Punta Arenas, Stanley, Port-aux-Français
Far away from congested cities and the frenetic grind, Antarctica is an untamed desert that takes your breath away at every vista. Tap the actual South Pole; waddle with penguins; kayak in turquoise waters amidst humpback whales; and, camp out under a sea of stars! There is plenty to do on The White Continent at the bottom of the Earth. Going on your own is tricky; you’ll need to prepare for tough conditions with supplies and physical skills. Book a special land expedition through an agency under the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (or IAATO). Head out around November to March (summer season) when the sun is always shining and the ice has melted just enough to let ships in.
Row out a kayak onto smooth waters and lose yourself in the remote landscapes along Gerlache Strait! The full scene: penguins jumping into the waters to hunt for food, seals gliding so gracefully under the surface, and little icebergs bobbing beside your raft. Keep your eyes peeled—a humpback whale or two may be breaching nearby! If you’re not too confident with navigating the open waters, there are tours available via zodiac boat (a motorized inflatable watercraft).
Hang out with the largest colony of breeding King penguins in the world at the Volunteer Point Penguin Colony! There are no native land mammals, reptiles, or amphibians on arid Antarctica. However, its small islands (like here on Falkland Island) and coastal regions welcome a variety of migratory birds and penguins. Gentoo and Magellanic penguins also join the party, looking smart in their black tuxedos. You’ll hear them right away when they greet you in a medley of bird sounds. Try to keep a 6-meter distance from the birds to not stress them out. They’re naturally curious, so chances are they’ll sidle up close to you anyway!
Unnamed Road, Johnson's Harbour, Falkland Islands
One of the most interesting points of Antarctica, Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano. It was formed when a portion of the rock wall collapsed and the chamber flooded with water. The sand is warmed from beneath the surface, and mist hangs low due to differing temperatures. Entering the inner waters poses a challenge due to what is called Neptune’s Bellows (the narrow opening of this horseshoe-shaped island). Trek through abandoned settlements, observe the undisturbed fauna and take in the sweeping landscape of thrashing waters and unique rock formations. The daring may even take the polar plunge in frigid waters for a bucket list experience!
Remote in the truest sense of the word, Hovgaard Island is an uninhabited island on the northern tip of Antarctica. Pitch your tent on white-powdered flatland with nothing but open water as far as the eye can see. Bask in a tranquil environment like in no other place on earth! It is daylight all throughout the summer, but perpetual nightfall during winter. Temperatures can also hit -89 degrees Celsius, so prepare accordingly.
A piece of Ukraine settled on the White Continent as Vernadsky Research Base. The entirety of Antarctica sees only 1,000-5,000 transient tenants depending on the time of year; these are the scientists that inhabit the two dozen research stations that dot the winter wonderland. After a few days of communing with nature, it’s nice to find friendly faces (and even share a shot of vodka with them!). Take a tour around Vernadsky and learn about all the interesting work they’re up to; then, buy a keepsake from their small shop. Research bases primarily serve the scientific community, but few outposts like Vernadsky open their doors to visitors.
Argentine Islands, Antarctica
Previously Base A to the British settlement in Antarctica, Port Lockroy now serves as a post office, souvenir shop, mini-museum, and penguin sanctuary. Scribble an excerpt of your adventures, then send it out from the Penguin Post Office! Snail mail is the way to go since the great Antarctic outdoors is a no-WiFi zone. Postcards and stamps are also sold on-site (U.S. Dollars, British Pounds, and Euros are accepted here). Just keep in mind that it may take a few months to arrive at its destination.
Goudier Island, Wiencke Island, Antarctica
Cap off your voyage through Earth’s final frontier with a visit to the Geographic South Pole! At the start of every year, resident-scientists at the American Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station erect a new rod to mark the center of the Southern Hemisphere. They have to recalculate regularly since the ice sheet that makes up Antarctica shifts a total of 10 meters throughout the year. The annual marking is always a momentous occasion. Commemorate in your own way and strike a final pose for the photo op of a lifetime. The journey to Antarctica’s centermost point is an arduous one, but you made it!More details