As a tourist, the only time of year you can reach Antarctica is during the summer period. However, when you go during the summer will very much depend on what you wish to get out of your Antarctica cruise adventure.
The Antarctica summer/tourist season is roughly 5 months long from late October through to late March. Although people do travel to Antarctica in winter, this is usually for a specific purpose, e.g. filming Emperor penguins. Winter is a landscape of freezing darkness where temperatures regularly hit -50 degrees Celsius.
The best time to do an Antarctica cruise greatly depends on what you want to see – ice-scapes, penguins, mating season, chicks, whales – if you can decide on this the you’re well on your way to making a decision. However, if you’re constrained to a certain period, don’t panic – no matter the date you travel, your Antarctica cruise experience will be unforgettable.
Antarctica craises that depart later in the season are often slightly cheaper, however, much of the wildlife has departed for open sea by this point. If your main goal is to see a whale, this is the perfect time to travel. We often get asked if the Drake passage is calmer at any point during the season, sadly, the answer is no. The Drake Passage remains fairly rough throughout the summer period.
Remember, when deciding upon what time to visit, also take into account what you are likely to see on the Sub-Antarctic islands such as South Georgia and the Falklands. Unlike Antarctica, these islands have a wide array of flora that may sway some passengers.
Below we have provided a graph detailing the best time to see certain animals, landscapes etc.
Best Time to Visit Antarctica – Monthly Breakdown
Late October and November
Whilst few Antarctica cruises leave in October, the early season offers a number of bonuses. Throughout the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula sea ice is prevalent. In fact, this is the only period to see large swaths of sea ice before it breaks up later in the season. Certain species during this period such as Adélie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins come ashore to begin their nesting. This is a great time therefore to see courtship rituals between adults as they find mates. This is also similar for many of the Antarctic sea birds such as skuas, albatross and petrels. If you take a special icebreaker tour along the Wedell sea you will have a great chance of seeing the elusive Emperor penguin.
Spring flowers prevail throughout the Falkland Islands and elephant seals begin courting on South Georgia during November. South Georgia is also home to king penguins. During November the females lay their eggs and can be seen waddling about with an egg balanced on their feet while the male hunts offshore. Fur seals litter the shores and their mating rituals are often quite aggressive. During this period the landing strip also opens. This means that people looking to climb Mt Vinson can begin their expeditions on the new ice. It’s also good for people looking to take camping tours inland to spot emperor penguins.
December and January
Particularly good time for photographers as the daylight hours are the longest during this period, roughly around 20 hours. Weather is at its ‘warmest’ during this period with temperatures often exceeding 5 degrees Celsius on the Peninsula.
Early December is a great time to see penguin chicks hatching on the Falkland islands, followed in late December with chicks along the Antarctic Peninsula. Seal pups are common on the beaches of South Georgia and sightings of baleen and toothed whales increase along the Peninsula. Because chicks are growing during this season, one of the best sights is seeing the parents come ashore and start a feeding frenzy among the thousands of chicks.
If you’re particularly interested in the history of Antarctica then this is a great time to visit as the sea ice surrounding East Antarctica breaks up and allows tours to rarely visited sites such as the historic huts of Shackleton and Scott. This is also the most popular time for land expeditions as the long daylight hours make weather far more favourable.
February and March
Later in the season is the best time to see whales. Also, fur seals become more common along both the peninsula and the islands. Young fur seals tend to be quite playful and often make excellent photo subjects. The chicks are still on land and have begun molting. Almost all the adult penguins have let by this stage however. Sea birds remain during this period and the weather begins to cool once again with temperatures usually a bit below freezing.
Recommended Cruise Operator
If you haven’t already booked your cruise then we would be delighted to put you in touch with our chosen Antarctica specialist. In terms of service, cruises range and price options, these guys really are the best out there. Perhaps more importantly, our operator works for every single Antarctica cruise ship and allows you to compare each itinerary, ship and price against each other to make sure you get the perfect experience!
If you have any further questions or queries regarding the best time to visit Antarctica, please just leave a message below and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.
If this page has inspired you to visit the incredible continent, here are some useful links to get your trip started.
Thank you and happy travels!
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