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While ‘visit Antarctica’ may be high on many travel wish lists, not everyone is aware of how many incredible things to do in Antarctica there are. Beyond seeing majestic icebergs and waddling penguins, of course. There’s so much more to the White Continent, including a raft of thrilling activities to immerse you in everything that makes a trip here so special.

To help raise awareness (and excitement), we’ve compiled a complete list of what to do in Antarctica. Use this handy guide to see what’s on offer and what aligns with your favourite hobbies and activities. We’ll even plant a seed or two about new activities you can try on your journey, perhaps ones that embolden – Polar Plunge, anyone?

Best Time to Visit Antarctica

While there are highlights on every sailing, understanding the best time to visit Antarctica allows you to match a trip to your interests, wildlife goals and expectations.

AE Expeditions sails to the White Continent from October to April. Ironically, it’s during these sun-drenched months that Antarctica’s melting sea ice invites a smoother passage.

Here’s a quick guide on the best time to visit Antarctica:

  • October & November: best for pristine landscapes, abundant sea ice, ski/snowboard touring, camping on ice, showshoeing and bonus adventure opportunities.
  • December & January: best for stable weather, more landings, sea kayaking, snorkelling and a wealth of newborn babies and juveniles across the continent
  • February & March: best for whale watching, epic sunrises and sunsets, scuba diving and colourful algae blooms

For a more in-depth guide, read our comprehensive Best Time to Visit Antarctica blog.

How to get to Antarctica

As world expedition leaders – we’ve been sailing to polar regions for more than 33 years – you may think your only option to reach the White Continent is by sailing. Not so! While crossing the infamous Drake Passage is considered an Antarctica rite of passage by some, it’s also possible to bypass it one way with our Fly/Sail itineraries. Antarctica can be as accessible as you want it to be (weather permitting, of course).

When considering how to get to Antarctica, there are two key start and end points: Argentina’s Ushuaia, and Chile’s Punta Arenas. Both are in the stunning Patagonia region, a destination known for its craggy snow-capped peaks and abundant wildlife.

If you’re travelling by ship, you’ll start and end your Antarctica expedition in Ushuaia. Designed for rugged, remote areas, our purpose-built ships increase your comfort and safety. A fact you’ll appreciate when crossing the Drake Passage.

If you’re flying one leg, you’ll fly from Punta Arenas to King George Island. There, our Zodiac boats will be on standby to whisk you aboard the Greg Mortimer or Sylvia Earle.

Learn more on how to get to Antarctica here, including how to reach Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. Discover Ushuaia-based itineraries here and Punta Arenas Fly/Sail itineraries here.

Things to do in Antarctica: Top Activities & Experiences

While we love our purpose-built expedition ships and designed them for your utmost comfort, what we love more is getting you off them and immersing you in Antarctica proper. We do that by offering a range of activities and experiences that connect you to this awe-inspiring continent.

Because it’s hard to choose a favourite Antarctica activity, use our handy infographic or A-Z guide below to choose activities that are the best fit for you.

Antarctica activities
Antarctica activities

Alpine Trekking & Climbing

Keen to feel like an intrepid explorer? Then you’ll love the invitation to join an alpine trekking and climbing excursion. Thanks to over a decade climbing the world’s most remote peaks, our expert guides know the best routes to showcase what makes Antarctica alpine trekking so spectacular.

Did you know?

Growing up, our founder Greg Mortimer was quick to show an interest in rock and mountain-climbing, and despite breaking his pelvis at the age of 15, his love for the sport didn’t falter – instead, it grew to new heights.

On 3 October 1984, Greg and his expedition partner Tim Macartney-Snape became the first two Australians to reach the summit of Mt Everest, and even more impressively – they did so without the aid of supplementary oxygen. From there, Greg would go on to climb K2, Chongtar and Annapurna II – again, without supporting oxygen.

With countless snowclad peaks rising high across the skyline, there are ample routes to ascend. Some may only have ever experienced the footprints of AE Expeditions’ expeditioners and Expedition Team, which we think is pretty cool! As you marvel atop an alpine pass, experience life in its most raw form. It’s just you, your new trekking mates and the expanse of one of the most pristine landscapes in the world.

Our alpine trekking and climbing trips can range from four to 10 hours with the aim of at least two peaks and/or a glacier pass. Alpine trekking is available for travellers with moderate fitness, some trekking experience and previous use of crampons and an ice axe.

Antarctic Wildlife Encounters

You probably need no introduction to the range of Antarctica wildlife you can encounter on an expedition; it’s one of the major drawcards to visit the region, after all. With a fleet of Zodiac boats, we’re all set to get you as close as possible to the wildlife residents, while being safe and following IAATO guidelines.

Watching a penguin waddle right past you – be it a colossal Emperor, a Gentoo or a rock-stealing Adélie – makes your heart expand with joy. Most of the 18 species that call Terra Australis Incognita (the continent’s original Latin name, translating to Unknown Southern Land) home are seemingly unfazed by humans.

Spying whales in Antarctica is also high on traveller wish lists. Orcas and minke whales thrill every time they are spotted on board – even when it’s a night-time announcement over the PA system from your Expedition Leader, encouraging expeditioners to rush to see them in your PJs. The elusive blue whale, while gigantic, is harder to spot, with the occasional privileged few bestowed the honour.

Seals are one of the few mammals adapted to life in these chilly, chilly climes. Look for elephant seals in their dense colonies (you will probably hear them first), Weddell seals or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to catch a predatory leopard seal in action.

Remember to look up, too. The majestic wingspan of an albatross impresses, as does the friendly Antarctic petrel who often fly in synchronicity with our ships.

Camping on the Ice

While fluffy pillows, thick duvets and the cosy warmth of your Aurora Expedition stateroom is the number one place to retreat after a full day experiencing the wilds of Antarctica, there is one activity that is absolutely worth the sacrifice of those creature comforts: camping in Antarctica! Yes, really.

There is nothing in the world quite like sleeping out in nature at the end of the world. No tents, no heaters, just you, a camping mat, a top-notch thermal sleeping bag (you’re welcome) and the tranquillity that time spent out in raw nature affords. Forget the white noise machine you might have tried to block out urban din back home; or the Spotify playlist of waves crashing on a beach to help you fall asleep; here the crackling ice, bustling penguin colonies and the distant fall of calving ice is the only soundtrack you need.

Will you sleep deeply when you go camping in Antarctica? Probably not, but you’ll leave with a different kind of peace than a good night’s rest affords, and some bragging rights.

Hiking

Hiking represents one of the best things to do in Antarctica to experience the region’s wilderness areas, historic ruins and pristine beaches. We aim to get your feet on ice or land as often as we can – weather permitting, we aim for 2-3 landings or Zodiac cruises a day.

For the ultimate hike, why not follow in the footsteps of Antarctic legend Sir Ernest Shackelton on our Shackelton’s Crossing trek across South Georgia? Enjoy a far more safe and informative journey as you traverse this historic alpine passage on foot or skis on this challenging add-on offering. Alongside the mesmerising glaciers and mind-blowing scenery, our expert guides will bring to life Shackleton’s 1916 record-breaking journey. So much so, it’ll almost feel like you were there with him.

We’ve been leading intrepid travellers across Shackelton’s route for over 20 years. Travelling across South Georgia’s rugged terrain, from King Haakon Bay to Stromness, the trek takes two to three days, crossing anywhere from 35 to 50 kilometres (21 to 31 miles). This is a once-in-a-lifetime journey for adventure lovers with alpine trekking or mountaineering experience.

Psst: love hiking? Why not add on a Patagonia trekking tour pre- or post-Antarctica?

Polar Plunge

Are you bold enough to take the Polar Plunge? Forget the ice bath trend, this is the ultimate ice bath and a rite of passage during our polar expeditions. It’s number one on our top 10 Antarctic bucket list experiences!

As the name suggests, the Polar Plunge is a take-your-breath-away dip into Antarctica’s frigid waters. While it’s not for everyone, it is a challenge that fills our expeditioners with pride and a sense of achievement. In fact, we’ve witnessed some incredible personal transformations, with expeditioners pushing boundaries by taking the plunge and being left feeling like they can conquer anything.

The Polar Plunge happens with the support of our encouraging Expedition Team and ship medic. And more importantly, our onboard Photography Guide will be on hand to take photos for proof and posterity.

Post-plunge, enjoy the Jacuzzi and sauna to warm back up, though the warmth of knowing what you’re capable of will last far longer than the time you spend soaking and steaming.

Sea Kayaking

Kayaking anywhere is a fun pastime, however, when you’re in Antarctica, sea kayaking represents one of the best ways to be up close and personal to the wonders of this enchanting environment. No noise to disturb the peace except the gentle plop of your oar hitting the water and the creak of a turning glacier nearby. No need to get wet (more on those options later), nor experience required.

Sea kayaking in Antarctica has the potential to get close to wildlife (while respecting guidelines and safety considerations), so ensure you bring a dry bag for your camera or phone, or use one provided during your activity briefing. Kayaking with whales is a life-achievement-unlocked moment, with penguins and seals coming in at a close second and third.

Our experienced guides will lead you through the ice floes, brash ice and even icebergs, sharing more about the flora and fauna you pass. Sea kayaking is an optional add-on activity with additional fees, which allows you to explore the region’s scenic wonders with a small group of like-minded travellers. If the conditions are favourable and with the exception of days you’re not at sea, you will have the opportunity to participate in this program once or twice a day on most Antarctic sailings.

Scuba Diving

Did you know AE Expeditions pioneered commercial scuba diving in Antarctica in 1998, when we organised the first dive trip to the South Pole? Since then, qualified divers have experienced the thrill of immersing amid glaciers, icebergs and marine life.

Our Scuba Diving Guides are experienced at judging the ice conditions and weather, while identifying wildlife-spotting opportunities to enhance your dive experience. When you’re deep underwater, you can truly grasp how colossal icebergs truly are – especially with the visibility of these crystal-clear waters. Dotted amid Antarctica’s unique marine ecosystem, there are also long-abandoned shipwrecks from failed South Pole missions.

No two dives are the same, with ample opportunities to scuba available on good-weather sailings. Our Scuba diving Antarctica program is an add-on activity with an additional cost. Find out more the rules around polar scuba diving on the Required Experienced tab here.

Skiing & Snowboarding

For ski and snowboard enthusiasts, hitting Antarctica’s slopes is a bucket list item. Who doesn’t want to be one of the few in the world that gets to tick that seventh continent off?

Skiing and snowboarding in Antarctica is a far cry from the packed resorts, long ski lift lines, and crowded après ski bars you’ve been to previously. This is a back-country adventure with you and up to nine other people, and a passionate, experienced slope-loving guide.

Extended to experienced skiers and snowboarders, there are approximately six excursions offered per sailing. Time on the slopes ranges from two to six hours. While every trip is different, you can expect to descend some the region’s prime snow-capped peaks and alpine bowls. There may even be a penguin rookery at the foot of the slope serving as the ultimate welcoming committee.

Skiing and snowboarding here is an off-piste adventure you’ll be talking about for decades. While you don’t need specific back-country ski experience – you can learn that as you go –you’ll want to be comfortable on advanced ski runs and off-piste. A decent fitness level is required for the varied snow conditions and sometimes challenging terrain.

Snorkelling

While many have snorkelled off a tropical beach, few have donned fins and snorkel to explore the icy Antarctic waters. We’ve been leading Antarctica snorkelling trips for 10 years now and invite you to join those handful of adventurous travellers wanting to try something different on a fun-filled Antarctica snorkelling adventure.

Under the guidance of our safety-focused Snorkelling Guides, you’ll witness wildlife and scenery unlike any you’ve seen underwater before. If you’re lucky, you might witness the enchanting mobility and speed of a penguin plunging headfirst or get up close to the local marine life.

We aim to snorkel daily (weather permitting), utilising our crew’s experience to find rich and varied places to snorkel, including shipwrecks, sheltered bays and untouched offshore islands. No need to pack your gear; we’ll supply the fins, mask and snorkel, plus a drysuit, gloves and hood for your comfort.

Snowshoeing

If you’ve ever tried walking up layers of freshly laid snow, you’ve probably spent more time laughing as you fall sideways than actually getting anywhere fast. This would be true if you were to tackle Antarctica’s snowy peaks, too. Unless you go snowshoeing!

For over 6,000 years, snowshoeing has been keeping humans out of deep and burdensome snow, including polar explorers. Channel Shackleton or Amundsen energy when you embark on a snowshoeing adventure with AE Expeditions, with no experience necessary, nor any special gear (we’ll supply that). The only thing you need is reasonable balance, average fitness and a willingness to give it a go. Rest assured, our expert guides will run a short training session before you set off.

Snowshoeing is a low-impact activity ideal for accessing some of Antarctica’s best vantage points. For the little effort exerted on this mildly aerobic activity, the rewards are plentiful. A typical AE Expeditions Antarctica sailing has an average of six snowshoeing excursions (of course, weather permitting).

Environmental considerations & responsible travel

Everything that makes an expedition with us so appealing is also what puts it at risk. Antarctica’s environment is fragile, therefore it’s important operators like ours commit to protecting the ecosystem when sailing in Antarctica, the Arctic and beyond.

With a clear Sustainability in Action blueprint, we do our bit to minimise our footprint. Our ships are 100% climate-neutral certified and fuel-efficient, thanks to their X-Bow® technology. We also run a participatory Citizen Scientist program. On board, during your shore expeditions, and on Zodiac cruises, you’ll learn from our subject matter experts as they share new discoveries to deepen your connection to Antarctica and the planet. To learn more about our actions and commitment to responsible tourism, read our 2022-2023 Impact Report.

There’s so much more on offer when you know what to do in Antarctica to maximise your journey. Whether it’s a snowshoe escapade or alpine trek or an underwater peek at life beneath the waves, there are ample Antarctica activities to connect you to this incredible destination.

Featured Expeditions

Browse some of our most popular Antarctic expeditions or download or order our latest brochure to view the full range of itineraries. To book, contact our expert team or request an online quote. Not sure which expedition is right for you? Read this. You’ll also love our handy guide on preparing for your first trip to Antarctica. We’ll see you in Antarctica soon!

25-26 Antarctic Season Brochure

Dive into the world’s wildest places in our brand new brochure. Choose from 32 voyages, including 8 new itineraries aboard one of our three purpose-built small ships, including the newly-launched Douglas Mawson.

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