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Antarctica Cruises

Bow to the mighty Ice Queen

The most hostile part of our planet – a cold, dry place hard to describe in words. Why go? Just ask someone who’s been. Antarctica is truly majestic, the force and power of nature here dominates more than anywhere else. Nature dictates when you go to Antarctica, when you disembark the ship, what wildlife you see... You have to relinquish control, a rare thing these days. As humans it makes us feel humble and very small, it has the power to change the way we look at the world and our place in it.

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Top 7 things to do in Antarctica Cruises

Cruise amongst the ice in zodiacs

As many repeat visitors have said. “I came to Antarctica for the wildlife, but I come back for the ice.”

It’s the zodiac that unlocks the magic of the Antarctic ice, as you tour the bits you couldn’t otherwise reach or never expected to see. Peering into the turquoise luminescence below a mighty jagged iceberg. Floating so close you can reach out and feel the smooth, scalloped grooves of a flipped ‘berg. As if someone had taken a golf ball and meticulously hollowed out a thousand dimples in the ice.

This is a place where you can make a beeline at a glacier for 10 minutes, with the engines going full bore, only for it to remain just as far away, such is the clarity of light. Or when you cut the engine to drift past a lone gentoo atop a 20-foot iceberg, the proud surveyor of his domain, or listen to the creak and grind of the loose ice as the metal hull scrapes over the surface.

Seek new paths in Antarctica

Gone are the days when Antarctic explorations from a cruise were limited to zodiac rides and a potter along the shoreline. Now that are many and varied ways you can get out and about and immerse yourself even deeper into this incredible environment.

One day you might find yourself snowshoeing over untouched powder to the top of Danco Point for 360° views of numerous glaciers, vast icebergs, and the deep ocean beyond. On a clear day it’s just about the most beautiful spot on earth. The next might see you paddling past those icebergs and above the heads of a pod of orcas as you discover inlets and bays from water level. For the even more adventurous, you can dabble with some mountaineering or ski touring to reach truly unexplored corners of the peninsula. There’s even polar diving to take you below the ice…

With this much choice, there’s no need to sit back and watch the magnificent scenery drift past. Not when you can throw yourself right into the middle of it.

Be entertained by penguins

Chinstraps. Gentoos. Adelies. Rockhoppers. Macaronis. All with their own characteristics, and all utterly, utterly captivating. You’d need a very hard heart indeed not to be enchanted by Antarctica’s most famous residents, whether it’s watching their comical gait, the tender coupling at the start of the mating season, or the squabbling over rocks to line their nests. And that’s before we even mention the chicks…

It’s easy to see why penguins have inspired cartoons and children’s characters galore, they’re simply irresistible. Just about the only thing that lends them a more prosaic air is the smell: the mixture of ammonia and wet dog isn’t many people’s favourite. But if you’re down in Antarctica, you might find that even the penguin perfume has you smiling, as it heralds another visit to these charming creatures.

Embrace the Drake

Fair enough, if you’re a proven risk with seasickness, the Drake Passage is not going to be your favourite part of the journey (though many people do find the fear exceeds the reality). But more than this, crossing the Drake is an integral part of the Antarctica experience. How else to appreciate its sheer remoteness? To gain an inkling of the courage and endeavour of those who made the journey over a century ago?

The two-day crossing each way enhances the expedition in so many ways: the mounting anticipation and ‘buzz’ as the ship creeps ever closer to the South Shetlands. The excitement as the first iceberg is sighted. Standing on deck to watch albatrosses and petrels alongside tracking the ship. These simply don’t occur if you fly over the Drake.

When it’s rough, oh yes, it’s rough. But this in itself – for some – is exhilarating. It makes you feel like an explorer. It makes you feel like you’ve earned it. And it’s absolutely worth it.

Summit a mountain peak

While many people picture themselves in Antarctica looking up at the icy peaks towering over them, for anyone who can, getting to the top of the peak is something that simply must be done. It doesn’t even need to be a big peak – a few hundred feet is enough to fill one with the kind of awe and exhilaration usually the preserve of those who summit a continent’s highest mountains.

Looking over the pristine landscape, perhaps with a colony of penguins by the shore, or your expedition vessel far below you in the bay, tends to fill anybody with a sense of humbled awe when they take in the beauty around them. It’s been known to produce spontaneous outbursts of emotion: grown adults jumping up and down with the joy of a small child, or silently weeping. Even an impromptu proposal.

To experience the unfettered emotion that can only be found in the best and wildest parts of Nature is perhaps the essential goal of an Antarctica cruise. It’s at the top of a peak where you might find yours in its ultimate form.

Look out for whales and seals

There are many places around the world to see whales, but somehow few seem as magical as spotting them in the Antarctic. Whether it’s a humpback breaching a few feet away from the zodiac, or a pod of orcas cruising the shoreline with menaces, the grace and power of the cetaceans are just a perfect fit in this wild, rugged environment.

The Captain and crew are always on the look out for whales as well as dolphins and other marine mammals and will announce any sightings over the PA system, cueing an instant fumble for binoculars and stampede to the bridge, porthole, or deck-rail.

If the whales are in a playful mood they may choose to follow the ship for a while, but even if they’re feeling shy, there are other mammals to enjoy. The lumbering masses of blubber that are elephant seals, or the needle-sharp teeth of a leopard seal. And there’s arguably nothing more endearing than the sight of a Weddell or crabeater lazily raising its head from its snowy pillow, looking over at you, and giving what seems like nothing more or less than a beaming grin.

Love life on board

For anyone not familiar with expedition cruising, perhaps life on board is the part you would least expect to leave indelible memories. Essentially you have a ready-made community, with a shared goal, and shared passions. The global draw of Antarctica, and its own nation-less status, means that everyone on board is a guest, a visitor. And this brings people together in the most wonderful way.

Shiplife just seems to create moment after moment of conviviality and shared happiness, whether it’s sipping hot chocolate with a dash of brandy on deck after a particularly chilly landing, or making new friends over dinner. Sharing tales of wilderness exploration with one of the kayaking guides, or celebrating the captain marrying two of your fellow passengers.

Even being hurled across your cabin by the force of the Drake – or at least laughing about it in the bar afterwards – might just end up as a moment you look back on with that warm, fuzzy glow with which we view our most precious memories.

Our top 5 memories of Antarctica Cruises

Orne Harbour

Two of my companions huddled together for warmth as they observed the chinstraps, the snow whipping around their red hoods. The penguins, of course, were impervious both to them and the conditions.

I continued my ascent towards the mountains which loomed ahead through the mist. Pausing to turn back, the wind struck me full in the face, and I realised I could no longer see the zodiacs at the landing site due to the blizzard. I sucked at the whistling air and continued upwards, feeling so very lucky. This was Antarctica.

Interview in the library

I clutched the camera as the ship dipped into another trough between the waves. We were in the library, and the books on the table were becoming increasingly mobile.

As the motion increased, the expedition leader I was interviewing – an Antarctic legend – gripped the table, his knuckles turning white just as his voice kept steady in answer to my questions. What a professional. Right up to the moment the Drake showed it holds no respect for anybody’s Antarctica credentials, and sent his chair tumbling over backwards.

Sunset BBQ on deck

While I hadn’t expected any great shakes on the dining front in Antarctica – that’s not why you go – I’d actually been happily surprised, but I certainly hadn’t expected this. A barbecue in Antarctica? Bonkers. Bonkers, but delicious!

With the aroma of grilled meats in the air, we sit on deck and watch the sun go down between two mountains, throwing a pink glow across the snowy banks to the aft of the ship. The fact we are literally wrapped up in gear for Antarctica just means that this alfresco dinner is a surreal, tasty end to another incredible day.

Stand and stare

I’m fairly certain William H Davies never set foot here, though the first lines of ‘Leisure’ could have been written with Antarctica in mind (‘What is this life if, full of care…’). As I stand on the peak, gazing over the bay where our ship is moored among the icebergs, I feel more connected to the world around me than I think I ever have before.

It makes me feel hugely insignificant, yet at the same time imbued with a surge of joy that makes me feel I can conquer worlds. I never want to leave.

Polar Plunge

I’ve said all along I’m not going to do it. I’m past the age where I need to prove my fortitude to my peers, or be goaded into foolish pursuits. Apparently though, I’m not past the age where I won’t rise to the provocation of, ‘I’ll do it if you do it.’

Thus I find myself on the beach of Deception Island in my boxers, toes curling in the black volcanic sand. And, seconds later, running into the waters of the Southern Ocean. How could water be this cold and not be ice?! Later, they give me a certificate, and a lovely, and rather smug, feeling of satisfaction warms me (as does the brandy my nemesis kindly buys me).

Why us?

Obviously, we’re not the only people who can sell you an Antarctica cruise. There are many companies selling what is a fairly small number of boats – and we only work with around half a dozen of those.

We offer Antarctic cruises with the same thoughtful, nuanced approach as we do in Galapagos; we take time to find the best fit for you. The best fit comprises many aspects: which part of the season; what activities are available; the wildlife activity; the landscapes; the comfort level. Which is to say nothing of those of our clients who look to combine their Antarctic cruise with some active exploration in South America. For these travellers, we have an almost endless array of suggestions, all of which means we give you the best possible chance to make your trip to the White Continent your greatest ever journey.

Antarctica Cruises at a glance

Capital city


Famous highlights

Ice, penguins, mountains, marine mammals

Hidden gems

Active excursions, Drake Passage, boat life


English is the main language spoken on all the expedition vessels; Russian can be useful to talk to crew on some ships.

Food & drink

Meals on-board are ample, varied and (relatively) sophisticated.

How far?

22 hours' flight time (shortest flight from London to Ushuaia, with two stops) plus about two days on a boat.




GMT -3 on the Antarctic Peninsula, though the continent spans all time zones

When to go to Antarctica Cruises

January in Antarctica Cruises

This is the peak season around the Antarctic Peninsula. The average temperature is usually a few degrees above freezing during the day and darkness falls for only 3-4 hours per night. Perhaps the peak time for penguin lovers, you'll see hatching chicks galore, while seal pups become very active in the water. Some ships offer Antarctic Circle crossings at this time of year as the receding ice allows passage for ships to travel further south.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula 5 0 9 Best
February in Antarctica Cruises

The Antarctic Peninsula's daytime temperatures are relatively mild in February, with night-time temperatures just tipping below freezing. You might think of it as a wintry day in the UK, but with nearly 20 hours' sunlight. This is another peak month when active expeditions on the peninsula and Antarctic Circle crossings are still possible. Diverse species of whales are starting to increase in numbers.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula 4 -1 34 Best
March in Antarctica Cruises

On the peninsula, the average temperature cools a little more, though daytime temperatures tend to stay above freezing. Adult penguins are moulting and chicks are very active. Fledgling gentoo penguins are a particular highlight. This is the best month to see whales, if you are very lucky you might see the Aurora Australis. Icebergs have dwindled, though still impressive. Drake Passage crossings are likely to be rougher in March, so bear this in mind when planning when to go.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula 2 -3 64 Good
April in Antarctica Cruises

The cruise season has ended by now as sea ice increases and closes passage to ships. Daylight hours shorten as the sun rises after 8am and sets before 6pm. On the peninsula, temperatures don't get above freezing now, but much more dramatic temperature drops are happening elsewhere in Antarctica. On the continental low plateau south-west of the peninsula, temperatures have reached -30C.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula 0 -6 86 Okay
May in Antarctica Cruises

The Antarctic Peninsula doesn't get quite as cold as you might expect in the winter - it is the pack ice, rather than the weather, that prevents expedition vessels from visiting at this time of year. By now, there are only around six hours of daylight on the peninsula, though this is relatively sun-kissed compared to the continent's interior, where the sun fails to rise at all between March and September. Spare a thought for the scientists on the South Pole who are about to endure six months of chilly darkness.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula -2 -8 106 Okay
June in Antarctica Cruises

In June, the days are at their shortest, with the sun rising around 10am and setting at 2.30pm. Though the Antarctic Peninsula is getting cold, it is getting much colder down in continental Antarctica where temperatures fall to around -20C in the lowland plateau, and reach below -60C up in high altitude areas.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula -6 -13 62 Okay
July in Antarctica Cruises

July is one of the coldest months of the year in Antarctica, with average low temperatures reaching down to -16C on the peninsula though there is an extra hour of daylight now compared to in June. Further inland the temperature drops to between -25C and -68C. Brrr.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula -7 -16 74 Okay
August in Antarctica Cruises

August marks the end of the coldest spell on the Antarctic peninsula, and low temperatures stay at around -17C. On the South Pole, this is the last full month that the sun stays below the horizon.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula -8 -17 80 Okay
September in Antarctica Cruises

On the South Pole, scientists and researchers see their first sunrise in six months and the temperature increases from around -70C to a balmy -25C. As they prepare for six months of daylight, the Antarctic Peninsula temperatures rise a bit and penguins will start to get out and about looking for mates.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula -4 -13 85 Okay
October in Antarctica Cruises

The last few days of October see the earliest cruises begin to Antarctica. This early in the season means pack ice will prevent access to some landing sites. The peninsula is covered in snow to the water's edge and landing sites are at their most pristine. Penguins and seabirds can be seen courting at this time of year. The sun rises around 6am and sets about 8.30pm.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula -2 -9 65 Okay
November in Antarctica Cruises

This is the first full month of the season for Antarctic cruises, when icebergs are larger and the snow continues to be quite pristine. On clear days the scenery is a photographer's dream. Drake Passage crossings tend to be rougher early in the season, though impossible to predict at any time. Photographers tend to prefer this time of year as the ice becomes littered later on in the season by nests and droppings. In November, look out for orcas as well as courting penguins. Daytime temperatures veer above freezing again for the first time in months.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula 2 -5 46 Good
December in Antarctica Cruises

Moving into high summer in Antarctica, penguin eggs hatch in December - first in the Falklands and South Georgia, and then on the peninsula by the end of the month. Southern Elephant seals can be seen guarding their pups. The average temperature on the peninsula rises so that days are comfortably in the single digits and night-time temperatures are only just below freezing. The sun sets for only three hours a night on the peninsula.

Max (°C) Min (°C) Precip. (mm)
Peninsula 4 -1 27 Best
Book Subscribe to The Pothole » Soaking up the view on a spectacular day on Danco Island Antarctica When to Go Map - January Antarctica When to Go Map - February Antarctica When to Go Map - March Antarctica When to Go Map - April Antarctica When to Go Map - May Antarctica When to Go Map - June Antarctica When to Go Map - July Antarctica When to Go Map - August Antarctica When to Go Map - September Antarctica When to Go Map - October Antarctica When to Go Map - November Antarctica When to Go Map - December Zodiac captain leading group on shore in Antarctica Paddling through the calm waters of Neko Harbour Great photographic opportunities on Half Moon Island The moody waters of the Drake Passage Hikers and penguins set off up hill as the Akademik Ioffe looks on from the bay Weddell seal on Cuverville Island in Antarctica Convivial times on board your cruise to Antarctica A brave soul emerges from the fabled polar plunge Walking up to the summit of Danco Island on a gorgeous day Crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica Barbecue on deck in Antarctica Brazing the elements to enjoy a peaceful moment with the chinstrap penguins of Orne Harbour