Find Out When to Travel to Antarctica: What to See & Do by Month
On June 7th, 2022, Renato Marin, Antarctica21’s Direct Sales Manager, hosted a webinar with our special guest panelist Marcelo Flores, one of Antarctica21’s Expedition Photographers and Marine Biologists.
Renato and Marcelo were eager to share their Antarctic experiences and first-hand advice on when to travel to Antarctica. Marcelo has the unique experience of traveling to Antarctica over 30 times during different months of the year.
Some of the webinar topics include:
- Antarctic Travel Highlights by Month. As the weather changes, so do the wildlife and icy landscapes, but each month has something unique to offer.
- When to Have the Best Wildlife Encounters? Be there in time to see the whales migrating, observe penguins nesting, and watch the courtship with Antarctic sea birds such as skuas, albatrosses, and petrels.
- Expert Tips on Photography in Antarctica. There are a few times during the year that is perfect for photography. Find out how the landscape changes and what you can see when the golden hour reaches Antarctica.
- Antarctica21 Travel Itineraries. Get insider information about the best itineraries for a perfect Antarctic Adventure!
You can watch the webinar recording here below.
We had several great questions after the presentation. Here is a list of the questions and answers to both the inquiries that were answered during the webinar and the additional Q&As that we did not have time to respond to.
When to Travel to Antarctica: Questions & Answers
Antarctic Wildlife Q&As
Q: When is the best time to visit South Georgia? I’ve seen so many pictures of the “sea” of King or Emperor penguins in photographs.
A: I think you are referring to the King penguins at St. Andrews Bay, and, as of this season, we are offering one departure in November. We used to do two, one in November and one in February.
For clarification, Emperor penguins are exclusive to Antarctica, and you don’t see them anywhere else. Unfortunately, around the Peninsula, you don’t have colonies of Emperor penguins, so it is very difficult to spot them.
If you asked me to describe what heaven looks like to me, I would say it’s South Georgia. Any time of the year is amazing. Whether you visit at the beginning or late in the season, you will visit places with several hundred thousand penguins, Fur and Elephant seals, and albatrosses.
To me, it is more special at the beginning of the season in November because you also have the breeding season for the Elephant and Fur seals. Elephant seals can reach up to 6 meters and weigh up to 5 tons, and there is a massive contest between the males for their portion of the beach to set up their harems is something really unique.
On the other hand, sometimes, because of the weather, it’s officially Spring, but the weather can be a little challenging. Sometimes you have so much wildlife on the beaches that we cannot make landings because it is impossible to get people ashore at the same time.
Rather than considering the date, if you can make it to South Georgia, please do it.
Q: Is there one area where you can see the emperor penguins, or are they only found on South Georgia Island?
A: They are only found inland in the Antarctic continent, so it’s rare to see them on the Peninsula. Let alone somewhere as far as South Georgia.
Q: Can you see baby Leopard or Weddell seals during the season?
A: Because of the reproduction of seals, particularly Weddell seals, they have their pups in August / early September. You will be able to sport some young seals in different areas that we visit, but seeing babies is impossible because we would need to reach Antarctica at the end of the winter.
You get to see Leopard and Weddell seals more than once, especially if you go in February when it is the peak of penguin chicks going into the sea for the first time; you can see seals hunting them. For clarification, Leopard seals mostly eat krill and penguins, if available but not exclusively.
Q: Best time to see whales up close?
A: Between December and March, you will have many chances to spot many whales during the Zodiac cruises if the conditions and weather are right. We cannot push whales to do something we want; they have to approach, and you can have close encounters. That’s for sure. Not necessarily only from the Zodiac, but from the ship as well. Sometimes you are using, in my case, a 200 mm lens, and they are too close. That’s why it’s a good recommendation to have a winder lens for encounters like this.
Q: I’ve got a trip planned for early November, any chance for whale sightings?
A: You always have chances to spot whales. Sometimes some whales arrive early, especially ones not participating in the breeding season in the tropical waters. Everybody believes that all the whales go from Antarctica to the tropical waters and then return to Antarctica, but some stay in the middle even during winter. A couple of days ago, we had Humpback whales in Central Chile, which took longer to depart Antarctica to move to the tropical areas. You won’t have the numbers, but you will be able to spot whales, not only Humpbacks but maybe Fin and Mike whales.
Q: Any chance for us to see Blue Whales?
A: The Blue whales haven’t recovered yet as a species. There are different parts of the world where you have more chances to see Blue whales rather than Antarctica, sadly. Some places in California, New Zealand, and Northern Patagonia, Chile are places where you can see many Blue whales. The populations that used to live in Antarctic waters haven’t recovered yet, and they like open waters as well, mostly the areas of the Drake Passage.
Antarctic Photography Q&As
Q: My wife and I will be going to Antarctica at the beginning of January 2023. We are advanced photographers. We are planning to bring 2 Nikon D850 bodies, 128 GB cards, 3 lenses: 70-200 F/2.8, 200-500 F/5.6 and 300 F/4.0. all Nikon. All with vibration reduction. Should we plan on any other equipment? We will have a sturdy monopod. We are undecided about a tripod.
A: You may want to leave the 300 F/4.0 at home since you have 200-500 F/5.6 lens and you don’t have problems with light in Antarctica; in January, the days are quite long. I would recommend bringing a lens for landscapes, which you may need because of the activities we do, especially during the landings in the mornings and afternoons on the ships with Antarctica21.
You will have plenty of time to charge your batteries and make a backup of the memory cards with your pictures. A 128 GB memory card is something you don’t need, but if you have it, of course, you can bring it, but it is not something you need to buy for this trip because you will have time to back up the pictures several times per day.
The tripod is not necessary. I would pack first and if the tripod fits, bring it. In my experience, it is not needed 95% of the time.
Q: Is there a problem with condensation in the body of the camera when coming back from on board after a hike?
A: No, usually we don’t expect problems with condensation, especially since the transition between the shore to the zodiacs and then to the ship is not something abrupt, and the temperatures are quite mild.
However, I recommend that everyone bring a small hiking towel to keep their gear dry, especially when we have rain. Unfortunately, these past years we’ve experienced a lot of rain in different places in Antarctica due to climate change. Keeping your gear dry is more important than condensation. There are special backpacks that can resist the water, not only the rain but the splash on board the Zodiacs.
Q: Is there a chance, maybe during a landing or on the Zodiac, to use an underwater GoPro? Is it recommended? Can someone get good images below the surface like that?
A: Yes, it is possible, and sometimes before going ashore, you have minutes to do this, especially if penguins are swimming back to the shore. If you have a GoPro, bring it with you!
Q: What sort of camera would you recommend a novice photographer purchase?
A: Our photographers will teach you how to take the best pictures according to your camera gear. It doesn’t matter if you have the latest equipment, or you will be using a smartphone. You will be able to take amazing pictures. If you want some specific recommendations because you will be purchasing a camera prior to the trip, we can put you in touch with one of the expedition photographers.
Antarctic Itineraries & Adventure Activities Q&As
Q: Is it dangerous in the Zodiacs when the whales are out? Has a zodiac ever flipped?
A: The staff is very knowledgeable about how they can approach wildlife, so not that I am aware of.
I started to study whales in the early 2000s and have been lucky to work with them in small Zodiacs, much smaller in comparison to the ones we use in Antarctica. I have been close to Humpback, Blue, and Fin whales. Even doing research with them, they are very gentle and know exactly what is happening around them. To have an accident with a whale on a boat, something went really wrong. We have regulations and the knowledge to approach and interact with whales following the regulations of the Antarctic tourism association. I have never heard about an incident with whales and boats in Antarctica. It’s completely safe.
Q: Are you booking any trips into 2023/2024 yet?
A: Yes, we launched our 2023-24 season in January of this year.
Q: Do all four packages allow a chance to walk on the Continent?
A: The Classic Antarctica and the Polar Circle will go to the Peninsula on the Continent. The Antarctica & South Georgia and Antarctica Express will only go to the South Shetland Islands, which are part of Antarctica but not part of the Continent itself.
Q: How would the experience vary between a sea kayak excursion and a Zodiac excursion?
A: The Sea Kayaking Program is closed for 10 participants, so you would have to book at the time of your reservation if available. People on Sea Kayak will go out for 1-1.5 hours first, then rejoin the rest of the group wherever they are.
The Zodiac excursions are how you disembark from the ship, if possible, twice a day for around 2.5 hours. This is in general, for everyone.
Compared to the Zodiac, the sea kayak does not use an engine; you can get more quiet and close encounters with wildlife. It’s a different experience, but in both cases, guides do their best to ensure everyone sees everything. In terms of what you can see between choosing kayaking or Zodiacs cruising when we are doing operations ashore, they are the same, but it depends on how you want to experience Antarctica. In a kayak, you will be with your partner in a Zodiac, and you will be with 8–10 fellow guests at the same time.
Q: What is the temperature during the 6 months you talked about?
A: The temperature will vary, and the key factor is the wind because of the windchill. Temperatures can go up to 12-13º Celsius (53-55º F), which is like the middle of the Sahara for Antarctica, but usually, the temperature is about -2 – -3º with windchills up to 10º. That’s why we encourage everybody to dress in layers so you can take clothes on and off depending on how you thermoregulate; something that is really unique and personal. You need to adapt to the conditions and sometimes several times per day.
Q: Are there trips that reach the South Pole?
A: Yes, the Polar Circle itinerary will try to reach the Polar Circle, and we have three of those scheduled per season.
Q: Do you provide us with a list of clothing etc., that we need to bring on a trip?
A: Yes, you can check out our Antarctica Travel Tips page on our website for a complete list of suggested packing, FAQs, recommended reading, and travel guides.
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