It’s the beginning of summer in Antarctica. Penguin chicks are growing rapidly. Blue whales are migrating through. Antarctica tourism has been increasingly blowing up the past few years, and cruise ships (it’s not mostly a place one can explore by land) will take you past some of the continent’s most breathtakingly gorgeous spots. From emperor penguins to bull elephant seals to calving icebergs, here are 10 of the region’s most stunning areas. MORE: In case you get thirsty, Antarctica actually has its own distillery
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Punta Arenas is the capital of the southern Chilean region known as Magallanes and Antarctica Chilena. This is likely the biggest city you’ll see on your trip through the region -- the population is around 124,000 -- and serves as a bustling base camp for many Antarctica excursions.
Known as the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina is likely where your Antarctica trip will begin. It’s a tourist destination in its own right, known for Tierra del Fuego National Park and an arts summit called Bienal de Arte Contemporáneo del Fin del Mundo -- Biennial of Contemporary Art at the End of the World.
Now that the temperatures are above freezing, the pack ice is melting enough for cruise ships to pass through Drake Passage, the main route down from South America. The crossing extends about 600 miles from the tip of Chile down to ...
The South Shetland Islands
The South Shetland Islands lie to the north of the main Antarctic Peninsula, and in addition to being home to a number of scientific research stations, they're popular among penguins, seals, and the cruise ship passengers who enjoy viewing them. There are around a dozen islands, including ...
Deception Island is a long-time favorite among Antarctica visitors. A former whaling station, these days the Deception Island harbor plays hosts to tourists and scientists alike -- it’s one of the places you’ll be able to leave your ship and see all those penguins from land.
The northernmost stretch of Antarctica -- and thus the first part of the continent many visitors will see -- is the Antarctic Peninsula. Keep an eye out for minke and humpback whales. And penguins, of course.
South Orkney Islands
Northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula lie the South Orkney Islands. Frigid, windy, and generally inhospitable, these magnificent islands are nonetheless home to two research stations, plus chinstrap and Adéie penguins.
About 250 miles south of Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands are a must-see on any Antarctica trip -- especially for birdwatchers, who will find dozens of species of seabirds and five varieties of (yup) penguins. Technically, you’re still in South America here; Ushuaia is the southernmost South American city; this is the southernmost South American anything.
South Georgia Island
Teeming with penguins and seals (both elephant and fur), South Georgia is even better-known for its pristine glaciers and fjords. It’s part of the same territory as a chain of smaller, less-trafficked islands to the southeast known as the South Sandwich Islands, which includes ...
The South Sandwich Islands are, as a group, much less famous than the ever-popular South Georgia. But one of them, Zavodovski Island, is where you’ll find one of the largest penguin colonies anywhere in the world -- around 1 million mated pairs of chinstrap penguins, huddles against the slopes of a volcano.