Discovery has long been ingrained into who we are as a species. There’s that undeniable gnawing urge within humankind to step foot into the new, find ourselves amongst the foreign and striking, to peer out at the previously unknown. These places of wonder are increasingly few and far between. The Wild West. The Arctic Circle. The Mariana Trench. The Dark Side of the Moon. We are, as a whole, very good at pushing the boundaries of what’s impossible and inhospitable, unvisitable. Of the farthest reaches of these locales, places that are beyond all but our imaginations, none carry as a fabled legacy quite like Antarctica.
As far as humanity is concerned, Antarctica may as well be the end of the world, the absolute edge of the Earth. The continent is 5.5 million square miles, roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined, and doubles in size in the winter when the coastal waters freeze. Save for the (very) odd research station carved into the ice, it is entirely devoid of human presence. It is the driest, coldest place on Earth—colder on average than the surface of Mars, with precipitation averaging 51 millimeters throughout the year (the height of a golf tee if you graciously round up). Wind is capable of whipping through the land at almost 200 miles per hour, about 50 miles stronger than a Category 5 hurricane. To put it in perspective, Antarctic exploration began in 1773, but the first successful land crossing came in 1957—only 12 years before the first steps on the moon.
But, unlike the moon, you don’t need to be an astronaut to glimpse this seemingly unreal expanse—you can sail right up to the edge of the world and set your sights on the frozen shores of the unknown, teeming with majesty and adventure on an Antarctica vacation. And, when you stare out at mountainous wonder long enough, a little bit of that wonder ignites within you. For a brief introduction to what you can expect to find, here are a few highlights to sightseeing at the end of the world.
Twin towers of basalt and ice on the edge of the continent, the Una Peaks stand tall and seemingly defiant to the outside world—mountain lookouts to a world of seclusion. The taller of the two sits at a height of 2,451 feet and has been summited once in the history of existence. In comparison, Mount Everest is 29,029 feet, and over 4,000 people have climbed it since 1953.
One of the few species of animal that call this part of the world home is the Antarctic fur seals. Thought to be extinct in the early 20th century due to pelt hunters, the species has since begun to regrow in the last century. Expect to see them dotting the shore and slipping in and out of the frigid water with ease, their barks echoing across the ice.
With 90% of the world’s fresh water frozen within the ice sheet, ice is a major component of Antarctica, and as such, icebergs are common. While you might think seeing ice floating in water is not a noteworthy sight, your years of chilled beverages have inadequately prepared you for this. Some of these icebergs can be several kilometers long, and over 400 kilometers thick. Imagine the most massive skyscrapers you’ve ever seen, but frozen and floating—goosebumps-inducing even with a heavy jacket on during your Antarctica vacation.
Another of the rare denizens of Antarctica. Gentoo penguins tend to prefer rocky outcroppings for a habitat, though you’ll be able to spot them from a distance thanks to their orange beaks and bright peach-hued feet. Or conversely, if they’re in water, you’ll know it’s a penguin and not a shadow in the water due to their speed—these birds are more torpedo than bird, clocking speeds of 22 miles per hour underwater.
Wishing you could lay your eyes on these mystical shores on an Antarctica vacation? Wondering what else is out there to be discovered? It doesn’t take an expedition to find out: Give one of our travel agents a call. Besides being able to offer valuable knowledge and expertise, their professional relationships with industry-leading cruise lines like Holland America Line allow you to focus all your energy where it matters—being amazed.