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The Most Beautiful Places in Antarctica


Antarctica, a vast wilderness of ice and snow, is a continent that defies the imagination. It’s a place of extreme conditions, where nature reigns supreme in a landscape both harsh and breathtakingly beautiful.

I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to visit Antarctica myself, one of the planet’s truly last frontiers that offers a travel experience unlike any other. In a world where travel destinations often blur into familiar landscapes and tourist traps, Antarctica remains unique. From towering glaciers and pristine icebergs to diverse wildlife, embarking on an adventurous Antarctica cruise is one of life’s most premier travel experiences.

I thought I’d highlight just a handful of the many beautiful places found in Antarctica, places you often don’t even see in magazines or on Instagram. Some cruises crossing the infamous Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula even extend the sense of adventure by also sailing onwards to exotic islands off the coast of Africa as part of a longer voyage.

Deception Island

Wildlife you'll see on an Antarctic Expedition

Deception Island is one of the few places in the world where vessels can sail directly into the center of a restless volcano. Situated in Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands, Deception Island is in fact an active volcanic caldera and Its horseshoe shape creates a natural harbor, which is accessible through a narrow entrance called Neptune’s Bellows.

Once inside, the black volcanic beaches and steaming waters offer a surreal landscape against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks. The island also has a bit of a history, which can be seen in the abandoned whaling stations and buildings that once processed whale and seal oil.

Deception Island is primarily used for scientific research today, with several research stations operated by various countries you may have the opportunity to visit. Scientists study the island’s geology, ecology, and marine life, providing valuable insights into Antarctic ecosystems and climate change.

Walk with chinstrap and gentoo penguins, take a dip in the island’s natural thermal pools, or possibly visit the British research station which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption roughly 60 years ago, proving the volcano is still indeed very much active.

The Lemaire Channel

 

Antarctic cruises often include passing through the Lemaire Channel, the so-called “Kodak Gap” by photographers due to its stunning photographic potential. As you sail the calm waters between Booth Island and the Antarctic Peninsula, you will be presented with awe-inspiring mirror images of snow-capped peaks and impressive icebergs reflected in the still waters and wildlife sightings that may include leopard seals, humpback whales, and nesting seabirds.

Paradise Bay

Kayaking Antarctica

 

Living up to its name, Paradise Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most aptly named destinations in Antarctica. Surrounded by glaciers and ice cliffs, the bay is home to a variety of wildlife, including Weddell seals, whales, and numerous seabirds like various penguin species and skuas.

Explore abandoned research stations like the Argentine Almirante Brown Station which I was lucky enough to visit, and learn about the early Antarctic expeditions that ventured into this remote region.

One exciting activity that Paradise Bay offers I the chance to kayak through “Iceberg Alley” and pass by glaciers and likely wildlife. Paddling through the calm waters of the bay offers a unique perspective of the Antarctic wilderness that you can’t get from aboard a giant ship.

Paradise Bay also offers the chance to do a bit of hiking or snowshoeing, as you seek out hidden coves, viewpoints, and colonies of nesting seabirds.

Mount Erebus

Mount Erebus is not only one of the most scenic spots in Antarctica but also the southernmost active volcano on Earth. Its smoking summit and the surrounding landscape of ice and rock create a stark contrast that is both eerie and captivating.

Found on Ross Island, Mount Erebus with its bubbling lava lake, provides a unique insight into the volcanic activity that still shapes much of Antarctica’s topography. Mount Erebus is not only Antarctica’s most active volcano but also its tallest, standing like Mount Kilimanjaro over the Serengeti.

You would think the danger of the volcano would limit life, but in fact Mount Erebus is home to a surprising variety mosses, lichens, and bacteria that thrive in the volcano’s steam vents. Maybe not quite as exciting as whales and penguins but still quite fascinating. There’s also the nearby McMurdo Station which has become a hub for scientific research and logistical support in the region.

There are actually guided expeditions available to trek to the summit, something I wouldn’t mind doing on a return visit to Antarctica if I had the chance. Note that tackling the summit of Erebus is more of a challenging endeavor than my climb of Kilimanjaro. It’s a climb that requires technical climbing skills and proper equipment, so I may need a bit of training before attempting this travel experience.

The Ross Ice Shelf

Wildlife you'll see on an Antarctic Expedition

The Ross Ice Shelf is a massive glacier the size of France and one of the largest ice shelves on the continent. From the air or the sea, it presents an imposing yet magnificent face, standing hundreds of feet high. The front of the shelf is a wall of ice that stretches as far as the eye can see, and the scale is something that truly needs to be seen to be believed.

Much like my very active 2-year-old, the Ross Ice Shelf is constantly in motion, flowing slowly outwards from the continent. As it moves, the ice shelf undergoes a process of calving, where large chunks of ice break off to form icebergs.

The shelf served as a base for early explorers like Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, who used it as a launching point for their expeditions to the South Pole. Today, it’s simply home to wildlife and the few lucky cruise visitors that get the rare opportunity to witness such a remote and untouched landscape.

South Shetland Islands

Cuverville Island

The South Shetland Islands often serve as the gateway to the Antarctic continent and offer a somewhat different landscape than is present on the mainland. These islands are volcanic, and the beaches are often peppered with volcanic ash.

The islands lie to the north of the Antarctic Peninsula and consist of a chain of rugged, ice-covered islands and islets, with dramatic coastlines, towering cliffs, and glaciated peaks. But it’s not just the landscape that’s impressive here, but the wildlife too puts on a nice welcome for Antarctic cruise visitors.

Witness large colonies of penguins, including gentoo, chinstrap, and Adélie penguins, as well as seals, seabirds like skuas, petrels, and albatrosses, and occasionally whales and elephant seals. Like other spots mentioned in Antarctica, there are also whaling stations, abandoned research bases, and other relics of Antarctica’s exploration era to explore.

Exploring the islands by zodiac allows visitors to get up close to icebergs, glaciers, and wildlife, while guided hikes offer opportunities to explore the rugged terrain and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.

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