Where to go

South Orkney Islands

Mountainous and covered in glaciers, the South Orkney Islands are home to nesting penguins and feeding seals...

South Orkney Islands
© Polar Latitudes

The South Orkney Islands are another group of islands in the Southern Ocean, east of the South Shetland Islands. They are 375 miles northeast of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, meaning they are usually visited on route to or from the Antarctic mainland. A huge sub-marine mountain range connects the South Orkney Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula. Surrounded by great icebergs and sea ice, the islands are visited less often as they are often shrouded in mist and can be difficult to land on.

More than 85% glaciated, they consist of four major islands, including Coronation, Signy, Powell and Laurie. Coronation Island being the largest of the four and the most popular landing point, offers the chance to observe penguins nesting in moss beds, along with downy snow petrels at Shingle Cove. Boats may also try to stop at Signy Island, home to a British meteorological island and Laurie Island, the site of Argentina’s meteorological station and incidentally, the oldest continuously run research centre in Antarctica.

The islands were jointly discovered by American and British sealers in 1821. The British sealer, George Powell originally named the islands Powell’s Group, claiming possession of the islands for the British Crown. It was two years later in 1823 that the Scottish sealer James Weddell visited the islands and gave them their current name of the South Orkney Islands. It is suggested that Weddell named these islands after the Scottish Orkney Islands as they are positioned at the same latitude in the south as the Orkney Islands are in the North.

The sealing and whaling industries devastated the islands populations of sea mammals but seal populations have bounced back in recent decades and today the South Orkney Islands are a popular site for feeding seals and nesting chinstrap, Adélie and gentoo penguins.

When to go to the South Orkney Islands:

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    At a glance…South Orkney Islands

  • Size: 240 sq miles
  • Location: 375 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula
  • Recommended time: 2 nights
  • Time to visit: October to March
  • Go here for: Wildlife, photography and adventure
  • Further reading...

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  • Our top five hotel recommendations for South Orkney Islands in 2017/18:

    1. Akademik Ioffe

      Akademik Ioffe

      Originally designed for polar research, the Akademik Ioffe is a modern and comfortable expeditionary-style cruise boat. Stable and ice-strengthened it is well equipped for manoeuvring through ice-filled waters and tackling the Drake Passage. The key selling points for this boat are the attentive... More...

      Our rating:
      5
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      5
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      4
    2. Akademik Sergey Vavilov © Ira Meyer

      Akademik Sergey Vavilov

      Originally built as a Russian research ship designed for polar research, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov has been refurbished into a modern expedition cruise vessel. Stable, quiet and ice-strengthened, the ship is perfect for exploring Antarctic waters. The main selling points of this ship are the wide... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      4
    3. Hebridean Sky

      Hebridean Sky

      The best small luxury-expedition boat in its category, the Hebridean Sky has some of the best facilities, one of the top passenger to crew ratios and all suite accommodation, making it a great choice for those looking for an adventurous cruise without compromising on elegance and on-board comforts... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      4
    4. Sea Adventurer

      Sea Adventurer

      The Sea Adventurer is a comfortable and classically styled ice-strengthened expedition ship offering a range of different itineraries, including fly and cruise itineraries. Somewhere between the Ocean Nova and the Hebridean Sky, the Sea Adventurer is a good option for those looking for a mix of... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      4
    5. © Antarpply Expeditions

      The Ushuaia

      The Ushuaia is the best value boat that we offer, whilst still providing passengers with an unforgettable experience of one of the most extraordinary places on the planet. Originally built for the US agency NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) but has since been refurbished and... More...

      Our rating:
      5
      User rating:
      5
      Price:
      4