Classic Antarctica Holiday
Sail the Drake Passage, island-hop the South Shetlands and leave your footprints on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Antarctica cruises run during the region’s summer months, roughly late October to late March, though availability depends on the cruise route.
If you choose to book early or late in the season, there is generally more availability and less demand. The benefit of taking an Antarctic cruise during this time is that there may be fewer passengers aboard the vessel, resulting in a more intimate cruise experience and a higher expert-to-passenger ratio, which means more time with the expedition team.
October, November and March are also popular with photographers. In October and early November, the Antarctic landscapes are still blanketed in snow from the winter, with sea ice so thick you can walk across it. By March, the sun is lower in the sky, so you can enjoy gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.
December, January and February are the most popular months to visit Antarctica, but with good reason. The sea ice melts and breaks away, opening up routes for exploration and ensuring safe passage to more remote areas, such as the Antarctic Circle and the Weddell Sea.
These months are also a prime time for wildlife watching, with adorable penguin chicks waddling about in December and January, whilst February marks the peak whale-watching season, when migrating pods call these waters home.
If you’d like to travel to Antarctica during these months, make sure that you plan well in advance to ensure availability.
As for the notorious rocky waves of the Drake Passage, there is unfortunately no time of year when this stretch of open ocean gets calmer (linking South America with Antarctica, where the Atlantic and Pacific collide in the Southern Ocean, the waves here are infamous for seasickness). However, if you’re concerned about the two-day sea crossing, there are options to the fly the Drake if you’d prefer.
January is a popular month for Antarctic cruises, with most areas accessible and voyages down to the Antarctic Circle possible, due to the breakup of sea ice during the peak summer period. The ice in the Ross Sea melts and breaks away, providing a short window of time when you can visit the historic huts of explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.
Temperatures rise to 15 degrees Celsius, making conditions very comfortable for cruising and travelling ashore to the Antarctic mainland. Fluffy penguin chicks can be seen in the rookeries, as their stressed parents work hard to bring them food; whilst giant humpbacks can be spotted in the feeding grounds, feasting on krill.
February is the best month to visit Antarctica for wildlife watching, as adorable penguin chicks can be seen learning to swim, migrating whale pods have now made Antarctica their temporary home and leopard seal sightings are also common.
It’s also a great month for an intrepid expedition to the Antarctic Circle, as the ice has receded to allow safe passage.
March marks the end of the cruise season with fewer ships around, but this month makes for the best whale-watching. It’s also a popular time for photographers, as the sun sits lower in the sky (making for epic sunsets and sunrises), plus the crowds have dispersed, so you’ll feel like you have Antarctica to yourself.
Due to stormy weather, sea ice and unfavourable cruising conditions, Antarctic cruises do not operate during these months.
Limited numbers of Antarctic cruises start in October, as this is still quite early for cruise season. Ask ahead if you’d like to travel to Antarctica during this month, to see which routes are available.
The Antarctic cruise season officially starts and almost all cruises are up and running. The start of the season offers some of the best photography conditions, with amazing sunsets, spring flowers in the Falklands and the chance to walk on sea ice, with the snow at its most pristine.
November also marks the start of Antarctica’s spring, so penguin rookeries are busy with nesting and courting as the populations increase, Weddell and fur seals are mating, the elephant seals of South Georgia are fighting, whilst seabirds such as albatross are flying the Drake Passage on their way to Antarctica.
Antarctic cruise season gets into full swing, with December being one of the most popular months to visit. Warmer temperatures and long days make for more comfortable cruise conditions, whilst the breakup of sea ice opens up routes for exploration.
Your days will average 22 hours of daylight, though the closer you get to the Antarctic Circle, the more likely you are to encounter the midnight sun. Once you cross the line, the sun rises on 13th December and doesn’t set again until 30th. The density of wildlife steadily increases, as penguin chicks start to hatch and seal sightings are common. Humpback whales are also migrating back to this region.