Discover the best time to visit Antarctica and learn about the different highlights of each month of tourist season.
Antarctica is one of the few destinations in the world that’s completely closed off to tourism for many months every year. Being the southernmost – and undoubtedly harshest – continent on our planet, this is not a land that ever welcomes humans with wide open arms, cocktails and sombreros. Human arrival here is actually more about industrial-strength thermal underwear, double layer of gloves and a midday shot of whiskey to warm the cockles. Yet the rewards, for travelling to this totally awe-inspiring place, are well worth the climatic challenges.
So fear not adventure traveller: your summer vacation south may not be all tropics and fiestas. But it will be, by far, one of the most unforgettable adventures of your life.
Tourist Season in Antarctica
The southern polar summer, between late October and mid-March, is the only time of year you can easily reach the Antarctic Peninsula on an expedition cruise ship. As this is a land of extremes, moreover, and fast-changing conditions, each month offers a kaleidoscope of unique possibilities so your choices for travel times are quite numerous. Perhaps, you dream of being the first person to step on freshly laid snow on one of the popular landing sites or, maybe, you dream of crossing the Antarctic Circle and venturing as far south as is ever possible. From the best time to see whales to visiting penguin rookeries, the largest icebergs and least amount of tourists, or perhaps the cheapest cruises of all….every month of tourist season in Antarctica offers you a very special kind of magic. So choose the one that suits you most and start planning your once-in-a-lifetime expedition to the end of our sensational world.
Early tourist season in Antarctica – Best for cheapest cruises & unspoilt landing sites
The last two weeks of October mark the start of cruising season in Antarctica and you’ll get great value-for-money berths on luxury cruise liners if you choose to visit at this time. Being among the first passengers to cross the Drake Passage and set foot on the pristine, unspoilt Antarctic Peninsula is quite the unforgettable experience and although you run a small risk of having your itinerary restricted by ice which has yet to melt (after a particularly cold winter, for example) the rewards are sensational. Fewer people and lower cruise costs are great incentives to travel to Antarctica in October, especially when you consider that most of the marine wildlife you’ll no doubt want to see (like whales, penguins, seabirds, sea lions and fur seals) will have already arrived. The wildlife of Antarctica precedes the start of the cruise season by a few weeks (except the impressively hardy Emperor Penguin, the only warm-blooded creature that lives here year-round) so don’t fear missing out on the animal front.
Mid tourist season in Antarctica – Best to see the largest icebergs and spot migrating whale
By the time November rolls around, everything will have increased ever so much. The days are longer and slightly warmer (which is great) although cruise prices will also start to increase the more the month progresses. November is the only month to see breeding elephant seals and to cast your eyes over the largest icebergs of all, before the increasing warmth melts them away over summer. Much like October, November is best aimed at those adventurous and flexible souls who want to channel their inner explorer, the one who wishes to visit undisturbed landing sites, not marred by a muddy slush created by hordes of previous visitors. Yes, you may still have some landing sites off bounds due to ice but if you thrive on unpredictability and total wilderness than this month is certainly for you.
High tourist season in Antarctica – Best for 24hr sunshine & all wildlife
Christmas and New Year’s marks the height of high tourist season in Antarctica (December & January) and at this time it’ll be near impossible to find a last-minute berth on a cruise ship or any discounted fares. This international holiday week coincides with the warmest temps in Antarctica, making for a win-win that’s hard to resist. Many Antarctica cruise ship passengers will have booked their December and January vacation aboard their favourite expedition ship at least 6 months (and more) in advance. This is, naturally, the very best time to travel as far as climate is concerned but as costs will be at an all-time high it’s worth considering cruising outside of this period. This is especially true if you’re planning a more extended tour of South America, as December is high-tourist season all over the continent and prices peak for everything: from accommodation to flights, excursion and more. By Christmastime, you’ll experience life with 24hr/7 sunshine, which in itself is an ethereal experience for most visitors. And by January, you’ll have the chance for extensive on-land explorations of Antarctic bases, historic huts and nesting sites.
Late tourist season in Antarctica – Best for whale watching, sensational sunsets & Polar Circle
The so-called late tourist season in Antarctica falls in February and March, another wonderful time to visit the continent. Cruise prices won’t be quite as low as in October but they certainly will have decreased by a substantial amount. Moreover, late season is furry-baby time, a fantastic enticement to delay your trip for the last two months of the season. After an amorous season on the ice, now is when you’ll see penguin chicks and seal pups venture further and will have the priceless chance to visit humongous (and loud!) nurseries in several locations. If cruising Antarctica at the end of the season, make sure you choose an itinerary that includes a stop on South Georgia Island, the celebrated ‘wildlife headquarters’ of the whole Antarctic region. Late in the season also offer the best chance to see the most number of whales swimming together (as they tend to ‘hang around’ a lot longer than all the other wildlife) and for taking cruises over the Polar Circle. If that’s not enough, the sun will have also shifted dramatically from its zenith and travelling to Antarctica at the end of the tourist season will gift you the kind of breathtaking sunset hues that you just can’t experience in December and January.
Tourist cruise season covers the only months of the year when daytime temperatures in Antarctica crack that magical 0°C. The climate, however, is always unpredictable and a crystal clear sky can turn end-of-the-world dark in a matter of minutes. Temperatures will barely stay just above freezing, even at in the hottest weeks of Dec/January, so do make sure you pack and prepare accordingly.
Here at Viva Expeditions, we offer an array of unique tours and cruises that’ll see you take in the very best of Antarctica and its magnificent landscapes and wildlife. Trust that between cruises, fly+cruise and stopovers, we can find an option that’s affordable and rewarding, taking all of your most fervent wishes into consideration. For exceptional Antarctica tours and to find out more about this most enigmatic destination, simply contact us.