The northernmost extension of the Antarctic continent...
One of the main reasons to embark on an Antarctic Cruise is, of course, to step foot on the Antarctic Peninsula itself. This thin string of islands, covered in a sheet of ice, juts away from the mainland and is shaped like a crooked finger pointing northwards towards South America. Covered in steep glaciated mountains and deep snow, it is virtually impossible to cross without flying over it, meaning most cruise boats will either head east or west to avoid it.
Crossing into the area known as the Antarctic Sound, the change in seascapes and colours become immediately apparent. Mesmerising hues of blues and whites reflect off giant icebergs with flat table-tops, driven northwards by powerful winds and currents from the ice shelves in the Weddell Sea, while steep, tumbling glaciers flow directly into the water. Offering some of the most spectacular sailing in Antarctica, whether it is amongst the ice floes in the Weddell Sea or through the jagged peak-lined fjords of Neumayer and Lemaire, the Peninsula is not to be missed.
Despite its inhospitable appearance, this area of Antarctica still attracts a variety of wildlife and species. At the very tip of the Peninsula is the tuya of Brown Bluff; an ancient volcano which erupted from within a glacier, forming a rare geological phenomenon. With a flat top and towering cliffs, it plays home to nesting gentoo and Adélie penguins as well as Kelp gulls, Cape petrels and Snow petrels. Paulet Island, in the Weddell Sea, is also a volcanic island, which, in breeding season, becomes home to more than 80 000 entertaining Adélie penguins. The southerly Snow Hill Island offers the chance to watch skuas and huge numbers of king penguins who favour the drier, eastern side of the Peninsula. Favourite spots for zodiac expeditions, these islands offer a chance to see these remarkable colonies close-up.
Where there are large penguin colonies and krill-filled waters, seals will inevitably follow, meaning the Peninsula is also a popular spot to see crabeater, Weddell, leopard and southern elephant seals. It is also in the areas around the magical Paradise Bay and the wide-open waters of the Gerlaiche Strait that minke, humpback and killer whales are regularly seen and heard.
Whether you manage to make it onto the Antarctic Peninsula itself or enjoy the breath-taking surroundings from the observation deck of your cruise vessel, the sights and sounds of this challenging and jaw-droppingly beautiful continent with its sculpted icescapes and abundant wildlife will stay with you forever.