As we cruise along the coast of Antarctica, the Sea Explorer might be escorted by albatrosses and petrels. The abundance of life along the coast includes elephant seals, fur seals, bird colonies, and whale feeding areas. A myriad of penguin rookeries abound. Penguin species such as the adelie, chinstrap and gentoo provide hours of entertainment while rare occasions might offer king, macaroni and emperor penguin sightings. It is not uncommon to see minke or humpback whales. The intimate contact with wildlife combined with the breathtaking, otherworldly-landscapes, create a dynamic Antarctica cruise experience for all levels of adventurer.
Antarctica is the world's fifth largest continent and much its area is covered by ice. In fact, about 90% of the world's total ice is here. Curiously, it grows and shrinks by the season, and thus the continent is twice as large in the winter than during the summer. Our trips take place during the late spring and early summer when the wildlife is active and penguins are preparing to nest.
Scenically, Antarctica is stunning. Much more than ice, there are also mountains, islands, sheltered coves and vast wilderness. Antarctica's highest peak is Vinson Massif in the Ellsworth Mountains, at 4892 meters, or 16,050 feet. There are also dormant volcanoes in Antarctica such as Mount Erebus, located on Ross Island, and Deception Island, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula.
As mentioned previously, it was not until 1820 that the first sightings of Antarctica can be confirmed and it is thought that the first landing took place in 1821. In 1840 it was determined that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not just a group of islands, but it wasn't until 1890 that the name Antarctica was first used to refer to the continent. For most of the 19th century, much of Antarctica remained untouched due to its remoteness and the challenging climate which made travel to Antarctica in those times very difficult. The continent has neither indigenous people, nor permanent residents but there are several permanent research bases in Antarctica operated by various governments. Roughly 1,000 to 5,000 people reside at these research stations on the continent throughout the year.
Antarctic tourism is generally considered to have begun in the late 1950s when Chile and Argentina took more than 500 fare-paying passengers to the South Shetland Islands aboard a naval transportation ship. It grew very slowly in the 1960's, 70's and 80's. When the "wall" fell in the fall of 1989 and the Soviet Union started to break up, more ships became available as the Russians had the most ice-worthy vessels and visitations to Antarctica increased through the 1990's. Today, about 35,000 people visit Antarctica as tourists each year, although only about 19,000 go ashore as some of the larger cruise lines have trips that cruise the coast but do not have people disembark. Generally ships sail to Antarctica from Argentina or Chile.
Unlike any other continent, there is an international treaty signed by 46 countries that governs Antarctica. The signors agree that Antarctica should remain a peaceful, free and demilitarized place where international cooperation and scientific research are available to all, with a minimum of human development.
Our Antarctica cruise adventure holds many surprises and wonders for the curious traveler and we invite you to join us for an incredible learning and life-enriching experience.
"If Antarctica were music, it would be Mozart. Art and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it." – Andrew Denton