Antarctica’s white wilderness has an irresistible magnetism for adventurous souls the world over. Around 40,000 travellers make the journey to the 7th continent each year in search of life-affirming and perspective-changing experiences, and they don’t return disappointed, but when is the best time to go?
There are a host of reasons to voyage to one of the most pristine environments on Earth, but there tend to be one or two that stand out most keenly for each person. From wildlife photography to deep exploration or colossal ice, everyone’s best time of year to travel to Antarctica can look a little different and there is no ‘one size fits all’. If you already know why you want to go to Antarctica, you’re only a step away from discovering your perfect time to travel.
The Antarctic season takes place during the austral summer between November and March, a short window where relatively warmer temperatures and thawing ice allow access for expedition ships. It is not possible to visit between April and October – Antarctica’s winter – when temperatures plummet, 24-hour darkness creeps in and ice locks up the continent.
If you’re a keen landscape photographer, the best time to travel to Antarctica is at the start of the season. Travelling in November guarantees that you will be one of the first to step foot on the continent, so you can expect ice-choked bays and powder-soft snow draped across the beaches and mountains. The light is spectacular, with blooming orange sunsets, ghostly cloud formations and low golden rays. The wildlife is not so active during this time but the magic of the untouched world around you is hard to beat.
If spending the festive season surrounded by sparkling icebergs and characterful penguins, with a guaranteed white Christmas, sounds idyllic, December is certainly the best time for you. It’s a fabulous time to travel to Antarctica for a number of other reasons. Warmer weather brings fresh life to the region, so daily landings and zodiac cruising will be packed with wildlife encounters, from nesting penguins and seals hauled out on icebergs to the first whales returning to Antarctic waters.
All this said, if you’re a true wildlife enthusiast then January is the month for you. Penguins can be observed throughout the entirety of Antarctica’s five-month season, but chicks are at their fluffiest and cutest phase of development. You’re likely to see them clumsily chasing their parents to demand more food. Whales will also be spotted in increasing numbers as they gorge on krill.
February signals another shift as the ice breaks up further still. Keep your eyes peeled for hunting leopard seals along the shoreline, beady eyes fixed on penguin chicks taking to the Southern Ocean for the first time. If adventuring beyond the Peninsula is for you, then this is a great time to cross the Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees south, making the most of the 24 hours of daylight. Wildlife is scarce by comparison to the Peninsula, but expansive frozen scenery and towering ice will steal the limelight.
The best month to visit Antarctica for whale watching is undoubtedly March. Whale numbers are at their peak, and after several months spent feasting heartily on krill, they are well fed, energised and playful. You’re more likely to encounter curious humpbacks rising up from the depths to spy on you in your zodiac, and if you’re very lucky you may spot elusive orcas porpoising through the frigid waters. Not only is March the best time to visit Antarctica for whale sightings, but it’s your last chance to experience the White Continent before the season ends and winter envelopes the continent once more.
Ultimately, there is no bad time to visit Antarctica during the Austral summer. It’s an adventure like no other and will leave you looking at the world a little differently. The best month to visit Antarctica, as you now know, depends entirely on what’s drawing you there to begin with. Perhaps you’ve identified several months you’d love to experience; something we like to call being bitten by polar fever. Don’t fret, it happens to the best of us.