Antarctica, the southernmost continent and the location of the South Pole is almost entirely covered by ice which is in average about 2 kilometres thick. With an annual precipitation of only 200 mm, the continent is an icy desert. Due to the freezing temperatures, strong winds, low precipitation and poor soil quality, Antarctica is the only uninhabited continent although there are an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 scientists working at the research centres.
Virtually all discount cruises to Antarctica include landings to the continent and bypass locations with breathtaking views of the continent’s dramatic landscape, majestic mountains and spectacular ice formations as well as enable the passengers to observe wildlife. Despite harsh conditions, Antarctica is home to many wildlife species including the magnificent king penguins, chinstrap penguins and gentoo penguins, while the waters surrounding the continent are among the world’s best locations to observe blue whales, orcas, fur seals and other marine animals, many of which feed on phytoplankton.
Shore excursions and activities (such as hiking, observing wildlife from up-close and kayaking) included depend greatly on the chosen package but they also depend on weather conditions. Antarctica is notorious for unpredictable weather which can make the planned landings and activities very dangerous. And since the winter temperatures are extremely cold (the average temperatures range from -30 to -15 degrees Celsius but can reach as low as -50), cruises are available only during the summer which lasts from December to March in Southern Hemisphere.
In addition to excursions to Antarctica mainland (typically the Antarctic Peninsula due to milder climate), many discount cruises also include landings or bypasses of the Hope Bay, the scenic Lemaire Channel, Deception Island, South Orkney Islands and Elephant Island, to mention only a few. Some itineraries, however, also include trips to the Falkland Islands even though they are a bit off the course. The majority of ships depart from Buenos Aires or Santiago.
Though it’s hard to imagine life to exist in such a hostile environment as Antarctica, the continent is actually full of life. As mentioned earlier, it is home to tens of thousands of penguins, while the waters surrounding the continent are home to many marine animals including whales and seals. There are also many other creatures that are adopted to the hostile environment but in comparison to the rest of the world, Antarctica has a relatively low biodiversity. Nevertheless, it is home to some of the most fascinating animal species in the world.
Due to the low precipitation and extremely cold temperatures, there aren’t many plants on the continent. Antarctica has only two flowering plants – Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearlwort which obviously, blossom during the summer. Bryophytes account for the majority of Antarctica’s flora.