When is the Best Time to Visit Antarctica?
Being a tourist, you might wonder about the right time to visit your desired destination for vacation, adventure, or exploration. Time is a crucial aspect of your traveling experience that must be considered. If properly timed, you can make the best out of your trip. It’s important to note that all the traveling spots have various activities or attractions to offer their tourists, and some of these are subject to weather conditions or season. Hence, it becomes imperative for travelers to have full knowledge of the best time to visit such places. We looked at the various months of the year to see what would make the best time to visit Antarctica and are excited to share our findings.
To begin with, Antarctica is a beautiful place beaming with nature’s amazing and stunning wildlife. Summer is when there’s more light and bearable temperatures on the continent while the winters are dark with temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius.
Even the summertime is spread over six months. Yet, the decision to visit Antarctica will depend upon what you want to witness there, including but not limited to icescapes, whales, chicks, penguins, and the mating season. This actually means there’s no black-and-white answer to the right time to visit Antarctica. Rather it totally depends on your preferences and individual needs, which may also include your budget, availability, and the kind of exploration you wish to do on the continent. If we break down the traveling season, we end up with three categories based on what you really want to experience in the continent.
- Early-season: Appropriate for skiing, exploring snow and icebergs along with the pack ice.
- Mid-season: Great for witnessing penguins and their eggs hatching, bearable temperature with relatively calm sea waters.
- Late-season: Suitable for watching the whales and experiencing the polar circle.
The time you choose to visit Antarctica will also influence what you will see on the Sub-Antarctic Islands like South Georgia or the Falklands. These islands have wide varieties of flora for you to witness, and if you are into exploring those, you would need to decide your season to visit Antarctica accordingly. Moreover, another concern that most travelers hold is that when is the Drake Passage calm? Well, to be honest, It’s more likely to be rough during the summer season while It’s usually calmer in other seasons. Hence, this will also impact the time you decide to travel and explore Antarctica.
Antarctic summer from October to March is basically the six-month sailing season. The summer season is quite lovely, with the weather being pleasant and temperatures relatively bearable, reaching 20 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, this sailing season is filled with action since, after the complete winter darkness, there are almost 24 hours of sun in December which brings massive changes to the life-cycles of flora and fauna of the continent, and in those few months of sunlight you can explore a variety of Antarctica’s wildlife. Hence, if you are planning to sail to Antarctica, the months from October to March are the best suited to fulfill your sailing desire.
Monthly breakdown of Antarctica’s travel experience
In order to give you a clearer picture of which season is the best to explore the continent, a following monthly breakdown of the activities and attractions along with the weather guide is drafted so that you can easily make a traveling decision.
Between October and November:
This period is supposedly one of the best since it brings a lot of bonuses along with it. While the number of cruises that leave for Antarctica during October is few, there still are many more attractions for you to experience. If you are eager to witness some very vast sea ice swaths across the Antarctic Peninsula’s east side, this is the time you would want to visit Antarctica because later on in the season, unfortunately, these sea ice swaths will break up. Moreover, this is also when certain penguin species arrive at the shores of the sea for nestings such as Adelie, chinstrap, and Gentoo. This allows the travelers to see how they court and the rituals associated with the act as the adult penguins begin to find their mates during this period. Also, not just the penguins but some Antarctic sea birds, including petrels, albatross, and the skuas, are nesting during this time. It’s also during this time when the blue-eyed shags are coming back to the continent. If you want to witness the Emperor Penguin’s grandeur, you can also take an icebreaker tour in the Wedell sea.
It’s also a fantastic time to see the Falkland Islands’ spring flora while in South Georgia, you will find elephant seals courting and be able to observe their courtship behavior. Another reason to visit South Georgia is that the king penguins reside there. So, if you’re into exploring the Sub-Antarctic Islands, this is a great time to visit Antarctica and the islands.
November is also the month when the female penguins start laying their eggs, and during this month, you will find them waddling, balancing eggs on their feet. It’s also the time when male penguins have gone hunting offshore. Moreover, the Fur and Weddell seals are found mating along the shore, and it’s a breathtaking experience to witness as their rituals associated with mating are very passionate and aggressive. In addition to that, you can also witness the birth of crab-eater seals and the fighting elephant seals in South Georgia.
This period gets even better because it also allows for the more adventurous activities to take place in Antarctica. The travelers interested in mountaineering can begin their voyage to climb up the new ice of Mount Vinson as the landing strip becomes accessible. Also, if you’re someone who wants to camp in Antarctica, It’s a good time for you to take such tours. Moreover, certain vessels offer skiing and snowshoeing as optional activities during this period as well. Also, kayaking becomes possible starting in November.
November is when the Antarctic Peninsula is covered in pristine white snow, so during this month, you can especially witness the breathtaking Antarctic landscape, particularly the mountains covered in snow and the sea beaming with sea ice. It’s also the time when you will find the opportunity to take the most aesthetic and beautiful photographs as the continent offers surreal sunsets, clouds, and flora of the Falklands.
Between December and January:
Around this time, the weather gets the warmest it can on the Peninsula and rises up to as much as 5 degrees Celsius, sometimes even exceeding that. It’s also an excellent time for photography enthusiasts because these months offer up to 20 hours of daylight, making the days as long they can get. The beginning of December is when you will find penguin chicks hatching out of their eggs on the Falkland Islands, while by the end of December, you can witness this on the Antarctic Peninsula as well.
During this period, the South Georgia shores become populated with the seal pups while the baleen and toothed whales occupy the Peninsula. The Leopard, Weddell, and Crab-eater seals are also found during these months. As it is the growing and nurturing season for the penguin chicks, you’ll also find the parent penguins on the shore feeding them. It’s also an important time for you to visit Antarctica if your interests include exploring the continent’s history and ancientness. The historic huts of Scott and Shackleton become accessible, which are barely visited due to the accessibility issues as East Antarctica is always surrounded by thick sea ice otherwise. With weather favoring the land journeys across the continent, it’s also the perfect time for you to go on land exploration and expeditions since the longer days with ample sunlight make the weather and temperature bearable. It’s also a delightful sight to watch the leopard seals lounge on the ice floes and float around the sea to cherish the long sunlight hours. In addition to that, you can also step on the frozen sea during this period as the sea ice is sometimes used by the ships as a parking spot in either the Weddell Sea or the Ross Sea.
During these months, the fantastic and exquisite South Georgia spring flora begins to bloom, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the island. Additionally, the glaciers can also be seen calving sue to the rise in temperature. It’s also the period when the humpback whales begin to arrive on the continent, making it even more exciting for the travelers to visit Antarctica during this period. With the blooming flora and fauna of the Peninsula along with the bearable and warm weather, this time period also becomes very important for the researchers as it makes it easier for them to carry out their research. As a result of this, the continent’s research is at its highest during December and January. These months also become very popular among the travelers due to the Christmas holidays, and it’s not surprising that the costs rise during this time period.
Between February and March:
This is the time period when people who want to watch whales will definitely want to visit Antarctica. The humpback whales become more curious during this period, and by this time, the pods that are migrating make their way towards Antarctica’s waters. The Peninsula and the islands around it also start seeing more and more fur seals and leopard seals. These young fur seals are super cute and playful, which will make you stop and want to take a picture with or of them. The elephant seals also start coming to the shore to molt while the orcas also start feeding on the seals that have newly matured.
The young penguin chicks start fledging and swimming in the shallow water. They mostly stay on land and become more active and inquisitive about exploring the continent as they run around their parent penguins for the fish they catch from the sea. During March, the penguin chicks develop into adolescent penguins and begin exploring their territories even more. By then, they also finish molting and start growing feathers, which then allow them to swim. Thus, this is the month where you can witness the development of the young penguins and, subsequently, their swimming in the shallow waters.
The sea birds, however, can be seen on the continent. The weather between these months begins to get colder as the temperatures start to fall and go even lower than the freezing point. This is also sort of a plus point because the ice has reached its maximum by now, and you can access the polar circle by February as a consequence. Moreover, by the end of the period, the ice also starts receding and opening up that causes travelers to take advantage of it and be able to go on more expeditions and exploration. The additional landing sites, hence, begin to be more at the reach of the travelers. The weather also encourages the growth of spawn planktons, making a buffet for the whales who feed on them. Beautiful pink and green algae start growing, and you can see them on the snow and cliffs made of ice.
With the days getting shorter, the travelers are able to witness breathtaking, surreal, and unique sunrises and sunsets. This adds to the beauty of the Peninsula and the islands and gives photographers a fantastic opportunity to capture some stunning landscape pictures.
The adult Adelie, Gentoo, and chinstrap during this period start moving to the sea, and the rookeries begin to get empty. The Antarctic terns also start flying away towards the north of the continent. While on the other hand, the king and macaroni penguins are abundantly found in South Georgia. The ice conditions also allow you to explore the enormous penguin rookeries making it even more exciting to watch them live in communities.
There’s also a very good chance that you will be able to sight the aurora australis, which are also known as the southern lights. This period is ideal for it as the closer Antarctica gets to winters, the more the chance of these southern lights to occur.
All in all, there are only six months, during which one can visit Antarctica. Antarctica is a continent full of various adventures and experiences. Even if the travel to this continent is restricted to six months yet, it offers so much in such a short time.
However, even within this time period, there are certain months that offer particular activities for you to experience. There are three main seasons for you to travel to the continent; early, mid, and late.
The early season is when the temperatures begin rising with more sunlight available and days stretching out to 20 hours. It’s the time when sailing begins, and the continent starts seeing life bloom on it. The mating and the courting season also coincides with this time period, and the researchers also start on their research. The surrounding islands also start having the flora and fauna start bloom. It’s the best time if you are looking forward to trek or mountaineer on Mount Vinson.
The mid-season, although, is probably the best time with regards to the temperature, land expeditions, and other various wildlife-related experiences. However, it completely varies from individuals to individuals what they exactly want to experience in Antarctica. This season is also suited to those who want to spend their Christmas holidays exploring and going on adventures. Also, if you are interested in exploring the history of the continent, this mid-season is the best. It’s during this season that the research reaches its maximum as it allows the researchers to carry out research easily due to the more bearable and pleasant weather.
The late-season is suitable for whale watching and seeing how penguins grow and swim. It’s also the time when you will be able to carry out more land expeditions. Also, what sets this season apart is the likelihood of witnessing the southern lights. The skies during the late-season are breathtakingly beautiful, especially during the sunsets and sunrises, making it a perfect time for photographers to capture some of the most beautiful pictures of the continent’s landscape. Thus, it’s the best season for all the sky gazers.
Even though summer is when most people travel to Antarctica to experience the continent, however, it is also visited during winter by people for research and very specific purposes, such as capturing the videos of the Emperor penguins.
It all boils down to what you want to do in Antarctica and your preferences regarding the activities you wish to carry out during your travel. It’s also dependent on your budget and availability and what excites you more. Hopefully, the guide above and the month-wise breakdown of travel experience in Antarctica will help you decide the best time for yourself according to your preferences, enabling you to have the time of your life in this largely undiscovered but magnificent continent of the world.