Each person has their own unique and personal reasons for visiting Antarctica. For some, it’s the culmination of a lifelong quest to visit one of the most remote, pristine destinations on the planet. Others have been before and fell in love with the rare wildlife viewing, the untouched icescapes or the spectacle of ever-changing glaciers dotting the rugged coastline.
Whatever your motivation, there are definite benefits to visiting Antarctica early in the season. Remember, summer on the 7thcontinent arrives late in October and lasts through to March. Here are just a few of the reasons you’ll want to visit early in the expedition season:
Our earlier expeditions offer the best opportunities to see penguins in action. It’s mating season for some breeds, so the energy is huge. You may see penguins mating, nesting, or shamelessly stealing pebbles away from one another’s nests.
Chinstrap penguins, for example, lay eggs late in November and typically have two chicks each summer. Chinstraps will stay in their colonies until early March, when they move north of the pack ice for the winter. They feed close to the colony just offshore, foraging the sea for krill and fish to feed their young. Early in the season is the best time to see massive colonies of chinstraps, the second most abundant penguin species on the Antarctic Peninsula and South Atlantic islands.
Over the summer season, the beating sun and lapping sea take their toll on the icebergs lining the Antarctic coast. As they melt, they become pitted and cracked, changing color from blue to white as the air temperature changes the volume of air trapped inside the ice.
In November and December, icebergs are at their peak mass –fresh from the winter season, they’re sharp and massive.
As Dave and Deb from The Planet D (who took the above photo) said of zodiak touring among the glaciers in Pleneau Bay during the Antarctic Explorer expedition:
“I have never seen such clear blue water. It was as smooth as glass and had that vivid blue that can only be seen in pristine environments surrounded by ice… It is rare to witness such powerful beauty. The expedition staff expertly approach icebergs with the knowledge of just how dangerous they may be. Careful not to get too close, yet experienced enough to proceed with caution. We had a front row seat to view ice bridges, giant cones and long tubes of ice that are thousands of years old.”
No, we’re not talking about polar bears. Southern elephant seals –also known as Beachmasters – are the largest Antarctic seal and the biggest carnivores alive, with adult males surpassing even the polar bear in size.
In summer, these giants come ashore to moult. Adult males will lay on the beach for weeks and can go up to three months on land without returning to the sea to hunt! Visiting South Georgia in November and December with our Crossing the Circle via Falklands & South Georgia passengers is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of these giants, or hear their incredibly loud roars.
Former expedition coordinator Chris McFarlane describes the surreal South Georgian environment: “While I have done close to 20 Antarctic voyages, this year was my first trip to South Georgia and it was incredible. Never before have I seen such an abundance of wildlife, and the beaches are teeming with seals and penguins with these majestic mountains looming in the background. Incredible!”
Early in the summer season, the Antarctic snow and ice is unbelievably white, fresh and crisp.
The most common reaction as we cross the sea from South Georgia to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula is reverence and awe. This leg of the journey on the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica expedition often leaves passengers speechless for a time, as they try to take in the vast expanse of surreal sparkling coastline and sheer blue glacier shelves, not yet marked with mud or the impurities exposed as the ice and snow melt.
Don’t be surprised if the only thing you hear on deck at that moment are the camera shutters.
Early summer in the Antarctic is the most adventurous and awe-inspiring time to visit, yet you can find great deals in the shoulder season, before peak travel really sets in.
You can save approximately $1000 per person on Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia on the Sea Adventurerby going in mid-December, rather than taking the Ocean Diamond in January, for example. You’ll find the Antarctic Explorer expedition on board the Sea Spirit $3000 less in early November than in December, when demand is far greater.
Antarctic exploration is no longer reserved for the uber-wealthy and elite – there are great deals to be had, even in the time when the Antarctic wildlife and scenery is at its peak.