If ever given the chance to visit the seventh and arguably the most enchanting continent of Antarctica, take it! I can assure you there is nowhere on the planet quite like it.
After having the chance to spend nearly 15 days on a Chilean Naval Icebreaker on board with a National Geographic team, I knew I had gotten to experience Antarctica in a way that no cruise would ever have truly allowed for.
Here are 10 highlights that are a must-see on Antarctica.
1. Marvel at a true Winter Paradise
The Antarctic summer starts in December and runs through till about March. The skies are usually bright and the temperature is no colder than a crisp, sunny winter’s day. This is the best time to see Antarctica at its most beautiful.
The best place to witness this beauty at in a real paradise at the pristine Paradise Bay. Paradise Bay is on the West side of Antarctica and the still waters and fascinating icebergs make it the epitome of Antarctica.
Visiting this harbor is simply put—magical.
On a typical summer day you would see exquisite ice sculptures standing tall and majestic, clear skies reflecting all the mightiness of the mountains into the clear bay.
Albatrosses spreading their 11ft wings and filling the skies as leopard seals bask in the sun on an ice float. Time stops still here. The beauty is breath taking and is the go-to place if you want to experience the magical wonder that is Antarctica!
2. Run the Antarctic Half-Marathon or Marathon
On King George’s Island in nearly sub-zero conditions there are the Antarctic Half-Marathon and Marathon for those that are the most hardcore! How great would finishing a race with a nice little medal be, to commemorate the trip to Antarctica?
3. Lick an Iceberg
The first things that I noticed when entering Antarctic territory were the beasts that were the icebergs. They speckled the water and stood tall against the clear sky. It had always been on my bucket list to lick a real iceberg and where better to cross this off my list than in Antarctica!
Icebergs are never still and are constantly shifting positions due to the wind. For this reason a lot of bigger ships tend to steer clear of these ‘bergs. No one wants a repeat of the Titanic!
The chances come with smaller vessels, primarily Zodiacs. They are must smaller and can navigate around icebergs with ease.
We had the chance to pull up next to a rather small iceberg and see how far into the water it actually went. The old adage is true, what we saw really was “just the tip of the iceberg!”
Getting exciting at the possibility of being able to lick one of these great ice blocks we convinced our zodiac driver to pull in between two icebergs. Needless to say, this was a bad idea. The imperceptible motions of the icebergs were lost on us and soon we found ourselves trapped between them.
Luckily, a flatboat from a base was returning to shore when they spotted us and were able to aid in our rescue!
4. Port Lockery Museum
If you stop by Port Lockery make sure to send yourself a cool postcard stamped from Antarctica. The Port Lockery museum used to be the British Base but is now a full time post office. It is a cute little structure from which you can send yourself mail stamped with Antarctica’s stamp!
5. Play with a Penguin (and enjoy the other wildlife)
The best place to enjoy the frolicking of penguins would be in Paradise Bay. The snow capped mountains in the background with the little creatures in tuxedos happily scampering about is quite a sight.
They love to slide around on their bellies and splash around in the water. Their squawking and cooing is a pleasurable cacophony. Here is the ideal place to watch them play and even join in yourself.
The penguins on Antarctica aren’t used to humans but they sure aren’t scared of us either. They happily run up to you and circle your feet. If you’re lucky (and quick) you might even be able to scoop one up for a photo-op!
In terms of wildlife there is more to see than just penguins. Sometimes leopard and Weddle seals beach themselves on shore to relax after a meal, or even to lie in wait for the oblivious penguins to walk within reach.
These creatures aren’t used to humans either but they are not as friendly as the penguins. We were advised by the people from the base and the National Geographic Team to leave the seals (and any other creature that wasn’t a penguin) alone, for our own safety.
6. Helicopter Ride for an Aerial view of Antarctica
It is a breathtaking view to get an aerial view of Antarctica and its magnificent landscape. Using a helicopter is probably the best way to travel around the island and witness the Emperor penguin colonies or even fly amongst albatross.
7. Take a shot with someone at a research base
It’s an odd thing when you ask someone where home is and their answer is Antarctica. This is quite the case for the roughly 4,000 people that call Antarctica home during the summer months and the 1,000 that stay there during the winter as well!
Having a look into a base you wouldn’t even realize that you were on Antarctica. It is a rather up-to-date facility at Chilean Base- Base O’Higgins. They are staffed with all the amenities one could hope for including a basketball court! So go ahead, be bold, as to take a shot (whether a drink or with a camera) with a person from within one of these awesome bases.
8. Observation Hill for a stunning view
McMurdo Station there lays Observation Hill. It is not that much of a trek (roughly 30-40 minutes) but the view from the top is stunning.
There is a beautiful view of the Ross Ice Shelf and views of Mt. Erebus; the perfect spot for quite reflection.
9. Visit the South Pole
The South Pole lies at 90°S and 0°W. The best way to access this point is via helicopter. Standing here one can claim that they have indeed reached all the way to the South Pole.
10. Take a dip in Deception Island’s hot spring
Last but definitely not least is the joy of bathing in a hot spring in Antarctica. Yes, you heard me! Strip down and swim around in Antarctic waters!
On Deception Island, at the South Shetlands in Antarctica has warm volcanic soil and even warmer water underground. If you’re feeling particularly brave you can wade into the warm shore water or else just dig up some of the volcanic soil and climb into a steaming hot pool of water right on Antarctica’s mainland!
Have you been to Antarctica before? Is it on your bucket list now?
Bio: Suravi Thomas, the daughter of a diplomat, has been travelling since birth. Her sense of adventure and need to explore the world will hopefully fuel travels throughout her life. She loves the off-beat and less travelled roads to explore and really loves to be submerged in the culture where ever she visits. She blogs at http://suziventures.blogspot.com/