Wildlife in Antarctica

Penguins of Antarctica

Whales of Antarctica

Swoop's Weather Guide

Preserving Antarctica

Antarctica is one of the most beautiful, unique and perfectly preserved regions on the planet. Its frozen landscapes are home to many amazing species, each uniquely adapted to its extraordinary climate.

Largely untouched and undisturbed, special guidelines exist to ensure it continues to be a constant source of wonder and inspiration.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) offer advice on how to have the safest and best experience possible, while keeping Antarctica pristine, in their short video.

What to expect in Antarctica

Zodiac cruises & landings

Exploring off-ship in Antarctica is split into two types of activity. Zodiac cruising and landings. In all instances, during your time in Antarctica, you will need to abide by the IAATO guidelines, which include keeping a safe distance from wildlife (minimum 5 metres) and avoiding any activity which may cause an animal to alter its natural behaviour.

The zodiac ribs will be used to get you ashore for landings, after which you will explore on foot. Generally, these are wet landings, where the rib will push up onto the beach and you will then step out into the water and up onto the shore - hence the need to wear your waterproof boots and trousers/pants. On arrival, you will be briefed by the expedition team as to the nature of the specific landing. They will point out the route, which will be marked by flags, any particular points of interest and any hazards to avoid. Landings may include walks up to a ridge point for a spectacular view, or you may be focussing on a penguin rookery.

What to expect in Antarctica

Top tips for zodiac cruising

What to expect in Antarctica
  • Wrap up warm! Put on extra layers as the lack of physical movement means that your body cools down much faster.
  • Keep your eyes peeled – the guide will always be looking for wildlife, but if you spot something interesting, please alert them.
  • You can ask questions, whether it be about an iceberg, a seal you’ve spotted or a bird flying overhead. If your guide isn’t a specialist in that particular area, they will be able to radio the rest of the expedition team for more information.
  • Look at the ice around you – from the water level, you can really appreciate the myriad shapes and textures, not to mention the fifty shades of blue!
  • Stay quiet – especially if you are approaching seals hauled out on ice floes as they will be resting and recovering their energy. It is also wonderful to experience the serenity of Antarctica, away from the ship’s engines and surrounded by crackling ice.
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What our customers think of What to expect in Antarctica

Plan early and make sure you prepare for rough seas. I did and never got sea sick ... most people on the ship didn't seem prepared for some reason. We definitely got the Drake Shake and even worse seas leaving South Georgia heading for Uruguay. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2022

Barrett Weiss - USA

Loved the zodiac excursions. The zodiacs provide intimate access to locations the ship cannot reach. Zodiacs and shore excursions make all the difference in an Antarctic journey. I couldn't imagine simply viewing just from the ship. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Scott Hunter - USA

The wildlife lectures were my favourite and one on krill stands out as I didnt think it could be so interesting. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Sue Gatenby - UK

Just do it! Be prepared to be amazed, stunned even by the whole experience but also not to be disappointed when nature doesn't oblige. Some passengers appear to expect everything to go to a schedule, and are not prepared to get cold and wet. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Sue Gatenby - UK

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

Kayaking was fantastic, as well as the many zodiac cruises and landings on the different islands and historical sights. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jamal Perry - USA

Hand warmers ("Hothands") and a good DSLR camera are a must in my opinion. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jamal Perry - USA

The flora, fauna, scenery were all interwoven to create a memorable sometimes overwhelmingly awesome experience. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jane Crowley - USA

It's hard to choose from so many memorable moments; every day I thought it was the best ever but I think I will say that the zodiac excursion across Paradise Bay with the whales right in front of us, or the cruise through Spert Islands channels and the iceberg graveyard with it all set off by the amazingly blue water. Also getting to 68 degrees south was incredible! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jennifer Ruth - USA

I expected it to be an amazing trip and it was even better than expected. I don't think you can really be prepared for the experience. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jennifer Ruth - USA

I loved all the zodiac trips; the landings were incredible too but I could do zodiacs all day every day. The zodiac across Paradise Bay and Spert Island were the best; we used the term "white water zodiacing" at Spert and it was so much fun! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jennifer Ruth - USA

Take advantage of all the floor to ceiling windows - whales and seals just slide by when you're not expecting it! Do all the things you possibly can and be open to all the experiences, ask questions: the expedition crew is so passionate and knows so much. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jennifer Ruth - USA

Antarctica exceeded every expectation! The overwhelming grandiosity is difficult to put into words. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Michael Bilheimer - USA

The experience reminded me that there is so much out there to see and explore and that you're not ever stuck - a good reminder when you feel a bit overwhelmed in life. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Lauren Woosey - UK

Expedition team members were uniformly friendly, approachable, helpful, and full of knowledge related to what we were seeing or could see. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Fred Delcomyn - USA

I have been on (much larger) cruise ships before, so I did have some general idea of how being onboard would be. My experience with Magellan Explorer was a step up from my previous experiences. Partly this was due to the small size of the ship, but even taking this into account, I found staff extremely friendly and helpful throughout the voyage. In addition, I found the food excellent, with great variety and ample portions. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Fred Delcomyn - USA

Temper your expectations. Don't think every day is going to be filled with gorgeous sunshine, as photos tend to suggest. If you concentrate on the incredible landscapes and fantastic wildlife, you will have an unforgettable adventure even if the weather is not the best. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Fred Delcomyn - USA

Antarctica is even more remote and wild than I had imagined. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Fred Delcomyn - 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

The orcas appearing during the whale talk, the baby humpback breaching off the bow of the zodiacs, the polar plunge, watching from the outriggers as the the boat cut through the ice, drinking Macallan with ice fresh from a berg, having an impromptu dance party with my husband on top of a volcanic cinder cone. It was just a super trip from beginning to end. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Stephanie Krolick - USA

We were lucky regarding weather and conditions but the team helped make the luck by monitoring the weather and adjusting the schedule to maximize the experience. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Mark Golan - USA

Antarctica is such an alien place that it truly makes you feel like you've left the planet. The days were amazingly long, in a good way. Each day felt like two given the amount of activity and their length. Just a wonderful experience. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Mark Golan - USA

The excursions sites were great with a nice variety of penguin colonies, historical sites, landscapes, ice, and volcanoes. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Mark Golan - USA

Travel always changes your perspective. Seeing a place like Antarctica just increases your desire to see it protected. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Mark Golan - USA

Most memorable moment: clear blue skies, zero wind, flat ocean with icebergs floating around everywhere, in a zodiac with penguins popping up all over us, and a seal belly-flopping up on an iceberg 20ft from us Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Todd Mackey - USA

Most memorable moment: walking amongst the penguins and the incredible landscape. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Doug Behan - USA

The seal and penguin species were well documented by the expedition staff and I felt that they did a great job with educating us before arrival in Antarctica from various speeches and learning opportunities to know about what we'd encounter. There were numerous great photo opportunities daily! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Christopher Norton - USA

The daily expeditions were well run, adventurous, and led by amazingly insightful, patient, and FUN expedition staff. There was no one moment that was great, they were all great. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Christopher Norton - USA

Most memorable moment: hard to choose just one! Penguins swimming underwater en masse. A huge, unusually large pod of orca feeding. The magnificent mountain peaks and sunlit valleys beneath them, and on and on. Truly something I will remember every day of my life! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Kent Kimball - USA

We dressed most warmly, and that was a good idea because of the wind off the water. We managed the getting onto and off the Zodiacs with no problems. The crew was great at always emphasizing the sailor's grip and taking the steps slowly, then sitting down and sliding along the Zodiac. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Mike Walcher - USA

I enjoyed learning about the history of discovery, women in Antarctica, the birds, mammals and bathymetry. The glacial lectures were very informative. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Diane Walcher - USA

People generally do not dress for dinner but remain in their clothes from the day, especially since the dinner hour comes about an hour after reboarding the ship from zodiacs. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Allan Harari - USA

Being open to changing plans and a little bit easygoing is a better attitude for this type of trip (as for any travel). The weather did impact some of our plans, but Sara, the Expedition Crew Leader, made tweaks and changes so that we were still busy and enjoying our trip. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Claire Torrey - USA

My favorite encounter was having a very curious penguin come up and bite my camera lens. Wow! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Gordon Pickering - USA

Know that the staff will guide you, it’s not a test, it’s there to be enjoyed at any level. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Chris Dixon - UK

Come with an open mind because Antarctica can be totally unpredictable. If you have the chance to go, do it while you can. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Jade Griffin - USA

Zodiacs in Antarctica

Top tips for landings

What to expect in Antarctica

Hikers trek along the coast, Antarctic Peninsula

  • Bring a backpack and dress in layers! Once you start walking you can get surprisingly hot. It's helpful to be able to strip off a layer and pop it in your backpack. This is also a useful place to store spare batteries, memory cards and other equipment.
  • If visiting a penguin rookery, spend some time down by the water’s edge. The temptation is to stay by the colony, but it is fascinating watching them travel in and out of the water.
  • Make sure to put the camera down every now and again so you don’t spend the whole time looking through a lens! Find a quiet spot and soak up the spectacular 360-degree vistas.
  • If a penguin approaches you, stay quiet and still until it moves on. Don't attempt to touch Antarctic wildlife, just enjoy the moment.
  • Watch out for the 'pink snow'!

Zodiac cruises do not involve landing at all, instead, you will head out for a water-based adventure that could last 1-2 hours. This is one of Swoop’s favourite ways to explore Antarctica as it is the best way to enjoy the spectacular icebergs and marine wildlife.

Please note that due to Covid-19, visits to scientific bases may not be possible, though both the bases and ships are keen to reestablish their links when it is safe to do so.

Ship cruising & time on deck

In addition to your time off the ship, you will also sometimes have 'ship cruising' scheduled in. This often signals a time where the ship is passing through somewhere particularly jaw-dropping (all of Antarctica’s scenery is spectacular), which is best viewed from the vantage of the ship’s decks. The Lemaire Channel would be a great example of this, as the ship squeezes through the narrow channel between two sheer rock faces.

The deck of the ship is often the best location from which to spot whales, and you may hear impromptu announcements on the tannoy inviting you outside to see whales “at 3 o’clock”. This is not a scheduled viewing time, but rather a description of the animals’ position relative to the ship at that exact moment – so this would be directly starboard (right off the ship). 

Ortelius ship
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Swoop says

We recommend you spend any spare time out on deck to make the most of Antarctica. Once aboard, familiarise yourself with the ship's layout including access to the decks, and always have your camera and warm layers to hand, so you can get outdoors quickly if there is a sighting announcement.