarctic cruise might very well acquaint you with multiple species of albatross, gull, tern, skua, petrel, shearwater, cormorant, and sheathbill. Particularly, wandering albatrosses are a common favorite.
Antarctic terns (and Arctic, actually) are also very popular.
And as Antarctic attractions go, we simply can’t forget Antarctic shags.
9. Live the Antarctic Basecamp experience
We held this entry back nearer to the end of this list, as Basecamp cruises are adventures you can only have with Oceanwide Expeditions. Also, they represent an almost all-inclusive summary of every outdoor activity you can enjoy in Antarctica.
One such activity is mountaineering, a decidedly high-octane Antarctica attraction. Soft-climb options inland of Neumayer Channel are highly popular, as well as climbs on Pléneau & Petermann Islands.
Or if you’d rather stay on (relatively) flat ground, you can instead embark on snowshoeing trips along the Antarctic shoreline.
And even if you’re not the most physically enthusiastic person, our Basecamp trips also include photo workshops led by professional photographers.
As if that’s not enough, kayaking is also offered.
In short, the OEX Basecamp cruise is an assortment of top Antarctic activity attractions all bundled into a single exhilarating expedition cruise.
10. Throw in some sub-Antarctic attractions
Our last entry does not concern Antarctic attractions at all, but rather the sub-Antarctic variety – specifically, South Georgia and the Falklands.
The reason is simple: Even though Antarctica has more than enough attractions to fill any expedition cruise program, it’s both highly popular among polar travelers to include the sub-Antarctic in their Southern Hemisphere itineraries.
The scatter of islands northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula are great sea life and birdwatching locations, especially the Falkland Islands.
The Falklands are actually so abundant with birds that many of the islands have been designated Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International. Much of the exotic birdlife you can see in Antarctica can be seen in greater numbers in the Falkland Islands, including the endemic striated caracara…
…And Cobb’s wren.
Also, there’s really no getting past South Georgia, a surreally picturesque archipelago that houses some of the largest penguin colonies in the world, along with rich populations of other wildlife.
A sublime example is St. Andrews Bay, which features Earth’s largest king penguin colony: 150,000 breeding pairs. Also home to fur seals, St. Andrews, Salisbury Plain, and Gold Harbour comprise the three largest king penguin colonies in South Georgia.
They’re also three of the world’s largest breeding beaches for southern elephant seals, whose activity reaches its peak during the Southern Hemisphere summer.