Activities in Antarctica


Taking an expedition cruise to Antarctica is not about spending time on a luxurious, floating hotel. It’s a means of getting you up close to the fascinating wildlife, far-flung archipelagoes, and through ice floe-lined fjords to discover this mysterious continent for yourself. You’ll be disembarking as often as conditions allow – and there are a number of active adventures you can have once you leave the vessel, whether you want to paddle a kayak at your own pace through lake-like channels, or push yourself to the limit with mountaineering or diving excursions. With 20 hours of daylight to fill each day, you’ll most likely have the chance to try more than one!

Hiking & mountaineering

The Antarctic Peninsula is dominated by soaring mountains – an extension of the mighty Andes, which duck below the ocean for some 1,000km before resurfacing in Antarctica to form the peninsula’s jagged spine. A select number of expeditions allow small groups of around six people to climb these mountains, and – conditions permitting – you may even be able to camp out on the peninsula overnight.
Options for hiking in Antarctica are just as diverse as anywhere else in the world, meaning everyone will have the chance to explore the frozen continent without stepping too far outside their comfort zone. Several routes stay on flatter ground along the shoreline, or you can take on a trail on one of the islands, including climbing up the hill on tiny Goudier Island for panoramic views across the archipelago.

Sea kayaking

Sea kayaking is often one of the most tranquil outdoor activities – but you’d be forgiven for not feeling relaxed as you climb from the Zodiac into your sea kayak in Antarctica, and begin to paddle off through a mush of brash ice. In fact you’re far more likely to have a pounding heart and not want to breathe – let along paddle – for fear of rolling your kayak in the icy Southern Ocean. Happily, this feeling soon dissipates as the wonder of your surroundings takes over – deep turquoise bergs tower over you while penguins leap out of the water in front of your boat, and minke whales and orca cast shadows beneath. Paddle right up to seals resting on ice floes – or nudge up to the shoreline and step off your kayak to begin a walk along an Antarctic beach, alive with the squawking and stinking of penguins.
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Often the only way to explore these frozen landscapes, snowshoeing is offered on some departures, and you’ll be taken out in small groups with an expedition leader to explore the shoreline, hills and mountains, ranging from a two-hour stroll, to a full-day challenging trek.
The earlier in the season the better, as the snow will be melting from mid or late December. Snowshoeing is not difficult, but it is quite physically tiring – so bring lots of lighter layers that you can shed as you warm up. Your tour leader will let you know which routes are most suitable for your level of fitness and experience, and you’ll be provided with lightweight snowshoes that clip onto your boots.

Scuba diving

Polar diving is surely one of the most adventurous of all Antarctic activities – and it’s not for the fearful – or skill-free. You’ll need an impressive portfolio of diving qualifications before you’re allowed to roll off an ice floe into these waters, which require plenty of special gear and clothing to avoid the equipment – or you – freezing. Once you’re in, though, the preparation is more than worth it. Trips are timed to coincide with the clearest waters, and you may just get up close to a hunting leopard seal, as well as diving penguins. Don’t forget, around 90 percent of an iceberg lies below water, so simply bubbling around these stunning sculptural forms lets you into observe sights few will ever see, as the sunlight bounces off and through the blue ice. You may be able to book onto a cruise with renowned underwater photographers, filmmakers or marine scientists, who will reveal the secrets of the strange species that live beneath the floes – including 24-limbed starfish, giant isopods and “antifreeze”-filled fish.
If you’re not qualified to dive – there are often opportunities to strip off and go for a dip in Antarctica. Not for the faint hearted, we admit – but certainly a story to tell when you get back home…
Photo credits: [Hiking & mountaineering: Roderick Eime] [Sea kayaking:] [Snowshoeing: Pia Waugh] [Scuba diving: NOAA Photo Library]
Written by Vicki Brown
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