EXPLORE THE ANTARCTIC COAST
It’s the fifth largest continent and the coldest and driest place on earth; it’s also a land like no other, literally frozen in time. We’re talking about Antarctica, of course. And a cruise to this vast frozen land of breathtaking vistas, penguins, and steel blue water is the ultimate bucket list adventure.
The ancient Greeks were the first to surmise that a vast frozen landmass in the southern reaches might exist. There is no record of them visiting it, so they likely came to this conclusion purely by deduction (very philosophical of them). Having already known of the existence of the northern Artic region, they theorized that a similar southern area of equal climate must be there in order to balance the world. The name itself, Antarctica, is a derivative of the Greek term antarktik, which means “opposite of the north.”
Unless you’re part of a scientific research team or a very skilled yachtsman, cruise ship is by far the most popular, and easiest, way to visit Antarctica. For instance, Holland America offers voyages to Antarctica as part of their South America cruises. These typically leave from Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile, along a route that includes the Antarctic regions of the Palmer Archipelago, the Danco Coast, and Antarctic Sound.
Located at the end of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Palmer Archipelago is one of the most accessible parts of the continent. Being an archipelago, it’s made up of 52 ice-covered islands that are separated from the Antarctic Peninsula by the Gerlache Strait. Opportunities abound for viewing icebergs — these frozen behemoths vary in size and shape, with some being several kilometers long and as thick as 400 meters. They form when enormous sections of ice break off from Antarctica’s ice shelf.
Antarctica is a true continent, in other words, it is a landmass, though only a small fraction of its land can be seen. The rest is covered by an expanse of glacial ice formed over eons.
This region of Antarctica stretches along the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Cruise ship visitors will pass through the Aguirre Passage, a region popular with Chilean scientific research expeditions. The Chilean Base General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme stationed here is one of the oldest continually operated bases in Antarctica. A variety of seal species call this area home as well, including Weddell seals, leopard seals, and Antarctic fur seals.
Cape Renard and its two Cape Renard Towers, also known as the Una Peaks, lies to the south. These rock outcroppings are actually towers of ice–capped basalt over 2,000 feet tall that stand guard over the northern entrance to the Lemaire Channel, a remarkably calm and protected waterway with spectacular scenery.
This body of water separates the Antarctic Peninsula from the Joinville Island group. The Antarctic Sound is one of the best places to view the fascinating activities of the gentoo penguin. The third-largest of its species, the gentoo can grow up to 30 inches in height and weigh up to 12 pounds. It differs from the larger emperor and king penguins in that they have a larger tail, which sweeps side to side behind as it walks awkwardly along. The gentoos tend to enjoy hanging around rocky outcroppings and stand out from their environment with their red-orange beaks and peach-colored feet. Though they waddle along comically on land, these streamlined creatures are natural swimmers who can travel up to 22 miles per hour underwater.
For your own expedition, book an Antarctica cruise on Holland America Line today.