Best Time To Visit Antarctica

The endless wilderness of Antarctica is accessible by expedition cruise and flights between late October and late March, offering the best possibilities for wildlife viewing and exploring.

When to Visit Antarctica

After a long and harsh winter, Antarctica becomes alive again during the summer months. The first expedition ships arrive in late October and early November with a pristine frozen polar wilderness. By December, the wildlife in Antarctica is bustling with hatching penguins and seals pupping on the remote beaches. In the height of the summer, during January and February, the days are long, the newborn wildlife takes to the waters for the first time, and longer length expeditions to reach the polar circle are possible. In March, the whales are at the height of their activity as the sea ice returns.

Each month in Antarctica offers the explorer a different experience, and many guests return to visit at other times of the year. This guide, produced by our in-house polar experts with decades of firsthand experience of visiting Antarctica, provides a detailed breakdown of the best time to visit Antarctica, with month-by-month highlights of what to expect to help you plan your expedition.

Antarctica Month By Month Guide

when is the best time to visit Antarctica glaciers and sun

Visiting Antarctica in October 

Visiting Antarctica in October has its unique appeal. However, it's important to note that October is considered the late spring season, and certain factors, such as weather conditions and sea ice, can influence the overall experience. There are few cruises to Antarctica this early in the season, but if you do choose to visit in October, these are some of the potential highlights:

Pristine Landscapes

October marks the beginning of the Antarctic travel season. The landscape is still covered in snow and ice, providing a pristine and untouched appearance. The scenery is breathtaking, with towering icebergs, glaciers, and vast expanses of white wilderness.

Early Wildlife Preparations

During October, wildlife becomes more active as the breeding season approaches. Penguins, seals, and seabirds are preparing for nesting, and you may witness their behaviours as they establish territories and build nests.

Photography Opportunities

Antarctica's soft light in late spring can create stunning photographic opportunities. The pristine ice formations, wildlife activities, and unique lighting conditions can create captivating images.

Fewer Visitors

October is considered the shoulder season, with fewer tourists than the peak months of the austral summer (November to March). This can provide a more intimate and quieter experience, with fewer expedition vessels in the area.

While October has its advantages, there are also considerations to consider. The weather can be colder, and sea ice conditions may limit access to certain areas. Wildlife activities are in the early stages, and you may not witness the peak of breeding season behaviours. If you're seeking warmer temperatures and a higher likelihood of wildlife sightings, visiting later in the austral summer may be more suitable. 

Visiting Antarctica in November

Visiting Antarctica in November marks the beginning of the austral summer and offers unique highlights. Here are some key aspects to consider:

Penguin Courtship and Nesting

November is the start of the breeding season for penguins. A highlight can be witnessing the courtship rituals, nest-building, and egg-laying activities of various penguin species, such as Adélie, Gentoo, and chinstrap penguins.

Seal Pups

Seals, including Weddell and crabeater seals, give birth to their pups in November. This is an opportune time to observe seal colonies with newborn pups, witnessing their early interactions and behaviours.

Whale Watching

November is a good time for whale watching in Antarctica. Humpback whales, minke whales, and orcas are among the species that may be spotted. This is a chance to witness these majestic creatures return to feed in the Antarctic waters.

Wildflower Blooms Arrive

While Antarctica is not known for its plant life, some hardy mosses and lichens experience a brief period of growth during the austral summer. In November, you may see the emergence of these tiny plants, adding a touch of colour to the landscape.

Migratory Birds

November sees the return of migratory seabirds to Antarctica for the breeding season. This time, species like skuas, petrels, and sheathbills can be observed.

Ice and Snowscapes

The landscapes are still pristine, with extensive ice formations and snow-covered terrain. The soft lighting of late spring can create beautiful and unique scenes for photography.

Fewer Visitors

November is the beginning of the Antarctic travel season, and there are generally fewer tourists compared to the peak months of December to February. This can provide a more intimate and less crowded experience.

While November offers exciting opportunities, it's important to note that conditions can be colder compared to later in the season. Access to certain areas may still be limited by sea ice, and wildlife activities are in the early stages. 

Visiting Antarctica in December

Visiting Antarctica in December is considered the peak of the austral summer and offers a range of highlights. Here are some key highlights of visiting in December.

Penguin Chicks

In December, many penguin chicks hatch, and you can observe adult penguins actively caring for and feeding their young. Adélie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins, among others, provide adorable and photogenic scenes.

Seal Pups and Seal Activities

December is a prime time to observe seal pups, particularly Weddell and crabeater seals. You can witness seal colonies with playful pups and keep various seal species engaging in behaviours such as basking on ice floes.

Whale Watching

December offers good opportunities for whale watching in Antarctica. Humpback whales, minke whales, orcas, and other whale species are often seen feeding and breaching in the waters surrounding the continent.

Migratory Birds

December is suitable for birdwatchers as migratory seabirds, such as skuas, petrels, and sheathbills, actively nest and engage in breeding behaviors.  

Midnight Sun

Antarctica experiences long daylight hours in December due to the midnight sun phenomenon. This provides ample opportunities for extended wildlife viewing, photography, and exploration without the constraints of darkness.

Warmest Temperatures

While temperatures in Antarctica are still relatively cold, December tends to be one of the warmer months of the austral summer. Warmer temperatures make outdoor activities more comfortable for visitors.

It's essential to plan your trip well in advance, as December is a popular time for Antarctic expeditions, and cruise availability may be limited. 

Visiting Antarctica in January

Visiting Antarctica in January is often considered the height of the austral summer and offers numerous highlights. 

Peak Wildlife Activity

January is a month of peak wildlife activity in Antarctica. As chicks grow, penguin colonies bustle with life, and adults feed and care for them. Seals, including Weddell and crabeater seals, can be observed in various stages of their life cycles.

Penguin Chicks and Moulting

In January, many penguin chicks are in the late stages of their development, making it an ideal time to witness adorable and active penguin colonies. Additionally, some penguin species undergo their annual moulting process during this month.

Whale Watching

January is a good time for whale watching in Antarctica. Humpback, minke, orcas, and other whale species are frequently spotted in nutrient-rich waters. This is a perfect opportunity to witness their feeding and breaching behaviours and, if lucky, on a Zodiac ride up close.

Seal Pups

Seal colonies continue to be active with seal pups, providing opportunities to observe their playful behaviour and interactions with adults. Leopard seals, known for their menacing jaws, are often seen on ice floes.

Migratory Birds

January is still a time when migratory seabirds are active in Antarctica. Skuas, petrels, and other bird species are involved in nesting and breeding activities, making this period exciting for birdwatchers.

Midnight Sun

The Antarctic summer peaks in January, resulting in long daylight hours and the phenomenon of the midnight sun. This provides ample time for outdoor activities, wildlife viewing, and photography without the constraints of darkness.

Warmer Temperatures

January is one of Antarctica's warmest months, making outdoor exploration more comfortable for visitors. However, it's important to note that "warmer" in Antarctica is still relatively cold compared to other destinations.

Planning your trip well in advance is crucial, as January is a peak month for Antarctic tourism, and expedition opportunities may fill up quickly. 

Visiting Antarctica in February

Visiting Antarctica in February continues the austral summer, providing unique opportunities to experience the region's wildlife and landscapes. Here are some highlights of visiting Antarctica in February:

Peak Wildlife Activity

February is still a month of peak wildlife activity in Antarctica. Penguin colonies remain active with chicks, and you can witness various stages of their development. Seals, including Weddell and crabeater seals, stay present, and leopard seals may still be observed.

Whale Watching

February is an excellent month for whale watching in Antarctica. Humpback whales, minke whales, orcas, and other whale species are often spotted, and this is a prime time to witness their feeding behaviours.

Penguin Chicks 

Many penguin chicks still exist in colonies, providing opportunities to observe their behaviour and interactions. Some penguin species undergo moulting during February, adding another exciting aspect to their life cycle.

Seal Pups

Seal colonies remain active with seal pups, offering ongoing opportunities to observe their playful behaviour and interactions with adults. Depending on the specific species, you may still encounter Weddell and crabeater seals with their pups.

Midnight Sun

The midnight sun continues in February, providing extended daylight for outdoor activities, wildlife viewing, and photography.

Warmer Temperatures

February is one of the warmest months in Antarctica, offering more comfortable conditions for outdoor exploration. However, it's important to note that temperatures in Antarctica are still relatively cold compared to other destinations.

Icebergs and Glacial Scenery

In February, the ice formations and glaciers remain stunning. Calving icebergs, towering glacier fronts, and pristine ice-covered landscapes create breathtaking scenes.

End of Breeding Season

February marks the end of the breeding season for many species. Some wildlife, including penguins, may start to disperse from their colonies, but this can also offer unique opportunities to observe their behaviour during this transitional period.

It's essential to plan your trip well in advance, as February is considered a peak month for Antarctica cruises.

Visiting Antarctica in March

Visiting Antarctica in March marks the end of the austral summer, and while wildlife activity may start to decrease, there are still unique highlights to experience:

Penguin Chicks

March is a transitional period, but you may still encounter penguin chicks in various stages of development. Observing their growth and interactions with adult penguins can be a highlight.

Seal Pups

Seal colonies, especially those of Weddell seals and crabeater seals, may still have pups. This provides opportunities to witness the last stages of seal pupping and observe their behaviour.

Whale Watching

March is considered an excellent month for whale watching as many species, including fins, humpbacks, minkes, and orcas, are most active now. 

Birdwatching

March sees the continued presence of migratory seabirds. Although some species may start their migration north, others may still actively engage in breeding and nesting activities, offering opportunities for birdwatchers.

Stunning Landscapes

In March, the ice formations and glacial landscapes are still impressive. Icebergs, glaciers, and the unique scenery of Antarctica provide fantastic photo opportunities.

Sunset Photography

March brings shorter days as the Antarctic summer ends. This can provide unique opportunities for sunset photography, capturing the beauty of the landscape in softer lighting.

Fewer Visitors

March is the tail end of the tourist season in Antarctica, and there are generally fewer visitors compared to the peak months of December to February. This can result in a quieter and more intimate experience.

It's important to note that March marks the beginning of autumn in Antarctica, and temperatures may drop. Also, due to sea ice formation, access to some areas may become limited. While wildlife activity may not be at its peak, the quieter atmosphere and unique lighting conditions can make March a memorable and more serene experience.

Visiting Antarctica Between April - September

Visiting Antarctica between April and September is challenging due to the harsh winter conditions. During this period, the continent experiences extreme cold, long nights, and extensive sea ice, making it nearly inaccessible for most travellers. There are no expedition cruises to Antarctica during these winter months.

Several factors contribute to the challenging conditions:

Extreme Cold

Antarctica's temperatures can be extremely low during the winter, often well below freezing. Combined with strong winds, the wind chill can create a harsh, inhospitable environment for extended periods.

Long Polar Night

From late April to mid-September, Antarctica is in the midst of its polar night. This means the sun remains below the horizon, resulting in continuous darkness for several months. The absence of sunlight limits visibility and makes outdoor activities challenging.

Sea Ice

Sea ice coverage increases significantly during winter, making maritime travel difficult. The frozen expanses of sea ice hinder access to many areas along the Antarctic coastline.

Limited Wildlife Activity

Most wildlife in Antarctica is adapted to the harsh conditions but tends to be less active during the winter. Many species, including penguins, seals, and migratory birds, migrate north or spend the winter months in the sea.

Isolation and Safety Concerns

Inhospitable conditions, limited infrastructure, and support services make winter travel to Antarctica logistically challenging and potentially dangerous. Few research stations operate during this period, and visitor access is highly restricted.

While visiting Antarctica during the winter months is not practical for tourists, it is crucial for scientific research. Researchers stationed at various Antarctic research stations continue their work during the winter, contributing to our understanding of the region's climate, geology, and biology.

If you are interested in experiencing Antarctica, the austral summer months (November to March) offer the best opportunities for exploration, wildlife observation, and a more comfortable travel experience. 

Best Time To Visit Antarctica To See Wildlife

The best time to visit Antarctica to see wildlife is between November and March during the summer, which coincides with the expedition cruising season. Due to the extreme temperatures during the winter, most of the wildlife leaves Antarctica, except a few species, such as the Emperor and Adelie Penguins, due to its inhospitable climate.

The best month for wildlife watching in Antarctica depends on your individual preferences and what breeding cycles you would like to witness.

Best Time to Visit Antarctica to See Penguins

The best time to see penguins in Antarctica is between November and March. During this period, the temperatures are relatively milder, and the sea ice has receded, allowing easier access to various penguin colonies.

November and December are exciting times for penguin observation. During these months, you can witness the nesting and breeding activities of penguins and the hatching of chicks. Penguins such as Adélie, Chinstrap, and Gentoo build nests and lay eggs during this time.

January and February are also excellent months for observing penguins. The chicks are more visible, and the penguin colonies are bustling with activity. Penguins feed their chicks actively, and you may observe interactions between adults and their young.

Best Time to Visit Antarctica to See Whales

The best time to see whales in Antarctica is during the austral summer, which runs from November to March. The weather conditions are more favourable for travel, and the sea ice has melted enough to access various parts of the region.

The specific timing within this period can impact the types of whales you may encounter. November and December are often the best months for seeing feeding and courtship behaviours and witnessing newborn seal pups and penguin chicks. January, February and Early March are peak months for whale watching, with increased whale activity, particularly around the Antarctic Peninsula.

During this time, you may have the opportunity to see various whale species, including humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, orcas, and occasionally blue whales. Remember that wildlife sightings can vary, and there are no guarantees, but the austral summer provides the best chance for observing whales in Antarctica.

Best Time to Visit Antarctica To See Seals

Antarctica is home to various seal species, including Weddell seals, crabeater seals, leopard seals, fur seals, Ross seals and Southern elephant seals. Seals are frequently sighted in Antarctica between November and March, and they are most active during this time, engaging in breeding, pupping, and other behaviours. 

November and December are the best months to witness mother seals giving birth to their pups, watching the newborns litter the beaches, and swimming for the first time.

January and February offer the most active months for seal-watching in Antarctica. Seals continue to pup during this period, and leopard seals commonly rest on ice flows with their furious-looking jaws.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Photography

The best time to visit Antarctica for photography is between November and March. Still, the best month depends on your interests (wildlife or landscape) and the images you want to capture. 

November & December (Late Spring and Early Summer)

The early season is the best time to visit Antarctica if you are a landscape photographer looking to capture the pristine white wilderness as it emerges from the winter. Most of the landscape is covered by snow, and it is an excellent time to capture ice formations and the best chance of photographing sea ice. 

January and February (Mid-Summer)

The best time to visit Antarctica for wildlife photography is during the peak summer months when the wildlife is most active on the Antarctic Peninsula. Penguin rookeries are fully alive, and elephant seals line the beaches. The longer days lead to more possibilities to explore, and the temperatures are at their mildest.

February and March (Late Summer and Early Autumn)

The end of the season, as the sun begins to lower in the sky, offers dramatic light conditions for landscape photographers. It is also the best time of year to see whales in Antarctica. Other wildlife, including penguins and seals, are still active. Towards the end of March, snow and sea ice return, offering countless photography opportunities. 

 

Best Time To Visit Antarctica For An Expedition Cruise

The best time to visit Antarctica to embark on an expedition cruise is during the summer between November and March. This season offers the best possibilities for wildlife viewing, the mildest temperatures and the best access with the most favourable weather conditions and sea ice extent. Different types of cruises to Antarctica take place at throughout the summer season. Search our Antarctica Cruises here.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Fly and Cruise Expeditions

Fly-and-cruise expeditions to Antarctica occur during the summer between the end of November and early March. This window offers the best conditions for charter planes to land on King George Island. Flying to Antarctica to join a fly-and-cruise expedition is only possible in November and after early March.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Polar Circle Cruises

Expedition cruises that venture further south along the Antarctic peninsula to cross the polar circle occur at the end of the season, in February and March, when the sea ice extent is at its furthest south, and the region becomes more accessible to ships.

A great reason to visit Antarctica now is that whales are at their most active and frequently sighted. Species, including humpbacks, minkes, and fin whales, are often seen on polar circle cruises.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Cruises Visiting the Falkland Islands and South Georgia

Between November and March, expedition cruises visiting the Antarctic Peninsula and stopping en route at South Georgia and the Falkland Islands occur. The best time to visit Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands comes down to what wildlife you want to experience. 

In November, King Penguins return to their rookeries in South Georgia to start incubating their eggs. At St Andrews Bay, over 400,000 pairs of King Penguins nest in one of the largest rookeries on Earth. The beaches are full of elephant seal pups, and the vast bird life returns. Wildlife is most active in January and February, although sizeable male fur seals can often take over beaches and prevent shore landings. February and March offer excellent opportunities to encounter baby fur seals and King Penguin chicks that line the beaches.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Ross Sea Cruises

Only a handful of cruise ships visit the Ross Sea each year. Due to its more southerly and extreme location than the Antarctic Peninsula, cruises to the Ross Sea only operate in January and February at the height of the Antarctic summer when there are 24 hours of daylight and the conditions are at the mildest. Outside of these two months, visiting the Ross Sea is impossible due to the amount of sea ice and extreme temperatures.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Weddell Sea Cruises

Due to the thick sea ice that the Weddell Sea is known for, cruises for the Weddell Sea usually take place later in the season. The best time to cruise to the Weddell Sea is in late February and March when the sea ice extent is at its lowest and offers the best chance to visit wild and rarely visited locations. It is also possible to see the Weddell Sea earlier in the season in November on a luxury icebreaker cruise, which offers a truly unique experience to encounter the unexplored.

Best Time to Fly To Antarctica (and visit the South Pole)

Due to the extreme climate at the South Pole, flights to Antarctica have a minimal season and only occur during the summers. December and January are the best times to fly to Antarctica and visit the South Pole. Outside of these months, flying to the South Pole is impossible.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Kayaking

The best time to visit Antarctica for kayaking is at the height of the summer between late November and February. This period offers more favourable conditions for kayaking due to milder temperatures, reduced sea ice, and longer daylight hours. 

During these months, the sea ice is generally at its minimum, creating more open water for kayaking. The warmer temperatures make the experience more comfortable, and the extended daylight hours provide ample time for exploration. Remember that specific weather and ice conditions can vary each year, so it's crucial to choose a reputable expedition company with experienced guides who can adapt to the conditions.

If you would like to participate in kayaking as part of your expedition cruise, we will provide advice about the best cruise options for kayaking in Antarctica. Please get in touch with our Travel Experience Team, who will assist you.

Best Time To Visit Antarctica for Camping

Camping in Antarctica is limited to the peak summer months, from November to February, when temperatures are more conducive for outdoor activities. 

During these months, nature enthusiasts can experience the unique thrill of spending a night in the pristine wilderness of Antarctica as part of their expedition cruise.

If you would like to participate in camping as part of your expedition cruise, we will advise you about the best cruise options in Antarctica. Please contact our Travel Experience Team, who will assist you.

Help to choose the best time to visit Antarctica for your Interests

Here at North Pole Cruises, we are the experts in Antarctica, with decades of collective firsthand knowledge exploring the polar regions. We are happy to help you choose the best time to visit Antarctica based on your preferred travel dates and what you want to see and experience. Please get in touch with our knowledgeable Travel Experience Team. We will provide free, no-obligation advice to help you decide on the best month, ship and itinerary.

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