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Most tours to Antarctica depart from Tierra del Fuego, a province on the southernmost tip of Argentina (and South America). And Tierra del Fuego is often referred to as “the end of the world,” allowing travelers the pleasure of discovering a world unknown.
Before reaching the continent, ships will cross the infamous body of water — Drake Passage — where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern oceans converge. Drake Passage is one of the great mysteries of the seas, and depending on who you ask, it is nicknamed the “Drake Lake” and “Drake Shake” for its temperamental waters.
But the gamble is worth it. Passengers are sure to spot a plethora of seabirds including albatross and petrel when crossing Drake Passage. There’s also a chance to see breaching whales and dolphins leaping through the air.
And that’s just the beginning of the journey. Following are some of the most popular destinations visited on a journey to Antarctica.
South Shetland IslandsJust above the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands are among the first stops on any Antarctic cruise.
Deception Island is one of the few volcanic calderas in the world that large ships can sail into and anchor. Once docked at Port Foster, passengers can set foot on black-sand beaches and hike to Neptune’s Window for a spectacular aerial view. While there, travelers may also visit Whalers Bay, an old whaling research station that fur seals use as protection from the harsh, natural elements.
Another popular pit stop is Elephant Island, which gets its name from the elephant seals that roam its shores. Visitors can travel to Point Wild on the island’s northern coast, where they can learn about polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 22 men who survived there for four dark winter months, living under upturned lifeboats.
Antarctic PeninsulaCruises to the white continent can take two directions: east and west. Along the western coast of the white continent, ships will navigate through open waters and narrow channels, offering myriad scenic views.
Paradise Bay is one of the most praised destinations in western Antarctica, aptly named for its unparalleled beauty. Steel-blue waters glisten in the daytime, perfectly reflecting ice-capped mountains. The bay also contains arches made of ice and glaciers, in addition to a lively population of penguins and seals.
Farther south, there are many unmissable moments along the western coast of Antarctica. Lemaire Channel, best known as “Kodak Alley,” is a narrow channel that showcases ice-capped mountains on both sides, making it one of the best places to take photographs and observe the view.
Meanwhile, several landing sites at Petermann Island and Pleneau Bay allow for up close and personal animal encounters with penguins and seabirds. Southern elephant seals also frequent Pleneau Island, though it’s best to appreciate them from a safe distance.
Weddell SeaOn the other hand, ships can opt to travel through the Antarctic Sound (the body of water that surrounds the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula), and, weather permitting, dive into the Weddell Sea on the eastern side of the peninsula. Immediately, clients will notice an increase in massive tabular icebergs there — which makes for thrilling navigation.
Noteworthy shore stops along this scenic stretch include Brown Buff, Hope Bay (and the Argentine research station “Esperanza”) and Paulet Island. Though travelers can see large colonies of penguins from all three locations, Brown Bluff is particularly mesmerizing.
Brown Bluff is an ice-capped tuya (flat-topped, steep-sided volcano) with reddish-brown cliffs. Adelie and gentoo penguins congregate at the base of Brown Bluff, and it is one of the best locations for setting foot on the white continent.
Snow Hill Island is another favorite among visitors, though it can be tricky to access due to harsh weather. If travelers make it to the shore, they can visit Nordenskiold House, a wooden hut (and Historic Monument) built by the Swedish Expedition team that explored the island in the early 1900s. Travelers will also witness emperor penguins on Snow Hill Island, in addition to killer whales, humpbacks, leopard seals and Weddell seals in the surrounding waters.