Antarctica Facts & Regions
It’s the fifth largest continent and the coldest and driest place on earth; it’s also literally frozen in time. We’re talking about Antarctica, of course. And a cruise to Antarctica, land of breathtaking vistas, penguins, and steel-blue water is the ultimate adventure.
Discovery of Antarctica
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 figured a similar southern area of equal climate must be there to balance the world. The name itself, Antarctica, is a derivative of the Greek term antarktik, which means “opposite of the north.”
Getting To Antarctica by Cruise
Cruise is the most popular, and best way to visit Antarctica. Holland America offers voyages to Antarctica as part of their South America cruises. Cruises to Antarctica leave from Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile, along a route that includes the Palmer Archipelago, the Danco Coast, and Antarctic Sound.
Regions of Antarctica
There are 15 different regions of Antarctica, but only a fraction of them can be explored. Here are the ones you might see on a cruise:
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. Visitors by cruise ship 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 gentoo penguins.
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 enjoy hanging around rocky outcroppings in Antarctica. Though they waddle along comically on land, these creatures can travel up to 22 miles per hour underwater.
To see these stunning icescapes, book an Antarctica cruise on Holland America Line today.