Seven life-changing experiences to discover on a voyage through Antarctica

Choose an itinerary through the Great White Continent with a difference — one that takes in wildlife sightings, incredible landscapes, immersive activities and fascinating learning opportunities. Here are some of the highlights to look forward to.

Kayakers spot a minke whale in Cierva Cove. Sightings of fin, humpback, minke and sei whales are a strong possibility as they spend most of the southern summer in Antarctica, feeding on krill.

Photograph by Seabourn
By Seabourn
Published 13 Mar 2022, 10:00 GMT

1. Spot the whales

The knowledge that a magnificent fluke or fin could appear at any moment adds drama and anticipation to any Antarctic voyage. It’s worth keeping careful watch, because whales, dolphins and porpoises may swim into view right from the start of the voyage, before you even enter the Drake Passage. Further south — in the Neumayer Channel, for example, or near Paradise Harbour, Petermann Island and Pleneau Island — sightings of fin, humpback, minke and sei whales are a strong possibility as they spend most of the southern summer in Antarctica, feeding on krill. You could spot them from the deck, or, with luck, from a Zodiac or kayak.

2. Meet the penguins

Penguins are the birds every Antarctic visitor wants to see. When cruising or kayaking, you could spot them in the open ocean, porpoising along at speed, but it’s also possible to visit them on the shore. The three species most commonly seen here — Adélie, gentoo and chinstrap — breed at different times, so the month of your visit will have a bearing on which one you’ll encounter. They nest in raucous colonies within waddling distance of the water and, thrillingly, are tolerant of human visitors (strict guidelines are in place to ensure they’re not unduly disturbed). The Adélie colony on Paulet Island, chinstrap colony on Deception Island and gentoo colony on Pleneau Island are particularly impressive.

3. Follow in the footsteps of great explorers

When you’re cruising around the Antarctic Peninsula in a luxurious, modern vessel, it can be hard to imagine the hardships great explorers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries endured when surveying the region for the first time. However, lively on-board lectures bring their stories to life, explaining why several adventurers, inclyding Adrien de Gerlache and Georg von Neumayer, have geographical features named after them. If your itinerary includes the Weddell Sea, you’ll be following in the wake of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition of 1914-16: it was in these waters, named after Scottish captain James Weddell, that the Endurance became trapped and sank. The crew lived on the floes for several months before sailing by lifeboat to Point Wild, awaiting heroic rescue.

The three penguin species most commonly seen in Antarctica — Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo, pictured — breed at different times, so the month of your visit will have a bearing on which one you’ll encounter.

Photograph by DLILLC/Corbis

4. Explore untouched landscapes

Antarctica’s dramatic icebergs, cliffs and ever-changing light — sometimes misty, sometimes crystal clear — make the region a dream for landscape artists, photographers and filmmakers. If you’re lucky enough to cruise through the Lemaire Channel or Paradise Bay on a calm day, you’ll see coastal mountains and glaciers perfectly reflected in the water: a truly breathtaking sight. Besides more shades of blue and grey than you ever thought possible, there are unexpected splashes of colour in this strange world. Half Moon Island, for example, has rocky outcrops covered in vibrant orange, yellow and black lichens, King George Island has carpets of green moss and in some parts of the South Shetlands, algae lends the snow a vivid pink blush.

5. Feel the majesty of the Chilean fjords

Before reaching Antarctica, your itinerary might follow Chile’s wild southern coastline, an area of mountains and glassy waterways, where sheer cliffs loom out of the blue and glaciers cascade down to the water’s edge. Scenic fjords such as the Moraleda Channel, Darwin Channel, Baker Channel and Eyre Fjord offer extraordinary views of the Chilean Coastal Range: prepare to feel tiny as you gaze up at these monumental landscapes. The region’s northerly port, Puerto Montt, with its vibrant fish market and craft stalls, is set on an island-scattered bay close to picturesque lakes and waterfalls. On the Magellan Strait in the south, the busy Patagonian port of Punta Arenas has heritage sites and museums focused on colonial history to explore.

Weather permitting, Zodiac excursions are a great way to explore the polar world.

Photograph by Seabourn

6. Get active in Patagonia

There are outdoor thrills galore within easy reach of Puerto Montt: whitewater rafting on the mighty Petrohué River, for example, and hiking in Alerce Andino National Park. You can also discover Chile’s Pío XI Glacier and Calvo Fjord, further south, on an intrepid kayak experience, paddling along the glacier front. Punta Arenas is the starting point for some classic wilderness excursions: hopping on a speedboat to Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, an island reserve that’s home to over 120,000 Magellanic penguins, as well as sea lions and elephant seals plus cormorants and other birds. You can fly to Puerto Natales, too, for a short but memorable visit to the Torres del Paine Biosphere Reserve.

7. Discover Antarctica’s underwater realm

For a unique natural history adventure, Seabourn offers the chance to see Antarctica’s underwater realm from the rare perspective of a comfortable, battery-powered, six-seater submarine. The deeper you descend, the more unusual the sights appearing through the big windows: impressive underwater glaciers, beautiful coral reefs, fragments of shipwrecks and marine life normally hidden from human view, including krill, brittle stars and salp. In Chile, sights like the spectacular Jorge Montt and Brujo Glaciers can be discovered with underwater safaris, too, giving glimpses of a mysterious world that few have seen. Everything is captured on 4K underwater video, so you can discuss your sightings with the ship’s marine biologists and oceanographers once back on board.

The Panorama Veranda Suite. Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit, Seabourn's two new PC6 Polar Class expedition ships, have 132 luxury suites with all-veranda suites.

Photograph by Seabourn

Plan your trip

Ultra-luxury Seabourn has been offering world-class Antarctic voyages since 2013. The expedition expert is launching two new PC6 Polar Class expedition ships: Seabourn Venture, in 2022, followed by Seabourn Pursuit, in 2023. Equipped with custom-built submersibles, scuba gear, kayaks and 24 zodiacs — enough to carry all guests at once — each ship has 132 luxury all-veranda suites.

The new vessels will host multiple all-inclusive Antarctic expeditions, with different itineraries of varying length. The voyages will be led by highly knowledgeable, 26-strong teams of academics, scientists and naturalists.

The experiences listed in this feature are meant to be indicative only. Shore landings and ocean excursions require favourable weather and sea conditions and are therefore not guaranteed. Wildlife sightings are also, by their nature, somewhat unpredictable. This is all part of the adventure, making every Antarctic voyage unique.

For more information, visit seabourn.com

Published in the April 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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