Antarctica: Cruising the Antarctic Peninsula
"If adventure is an opportunity to take risks while experiencing the rare and the extreme, then Antarctica should be at the top of everyone's adventure list," says Prisca Campbell of Quark Expeditions. "It is the coldest, windiest, and highest continent. But in the summer months of the Southern Hemisphere, it is warm and densely inhabited by animals and birds that can only be seen in their natural habitat by those willing to trek to the bottom of the globe."
The easiest way to experience the continent is to travel by ship from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the Antarctic Peninsula, an 800-mile-long arm of ice and rock that reaches out towards the tip of South America. Once you arrive in the Antarctic region, you may depart your ship and explore the Peninsula and its surrounding islands by Zodiac or kayak, on foot, or even by scuba diving.
"Easily one of the most stunning parts of the trip is passing through the Lemaire Channel, a one-mile wide channel flanked by sheer cliffs of ice and stone," says Scott Kish, director of the National Geographic Society/Lindblad Alliance. Of course, viewing wildlife is also a highlight of any Antarctic trip. "The amount of wildlife that people traveling to Antarctica will see is amazing," says Kish. Multiple penguin species, orcas, humpback whales, leopard and fur seals, and albatross are all possibilities.
Lindblad Expeditions runs a 15-day trip to the Peninsula aboard the recently christened National Geographic Endeavor, the flagship of a new alliance between Lindblad and National Geographic. Each departure features eight to 10 expert naturalists, historians, or biologists, including at least one from National Geographic. Boyd Matson, the original host of National Geographic Explorer, and Kim Heacox, author of Shackleton: The Antarctic Challenge, are scheduled for upcoming trips. Double-occupancy rates start at $8,490 per person. Airfare to the trip's starting point in Santiago, Chile, is extra (airfare from Santiago to Ushuaia is included).
Quark Expeditions, a company that specializes in polar travel, offers a similar itinerary on a choice of four vessels. Expedition team members include top experts in history, wildlife, and polar exploration. Double-occupancy rates start at $4,895 per person aboard the Orlova. Airfare to the trip's starting point in Ushuaia, Argentina, is extra. In the fall of 2006, Quark will run two 14-day emperor penguin safaris to the Weddell Sea where you can see the stars of March of the Penguins in action. This is a real treat, because most Antarctica Peninsula expeditions do not allow you to see emperor penguins. Double-occupancy rates start at $11,995 per person
Getting there: LAN Airlines flies to both Santiago and Ushuaia from the U.S. Round-trip January flights, excluding taxes and fees, cost about $840 round-trip between Miami and Santiago and about $1,080 between Miami and Ushuaia.
When to go: Most trips run during Antarctica's summer, November through March, with January and February offering the warmest temperatures and most hours of daylight.