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Top Antarctica & the Arctic Experiences

Taking a cruise along the Antarctic and Arctic region

Birdwatching for penguins

Sailing to the scenic Iceberg Graveyard

Whale watching for Humpback and Minke Whales

Viewing the breathtaking Northern Lights

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Top Antarctica & the Arctic Attractions

Antarctic Peninsula

Northern Lights

Terra Nova Bay

Blue Lagoon

Arctic Circle

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Antarctica & the Arctic Attractions And Landmarks Guide

The earth's Polar Regions -- Antarctica and the Arctic -- are among the last great frontiers for adventurous travelers. While they both have cold weather and ice in common, the northern and southern extremes of the world also have big differences. Antarctica, the White Continent, is under international jurisdiction and maintains strict guidelines on the numbers of ships and passengers that can land there each year. Penguins and marine mammals are huge draws. The Arctic ranges across a number of countries and has no penguins, but it does have polar bears and more marine mammals. Travel is restricted only by the laws of the various countries and the relative scarcity of transportation.

An ideal way to explore both is by expedition-style cruise vessels. In Antarctica, only vessels carrying fewer than 500 passengers can actually land on the continent itself, and no more than 100 passengers can go ashore in one place at any given time.

In the Arctic region, more routes are opening up to cruising, such as the Northeast Passage from northern Norway to Siberia and Alaska via the Russian Arctic.

Antarctica

The world’s southernmost continent is also the highest, driest, coldest, and by far the least populated. 

Besides several species of penguins and various marine mammals, the only residents are scientists and support staff who conduct research at the 20 or so national stations, and most of those are there only during the summer months. Few remain beyond one or two year stints there.

With tourism to Antarctica really only opening up in the 1970s, and with just 30,000 or so visitors there per year, it’s safe to say that fewer than one and a half million people have ever set foot on this remote continent. If you get to go, savor your good fortune.  

The Antarctic tourist season runs from late October or early November to March or early April, the summer months when the waters off Antarctica are comparatively ice free. The earlier months bring penguin and elephant seal courtship rituals, while the later months see the birth of penguin chicks and seal pups. By March the adult penguins are mostly headed out to sea, but whale and seal sightings increase. December and January bring the most daylight hours, prime time for photographers.

Where Can You Go?

While there are a number of approved landing sites for small vessels, only a relative few are commonly visited. Port Lockroy, site of the British Antarctic Survey, is the most visited site, drawing more than 10,000 visitors per year. Passengers board Zodiacs (rubberized rafts) to go ashore, with most ships making one to three landings per day on the Antarctic Peninsula or nearby islands.

One wild card factor to consider is the weather, which can be stormy and erratic and play havoc with the itineraries the cruise lines have planned. Ice is a constantly changing variable. Special icebreaker ships are required to go deep into Antarctic waters, though some “highest ice class” expedition-style cruise ships can cut through ice as much as a meter thick. A few icebreakers challenge the often frozen Weddell Sea in search of emperor penguins. 

Flexibility and the willingness to change course at a moment’s notice – on the part of both the ship’s captain and the passengers – is key to a successful Antarctic journey.

The Arctic

The Gulf Stream and generally warmer temperatures than in Antarctica help make Arctic exploration more accessible than in its southern counterpart, offering a number of choices for experiencing life above the Arctic Circle. 

Greenland is ground zero for climate change, as its glacial ice – representing about eight percent of the world’s supply – is rapidly melting, threatening to raise ocean levels and temperatures. But much of its interior remains a wonderland of white, and icebergs still fill its bays. Fascinating towns and small settlements dot both west and east coasts, which you can visit either by small cruise ship or via land and air transportation. 

Only a tiny fraction of Iceland lies above the Arctic Circle, but this volcanic land of black lava, geothermal pools, moon-like landscapes, and neat, brightly painted houses is one of the far-north’s most visited areas. Part of Europe but lying a third of the way toward the North American continent, Iceland boasts one of the world’s most literate populations and is easily accessible by air as well as sea. 

Small ships now make the journey to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a Norwegian island archipelago hundreds of miles north of the top of continental Europe. Spitsbergen is home to some of the farthest north settlements in the world, as well as glaciers, icebergs, and an array of wildlife including polar bears, walruses, and flocks of seabirds. In northern continental Norway and Finland, you can ride in reindeer sleds and visit the Sami, the nomadic people who drive their reindeer herds through the frozen wilderness.

Be Among the First

Transiting the Northeast Passage – from Europe to Asia via the Russian Arctic – represents a new thrill in Arctic exploration, now available by expedition-style cruise ships with high ice-class ratings. Until recently, this area was off limits due to both political and climatological reasons. The cruises visit Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and continue through the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean to Russian Siberia until reaching Nome, Alaska. Expect to see polar bears, whales and seals along the way. 

Northern Canada is a far cry from the urbanity of the cities lying near the U.S. border that harbor most of this huge country’s population. The town of Churchill in northern Manitoba is the place to see polar bears and Beluga whales, while the vast, remote province of Nunavut beckons adventurous travelers to encounter Inuit villages that include the northernmost permanent settlement in the world. 

Most visitors to Alaska confine themselves to cruises along its southeast coast or inland trips to Denali National Park, but the state’s remote Aleutian Islands and far northern tundra area stretching north to Nome offer adventurous travelers an entirely different experience in the “Last Frontier.” You can go dog sledding in Arctic Alaska, fish for salmon in far northern waters, watch for bears and birds, and get around by small plane (or properly equipped vehicles along rough roads).


Related Guides

Countries: 

 Greenland, Antarctica, Arctic, Iceland, Norway & Scandinivia

Attractions:

 Drake Passage, Paradise Bay, Deception Island, Lysefjord and Many More

Top Activities: 

 Small-Ship Expedition Cruise, Snowmobiling, Dog sledding, Watching Aurora Borealis and Many More

 

Antarctica & the Arctic Tour Reviews - Summary

4.8 out of 5

99%

recommend

83 Reviews

Excellent 52 Great 12 Average 0 Disappointing 0 Terrible 1

Rating Details

Value
4.8 Guide
4.8 Activities
4.8 Lodging
4.8 Transportation
4.8 Meals
4.8

Delightful trip to a peaceful place

Snowshoeing in Finland

5.0 April 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes The remote forests of Finland are a very peaceful place, and tramping through them in snowshoes is an ideal way to immerse yourself in their tranquillity. The trees are laden with snow and you cannot hear a thing. It feels like a scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - you half expect to come across a lamppost and a fawn.
The centre is well run, and the guides are absolute enthusiasts and keen to pass one their passion for the trees and the wildlife. At night the stars are bright, and the Northern Lights make an eerie appearance.
All in all, a magical place. The UK seems very busy when you get home.
The completely monochromatic appearance of the trees, lakes and snow on cloudy days.
Rolling in the snow after the sauna

Heli was lovely - she had real enthusiasm for the environment. I have never before hugged a tree, but now know we need to say thank you to them!
She was also very organised and kept a subtle eye on all the party, to make sure no one got left behind or had difficulty.

Trust the gear provided - we did take our own base layers, socks and buff - but that was all you needed. Their gear was all fine - 3 layers for top and bottom / gloves and mitts / hat / backpack / torch etc.

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Walking Wild Greenland

Walking Wild Greenland

5.0 February 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes This holiday was fascinating because we got an incite, albeit small, into the lives of the local Inuit community as they went about their daily lives. We watched… tearful parents hugging their children at the airport as they went off for a month's school trip to Denmark. We stroked the husky dogs who were lazing away the summer before their duties of sled pulling resume in the winter. We watched in the hotel at Kulusuk as a local family celebrated the christening and naming of a baby. And, as the holiday slogan promised, we walked wild Greenland. Our daily walks, which enabled us to see the rugged mountainous landscape from close quarters, were in places challenging because of the steepness of some of the paths but so invigorating. The breathtaking views were worth struggling up the mountain paths. To see the mist hanging low over the water with the occasional iceberg peaks showing through was amazing. The northern lights were also active on three of the nights we were in Tasiilaq and so we were thrilled to get such awe inspiring photographs to send home. I particularly enjoyed the helicopter transfer and the fabulous photo opportunities that afforded. There are no trees to be seen, but if you look down you will see an abundance of small flowers, fungus, lichen and edible berries none of which are higher than a couple of centimetres.
Seeing the Northern lights in Tasiilaq.

Oskar was superb in every respect. He was knowledgeable and the epitome of calm. When there was a problem at Kusuluk airport which meant we could not fly there from Reykjavik as planned, Oskar very quickly organised a back up plan which involved a wonderful two + hour walk over a rugged Icelandic landscape. Although disappointed not to get to Greenland, we felt the day and time had not been entirely wasted and I got a superb picture of the setting sun enflaming an Icelandic mountainside.

Make sure your walking shoes are thoroughly worn in. Take a second pair of trusted walking boots in case your first pair give blisters. Pack a pair of good quality Nordic walking poles and rain proof outer clothes. To my surprise there were lots of irritating mosquitos at the time of my trip so take insect repellant and/or a tight buff you can wear over your mouth.

The food in the hotels was superb
Thank you Exodus for organising this lovely holiday.

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Walking wild Greenland

Walking Wild Greenland

5.0 February 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes An excellent trip which was so well organized, thoughtfully planned and full of unexpected landscapes.…
The Northern lights that shrouded our hotel after a fantastic day walking in inspirational mountain landscapes in Greenland and Iceland.

An amazing group leader who looked after all of us so well. His knowledge, understanding and flexibility was totally awesome. We all felt so inspired, challenged and safe in a rugged, raw and vast landscape.

A make sure you have walking poles, warm layers and also T-shirts as the weather conditions change rapidly in a very short space of time.

Thank you for such an inspirational and wonderful holiday - so unique, exceptionally well planned and also very different to any thing else I have experienced. A fantastic group of people were also part of the overall experience.

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A Wonderous Place

Walking Wild Greenland

5.0 February 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes I did not know what to expect of Greenland (nor Iceland), other than it might feel wintery. Actually, the weather was wonderful – crisp and sunny, sometimes windy… and moody, which only enhanced the exquisite photo opportunities. There is nothing not to like; raw and dramatic scenery, and the usual high organisation that one expects from Exodus. I would highly recommend the trip, if you love the outdoors, leisurely yet rewarding walking, in an other-worldly place. The only thing missing was much land based wildlife, but harsh winters keep animals at bay, and this only serves to remind one how extreme the winter climate must be.
The view having walked up to a 500m high ridge, to see a sparkling blue sea far below, dotted with iceburgs and immersed in swirling white cloud. It made the effort so very very rewarding.

We were very lucky and spoiled to have Oskar run our trip. He is an experienced, savvy, kind and quick thinking organiser. He imparted much local knowledge, which helped us to understand the inhospitable place we were visiting and a glimpse of the harsh life of those living there.

Follow the kit list. Walking boots plus a lighter pair of day shoes/trainers helped sore feet, when walking was less technical. Expect weather extremes, so have layers for warm and cold times - it changes quickly. A small thermos flask might be nice if you decide to wait for a while and watch the world go by!! Get to grips with the panorama mode on your camera - you'll be using it lots! Credit cards are taken everywhere, but a bit of local currency is useful.

Perhaps stay a little longer in Reykjavik if you haven’t been there before and visit some of the geological wonders close to the city; its different volcanic make-up is a wonderful contrast to the ice carved granite of Greenland. Finally, two hours soaking in the Blue Lagoon thermal resort, before flying out, was a wonderful end to the trip and very do-able with direct bus links from city there and then on to the airport.
Just go on the trip!

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Fabulous Trip on a Great Ship

Audience with “Kings”

5.0 January 2017 Poseidon Expeditions Recommend: Yes I hadn't heard of Poseidon when I found the company while searching for trips to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands. However, I was reassured by reviews I found online and I am very glad that I trusted what I read. The pre-cruise administration from Natalia was efficient and helpful. The pre-cruise hotel was beautiful with great views. Our cabin was the best we have had on any of our small boat cruises. It was, however, the expedition staff and crew who made the whole trip so wonderful.

Forward planning meant that we were able to avoid storms around Falklands and South Georgia by reversing the itinerary to visit Antarctica first. This was an inspired decision as we had a calm crossing of the Drake Passage, reasonable weather at the start to excellent weather from day three. Every evening there was a recap meeting where we were fully apprised of the itinerary for the next day. Weather, winds and swell were all detailed and the decisions for the next day's landings fully explained. The captain was involved in the decisions and his extensive experience in the region helped our wonderful expedition leader, Jonathan Zaccaria, to make great decisions as to where to land. So good was the planning that we were able to make all but one landing throughout the 19 days, including every important stop planned from the wildlife point of view. This included seeing the fantastic king penguins at St Andrews Bay on South Georgia, where, only the previous week, one person we had spoken to said her cruise was unable to land anyone because of the wind and swell.

The ship's staff in every area could not do enough for us. This included our cabin man, the bar and kitchen staff, and the expedition staff, who managed the numerous zodiacs so brilliantly on the landings.

I could go on and on but suffice it to say that I would recommend Poseidon to anyone on this performance and we are looking at going again on another of their cruises.
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