Things to Consider

  • South Georgia is VERY remote - 1,390 km/ 864 miles from its nearest neighbour
  • You can’t fly there as there’s no airstrip, the island is only accessible by boat. The nearest airport is on The Falklands
  • There’s no hotel accommodation ashore, which is why people visit by expedition ship or yacht
  • Large cruise ships aren’t allowed - small expedition ships carrying around 100 people are the norm
  • The visitor season is limited to November - March only, with seasonal nuances in weather, wildlife and light conditions

Wildlife

For a small rocky island at the bottom of the world, South Georgia punches way above its diminutive size when it comes to wildlife. South Georgia is the world’s most important penguin and seabird breeding area. This is THE PLACE to go to experience the greatest density of wildlife on the planet.

  • Total of 7 million penguins across 6 species
  • 2 million Antarctic fur seals - 95% of the world's population
  • 50% of the world’s population of southern elephant seals
  • 250,000 albatrosses of a variety of species
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Photography

With majestic scenery and spectacular wildlife providing visual and sensory overload at every turn, South Georgia is naturally a mecca for photographers.

Best of all, far from bolting in the opposite direction, most of the animals are largely unperturbed by the arrival of gortex-clad and camera toting humans, if not only too willing to strike a pose. Pack plenty of memory cards!

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Scenery

Scenically South Georgia is spectacularly picturesque. A dragon’s spine of majestic snow-capped mountains rising to over 9,000ft/ 2,745m dominates the island, encircled by pristine beaches, rocky fjords and emerald green bays.

It's a wild, rugged, untamed, treeless landscape - a feeling only accentuated by the island having no permanent inhabitants.

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Penguins

Penguins are unquestionably the ‘poster boys’ of South Georgia and unsurprisingly with a total population of +7 million individual birds. Up to 6 different penguin species can be found on South Georgia, primarily macaroni, king and gentoo:

  • Macaroni: 3,000,000 pairs
  • King: 500,000 pairs
  • Gentoo: 105,000 pairs

Chinstraps, Adelie and rockhopper are found in far fewer numbers on South Georgia.

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History

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The history of this small island is no less intoxicating than the wildlife and scenery, steeped as it is in the history of both Antarctic exploration and the earlier sealers and whalers.

Discovery

South Georgia appeared on maps with the first sighting in 1675 by London merchant Antoine de la Roche. Then in 1775 Captain James Cook circumnavigated the island and made the first landing, claiming the territory for Great Britain, thereby beginning a long relationship which continues to this day.

The Sealers

Passing observations made in Cook’s reports of significant numbers of fur and elephant seals attracted the unwanted attentions of 18th-century sealers who triggered the first bloody chapter in the island’s history. By the 1830’s the fur seal population had been decimated almost to the point of collapse, leading to the decline of the unchecked sealing industry itself.

The Whalers

This wasn’t the last time though that South Georgia’s natural bounty would fall foul to commercial gain. The establishment of the first land-based whaling station at Grytviken in 1904 provided whalers with their first toe-hold on the island, after which operations expanded with further stations, and it became a base for whaling operations.

Fuelled by Europe’s growing appetite for the oils that whales could provide - mostly for margarine and soap - the whalers headed south. It's estimated the subsequent bonanza over six decades led to approx.1.6 million whales being killed in the Southern Ocean. It wasn’t until 1965 that the whaling stations doors were finally closed for ever and left to decay.

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Swoop Says

South Georgia Island: Your Questions Answered

  • How do I get to South Georgia?

    As South Georgia doesn’t have an airport, you have only 2 choices:

    1. Cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina located on the southern tip of South America, typically via The Falklands. This is the most common route.
    2. Fly from Punta Arenas, Chile to The Falklands Islands. From there it's a 2 day crossing by ship to get to South Georgia.
  • When is the best time to visit?

    The visitor season runs from late October to end March. There isn’t a ‘best time’ to visit as such, there’s always huge amounts of wildlife and the weather is changeable. November and March are chillier, but the softer light is favourable for photographers. Keen birders should be aware that Prion Island is only accessible from 7th January each year.

More about South Georgia

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