Antarctic adventure activities: key points

  • Antarctica is a big enough adventure for many, but for those travellers looking to really optimise their experience, there's an exciting range of activities to take part in
  • Optional adventure activities typically carry an additional price but repay the investment a hundred times over in memories: how many people get the chance to camp or kayak in Antarctica?
  • Restricted group sizes mean that booking your activity at the same time as your voyage is crucial to avoid disappointment. If your heart is set on a particular activity, booking a year in advance is recommended where possible
  • Camping and kayaking are the most commonly offered activities, while those like paddleboarding, snorkelling and scuba diving are only offered by certain ships. Our expertise across the polar fleet will help you find the right ship with the right activity for you
  • While it's common to combine camping and kayaking, there's usually a limit to the number of additional activities you can add. We know the guidelines for every ship
  • Adventure options take place at the same time as activities like landings and zodiac cruises that all passengers take part in, rather than in addition to these excursions
  • Safety is always paramount in Antarctica, so with every adventure activity you'll be accompanied by specialist trained guides with years of experience under their belts
  • Many of our guests cite their adventure activities as one of the biggest highlights of their Antarctic cruise – so why not consider adding one to your own trip?

Antarctic adventure activities: your essential guide

Camping

Campsite at Paradise Bay in the Antarctic Peninsula

We can think of few things more exciting than grabbing a sleeping bag and heading out for a night’s camping out in the snow. Most camping excursions in Antarctica use bivvy bags rather than tents, so you get to spend time digging your own cosy snow hole before wrapping yourself up in your cocoon for the night.

Bed down in a group or find your own peaceful spot to drift off to sleep while listening to the sound of glaciers under the gaze of the midnight sun. There’s no better way to connect with the spirit of the early explorers than waking up in the icy air – but in the comfort of knowing that a hot shower and a hearty breakfast is waiting for you back on the ship.

A wide variety of Antarctica voyages now offer the opportunity to spend a night sleeping out in Antarctica. You should note that strict biosecurity rules mean that you won’t be bedding down next to any penguin colonies, but trust us – they’re too noisy and smelly to make good neighbours anyway!

Kayaking

A group of tourists paddling in kayaks off Pleneau Island in the Antarctic Peninsula

Kayaking with incredible icy views

There is something magical about experiencing Antarctica by paddling at your own pace in a sea kayak. Getting out on the water away from the hum of a zodiac’s outboard engine is one of the best ways to fully appreciate the silence and majesty of Antarctica.

Feel the exhilaration of pushing your way through brash ice and hearing the fizz and pop of ice as it releases bubbles a thousand years old. Be humbled by giant blue icebergs on the waterline or drink in the sheer joy of meeting wildlife entirely on its own terms, giggling with joy as you are surrounded by penguins porpoising through the water around you, or hold your breath in awe as a whale glides beneath you.

The majority of ships in the polar fleet now offer kayaking as an optional activity, with the chance to get out on the water as often as weather conditions allow. Groups are led by experienced kayaking guides, with a safety zodiac for support at all times.

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Cassia says

Camping out in Antarctica is one of the most serene experiences I've ever had. Getting off the ship and into the silence of the snows for a night truly gives you a unique perspective on why they call it the White Continent.

Cassia Jackson Polar Specialist

Snowshoeing

Antarctic Adventure Activities

Want to really feel like a pioneer in Antarctica? Then step away from the standard landing excursions to range farther afield until your ship is out of sight and there is only fresh snow ahead of you waiting for its first footprints, and your lungs breathing in the freshest air on the planet.

Hiking experiences in Antarctica typically last two to three hours – long enough for you to form a mental connection with the first explorers to push inwards from the frozen coastline, although you’ll be thankful that you’re merely burning off the calories from yesterday’s dinner on board rather than subsisting on a diet of seal blubber and dried rations. No prior experience is necessary, only a moderate level of fitness and a taste for spectacular locations.

Snowshoes and hiking poles are provided, although the excursions themselves are dependent on the Antarctic weather. Ships operate a policy of maximum flexibility, but guides always keep a list of the top hiking spots in any location to offer you the best walks and most rewarding views.

Conditions for snowshoeing are at their best during the early season snows of November and December

Snorkelling

Group of tourists snorkelling with ice in Antarctica

The waters of Antarctica are truly an environment that's out of this world, but you don't need to be a dive master to look beneath the waves. Snorkelling is the perfect activity for anyone who wants to explore without all the technical aspects of scuba diving, plus you still get to participate in all the landings and zodiac trips of the cruise, getting to experience Antarctica above and below the waterline.

Some prior experience is recommended, but if you've only snorkelled on tropical reefs then you'll need to prepare for a seriously cold water experience. You'll be provided with all the kit required from a dry suit to mask, snorkel and fins, though you'll want to pack extra layers to help keep out the cold. Experienced snorkelers are welcome to bring their own kit.

If the weather allows, you'll be offered the chance to snorkel in small groups on most days in Antarctica, with dives typically lasting up to 45 minutes. Experienced diving guides will accompany you and point out the invertebrate life below the surface, along with the beautiful ice, while keeping fingers crossed for a seal or even a whale encounter.

Only two ships currently offer snorkelling on select departures, so you'll need to book early to reserve your spot.

Scuba diving

Antarctic Adventure Activities

The opportunity to scuba dive in Antarctica and explore a world of ice and sea creatures in one of the most pristine places in the world is a hard one to resist for any keen diver. Who else on the ship is going to uncover the truth about just how much of an iceberg really is hidden below the surface, or can say they felt like an alien when meeting a fur seal in its natural environment?

Diving in Antarctica is a very different undertaking than in warmer waters and as such is very strictly controlled for safety reasons. All scuba divers will need to provide their logbook when booking, to demonstrate extensive cold water diving experience (below 41F/5C) as well as familiarity with using a dry suit. With these requirements met, you’ll be ready for one of the most incredible diving experiences you can have anywhere in the world.

The diving guides used on Antarctica trips are some of the most experienced in the business. For this reason and for the necessary safety logistics involved, diving is only available on a small number of ships and on select departure dates.

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Alex says

These optional adventure activities are one of the most exciting ways to squeeze the most out of your polar adventure. How many other chances will you have in your life to say you've camped or kayaked in Antarctica?

Alex Mudd Head of Swoop Antarctica

Mountaineering

Antarctic Adventure Activities

For some people, a hike in the snow to view a penguin colony is never going to be enough. If that’s you and you’re looking for more of a challenge, select Antarctic voyages give you the opportunity to grab your crampons and ice axe and get roped up to try something a little more adventurous.

Although you'll be roped up while you trek, these are not technical excursions: your guides will give you all the instruction you need, including for dealing with steeper ascents and descents as well as crevasses. You'll need a reasonable level of fitness and a desire to reach into corners of the Antarctic Peninsula that few people will ever see. All mountaineering routes are chosen to give the maximum reward for your efforts: attaining a summit here is going to give you cinematic views like nowhere else.

For those who really went to embrace the white wilderness, there is the option to recreate Shackleton’s famous traverse of South Georgia. This is one adventure where prior alpine experience is an absolute requirement – but getting to cross multiple glaciers on a genuinely remote overnight camping trip is a real once in a lifetime experience.

Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Antarctic Adventure Activities

A serene way to explore the scenery

Stand-up paddleboarding has long spread beyond the tropical provinces where it began to every waterway of the world, so why not take the opportunity to use it to explore the sheltered bays and coves of Antarctica?

Stand or kneel as you SUP on a wide and stable board, and gently skim through the water on the lookout for penguins or seals snoozing on a passing floe. It’s one of the most gentle and calming activities you can do on the Peninsula, and the dramatic amphitheatres of its craggy coastline dotted with icebergs provide a backdrop that few destinations can match.

Some prior paddleboarding experience is recommended so you're comfortable on a board and can enjoy the experience, but the guides that accompany your group will provide extra safety instruction both while you’re on the ship and out on the water.

Only a small number of ships currently offer stand-up paddleboarding.

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What our customers think of Antarctic Adventure Activities

If you think you don't want to do a certain activity (kayaking, mountaineering), think again! When will you ever get the chance again? Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Shirley Sutton - USA

Kayaking was safe, adventurous, they made every effort to get us on the water but chose locations carefully for safety and all skill levels. It was active but not overwhelming (easy pace) and super fun visually / experientially. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Natalie DeNormandie - USA

Try to be in shape. The excursions can be tough for some. There were quite a few inclines, and the provided poles help greatly, use them. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

Arnold Ming - USA

The polar plunge turned out to be great fun. I think about 25-30 of us lined up. The shot of vodka offered as we got out of the water was great. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Inge Fryklund - USA

The Zodiac excursions were outstanding - every one of them different and intriguing in their own way. There was never any question that our safety was always foremost in the minds of the Expedition Staff, as well as the welfare of the wildlife and the ecology of Antarctica. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Marg Macleod - Canada

Activities are a must for those who would like to experience the land to its fullest potential. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Cindy He - Switzerland

Sign up early to get on the camping and kayaking list Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Gomathy Srinivasan - USA

Flipping off the back of the boat into 0.5C water during the polar plunge was absolutely breathtaking (literally and figuratively). Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Michael Bucher - USA

Mountaineering 1.2 miles fairly straight with ice pick in one hand and roped to guide with one other - when we reached the top it was exhilarating. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Joan Siegel - USA

The highlight of my trip. I loved to be able to do kayaking in Antarctica. You live a different experience from a point of view close to the water level. When you stop paddling, you can hear the voice of nature, ice cracking, birds singing, it's just unbelievable. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Christian Cancino Martinez - USA

The most exhilarating moment was the polar plunge (while it was lightly snowing). OMG the water was so cold! But it brought up this feeling of great anticipation and excitedness that I haven't felt since I was a child. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Kelly DeBey - USA

Most memorable moment: snorkeling with the penguins Read the full review

Travelled: March 2022

Janet Davoli - United States Minor Outlying Islands

The zodiac trips were great and safety was stressed; both ours and the wildlife's. Most memorable was probably the first time stepping on shore amongst penguins. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Ron Hart - USA

If I have to pick one moment, I’m going to pick the bum-slide down a steep slope overlooking a calving glacier and a tranquil, iceberg-filled bay that followed a lovely hike past a penguin rookery. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Stephanie Krolick - USA

Edwin and Liz were great with the snorkeling team. It's tough seeing things underwater given the visibility and the speed with which the animals move but I did get some good videos of penguins swimming underwater. The two of them did a nice job maximizing our opportunities while keeping us safe. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Mark Golan - USA

Most memorable moment: swimming with humpback whales in Antarctica Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Stephen Howe - UK

The zodiac excursions were great-lots of icebergs, seals, penguins, and whales. We even cut the engine to enjoy the "silence" of the ice - magnificent. We always felt safe; they explained what to do (and why), and reminded us how to enter and exit the craft. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Diane Walcher - USA

Our camping expedition was a one of a kind, with the penguins coming to check out the people who landed on their property and placed sleeping bags on the snow. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Karen Getzel - USA

My most memorable moment was Fournier Bay kayaking! Epic whale experience. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Randy Smith - USA

We did plan well for the zodiac trips which can be splashy and sometimes downright wet, depending on conditions. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Paul Parris - USA

The zodiac excursions felt very safe and in general we managed the periodic "bath" from the process of traveling in zodiacs pretty well. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Paul Parris - USA

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Whenever we went out, I always felt extremely safe and happy, whether that be in zodiacs, kayaking, mountaineering or snow shoeing. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Sarah Gillett - Switzerland

Kayaking was a big highlight for me, with whales breaching beside us, penguins swimming in front and beside the kayak and icebergs.

Travelled: January 2017

Jenni and James - UK

Highlights include having a penguin staring at me for half an hour while I was just sitting in my sleeping bag, and watching 6 orcas circling a small iceberg to hunt the seals lying there. The captain stopped the boat while we watched transfixed for half an hour.

Travelled: December 2016

Marilyn - Argentina

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Kayaking through brash ice, overshadowed by towering 100 foot high icebergs was breathaking, very emotional and inspiring.

Travelled: December 2016

Max - The Bahamas

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My highlight was kayaking on Christmas morning in a snowstorm. I loved the blue icebergs and the thousands of penguins, seals and whales.

Travelled: December 2016

Bryce - Canada

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Kayaking was brilliant - as two novices in our kayak, the instructor put us at ease and helped us have a great experience gently moving through the water, passing icebergs, watching calving and avalanches and having the most magical time.

Travelled: December 2016

Declan - UK

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We were in a snow hole (grave) and it was the best nights sleep I have ever had camping in my life - and completely surreal to wake up in that hole and see the dawn in Antarctica - completely magical.

Travelled: December 2016

Declan - UK

The mountaineering was excellent. We were so lucky as we got to climb an untouched peak!

Travelled: November 2016

Anna - UK

The best part of the trip for me were the excursions and the optional activities. Being on land, so close to the wildlife is a great experience. I also did kayaking, which I would recommend to anyone.

Travelled: November 2016

Yevgeny - Rhode Island

Review:

Helicopter sightseeing

Helicopter landing on deck of Ultramarine Antarctic vessel in Antarctica

If Antarctica is home to some of the wildest and most dramatic landscapes on Earth, then there can be few better ways to experience them than by taking to the air. Two expedition cruise ships offer helicopter trips over the White Continent.

Helicopters are used to offer an unparalleled perspective of Antarctica, either through simple sightseeing flights or by providing logistical support to allow visitors to reach some truly remote areas. The most notable of these are Snow Hill island in the Weddell Sea – home to a significant emperor penguin colony – and the continent's fabled dry valleys in the Ross Sea region.

Those ships offering flights operate two helicopters each for safety reasons and operate under strict guidelines to avoid their noise impacting on anyone else’s enjoyment of this last great wilderness.

Due to the challenges of operating in a polar environment and their high carbon footprint, the use of helicopters on expedition cruise ships is currently under review, which may lead to them being phased out over the next few years.

Submarine trips

Seabourn submersible operating in Antarctica

Exploring by submarine

Camping, kayaking, snorkeling and even helicopter flights are all accessible activities across the globe, but how often can you be a real pioneer and explore somewhere new beneath the waves – let alone somewhere like Antarctica? Submarine dives on a select number of cruise ships offer just that opportunity.

Exploring Antarctica in a submarine offers a truly unique perspective that few others will ever get to experience. You'll go far beyond the reach of even the toughest scuba divers in craft capable of reaching as far as 1000 feet (300 metres) below the Antarctic surface. Your highly trained pilot will typically explore in shallower waters to show off the extraordinary richness of Antarctica's benthic life: there's nothing like getting a whale's eye view of a krill swarm to give you a truly novel take on the polar food chain!

The six-passenger submarines are untethered and dive in pairs for safety purposes. You'll be underwater for around 45 minutes, staying close to the ship (this is no environment for casually exploring the underside of an iceberg), but every dive is wonderfully different and reveals new and unforgettable insights into the seas that surround the continent.

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Swoop says

Travellers to Antarctica today have the opportunity to gain perspectives on the continent that the earliest explorers could only dream of – from aerial views in a helicopter to diving below the waves in a submarine.

Which Antarctic cruise ships offer adventure activities?

Want to try everything? Our Antarctic Basecamp Adventure is the trip for you

To experience Antarctica from multiple perspectives, why not choose a trip that includes something of everything? Kayaking, camping, snowshoeing and mountaineering is all included in the price of our basecamp adventure.

How to choose your Antarctic adventure activity

Some Antarctica cruises offer optional activities like kayaking

Antarctica is a big enough adventure for many, but for those travel looking to really optimise their experience, there's an exciting range of activities to take part in.

Optional adventure activities typically carry an additional price but repay the invest a hundred times over in memories: how many people get the chance to camp or kayak in Antarctica?

Restricted group sizes mean that booking your activity at the same time as your voyage is crucial to avoid disappointment. If your heart is set on a particular activity, booking a year in advance is recommended where possible.

Camping and kayaking are the most commonly offered activities, while those like paddleboarding, snorkelling and scuba diving are only offered by certain ships. Our expertise across the polar fleet will help you find the right ship with the right activity for you.

While it's common to combine camping and kayaking, there's usually a limit to the number of additional activities you can add. We'll tell you the guidelines for every ship.

Adventure options take place at the same time as activities like landings and zodiac cruises that all passengers take part in, rather than in addition to these excursions.

Safety is always paramount in Antarctica, so with every adventure activity you'll be accompanied by specialist trained guides with years of experience under their belts.

Many of our guests cite their adventure activities as one of the biggest highlights of their Antarctic cruise – so why not consider adding one to your own trip?

Why our customers love Swoop

The Antarctic Experts.
No Compromises

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Our team has visited Antarctica over 150 times and has 100 collective years of polar experience, so from which trip is right for you to what shoes to bring - there’s no question we can’t answer.

Expert impartial advice at no extra cost

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Choosing the right voyage is complicated, Swoop makes it easy. We offer no-nonsense advice on 1500 voyages across 30 ships to find you the right trip, cabin, price - and we don’t charge a fee.

The only B Corp certified Antarctic specialist

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We want to protect Antarctica for future generations - which is why we became a certified B Corp and set up our own conservation fund. So your adventures can be a force for good.

A full concierge service, unlike booking direct

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We leave nothing to chance in delivering your perfect trip and have over 6500 happy travellers to show for it. With a dedicated Antarctic co-ordinator & support throughout - you’re in safe hands.

Antarctic adventure activities: FAQs

  • How fit do I need to be?

    A moderate level of fitness will allow you to fully enjoy these activities, but is not essential. There’s no upper age limit to any of these activities but kayakers need to be able to safely get themselves in and out of their kayak. For those travelling with children, lower age limits apply for certain activities. This varies from ship-to-ship, which is where the Swoop sales team can help advise you on the best options. 

  • How large is the group size for each activity?

    The group size for each activity is always limited and depends on the activity and ship you choose. Kayaking groups are typically kept to only 10–14 people, while camping, snowshoeing and hiking groups tend to have around 20–30 people. At all times, your groups will have an appropriate guide to participant ratio to ensure maximum safety and enjoyment. 

  • Do I need to book adventure activities in advance?

    Yes. Due to the limited spaces it's crucial to book your places at the same time as you book your cabin to avoid disappointment. Don't leave arranging your activities too late!

  • Do I need to bring any of my own kit?

    Any specialist kit or clothing needed for any of these activities will be provided by the ship, with the exception of scuba diving where you'll need to bring your own equipment, apart from weight belts and tanks. If there are specific packing recommendations (such as extra liner gloves for kayaking), we'll provide you with a complete list well in advance of your departure date. 

  • Can I do more than one activity?

    Absolutely! Kayaking and camping combine really well. For those who want to get a taste of lots of different activities, our Antarctic Basecamp Adventure is ideal, as it includes kayaking, hiking, camping, mountaineering and snowshoeing. 

More Antarctic adventure activities

Kayaking in Antarctica

Kayaking in Antarctica

Imagine the swish of water as it passes your hull or the clack of brash ice against your paddle blade. Skim past penguin rookeries and seals sleeping on passing ice floes.

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Ready to plan your Antarctic adventure?

1
Listen

Listen

We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.

2
Match

Match

Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.

3
Reserve

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We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.

With over 100 years of Antarctic experience between us, we can help guide you to exactly the right trip for you.

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