Unlike just about everyone else on the continent, when I was in Antarctica I really didn’t know I wanted to be there. I accompanied my best friend there, but really it was only because she wanted to go. I was excited to see a new place, but Antarctica would have been pretty low on my bucket list.
It took about three days for me to realize how wrong I was. So if you’re feeling uninspired about Antarctica, let me tell you, you’re wrong too.
1. The Penguins:
Just. Look. At. These. Cuties. Penguins just might be the cutest animals in the world. They have that weird little waddle, they’re curious and friendly, and there are so many on Antarctica for you to meet. Technically you have to stay ten feet away from any wildlife in Antarctica, but if the little guys sneak up on you, and they often do, you’re permitted to let them explore whatever holds their curiosity, and when you can, sneak away. They really love to check out tourists, so just embrace it. Even if they always smell like poop.
Kayaking is fun regardless of where you are, but kayaking in Antarctica is breathtaking. The morning spent on the water was one of my most favorite on the trip. There’s a sense of serenity that permeates the continent, that’s easiest to experience when you aren’t standing on the shore. At one point, the group of us clustered together just to observe a glacier, and as we sat in silence, just enjoying the crisp, clean air and the still water, we were also able to catch a small avalanche. It’s moments like these that will make you fall in love with Antarctica.
3. Crab Eater Seals:
The first time I saw these wonderful creatures, they were laying on the rocky beach, without a care in the world. They hardly stirred as 100 tourists stormed the beaches. The second time they were swimming around, completely unbothered by the snorkelers all around them. There are very few places where wild animals are so comfortable with humans, and where humans can interact with them safely, for both the animals and the humans.
4. Underwater Activities:
Yep! You read that right. Swimming is one of the top reasons to visit Antarctica. Our trip had a group of SCUBA divers, and they definitely got the most exciting views out of any of us. Their experience was what inspired me to get my certification the summer I got home. If, however, you aren’t an experienced under ice diver, there is still an opportunity to get in the water!
One afternoon a group of us shed all of our cold weather layers, and strode into the 28 degree ocean, (that’s Fahrenheit, if you didn’t already figure that out) dunked our heads under, and then ran into the waiting arms of the spectators who had gathered on the beach. They all had towels for us, and helped us get our numb feet back into our boots. It was such an invigorating experience, that left me wanting to partake in every absurd idea someone throws out there. Or maybe that uninhibited feeling came from the shots they gave us as we climbed back onboard the boat.
5. Amazing Icescapes:
My spell check is telling me that “icescapes” is not a word, but I’m writing to Webster after this, because after visiting Antarctica I have learned that “landscapes” is not an appropriate description. In the rare instances you actually see “land” in Antarctica, it is rock. Beaches are stoney, and everything else is solid rock. I mean, at least as far as I can tell, having never studied geology or earth science, or whatever other applicable ologies there are. Unfortunately that part looks about as mundane as it sounds.
It is extremely lucky though that most of the rock is covered in a layer of snow and ice, transforming a dull landscape into a dynamic and colorful one. I grew up in a place with an average snowfall of 93.4 inches per year. This made me believe that I would never again find snow to be beautiful. Antarctica proved me wrong once again.
Whether you’re floating amongst glaciers, or climbing the slippery ice covered hills, the icescapes in Antarctica are truly a must see.
6. Leopard Seals:
These creatures actually sparked my interest from the beginning. Because I was terrified. Leopard seals are the apex predator in Antarctica, and I was pretty sure they wanted me for a snack. I did manage to survive every encounter I had with one, including the time one followed the zodiac boat I was in all the way to shore. Our expedition guides firmly encouraged us to climb out of the boat on the land side, and not slosh through the water like we often did.
Now, when I look through my photos, I find something almost cute about the formidable creatures, but I still wouldn’t admit that to their faces.
7. The Lemaire Channel:
The morning spent in the Lemaire Channel was one of the highlights of the trip. We experienced it from the deck of the ship, and if I had to choose only one experience in Antarctica to repeat it would have to be this one. Wildlife was abundant, found floating on icebergs, this area is home to the most extraordinary icescapes we saw during the trip, and everyone on the ship layered up and went outside to experience it. Even the guides, who pass through the channel all the time, bring out their cameras and act like tourists with the rest of us. Every time I think back on that morning, it feels like a cold hug. Because it was definitely cold out, but also I felt so embraced by Antarctica
8. Drake Passage:
This has to be the most notorious part of the Antarctic journey, two days of being tossed around the ocean, no land in sight, and trying desperately to keep your meals down. A handful of people never left their beds, others were taking advantage of the motion sickness bags, which were conveniently placed around every 3 feet in the hallways and staircases.
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?!
While the Drake Passage had to be the part everyone was looking forward to the least, it was a really interesting experience. When you’re being tossed about on a ship, gravity plays games with you. For instance, sometimes when you’re going up the stairs you’ll catch a wave, and suddenly it’s like you’re being pulled down. No matter what you do, you can’t go any farther up the stairs. Just when you’ve resigned to being stuck there for the rest of your life, the ship rolls the opposite way. Suddenly its like an invisible hand is pushing you up the stairs.
It was rough, but it was also really incredible. Few people get to safely see how powerful the ocean is first hand. This is your opportunity.
9. The People:
I’ve written before about how the people I met in Antarctica made me feel, but it would be remiss if didn’t include it on this list. Being stuck on a pretty tiny boat for 10+ days allows you to really get to know most of the people on the ship. I can almost guarantee that every person you meet on board will have at least one fascinating story to tell. Whether they’re part of the ship’s staff, expedition guides, or fellow travelers, no one goes to Antarctica without an adventurer’s spirit. And in my opinion, people who try to embrace new experiences to satiate their wanderlust are the best types of people.
So for my entire trip, I was surrounded by the best types of people. I didn’t get along with everyone, and I was often scolded for being too loud in the dining room, but that happens at home too. It didn’t negate anything, I still learned something from everyone I talked to. I drank in the stories people shared, feeling intoxicated by their exotic travels and unusual jobs. And maybe the rum punches I enjoyed every night helped.
Alright alright, this list might only have nine unique things on it, but I had to circle back to how wonderful the penguins were. Whether it was watching them clumsily fall into the water, only to become graceful swimmers, or betting on which penguin sliding on the ice would be the first to the bottom of the hill, I could watch them for hours. Every time I found myself starting to think, “I’ve had enough of the penguins,” they would do something new, most often drawing out an enthusiastic chuckle.
There ya have it folks, nine and a half reasons to spend a lot of money to go to possibly the most remote place on Earth. If you’re considering making it happen, let this be the final thing to push you there. It was worth every dime, and I don’t think there is anyone I traveled with who would believe differently.