What happens on a South Georgia visit

Cruises to South Georgia offer a packed experience for travellers. Unpredictable weather means that itineraries are never set in stone, but visitors can expect zodiac cruises to locations packed with wildlife, endless extraordinary photo opportunities and the chance to directly connect with the island’s rich history from the visits of Ernest Shackleton to a modern story of ecological recovery.

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What our customers think of South Georgia

Advice? DO IT! Go to South Georgia Island. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2023

David Feldshon - USA

Penguins on South Georgia were amazing, as were the seals. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2023

David Feldshon - USA

Even though traveling to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands added to the length and expense of the trip, it was well worth it. You will not see wildlife and scenery like that found on these islands anywhere else in the world. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

Donna Potaczek - USA

We were so glad we’d done Falklands and South Georgia as well as Antarctica. It was magical! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

Elizabeth Holman - USA

Any advice? Go to South Georgia too. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Susan Kanner - USA

South Georgia Island is absolutely a must see if you are traveling that far. I know it is more expensive, but it makes the trip amazing. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Steven Goodman - USA

Most memorable moment? The first day on South Georgia. The abundance of life totally unfazed by humans. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

James Castleden - Hungary

The visit to South Georgia was spectacular. The ability to see so many penguins and fur seals in their natural habitat was spectacular. But best of all were the guides. They were outstanding. They went above and beyond to make our trip both enriched and kept us safe. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Marka Hansen - USA

We discovered why South Georgia is called The Serengeti of the Antarctic! We were surrounded by hundreds of thousands penguins, fur seals, elephant seals to such an extent that it was sometimes too dangerous to make a zodiac landing as the wildlife on shore was too dense. The landscape and the true wilderness of South Georgia is breathtaking. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Helena Polackova - UK

South Georgia was the highlight with so much wildlife and the history. The museum in Grytviken and the church were also very interesting. All the penguins, thousands of them at a time, was very overwhelming at times. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Gordon Pickering - USA

The scale and beauty of South Georgia and Antarctica was beyond my expectations. A humpback whale came near the ship to check us out while we were at anchor in Fournier Bay. The whale surfaced, blew, rolled and hung around the ship for quite a while before moving on. The clear water made it easy to see the whale just under the surface. Many good photos and videos were captured! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Monica Scott - United States Of America

The wildlife in South Georgia was really overwhelming! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Günter Csebits - Austria

Highlights: The multitude of wildlife on South Georgia, the icescapes and around the Antarctic Peninsula. The knowledge and infectious enthusiasm of the expedition leaders. The gourmet wining and dining and the luxury of the cruise ship. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2018

Richard & Anne Abrahall - United Kingdom

The South Georgia expedition was a superb experience in every way for my group of 17 participants (including myself). South Georgia landscapes and wildlife viewing opportunities are the best of the best in the Southern Ocean! Read the full review

Travelled: November 2018

Audrey Benedict - United States Of America

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All of the excursions were special – South Georgia: in Elshul there were flocks of prions, literally millions of them filling the sky; of course Salsibury Plain is amazing with all the wildlife, as is Gold Harbor. Grytvikn was also a treat as we all know the Shackleton story and it was interesting to see the whaling station. We topped it off with cocktails on deck as we cruised Drygalski Fjord.

Travelled: March 2018

Cindy & Nor - Washington

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Kayaking in South Georgia where there were fur seals swimming under the kayak and penguins porpoising by was a real treat. We did have some magic moments besides the wildlife – like paddling through crackling ‘bergy’ bits on a beautiful day or seeing glaciers calve not very far from our kayaks.

Travelled: February 2018

Cindy & Nor - Washington

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South Georgia is really special. The fact that we missed it on our first Antarctic trip is the major reason we went back.

Travelled: February 2018

Cindy & Nor - Washington

If you don't visit South Georgia you're missing the 'jewel in the crown'. When we did this trip in 2008 the expedition leader in her opening remarks described South Georgia as "the place where God goes for his holidays".

Travelled: February 2018

RSW & MW - United Kingdom

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South Georgia was daunting with all 4 seasons in one afternoon!!! It is a trip of a lifetime and we would recommend it as a "Top Priority" on any bucket list.

Travelled: January 2018

Lucien & Marie-Eve - South Africa

The highlight was without a doubtSouth Georgia due to its magnificent scenery and wildlife. The expedition staff on board were excellent. Very experienced and knowledgeable. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2018

Steven Goldman - United States Of America

We would definitely recommend including South Georgia and the Falklands - whilst we weren't quite prepared for the days at sea to get between these places, they ended up being a wonderfully restorative part of our holiday.

Travelled: December 2017

Tish & Obadiah - Massachusetts

South Georgia was the highlight of the trip. Be sure to choose an itinerary that includes it and you won't regret it. Salisbury Plain and St Andrews were amazing. I also loved Deception Island - I would recommend doing the polar plunge.

Travelled: November 2017

Janet - California

South Georgia was fantastic. Seeing the sheer volume of wildlife was incredible. Going early in the season gave us pristine snowy landscapes. We had the unique opportunity to see a lone emperor penguin.

Travelled: November 2017

Janet - California

South Georgia was a delightful surprise – far more to offer than I could have imagined. I knew about the whaling industry & Shackleton but was thrilled with the number of kayak outings & landings we made here. The old whaling stations were particularly overwhelming & emotional.

Travelled: January 2017

Freda - UK

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South Georgia was simply amazing and quite overwhelming in its abundance of wildlife and history. To have king penguins filled with curiosity and pecking on our boots was unexpected and something we’ll never forget.

Travelled: December 2015

Phil & Mickey - Australia

Review:

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Rebecca says

It's almost impossible to describe just how packed South Georgia's beaches can be with wildlife, with endless penguins, massive elephant seals and – every spring – hordes of curious fur seal pups coming to check out your zodiac.

Rebecca Porritt Antarctica Sales Specialist

What you will do in South Georgia

Zodiac cruises

Zodiac cruises are a key component of experiencing South Georgia. Many locations are particularly exposed, making them hard to access by land, while in the early season the sheer density of wildlife on many beaches can actually be so high to render landings literally impossible.

These locations offer incredible shoreline safaris: cruising past rafts of penguins coming in to land, watching enormous elephant seals lying in the surf, bullish fur seals in their thousands staking their breeding spots or, a few months later, doe-eyed pups gambolling in the surf.

Zodiacs also allow access to remote sites like Elsehul where the craggy coast is thick with birdlife, from cliffside macaroni penguin rookeries to the large breeding colonies of albatrosses who glide elegantly above you as they come to their nests to feed their chicks.

Zodiac cruising at Stromness in South Georgia

Shore landings

High on the wish-list for many visitors is a landing at one of South Georgia’s enormous colonies of king penguins. These are overwhelmingly noisy and smelly affairs, with hundreds of thousands of birds making it hard to know which way to look. It's a spectacle that’s equally awe-inspiring when seen in the round on a zodiac cruise against a roughly hewn mountain backdrop.

South Georgia has a relatively small number of places where it’s possible to get on shore. Please note that all landings here are subject to sometimes volatile local weather conditions such as wind and swell, as well as needing clear space to get ashore - which can be a challenge when feisty fur seals are densely packed along the beach! The decision to proceed with safe landing operations is always at the discretion of the Expedition Leader and Captain, and therefore cannot be guaranteed in advance.

In other locations, the focus is more on the wild landscape over wildlife, such as the historic Shackleton Walk or a waterfall hike on the edges of a long-abandoned whaling station.

Fortuna Bay with king penguins, tourists and Sylvia Earle cruise ship
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Swoop says

Flexibility is baked into every South Georgia visit, and itineraries can change as rapidly as the Subantarctic weather. But whatever the conditions for zodiac cruising or shore landings, your highly experienced expedition team are masters at at adaptation and ensuring you get the best that South Georgia has to offer. 

Historic South Georgia

South Georgia has a fascinating history that is written across its landscape. Its coast is still littered with the remains of old whaling stations from when the island was a centre for this bloody industry.

For safety reasons, it’s not possible to walk around the old stations (apart from at Grytviken), but these abandoned industrial sites make for fantastic backdrops for zodiac cruising, as they rust into picturesque decay while their beaches are recolonised by seals and penguins.

They’re also a chance to engage with South Georgia’s incredible story of ecological recovery. The recent eradication of introduced rats has allowed many endangered bird species to flourish again, while the island's heavily protected waters even offer the chance to spot humpback whales once more – their numbers having finally returned to their pre-whaling heyday.

Ruined whaling station at Grytviken in South Georgia

Grytviken

The old whaling station of Grytviken is an essential stop on all South Georgia cruises. Dotted with old machinery and whaling ships, it is also home to a brilliant and fascinating museum dedicated to the island’s history.

Behind the museum is the beautiful Norwegian Church. Its walls are covered with fascinating memorials and cruise passengers are still invited to ring out its bells today. On the outskirts of the station, you’ll find Shackleton’s Grave in the old cemetery.

Finally, visitors mustn’t forget to send a postcard home from Grytviken. The service is slow, but receiving mail franked at one of the remotest post offices in the world makes for a great reminder of your trip weeks after you’ve returned home.

The Lutheran (Norwegian) Church at Grytviken in South Georgia

Shackleton's South Georgia

The polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is synonymous with South Georgia and there are plenty of opportunities to follow in his footsteps here.

All expedition cruise ships call at Grytviken, where it’s a must to visit Shackleton's Grave in the old Whaler’s Cemetery. You’ll be invited to gather around to raise a tribute (and a dram of whisky) to ‘The Boss,’ and contemplate his extraordinary life. The nearby museum contains a replica of the tiny James Caird, the boat he sailed in on his 800 mile voyage here from Elephant Island.

Elsewhere, if conditions allow it may be possible to recreate the final stages of his survival trek across the islands on the Shackleton Walk, a beautiful half-day hike over the mountains from Fortuna Bay to the old whaling station at Stromness Harbour.

Tourist at Shackleton's grave in Grytviken
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Cassia says

Nothing can make you appreciate Shackleton’s achievements more than paying your respects by his South Georgia grave after sailing there in a modern comfortable ship, knowing that he did a similar voyage in a boat barely larger than a zodiac.

Cassia Jackson Polar Specialist

Wildlife

It’s no accident that South Georgia has been dubbed the Serengeti of the Southern Ocean. At the height of the breeding season (coinciding with the expedition cruise ship season) it’s thought that the density of South Georgia's wildlife exceeds any other place on Earth. 

King penguin colonies are counted in the hundreds of thousands of birds, while fur seals are numbered in the millions. If elephant seals seem outnumbered against these tallies, they more than compensate through their immense size and presence.

Look up and the skies are busy with albatrosses and a dozen species of petrels effortless sweeping past, while if you listen carefully you might even hear the sound of the South Georgia pipit: the most southerly songbird in the world and a heartening icon of the island’s ecological recovery.

St Andrews Bay in South Georgia by zodiac

Spectacular scenery

Few places are as awe-inspiring as South Georgia. The island is one continuous chain of mountains erupting from the sea, and draped in snow and glaciers. There’s barely a flat square mile to be found anywhere.

While the beaches are dominated by penguins and seals, the cliffs are the domains of albatrosses and petrels, the epic wanderers of the Southern Ocean, with countless birds on the wing as they come and go from their colonies. Elsewhere, hidden bays offer glimpses of ruined whaling stations and heavily crevassed glaciers snaking down from craggy peaks straight into the sea.

Whether cruising alongside by ship or exploring more closely in a zodiac, South Georgia’s topography is utterly mesmerising.

Glaciers at Drygalski Ford in South Georgia

Photography

South Georgia is a photographer’s paradise. Unlike wildlife destinations where you must spend hours waiting for your subject to show up, South Georgia’s wildlife is everywhere so you’ll be spoiled for subjects to shoot.

A telephoto or zoom lens is a key piece of kit, allowing you to capture your subject at some range, especially important when wildlife watching from your zodiac. This is a fantastic water level platform for getting action shots of penguins and seals entering or leaving the ocean. On land, biosecurity rules restrict the use of tripods or other equipment, which require thorough cleaning after an excursion in them same way as your boots.

Most ships will run dedicated photography zodiacs for the most serious photographers, to allow passengers to maximise their photographic opportunities. On board photography guides will give you extra tips, from technical advice to animal behaviour insights to help frame your subject.

Zodiac photography in South Georgia
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Swoop says

South Georgia can almost be like being in a David Attenborough documentary, so channel your inner wildlife cameraman by taking plenty of time to just observe everything before lifting your lens; you'll have no end of opportunities to capture your perfect shot.

Adventure activities

South Georgia’s geography is very different from that of the more protected waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, giving more limited opportunities to take part in optional adventure activities.

Kayaking is the main additional activity offered in South Georgia. However, harsh katabatic winds can blow suddenly down off the mountains into the bays, turning calm waters into challenging conditions even for experienced kayakers. While some sheltered locations do offer more stable conditions, in general you’ll do more kayaking in Antarctica than during the South Georgia part of your trip.

Those expedition cruise ships that offer snorkelling may give the opportunity to snorkel in South Georgia if conditions safely permit it, but this is at the discretion of the expedition team and is generally more more likely to occur in the Antarctic portion of your trip instead. Camping is not allowed anywhere in South Georgia.

Kayakers in South Georgia, with king penguins in the foreground

Avian Flu in South Georgia

Brown skua flying over a king penguin colony on South Georgia

In October 2023 Avian flu was detected on South Georgia, having been introduced naturally by migrating birds. Its arrival was anticipated by local authorities and Antarctic cruise operators; increased biosecurity measures had already been in place for a year prior to the first cases. Avian flu carries a low risk to humans but affects seabirds such as skuas, as well as seals. 

Expedition cruise ships successfully visited South Georgia throughout the 2023/24 season as scheduled. Expedition teams are used to operating flexibly, and zodiac cruising is now more frequently deployed when some locations are temporarily closed for shore landings. Swoop kept in close contact with all our passengers throughout the season to ensure they were fully briefed on any updates to an evolving situation, and we were thrilled that our returning passengers reported that avian flu didn't impact their enjoyment of South Georgia and the incredible wildlife experiences that the island excels at.

The future trajectory of avian flu on South Georgia remains somewhat uncertain. To date, there has been little impact on South Georgia’s penguins. Expedition cruise ships will continue to visit South Georgia, operating flexible itineraries to ensure that passengers get the most out of their time there, and Swoop remains committed to keeping our passengers fully updated on any developments from the moment of booking to the return from the trip. 

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How Swoop travellers experienced South Georgia in 2023/24

Most memorable moment? Seeing thousands and thousands of penguins in South Georgia. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Farhad Vatcha - USA

There are so many memorable moments!! Fortuna Bay surrounded by thousands of king penguins and hundreds of juvenile fur seals. The history at Grytviken, with the story of Shackleton. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Doug Pemberton - Canada

My most memorable cruise was in St. Andrew's Bay in South Georgia after kayaking. Simply astonishing to see that many penguins. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Janet Deisley - USA

10/10 - The wildlife refuge of South Georgia was the best. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Bill Yates - USA

Book early and, more importantly, one must not skip South Georgia. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Chun Wai Wong - Malaysia

10/10 - The best holiday of my life!! South Georgia was just as impressive as Antarctica and I would not have wanted to skip that. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Jessica Spangler - USA

10/10 - All the stops were worth seeing. Guides & crew treated us like a family. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Diane Alton - Canada

We were at South Georgia Island on Christmas day. The expedition team were skilled at getting my friends and I into the zodiac and touring us along the shoreline to see macaroni penguins, fur seals, gentoo penguins, elephant seals and Weddell seals up close and personal. It was certainly a Christmas I will never forget. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Diane Douglas - USA

Review:

What to expect in South Georgia: FAQs

  • How often will there be excursions off the ship?

    In general, ships will plan two excursions off the ship every day while you are in South Georgia, either zodiac cruising or shore landings, but this cannot be guaranteed due to weather. 

  • How can the weather affect planned excursions?

    South Georgia’s weather is famously changeable, perhaps even more so than on the Antarctic Peninsula, as its location leaves it extremely exposed to the 'Furious Fifties' – the scouring westerly winds that blow constantly at this latitude. These conditions means that your expedition team are experts at adapting their plans at very short notice.

    High winds can sometimes affect the ability of zodiacs to operate safely, while kayaking in particular demands perfect calm conditions. At some landing sites running tides and steeply shelving beaches can make landings hard to safely achieve, making zodiac cruises a preferred option.

    While this initially make a trip here sound like a somewhat daunting prospect, South Georgia's unpredictability in an increasingly structured world is one of its great joys, where every day taps into a true spirit of adventure. A 'go with the flow' attitude is one of the most essential pieces of kit you can pack – alongside your all-weather gear!

  • Are any sites better explored by zodiac?

    Yes! Experiencing the best of South Georgia is about more than getting your boots on the ground. Many of its bays are lined with cliffs that are home to countless numbers of seabirds. Zodiac cruises here offer some of the best birdwatching safaris in the world, with multiple species of nesting albatrosses as well as petrels, prions and macaroni penguin rookeries.

  • How close will I get to the wildlife?

    Zodiac cruising allows you to get very close to South Georgia's wildlife. As your patrol the packed beaches, it's not uncommon to have rafts of penguins or fur seals swimming close to your zodiac. 

    During any landings, it's not permitted to get closer than 16 feet (5m) to any wildlife or within 33 feet (10m) from the edge of a penguin colony. The wildlife isn't aware of these rules however so you must always be prepared to quietly retreat to a safe distance if any animals approach you too closely.

  • Will I get to visit the king penguin colonies?

    Yes – either by zodiac cruising or shore landing. There are a several large king penguin colonies on South Georgia, and while visits to specific locations can never be guaranteed, your expedition cruise ship will always try to visit a king penguin rookery if possible. Both the ship's Captain and Expedition Leader know how high these sites are on many people's wishlists. 

    If landings are not possible, zodiac cruising at these colonies truly offers an equally spectacular alternative. A shoreline safari gives a whole new perspective on the rookery, with thousands of penguins constantly coming and going from the sea - on beaches equally packed with grumpy fur seals and enormous elephant seals. Add in the dramatic framing of a snowy mountain backdrop and it feels like you're watching the most intense wildlife soap opera!

  • Will I visit Shackleton's Grave?

    As a rule, all expedition cruise ships visit Grytviken for customs and official biosecurity checks, so a visit to Shackleton's Grave will generally be included, barring exceptional local circumstances.

    For many travellers, the pilgrimage to Shackleton's Grave is as essential a part of the South Georgia experience as seeing its wildlife. Grytviken is one of the most magnificent settings for an explorer's last resting place you can find anywhere in the world, and raising a toast by his grave (the only one in the cemetery that faces south to Antarctica) can be a deeply moving experience, even for those new to the Shackleton story. We find that many a new aficionado of 'The Boss' is born after a visit to Grytviken! 

  • What happens on sea days sailing to and from South Georgia?

    South Georgia can be up to two days sailing from the Antarctic Peninsula or the Falkland Islands, but is more than worth the travel time. On the sea days, there are plenty of opportunities for birdwatching as well as spotting whales and (close to Antarctica) icebergs. Talks from the expedition team will prepare and educate you for the sights ahead.

    This leisure time also gives you time to get to know your fellow passengers and offers some essential processing time between the destinations. South Georgia in particular can be a sensory overload, so you’ll appreciate the time to digest what you’ve experienced – and to sort through your thousands of photos!

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

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