Antarctica and The Arctic
Polar Travel

Polar Cruises and Adventure Travel With Cool Antarctica and ExpeditionTrips

The Arctic and Antarctic seem at first to be very similar places albeit the original polar opposites. While there are some fundamental similarities of climate, scenery, abundant wildlife and almost endless wilderness with very few people there are also some very significant differences too. A trip to either polar region can start off as a once in a lifetime experience, though you run a risk:

Once wedded to Nature there is no divorce - separate her you may and hide yourself amongst the flesh-pots of London,
but the wild will keep calling and calling forever in your ears. You cannot escape the "little voices".

Frank Wild - Antarctic Explorer from the "Heroic Age"

A first trip to either polar region will be unlike most other trips you have ever taken, you can look forwards to long days, up to 24 hours daylight, wilderness, wide open skies and a feeling of freedom you may have never experienced. Whether on foot or on board a ship you will look out onto a timeless landscape that is the same as it was 100, 1,000 or 100,000 thousand years ago almost untouched by the hand of man.


The Arctic centered on the North Pole
Sea surrounded by land
The Arctic, centered on the North Pole
Sea surrounded by land
Antarctica from space
The Antarctic centered on the South Pole
Land surrounded by sea

  The Arctic and Antarctic as Travel Destinations

The graphs indicate the months during which travel is possible in the polar regions, and the relative amount of visits that take place in those months. Cruises are limited by seasonal sea-ice, all polar travel is limited by winter darkness, temperature and weather.

Arctic

Season

  • Ship-based cruising late April to September
  • Land based trips March-November
  • Travel is possible outside these months though daylight is short or absent and temperatures are very low.


Access

Many points where flights can be taken into the Arctic

  • Major hubs are Reykjavik, Iceland, Oslo, Norway, Copenhagen, Denmark, Ottawa and Edmonton, Canada, Nome, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, Alaska, Petropavlovsk and Anadyr, Russia.


Weather and daylight

  • Temperatures more variable by destination than the Antarctic, typically expect 20F to 50F  / -6C to +10C for most areas, month and location make this quite variable.
  • Typically Arctic trips take place closer to the pole than Antarctic trips, the Arctic Circle is easier to reach and seeing the midnight sun is certainly possible in midsummer. Many High Arctic areas have 3-4 months of continuous daylight, on a trip in high summer, you may be in constant daylight.
  • It will be windy, dress accordingly.


Methods of Transport

If you are cruising in the Arctic, you will almost certainly fly to join your ship in the Arctic and fly home again, rather than travel there or back by ship. You are less likely to meet rough seas in the Arctic than the Antarctic, fjords, channels and a lack of long open sea sailing mean that sea passages are usually smoother.


Charismatic Megafauna

  • Polar Bears
  • Musk Ox
  • Reindeer / caribou
  • Whales
  • Seals

Polar Bears - you need to go to the Arctic to see polar bears, you won't see them anywhere else.

As the Arctic has been home to humans for thousands of years and as there is a continuing culture of hunting, the wildlife is often quite wary of people. It tends to be more spread out than in the Antarctic and less approachable. There is also the fact that polar bears could see you as dinner or at least a light snack, so keeping something of a distance is not necessarily a bad thing.


Culture

The Arctic has a permanent population of about 4 million, there are a whole host of native peoples who between them are circumpolar. All of these native peoples have a long and rich history of living on and with the land, whether Sami reindeer herders to those groups who build igloos as a traditional hunting shelter and many groups between. This human population and history is arguably the biggest difference between the poles.

Antarctic

Season

  • Ship-based cruising October to March
  • No tourist access outside of these months due to sea-ice closing off all shipping and flights, daylight is short or absent and temperatures very low.


Access

Two main access points

  • Tip of South America, ships leave from Ushuaia, Argentina or Punta Arenas, Chile, flights from Punta Arenas, Chile.
  • Australia and New Zealand, ports most commonly used are, Invercargill / Port of Bluff and Lyttleton / Christchurch, New Zealand and Hobart, Australia. Often cruises leave from one port and return to another. No flights.


Weather and daylight

  • December to February 20F to 50F  / -6C to +10C.
  • Most Antarctic trips do not cross the Antarctic Circle, so don't necessarily expect the midnight sun, though 20+ hours of daylight are likely.
  • It will be windy, dress accordingly.


Methods of Transport

To reach the Antarctic Peninsula you have to cross the Drake Passage, this is a 2 hour flight or a 2 day sail. Flying is very reliable but aircraft could be grounded due to weather conditions. The Drake Passage can be very rough, though conditions can vary widely. In the Eastern Antarctic, you will have an open sea crossing of 6 to 7 days from New Zealand or Australia, you are more likely to encounter rough seas there.


Charismatic Megafauna

  • Penguins
  • Albatrosses
  • Whales
  • Seals

Penguins - you need to go to Antarctica to see penguins, some species also live other places like parts of Australia, South Africa and the Galapagos, but for variety of species and authentic icy backdrop, there is no match.

Antarctic wildlife is more plentiful than Arctic and generally shows little or no fear of humans, neither will any of it try to eat you. You will be able to see the wildlife at closer quarters in the Antarctic.


Culture

There are not and have never been any native Antarcticans, no one even saw Antarctica until 1820 and the first year-round habitation was in 1898. There are no cities, towns or villages, the only human presence is on nationally run scientific stations with a total, continent wide summer population of up to around 5,000 and winter of 1,000. A cruise to Antarctica may well visit one of these stations which certainly delivers a dose of a kind of culture, though not as it is understood across much of the rest of the world.

  What kind of experience?

Most trips trips to the polar regions are as part of a relatively small group of like minded individuals who are seeking an experience that is overwhelmingly an outdoors one. A cruise here allows you to have the best of both worlds, a world class within-nature experience and the creature comforts of a hotel on the move from place to place every day. If the traditional idea of cruises doesn't appeal to you, these are as far from that as you can get.

If you do like the idea of a traditional cruise on a very large ship however, the wilderness experience is still available for you to some degree as there are larger cruise ships that sail in the waters around Alaska and some that spend a part of their voyage in Antarctica. Landings from ships carrying over 500 passengers are not allowed in Antarctica.

Independent Travel - this is possible in the Arctic but not in Antarctica where you must go as part of a package. Neither are budget destinations, though it is possible to arrange transport to an Arctic destination and camp wild or semi-wild, you may need to take appropriate precautions about polar bears depending on where you are. Svalbard and Canada have the greatest chance of contact with bears while camping while most of Greenland is pretty safe in the summer. Cheaper last-minute trips on cruises to Antarctica can be had at Punta Arenas or Ushuaia though are hit and miss as to availability, last minute flights to reach the cruise ports are of course much more expensive.

Health Requirements - No specific requirements though you will be away from civilization for several days and getting in an out of small boats that bounce across the sea isn't for the infirm. Cruises usually insist on emergency rescue cover which can be readily arranged and is not as expensive as it sounds.

At both poles, weather and ice often set the schedule for journeys, particularly if cruising. Any itinerary is best seen as more of a wish-list.

More details about visiting the Arctic  |  More details about visiting the Antarctic

contact our travel partners who will help you find the best cruise for your requirements

Antarctica Ross Sea Region Cruise

South Georgia / Falkland Islands / Antarctica - Sample Cruises - 2016 / 2017

Trip Highlights Prices USD* Days
Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands Vast Colonies of King Penguins, Breathtaking Scenery, Historic sites, optional kayaking $23,100 -
$40,690
24
Antarctica and South Georgia Two great destinations, anticipate penguins, whales, seabirds and seals as well as scenic highlights $9,995 - $20,995 16
Antarctica Ross Sea Region Cruise

Antarctica Ross Sea Region - Sample Cruises - 2016 / 2017

Trip Highlights Prices USD* Days
The Ross Sea Region - In the Wake of Scott and Shackleton Auckland Islands, Macquarie and Campbell Islands, Explore the Ross Sea, Historic Huts, Ross Ice Shelf, McMurdo base. $22,300 -
$30,200
30
East Antarctica - In the Wake of Mawson Antarctic Peninsula to Ross Sea, Historic Huts, remote East Antarctica, Emperor penguins, sub-Antarctic islands, helicopter excursions $16,000 -
$22,000
26
Antarctica Ross Sea Region Cruise

Antarctic Peninsula - Sample Cruises - 2016 / 2017

Trip Highlights Prices USD* Days
Antarctica Cruise - Discovering the 7th Continent South Shetlands, Antarctic Peninsula, Penguin Rookeries, Lemaire Channel Optional kayaking, camping and snowshoeing $6,995 -
$13,995
11
Antarctica Cruise - The Peninsula Classic Antarctica, pristine scenery, classic sites of scientific and historic interest, experienced naturalist guides. Optional kayaking, camping, cross-country skiing and mountaineering $6,295 -
$18,195
13
Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise Fly over the Drake Passage in both directions, Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, Wildlife, Scenery, Ice Optional kayaking and snowshoeing $10,795 - $19,995 8
Arctic Cruises and Land Based Trips

Arctic - Svalbard / Spitsbergen - Sample Cruises - 2017

Trip Highlights Prices USD* Days
Around Spitsbergen - Kvitoya Circumnavigation of Spitsbergen, attempt to reach rarely visited Kvitoya, sea-ice, sea-bird colonies and other wildlife, hiking, child-friendly. $4,900 -
$8,850
10
Svalbard / Spitsbergen Circumnavigation Historic sites, sea-ice, glaciers, wild flowers, lush tundra, walrus, polar bears, reindeer, huge sea bird colonies, optional kayaking. $10,784 -
$21.420
12
Norway's Fjords & Arctic Svalbard Fjords, Lofoten Islands, sea-bird colonies, wild-flower tundra, hiking, child-friendly, optional kayaking. Trip operates in reverse on 07/15/16. $18,650 - $34,340 19

Arctic - Greenland and Canada - Sample Cruises - 2017

Iceland and East Greenland Spectacular scenery of East Greenland and Western Iceland, Inuit culture, museums, historic sites. Fjords, mountains and ice, geothermal hotsprings. Seabirds, look out for humpback and minke whales. Optional kayaking. $6,495 -
$15,995
13
Greenland to Canada - Icebergs & Wildlife Historic Canadian and Greenlandic site, abundant wildlife, rich Inuit culture and dramatic icy landscapes. Polar bears, whales and walrus, hike across the tundra, Ilulisat, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Optional kayaking. $6,495 -
$13,995
13
Greenland and Northwest Passage - Franklin's Legend West Greenland through the fabled Northwest Passage, Beechey Island, polar bears, walrus, sea-birds, Inuit culture, historic sites, glaciers, ice-bergs, made famous by explorers Roald Amundsen and Sir John Franklin. $26,995 - $52,995 20

Arctic - Land Based - Sample Trips - 2017

Churchill - Tundra Lodge Polar Bear Adventure Polar bear experience staying at the Tundra Lodge outside Churchill. Constant proximity to polar bears, a unique northern adventure. Optional dog-sledding and helicopter trip. $8,695 7
Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Photo Safari Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley, grizzlies, moose, wolves, caribou, sea-lions, sea-otters, seals, black bears, orcas, porpoise, brown bears fishing for migrating salmon and much bird life. Glaciers and ice-bergs, transport by rail, road, boat and small plane. Expert naturalist guide, optional kayaking. $12,095 14
Trip Highlights Prices USD* Days

Alaska - Sample Cruises - 2017

Alaska's Inside Passage - Western Coves Isolated waterways where bigger cruise ships can't reach. Tongass National Forest, glaciers, Frederick Sound, Chatham Strait, Tracey Arm Wilderness. Optional kayaking, paddle board, hiking, snorkeling. Child-friendly. $3,595 -
$6,595
8
Alaska's Famed Passages of Discovery Wildlife, ice, Tlingit culture, deep fjords, 900 miles between Juneau and Seattle. Snow-capped mountains, wildlife and birds, waterfalls, tree-lined narrow passageways, glaciers, kayak through the narrows, hike into the rainforest. Fewer visitors at this time of year mean greater chances seeing bears and other wildlife. Child-friendly. Itinerary operates in reverse on alternate voyages. $3,495 -
$5,595
13
Notes

* Prices are based per person, the lowest price is usually for triple occupancy in a basic cabin, the highest for double occupancy in the best available suite.

Options may be at additional cost and are usually booked when the cruise is booked - it may be too late once the cruise has started.

contact our travel partners who will help you find the best cruise for your requirements
Picture credits: Map of the Arctic - maps used courtesy of Uwe Dedering under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license