The Antarctic Peninsula, known as O'Higgins Land in Chile and Tierra de San Martin in Argentina, and originally as the Palmer Peninsula in the US and Graham Land in the United Kingdom, is the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica. The peninsula consists of an 800km (500 mile) long mountain chain, the highest peaks rising to approximately 2,800 metres (9,186 ft), and numerous off-lying islands. With its dramatic landscapes of steep snow-covered peaks, often plunging straight into the sea, and with narrow iceberg-studded channels weaving between countless islands and the mountainous mainland the Peninsula also offers some of Antarctica’s most stunning scenery.
Cuverville Island or Île de Cavelier de Cuverville is a dark, rocky island lying in the Errera Channel between Arctowski Peninsula and the northern part of Rongé Island, off the west coast of Graham Land in Antarctica. The explorer de Gerlache led an Antarctic expedition here from 1897-99 and named the island after a vice-admiral in the French Navy. The island is a 252-meters high (826 feet) rock with a long shingle beach at its foot and is home to a sizable colony of gentoo penguins. This population is recognized as an ‘Important Bird and Biodiversity Area’ but the flora is every bit as precious and Antarctic hairgrass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis) can also be found here. Icebergs often run aground nearby, and minke whales commonly frequent the Errera Channel, making the waters around this island ideal for Zodiac cruising.
DECEPTION ISLAND, SOUTH SHETLANDS
Part of the South Shetland Islands, this famous island is a collapsed (but still active) volcanic. Protected by high cliffs and a narrow entrance (Neptune's Bellows) this 12km wide amphitheatre is one of the safest natural harbours in the world. It was first used by sealers as a base for operations and then later by whalers. By the 1914-1915 season, thirteen whaling factories had been built here and many relics from this time can still be seen abandoned in various places. Deception Island is a very popular place to stop as you can go ‘swimming’ (sitting in the shallows between the too-hot volcanically heated waters and the too cold icy Antarctic ocean waters) in the waters of Pendulum Cove that are heated by ongoing volcanic activity about a mile below the waters inside the collapsed caldera. In the 1920-1921 season, the water here boiled and stripped the paint from the hulls of the whaling ships and an eruption in 1969 destroyed the British base which was then abandoned. The landscape is very strange here, more of a moonscape consisting of dark volcanic sand and rocks and there are two summer only bases here - Spain's Gabriel de Castilla and Argentina's Decepcion. Hundreds of thousands of penguins nest on Deception Island.
The Drake Passage is the body of water between South America's Cape Horn, Chile and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the south-eastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. The Drake is considered by many polar travellers to be the gateway to the Antarctic, while others view it as the necessary rite of passage everyone must experience before enjoying the boundless natural wonders of Antarctica. In the Drake Passage, layers of cold seawater from the south and relatively warm seawater from the north collide to form powerful eddies. These eddies, when combined with the strong winds and sometimes violent storms common to this area, can make the Drake Passage richly earn its reputation as one of Earth's roughest waterways. It takes the average cruise ship about 48 hours to sail from one end of the Drake Passage to the other. This depends on the exact embarkation and destination point, of course, but the conditions of the Drake are also highly relevant.
ELEPHANT ISLAND, SOUTH SHETLANDS
Part of the South Shetland Islands and a familiar name to anyone even vaguely versed in Antarctic history, as it is where 22 members of Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic expedition were stranded in 1915 after their ship the Endurance was crushed in Weddell Sea pack ice. They spent 135 days on the island while Shackleton and a small group of men set off on a rescue mission to South Georgia in the James Caird, one of the lifeboats from the by then sunken Endurance. Elephant Island is 60km long and 40km wide, with penguin rookeries (chinstrap penguins) and some very old moss banks (over 2000 years old). On the south western side of the island at Stinker Point, is a place called Wreck Bay, where there is some wreckage from a ship. In 1998 these remains were recognized as being probable flotsam from Shackleton's Endurance. Landings on Elephant island are not common as it is often difficult to approach due to sea and weather conditions.
FALKLANDS ISLANDS (ISLAS MAVINAS)
The Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) are remote islands in the South Atlantic archipelago which lie 490km east of Patagonia. With rugged terrain and cliff-lined coasts, the hundreds of islands and islets are home to sheep farms and abundant birdlife and spectacular penguin, seal and albatross populations. The capital, Stanley, sits on East Falkland, the largest island. The town's Falkland Islands Museum has themed galleries devoted to maritime exploration, natural history, the 1982 Falklands War and other subjects. Alternately settled and claimed by France, Spain, Britain and Argentina, the Falklands (known as the Islas Malvinas in Argentina) have been an overseas territory of the UK since 1833, a status the Argentines have fought and still contest. Proud, resourceful and self-sufficient, the Falkland Islanders are a people who have lived in their home for nearly 200 years.
HALF MOON ISLAND, SOUTH SHETLANDS
Part of the South Shetland Islands, this is a crescent shaped island as its name suggests but it is very small at about 2km long. The Argentinean naval base Tenientee Camaraais is occupied here in the summer months only and is a possible landing place with a sizable rookery of chinstrap penguins as well as nesting Antarctic terns and kelp gulls. Whales may be seen offshore against a stunning back drop of surrounding mountains.
KING GEORGE ISLAND, SOUTH SHETLANDS
King George Island is the largest of the South Shetland Islands, lying 120 km off the coast of Antarctica in the Southern Ocean. The island was named after King George III. In some form or another, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, South Korea, Poland, Russia, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Ecuador, Germany, Peru and the US all have a presence on the island. In so doing, these countries earn the status of a consultative party, or full member, of the Antarctic Treaty. King George Island now serves as an aerodrome for flights to Antarctica and is known as the unofficial capital of the continent because of the numerous research stations there. Aside from the scientific significance, the island is a haven for wildlife, and is home to many marine mammals such as Elephant, Weddell and Leopard seals, and colonies of Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins. The island is quite low and flat and the coastline is broken into many bays and fjords. There is a variety of wildlife found on the island including Antarctic terns, Adelie penguins, blue-eyed shags and southern giant petrels. If you are on a fly-cruise trip to Antarctica, it will be to the Chilean Presidente Frei station on King George Island that you will fly and where you will board your cruise ship.
LIVINGSTON ISLAND, SOUTH SHETLANDS
Part of the South Shetland Islands, the Byers Peninsula on the western end of Livingston Island's is protected as a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ under the Antarctic Treaty because it contains the greatest concentration of 19th-century historical sites in Antarctica. In the early years of the 19th century Livingston Island was a major centre for catching seals. Hannah Point, named after the British sealer ‘Hannah’ (from Liverpool), wrecked in the South Shetlands on Christmas Day 1820 is one of the most popular stops in Antarctica. A fantastic place for viewing wildlife at close quarters, there are large chinstrap and gentoo penguin rookeries here (with occasional macaroni penguins), blue-eyed shags, skuas, Wilson's storm petrels, southern elephant and southern fur seals. The island has the summer only Spanish station, Juan Carlos Primero, and the summer only Bulgarian base, St Kliment Ohridskiy. Livingston Island has the highest point of the South Shetlands at 2400m (7800ft).
MELCHIOR ISLANDS, ANTARCTIC PENINSULA
The Melchior Islands are a group of many low, ice-covered islands lying near the centre of Dallmann Bay in the Palmer Archipelago, Antarctica. They were first seen but left unnamed by a German expedition under Eduard Dallmann (1873–74). They are located on the Antarctic Peninsula and are known as the ‘Venice of Antarctica’ because of their many narrow canals and islands. The waters here are shallow and disturbed by swell and current. Sixteen of the small Melchior Islands, located between the much-larger Anvers and Brabant Islands well down the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, are named for letters of the Greek alphabet - Alpha to Omega. On Lambda Island the first lighthouse built by Argentina in the Antarctic, called Primero de Mayo, was erected in 1942, and is now a historic site.
NEKO HARBOUR, ANTARCTIC PENINSULA
Neko Harbour is an inlet of the Antarctic Peninsula on Andvord Bay, situated on the west coast of Graham Land. Neko Harbour was discovered by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache during the early 20th century. It was named for a Scottish whaling boat, the Neko, which operated in the area between 1911 and 1924. For wildlife enthusiasts, Gentoo penguins, kelp gulls, and skuas are all confirmed breeders in the area. The high glaciers surrounding Neko Harbour make it a beautiful setting. They can also cause excitement with their regularly calving during which large chunks of ice fall off the glacier into the water. This is accompanied by loud cracking sounds and can potentially result in hazardous waves. Therefore, it is advised to avoid beach areas while ashore due to the risk of waves.
Paradise Harbour, also known as Paradise or Paraiso Bay, is a wide embayment behind Lemaire and Bryde Islands in Antarctica, indenting the west coast of Graham Land between Duthiers and Leniz Points. The name was first applied by whalers operating in the vicinity and was in use by 1920. In 1950, a shelter was erected near the Chilean Base to honour Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, the first head of state to visit the Antarctic. The shelter has been designated a Historic Site Monument, following a proposal by Chile to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. The friendly inhabitants of Paraíso Bayare distinguishable by the white spots over their eyes. They are Gentoo Penguins, also known here as Papúa or Juanito penguins.
Antarctica, the southernmost continent, and site of the South Pole is a virtually uninhabited, ice-covered landmass. Most cruises to the continent visit the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches toward South America. It’s known for the Lemaire Channel and Paradise Harbour, striking, iceberg-flanked passageways, and Port Lockroy, a former British research station turned museum. The peninsula’s isolated terrain also shelters rich wildlife, including many penguins.
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest continent and it contains 90% of all the ice on Earth in an area just under 1.5 times the size of the United States. The continent is divided into two regions, known as East and West Antarctica.
East Antarctica makes up two-thirds of the continent and is about the size of Australia. Ice in this part of the continent averages 1.2 miles (2km) thick. West Antarctica, on the other hand, is a series of frozen islands stretching toward the southern tip of South America, forming an extension of the Andes Mountains. The two regions are separated by the Transantarctic Mountains, a range that stretches across the continent, and is sometimes completely covered by ice.
Despite the lack of lush greenery, and complete absence of amphibians, reptiles and terrestrial mammals, there remains an abundance of wildlife in and around Antarctica. Large populations of penguins, whales, fish and invertebrates thrive along Antarctica's coasts and frigid seas, especially in the summer.
When to Visit
Summer (November to February/March). During this time, the sun is almost always in the sky. Days rapidly get longer there in summer, until, eventually, the sun doesn't set at all. This phenomenon is called the Midnight Sun. Although there are multiple places in the northern hemisphere that experience this perpetual sunlight during half of the year, Antarctica is the only southern location where it can be seen. January is the warmest month in Antarctica, during which average temperatures climb all the way up to 0 degrees in the Antarctic Peninsula. However, the average temperatures range from -10 degrees Celsius to -60 degrees, depending on how far into the continent you travel. Late summer is the best time to see whales in Antarctica. It is most common to see humpback whales, minke whales and killer whales, though it is possible to see many other species as well. These can include blue whales, fin whales, sei whales, southern right whales and sperm whales.
Winter (March to October). Antarctic Winters are long and very cold with long dark nights that may last for weeks. The dark does not last as long as the summer light as there is twilight after the sun sets below the horizon and before it comes up again. The further south you go, the colder, darker and longer the winter is. If anyone is in Antarctica once winter comes, they are staying there until summer returns! Flights and ships cease to travel to and from Antarctica once the weather starts to turn, as conditions become too treacherous. Typically, researchers are the only people who brave the Antarctic winters. This is a valuable time for astronomers, and Climatologists are also busy during this time of year tracking and comparing the temperatures on and below the continent's surface.
There is no access to ATMs or Banks in Antarctica so you have to take cash and credit cards. The Antarctic dollar, occasionally called the Antarctican dollar, is the national currency of the Federated States of Antarctica. However, whilst Antarctica does Have its own currency, it is best to take US dollars, Euros, and British pounds. Chile and Argentina each have their own currency (with the same name: peso) and the Falkland Islands uses British pound (£) or local pound (FK£). Each cruise runs its onboard economy differently, but in general you sign for items and pay at the end of the trip. These bills can usually be settled with cash, traveller’s checks or credit cards but please check specifics before you travel.
Visas and Vaccinations
You must have all visas (and vaccination) certificates that are necessary to enter or pass through Antarctica.
Visa requirements are subject to change so please check with a Visa Service Company in the country in which you are located or you can check details online instantly with companies such as CIBT Visas (https://cibtvisas.co.uk/.
Visas can be obtained through the relevant embassy or consulate.
General Note: Some countries refuse admission to travellers not meeting their accepted standards of dress or appearance (even if they hold a visa). Entry may also be refused to certain countries if your passport bears stamps or visas (valid or expired) for Israel.
A useful general health advice website for travellers is http://www.who.int/ith/en/ and there are also advice sites in individual countries.
Please note it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct, current visa and vaccination information and that you act on it.