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Ocean cruising in Antarctica

Aboard an Antarctica cruise, discover a glacial world of glistening icebergs and frosty mountain peaks. Cruise to Antarctica and await the arrival of barren snow-covered landscapes – broken up by bitterly cold polar seas inhabited by blubbery seals, majestic whales, exquisite birds and shuffling penguins. Located at the South Pole in the Earth’s southern hemisphere, 98 percent of Antarctica is covered by the Antarctic ice sheet, which in turn holds a staggering 61 per cent of the world’s freshwater. Clusters of Antarctic and subantarctic islands surround this icy landmass and eight different countries lay claim to territories in this region: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. The undulating Transantarctic Mountains crawl through the middle of the continent between the Ross Sea and the Weddle Sea and hundreds of subglacial volcanoes lurk underneath the region’s ice sheets. Below the Antarctic Peninsula in West Antarctica, the extraordinary Marie Byrd Land is blanketed in volcanic rock and is the only territory not yet claimed by a sovereign state.

Why cruise Antarctica

The only way to truly discover this unimaginable destination is to book a cruise to Antarctica. The continent is surrounded by sea, providing Antarctic cruise ships with the perfect means to call at all of the spectacular attractions on offer. As well as Ushuaia Antarctic cruises in Argentina, the majority of cruise ship itineraries take in the city of Punta Arenas in Chile – offering passengers a glimpse of the heel of South America before heading South.

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Which cruise lines sail to Antarctica?

On an Antarctic cruise, a vast number of cruise companies including Celebrity Cruises, Silversea, Norwegian Cruise Line, Iglu Cruise, Seabourn, Quark, Ponant and Princess Cruises, curate fantastic itineraries that sail via Chile’s Cape Horn and Britain’s Falkland Islands down to South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Shetland Islands. Aboard your desired Antarctic cruise company, glide past towering ice shelves and desert-like islands at the Earth’s southernmost point on a range of classic, small ship and luxury Antarctica cruises.

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What to expect from an Antarctica cruise

On your Antarctica cruise search, this enchanting continent won’t disappoint; as one of the most remote places on Earth with frosty temperatures and unforgiving terrain, these are some of its biggest draws – making cruising around Antarctica the ultimate memorable experience. For cruisers who feel they have spent enough time lounging in the sun or exploring chaotic cityscapes, Antarctica cruises present their own unique adventures, challenging visitors to discover this destination's magnificent natural landscapes.

To ensure the best Antarctica cruise, ship passengers are introduced to the continent gently, experiencing a gradual drop in temperature as they depart such cruise ports as Ushuaia in Argentina, and venture down the infamous Drake Passage. For the expedition of a lifetime, get ready to pack for a cruise to Antarctica and lose yourself completely in the epic chilly wilderness on an Antarctica cruise.

Antarctica cruises: Top cruising countries in Antarctica

Argentina

Most classic Antarctic cruise journeys begin in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina. This sparsely populated region has a vast array of snow-dusted mountains, crystalline lakes and eye-catching glaciers. The trendy tourist hubs of El Calafate and Ushuaia are Argentinian Patagonia’s key highlights, each a gateway to some of the region’s most beautiful natural phenomena. The mighty Glaciar Perito Moreno can be found in this area, a 30 kilometre long and 60-metre-high glacier that rises majestically from the sea in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares on the Tierra del Fuego peninsula. The park, situated in the Austral Andes, is home to 356 more glaciers, which feed into the two large lakes of El Chalten and Lago Viedma. The serene Lago Argentino is also one of southern Argentina’s showstoppers, while the exhilarating Reserva Faunística Península Valdés offers visitors the unique opportunity to watch humpback whales swim along the coast.

Chile

Argentina shares the Southern Cone with Chile’s Aysén, Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica regions. Chilean Patagonia has its own distinct identity, an untamed, barren landscape characterised by verdant grassy steppes, rugged seascapes and glacial peaks. The region’s crown jewel is the stunning Torres del Paine National Park where three gigantic granite spires puncture the ground. It is located between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes. The azure Lake Pehoe lies grandly in the centre of the park and flamingos, rheas and guanaco camels graze for food in the park’s grasslands while Andean condors grace the skies above. Chilean Patagonia’s two largest settlements are Puntarenas and Puerto Natales, each offering its own fabulous tourist attractions.

Iconic ports in Antarctica

Ushuaia, Argentina

During an Antarctica Cruise, discover Argentina’s south Patagonian Tierra del Fuego province in Ushuaia, wedged between the Martial mountain range in the North and the green Beagle Channel in the south. The Straits of Magellan separate the province from the mainland and the area has been nicknamed the ‘End of the World’ owing to its close proximity to Antarctica. On an Ushuaia Antarctica cruise, keen hikers can trek up rugged terrain to the peaks of the Martial Range, from where the views of the remarkable Martial Glacier are astonishing. Those who prefer sailing along tranquil waters to navigating steep mountaintops will enjoy visiting the enormous sea lion colony at Isla de los Lobos and the birdwatching hotspot of Isla de los Pájaros. Ushuaia’s jumble of steep streets and colourful seaside buildings host a hive of activity. Key attractions include the former prison turned Maritime Museum, which exhibits collections on the region’s indigenous people and the main town’s Museo del Fin del Mundo.

Punta Arenas, Chile

Cruise to Antarctica and pay a visit to this subpolar former penal settlement of Punta Arenas; it straddles the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and sits on the banks of the Strait of Magellan. Harsh, strong winds have given the city a windswept feel and the port serves as an excellent starting point from which to explore the remote Magallanes region. Nature lovers can take a two-hour boat journey to Isla Magdalena, home to Chilean Patagonia’s largest Magellanic penguin colony, or hire a mountain bike and cycle up to the top of Mount Fenton in the Magallanes Forest Reserve. History buffs might prefer to stick to the mainland and wander around the opulent mansions of the city’s former sheep barons at Plaza Muñoz Gamero. Punta Arenas is renowned as one of the world’s largest sheep-farming areas and the city has thrived since the lucrative wool boom of the 19th century. Punta Arenas also boasts a vast selection of fascinating museums, including the Naval and Maritime, the Regional Salesian and the Braun-Menéndez Museum.

Cape Horn, Chile

A visit to Chile’s Cape Horn on Hornos Island is a truly exhilarating experience although an Antarctic cruise to this isolated island is not recommended for those who struggle with seasickness owing to the gale-force winds and roaring waves. The adventure begins as soon as you approach this craggy island. Inflatable boats will transport you to the edge of a steep cliff from where you can climb up several flights of steps to reach flat land. Hornos island is covered with wooden walkways leading to all the area’s top sites. Head over to the lighthouse on the actual ‘horn’ from where you can see the point at which the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, before paying your respects at the Cape Horn Memorial. This stone plinth was put in place to honour sailors who fell victim to the treacherous Cape waters. The quirky Cape Horn Monument is another point of interest and features an albatross in flight – the symbol of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood. If you have time, stop by the Chapel of Stella-Maris which is so small it could easily be mistaken for a wooden shed.

Stanley, Falkland Islands

The British-owned Falkland Islands are renowned for the swathes of exotic wildlife that inhabits its lands. Colonies of hundreds of king, gentoo, rockhopper, macaroni, royal and Magellanic penguins waddle fearlessly around Gypsy Cove and Volunteer point. During a Falkland Islands Antarctica cruise, you can take organised tours with a penguin expert; they’ll tell you all about the lifestyle and habitats of these sleek-backed friends. It is likely that your cruise ship will dock at Port Stanley, the capital city of the Falkland Islands located on West Falkland island. Strong British influences can be felt here, particularly as you will see iconic red telephone boxes dotted about all over town. Port Stanley is awash with marine and military monuments, such as the Historic Dockyard Museum and the Battle Memorial at the Government House. The port’s pretty little harbour is lined with postcard-worthy wood-clad houses painted in vibrant colours. Quaint villages including Port Louis and Salvador are home to local residents on East Falkland island. Aside from these two central land masses in the archipelago, cruisers can also visit the smaller islands of Carcass Island, Sea Lion Island, Pebble Island and the Jason Islands. Prepare to discover yet more gorgeous wildlife on these remote islets including elephant seals, albatross and sea lions.

Ross Island

Ross Island is located in the western Ross Sea and is a dependency of New Zealand. It is entirely volcanic and is used principally as a hub for scientists and ecologists who wish to learn more about the region. Your Antarctica cruise experience may be made that little extra special if you come across the towering volcanoes: Mount Erebus, Mount Bird, Mount Discovery and the appropriately named Mount Terror that dominates Ross Island’s landscape. On a cruise in Antarctica, gaze up in awe at the magnificent Mount Erebus, home to an incongruous permanent lava lake in its crater and known as the only active volcano on the island. Learn about the early expeditions to Antarctica by the explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton at their self-constructed huts – the former at Hut Point and the latter in Cape Royds. It is also possible to visit the US research station McMurdo to discover more about the research carried out, there and from the Ross Sea you can view the staggering 30-metre-high Ross Ice Shelf.

South Georgia Island

The uninhabited and naturally beautiful South Georgia Island is another UK Overseas Territory and is situated east of the Falkland Islands. During the summer months on a cruise to Antarctica, you will find an army of two million fur seals and half of the world’s population of elephant seals. Cruise ships to Antarctica arrive at Right Whale Bay in the north-western section of South Georgia where hundreds of penguins gather. The other wildlife hotspots on the island are at Gold Harbour, Prion Island and Elsehul Bay. In the southeast of the island, you will find the deep blue Drygalski Fjord, from which a spectacular glacier rises high above the water. Make sure you stop by at the South Georgia Museum which was once a whaling museum. Today you can learn here about the history of the island, through collections of its discovery, its wildlife and its maritime past. There is also a small exhibit concerning the 1982 Falklands War between Great Britain and Argentina.

Antarctica cruises: Best cruising experiences in Antarctica

Look out for wildlife

Despite its subpolar temperatures, the Antarctic is alive with splendid wildlife, from the penguin and albatross colonies of the Falkland Islands to the sea lions and elephant seals of South Georgia Island. Two bird species, the Cobb's Wren and the Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck, are both unique to the Falklands. Regardless of your choice in a luxury Antarctica cruise or a classic, your Antarctic cruise cost will be worth it as you uncover fantastic spots for whale watching. Prime locations for seeing humpback and minke whales include the Drake Passage crossing and Wilhelmina Bay. Along the Lemaire Channel you might also catch a glimpse of orca whales or dolphins.

Cruise the Antarctic Sound

Sailing through the hauntingly quiet Antarctic Sound – a labyrinthine body of water covered in a patchwork of thick icebergs – is an eerie but unforgettable experience for cruisers. These massive chunks of ice pepper the water after breaking off from the ice shelves which line the Weddell Sea. As you cruise around the Antarctic area, you will also see swathes of Adélie penguin colonies and in the southwest of the Sound, you will spot the million-year-old volcano, Brown Bluff.

Go dog sledding

When you cruise to Antarctica, you will be in for a treat when you arrive in the town of Ushuaia in Argentina as dog sledding is a popular activity. Nunatak Adventure at Tierra Mayor takes adrenaline-seeking travellers on a thrilling dog sled ride through the valleys. Onboard a traditional sled you can go speeding through the ancient forests of Valle de Lobos seated behind a pack of adorable huskies.

Experience sea-kayaking or scuba-diving

Get to know the waters of Antarctica on a more intimate level by following experienced guides through the snow-covered landscapes on sea kayaks. There is no better way to get close to the continent’s marine wildlife and to view its stunning ice formations, than from the helm of your own kayak. Braver travellers might dare to get even closer to Antarctica’s penguins and seals by taking a plunge in the icy waters and scuba-diving to the darkened depths.

Try ice camping

For those who prefer to sleep on solid ground, ice camping is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so why not try it on an Antarctica holiday? Cruisers have the opportunity to spend the night in a tent on one of the freezing Antarctic shelves under the dazzling starlit sky. Find out what to pack for a cruise to Antarctica, layer up and tick off this incredible and unique activity from your Antarctic bucket list.

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