THE POLAR REGIONS
THE WHITE CONTINENT
Antarctica sits at the bottom of the world, surrounded by the Southern Ocean.
At 5.4 million square miles, it is twice the size of Australia. It is the fifth-largest continent, but it’s more affectionately known as the seventh continent because most avid travelers who have already visited the other six continents look to Antarctica to complete their quest to visit every continent of the world.
It is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, with temperatures known to reach as low as -128° F, but the average temperature is about -80F° in winter. There are no permanent residents in Antarctica; it’s primarily used for research with multiple research stations across the continent. These experiments and resources are shared by scientists from other countries.
Antarctica is not owned by any single country, but it’s part of the Antarctic Treaty. The Antarctic Treaty was signed by 12 countries back in 1959 as a place free from military action. It was used to promote peacefulness and scientific cooperation. Since its’ inception, 38 other countries have signed the Treaty, increasing the total to 50 nations.
So why would anyone want to travel to Antarctica?
Pristine white snow, massive icebergs in a million hues of blue, and the deafening silence of nothingness.
Thousands of penguins and their chicks dot the landscapes. If you’re lucky enough to do a landing, you will be rewarded with an opportunity to see them thrive in their natural environment, unafraid and curious about the humans that come to visit.
Whale watching. Not from your hotel room, or from your ship (which of course is entirely possible), but from your zodiac. The opportunity to see Minke, Southern Right, or Humpback whales breaching off to the side or maybe even bubble net feeding right alongside your zodiac. These once in a lifetime experiences are what bring people to Antarctica.
BUCKET LIST DESTINATION
Antarctica is the ultimate destination for adventurous travelers who want to check the 7th continent off their bucket list.
Some FAQs to help you decide if Antarctica is right for you:
When is the best time to go?
While the Antarctic Season is very short, there are essentially 3 mini-seasons within the larger season. The best time to go is determined by what your goals and expectations are. Go too early and you miss out on opportunities to whale watch. Go too late, and you miss the season's first ice and the iconic photo op of your expedition ship parked in the ice. Here is a quick glance at what to expect during each micro-season:
Late Spring - Early Summer (Late November - Early December)
- Courting season for penguins and seabirds
- Seals visible on fast ice.
- Spring wildflowers in the Falklands and South Georgia.
- Elephant and fur seals establish their breeding territories.
- Winter pack ice starts to form. As the first explorers of the season, you are treated to pristine white ice and opportunities to "park" in the ice and snowshoe ashore.
Mid Summer (Mid-December- January) - If you’re planning a trip around the Christmas/New Year period, this is what you can expect.
- The warmest months of the season and the longest days of the year
- With almost 24 hours of daylight, keen photographers will enjoy the great lighting and fabulous photo opportunities
- Antarctic penguin chicks start hatching
- In South Georgia and the Falklands, the first penguin chicks emerge and the fur seals are breeding
- Seal Pups are visible on South Georgia and the Falklands
- Receding ice allows for further exploration
Late Summer (February-March)
- Best time for Whale watching
- Penguin chicks start to fledge, most Adelie and Gentoo penguin colonies are nearly vacated by late Feb to early March
- The snow will be brown with penguin guano and a pungent aroma lingers
- Snow algae blooms
- More opportunities to explore Southern Antarctica as pack ice recedes
- More fur seals on the Antarctic Peninsula
Who sails there and what is the best company to travel with?
Again, this question is dependent on your travel plans for Antarctica. There are many cruise and expedition companies that allow you to explore Antarctica. Your travel style should be taken into consideration when choosing the right company. Cruise companies range from luxury cruises to research vessels, the former being the most basic of experiences.
All the luxury cruise operators offer an all-inclusive package for this market including WiFi, alcoholic beverages, and zodiac excursions. You may even be served by a butler on some cruise ships. All ships are Polar Class ice vessels with reinforced hulls and have a capacity of under 200 guests per sailing, offering the best opportunities to go ashore.
Other expedition cruise lines may not offer top-shelf luxury like the others, but their premise is based on adventure and exploration. Some may offer activities such as snowshoeing or camping on the peninsula. You may even have an opportunity to sail aboard a Russian Icebreaker. You will certainly not be "roughing it" with these outfitters, as all staterooms are very comfortable and nicely appointed. However, balconies are few and far between and you might not get that beverage package or WiFi connection to FaceTime your family back home.
How do I get there?
The majority of cruises depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, while some will depart from Punta Arenas, Chile. This is quite a lengthy trip in itself. You’ll need to fly to Buenos Aires or Santiago, with a recommended stay overnight. Then take a charter flight to Ushuaia or Punta Arenas, with another overnight before boarding your ship. At least 2 travel days are needed to get to the embarkation city. A decent amount of time is required in order to avoid missed connections. If you miss your departure, there isn't much you can do to catch up to the ship once it has left, so allow plenty of time for bad weather or airline delays.
Can I fly to Antarctica?
There are a few companies that offer a fly and cruise combo. Usually, the traveler will fly one way and return on a cruise. Keep in mind that the weather will play an important part in arriving in Antarctica, and conditions will need to be favorable to land. If the weather is unsuitable, you may find that your departure is delayed by one or several days, and you will miss much of the cruise portion of the trip.
Do I need a visa?
You don’t need a visa to visit Antarctica. A reciprocity fee was required until recently for US Citizens traveling to Argentina, but this has since been waived. For the latest information on visa requirements, check with your local embassy. Alternately, Visa HQ is a great online resource for verifying visa requirements. They can help you obtain visas for any of your upcoming travels. Visit here: www.visahq.com
While Antarctica is a continent in its own right, the Arctic is a little more difficult to pinpoint. The Arctic includes many countries that cross the Arctic Circle and the ocean surrounding them. The geographic North Pole sits in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, covered with drifting pack ice.
The Arctic, our northernmost polar region, consists of the Arctic Ocean, the adjacent seas, and parts of the United States, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Only some of these countries are inside the Arctic circle, which sits at 66°30′N.
Tourism to the Arctic region can be divided into two options:
LAND AND SEA
Scandinavia is more than just Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Go off the beaten path and explore the northern regions of these countries. You can cruise around the fjords of Norway with an organized tour, hike or backpack into the more remote parts or even go on a reindeer safari in Finland!
This is a region of extreme contrast: During the summer you can experience the midnight sun – 24 hours of sunlight. While the winter may bring 24 hours of darkness, these are also the best months to witness the stellar Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights.
There are a handful of cruise companies that operate seasonal cruises to this region.
Polar cruises travel through Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and the northern territories of Canada and even Russia. Many people have tried (with limited success) to recreate the fabled Northwest Passage Journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This journey was made famous by Roald Amundsen in 1906. In 2016 and 2017 Crystal Cruises successfully completed the journey from Alaska to New York.
Most people who choose the polar cruise do so for two reasons: Polar Bears and the Northern Lights. In recent years, the lack of ice around the Arctic Sea has raised the profile of the Polar Bear and their arctic habitat, arousing the curiosity of many intrepid travelers.
Here are some FAQs with some answers:
When is the best time to go?
If you want to cruise the Arctic Ocean in search of Polar Bears, the season is exceptionally short. Several cruise companies have dedicated itineraries for Polar Bear scouting in the summer but there’s more to the Arctic than just Polar Bears.
There is a huge draw for the northern lights in Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Don't let the long dark days fool you! These places are alive all through the year! Norwegian coastal cruises operate all-year-round and there are also fantastic places in northern Scandinavia to visit. You may also get to stay in some jaw-dropping hotel options like Igloos, snow hotels, and even Santa's Home in Finland!
How do I get there?
Again, this question depends on your Arctic travel plans. There are many cruise and expedition companies that offer the Polar expeditions. Your travel style should be taken into consideration when choosing the right company. Cruise companies range from luxury cruises to research vessels, with the former being the most basic of experiences.
The luxury cruise market offers an all-inclusive package including gratuities, wi-fi, alcoholic beverages and all zodiac excursions. Some lines even include a butler service! All ships are Polar Class ice vessels with reinforced hulls. Other expedition cruise lines focus more on the adventure and exploring the destination. These lines may not offer top-shelf luxury like the others, but you will still visit in style and comfort. Most of your time will be spent on board cruising the Arctic Circle, seeing all types of wildlife other than polar bears.
Depending on who you sail with, you will have the opportunity to go out in zodiacs, but keep in mind that your safety is their number one priority. If Polar Bears are in the area, you are safer on board than in a zodiac. The summer is a tough time for polar bears and they are actively looking for seals. If they’re hungry you don’t know what they might do! You’ll certainly not be "roughing it" with these outfitters, all staterooms are very comfortable and nicely appointed, but balconies are few and far between and you might not be able to FaceTime your family back home using WiFi.
For land-based vacations, there are direct flights to the capital cities from most major American airports, as well as connecting flights to smaller, lesser-known locales. There are many tour companies that offer guided tours of the regions. You can always organize your own trip or enlist the services of a qualified travel agent to help you plan your Arctic adventure.
Do I need a visa?
American and Canadian Citizens do not require visas to visit most of these locations. Please check with your local embassy or check your visa requirements at www.visahq.com.