Antarctica is the world's seventh continent and, without question, the coldest of them all. Despite its remote location and wintry conditions, Antarctica is a stunningly beautiful destination, a landscape punctuated with snow-covered ice caps, mountain peaks, icy shores, remote bays, and rugged terrain where few humans have ever set foot. It's also a land populated with an infinite number of wildlife species in vast numbers. You won't just see a handful of penguins at once – but rather rookeries of thousands of penguins of multiple species. It's a place that resonates with nature lovers.
Some colonies of penguins in Antarctica number in the tens of thousands. Photo: David Merron
Antarctica is also a popular destination for polar cruises, and many ocean liners claim to provide the best expedition cruises to Antarctica. However, not every operator is staffed with guides and expedition teams of the same caliber and experience. With Quark Expeditions, you get a memorable Antarctic experience made possible with the helpful support of polar experts and guides whose training is the best in the polar industry.
Why should you go on an expedition cruise to Antarctica?
Antarctica is more than just the mainland continent at the southern tip of the world. There are dozens of islands surrounding the mainland that are home to majestic wildlife and, in some cases, amazing glaciers. A common reaction to visitors to the 7th Continent is that they feel completely removed from the civilized world.
One of the most famous islands is South Georgia Island, which is also known as the Galapagos of the Southern Ocean, in recognition of its staggering level of biodiversity. South Georgia is most famous for being home to entire pods of King penguins that play along the island's shoreline when they emerge from hibernation.
You'll get a chance to see the island and its wildlife in all of their glory if you join the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings expedition. This 20-day adventure allows you to travel across much of the Southern Ocean with stops at South Georgia as well as the Falklands, South Shetland Islands, and even Anvers Island off the main continental shoreline. You'll also have an opportunity to visit the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous explorer who led three separate expeditions to the continent and was responsible for helping the world discover much of what is known about Antarctica today.
The opportunity to see apartment building-sized icebergs entices travellers to the Antarctic. Photo: Quark Expeditions
What to expect from expedition cruises to Antarctica
Penguins are one of the wildlife species most commonly associated with Antarctica. The King Penguins make their homes on South Georgia Island while their colorful cousins, the Emperor penguins, thrive on the remote, hard-to-reach Snow Hill Island.
On a voyage that includes a stop at Snow Hill Island, you'll have an unforgettable experience watching Emperor Penguin colonies roam free in their natural habitat. Emperor penguins are among the rarest of all animals on the planet. They breed, nest, give birth, and raise their young entirely on the ice.
What is there to see and do in Antarctica?
One rite of passage that polar adventurers long to experience is to cross the Antarctic Circle. A feat deemed almost impossible a century ago, crossing the Antarctic Circle is possible with seasoned polar operators such as Quark Expeditions, whose team is well experienced in reaching remote destinations others only dream of.
You'll have a chance to officially cross the Antarctic circle by joining the Crossing The Circle: Southern Expedition adventure. This is a 14-day journey that departs from Ushuaia, Argentina, and travels southbound for Antarctica. You'll officially cross the Antarctic Circle on Day 8 of your journey and spend the next two days exploring a part of the world only a very small percentage of humans have ever seen in their lifetimes. This is a rite of passage like no other!
Kayaking and paddling excursions often reward travelers with incredible views of icebergs and whales. Photo: Dagny Ivarsdottir
Best expedition cruises to Antarctica
If there's one thing that makes a trip to Antarctica among the best expedition cruises to Antarctica, it's an opportunity to get reasonably close (mindful of safety and regard for wildlife) to the land's many species of penguins. Very few places on the planet outside of Antarctica contain these rarely seen animals so this is your best chance to capture real-life penguins on camera for your friends and loved ones to enjoy when you get home.
That's what makes the South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari adventure such a popular excursion for polar adventurers. This 16-day journey to the land takes you as far east as South Georgia Island and loops back southwest around the Lemaire Channel near the mainland.
A fur seal pup peers into the lens of the camera at Grytviken, South Georgia. Photo: Acacia Johnson
Each of your stops could allow you to see beaches blanketed with thousands of different penguins roaming and playing near the shoreline. Expect to see everything from Adélie, Chinstrap, to gentoo penguins as they waddle about the shoreline in search of food. In some areas along the mainland, you may also be lucky enough to find leopard seals, fur, and crabeater that often play near the shoreline. In any event, make sure you have your camera ready for this incredible adventure!