Antarctica is one of the most intrepid destinations that you can visit in the world, and the great southern continent sees few visitors each year.
This is a remote and isolated place, and travel to the region is very much dependent on the weather. And the weather is extreme, ensuring that you need to choose wisely, the best time to visit Antarctica.
For much of the year, the continent is entirely closed off to tourists, and only a few hardy scientists are found braving the cold depths of winter at inhospitable research stations.
Ships and tourist expeditions don’t run during the southern winter, and it’s impossible to travel to Antarctica as a tourist between April and October.
The brief summer season runs from November through to March, and this is the best time to visit Antarctica, and the only time to visit, in fact!
But within this travel window, your experience can vary from month to month. At the start and end of the season, you’ll need to endure rough seas, but you’ll have the chance to see enormous icebergs.
If you want to see the wildlife at its most active then you’ll need to visit between December and February, when the weather is at its best.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re planning your journey to the continent, but to help you out, here’s our guide to choosing the best time to visit Antarctica.
Best Time to Visit Antarctica: Month by Month Breakdown
November is really the beginning of the expedition season is Antarctica, although some ships may begin to depart from Cape Horn to the southern seas in late October.
For most travelers though, November is still a month that many choose to avoid because the continent is still transitioning into spring and then summer. What that means in practical terms, is that the weather is incredibly unpredictable still.
While temperatures are beginning to edge above freezing for the first time in months, the seas can still be rough and it’s possible for storms to strike out of nowhere. If you’re prone to seasickness, this is not a good time to be crossing the Drake Passage from South America.
But while the weather isn’t at its summery best yet, there are many positives to visiting in November. For starters, cruises can be cheaper, but more than this, the landscapes are at their most otherworldly.
With so much snow and ice, it’s possible to join snowshoe tours or even to ski when you visit Antarctica in November, while you’ll also encounter the largest icebergs and the vast ice sheets that have yet to melt.
Life is also beginning to return to the continent in November, and not just in the form of tourists. Albatross and other birds will be seen in the skies, while in the water, Humpback Whales and Minke Whales often begin to return to the southern oceans as things begin to warm up.
You’ll also see penguins and seals, while a fantastic bonus of traveling in November is actually the fact that the sun still sets, meaning you can enjoy fiery Antarctic sunsets in the sky.
Check Quark Expeditions for great deals on expeditions to Antarctica from Oct to Nov.
December is when the tourist season really begins, and this can be the best time to visit Antarctica if you want to experience more of the local wildlife, yet still catch the last remnants of the cold, dark winter that preceded spring earlier in the year.
This isn’t quite peak season yet, but it’s getting there, and you’ll find ships can be quieter and not as crowded, while costs might be slightly lower at the start of the month, than January and February when it’s officially the high season in Antarctica.
The weather is much more pleasant in December than in November, but temperatures are still low, this is Antarctica, remember.
Travel further south, to the Antarctic Peninsula and you can enjoy 24 hours of daylight and experience the midnight sun, while you’ll still have the opportunity to see big icebergs and huge ice sheets in the south.
Wildlife is much more active, especially further north in the South Shetland Islands where things are getting positively warm. You can see the start of the penguin nesting and hatching season, and across the continent, penguin activity is constantly on the up in December.
Whales are more common than in November, as the water begins to get warmer. As you head down south, you might be lucky to spot migratory species as they too make the same journey as you.
And of course, book a tour towards the end of the month and you can even spend Christmas in Antarctica, perhaps the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where you can guarantee that you’ll have a white Christmas!
This is when we explored Antarctica with Quark Expeditions on their MV Sea Adventurer ship that departed from Ushuaia, Argentina and we explored the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula.
January is when the tourist season really begins across the great southern continent, and this is the best time to visit Antarctica if you want to enjoy the best weather and the best of the wildlife.
January and late December are incredibly popular, so you will need to book your expedition far in advance, especially if there are particular places you really want to visit, as itineraries can vary from ship to ship.
This is summer, and you can expect temperatures to reach highs of 15 degrees Celsius, which for Antarctica, is positively scorching hot.
This is a great time for whale watching, as many more species will have made their way here and you might be lucky enough to spot Blue Whales and Orcas from your boat.
On the islands and on the peninsula, penguin chicks are starting to hatch in enormous numbers and it’s the best time to visit Antarctica to see the mass colonies that can number in the tens of thousands in some places, such as on the aptly named Penguin Island.
You’ll have 24 hours of daylight in some places too, and with icebergs and pack ice melting, you can also enjoy plenty of shore excursions that might have been impassable earlier in the season. It’s a good time for kayaking and even, if you’re brave enough, Antarctic camping!
Check Quark Expeditions for great deals on expeditions to Antarctica in January.
February is the end of summer, but this is Antarctica and the weather can change drastically, and quickly. For most of the month, you’ll be enjoying temperatures well above freezing though, but the seas can start to get a little tougher though.
Most of the pack ice and many of the icebergs have melted by February, which means that if you are looking to explore further south, along the Antarctic Peninsula and towards the South Pole, then this is the time to go. For shore excursions, this is also the best time, as bays and harbors are ice-free.
On the islands and the peninsula, you’ll find that the penguins have hatched and the young penguins are learning how to stand on their own feet and survive in the harsh world of the Antarctic. It’s the perfect time to see the penguins in action, as well as their predators such as seals.
Importantly though, February is the best time to visit the Antarctic if you are there for whale watching. This is when the seas are quite literally crowded with whales because by now they’ve all made their migrations to the south.
In the waters of the Antarctic in February you can find an incredible array of different whale species. You’ll see enormous Blue Whales, packs of Orcas hunting, Minke Whales cruising through the waters and many more species too.
Towards the end of February, the weather begins to get much colder, but for most of the month, it’s a great time to be in Antarctica.
Check Quark Expeditions for great deals on expeditions to Antarctica in February.
When March comes around, it’s the end of the tourist season in Antarctica, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good time to travel here. The weather is definitely a lot colder than in the previous summer months, and the days are starting to get shorter too.
In November, at the start of the season the seas, particularly the Drake Passage, will be much rougher and you may want to avoid March if you’re likely to be seasick. Quark Expeditions offers a flight to the Antarctic Peninsula flying over the Drake Passage allowing you to experience Antarctica the fastest and most direct way.
In March though, ships are again less crowded and you’re likely to get a better deal than in peak season, so it’s a more cost-effective time of the year to travel, as long as you don’t mind braving the low temperatures.
You can still see the whales in Antarctica too, and while many might be beginning their long voyage north for the winter months, on your crossing from South America you’ll certainly pass them.
The wildlife on land though is beginning to settle down for the harsh winter months that lie ahead, while many birds may have already migrated to warmer climes.
You might not want to venture too far south either, as the days are much shorter and the weather even colder. The South Sandwich Islands though, are very much still a great place to explore in March, and you can continue to enjoy iconic destinations such as Deception Island, King George Island, and many other places too before the season comes to a close at the end of the month.
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Our trip to Antarctica was in partnership with Quark Expeditions, however all opinions are 100% mine, as always.
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