UPDATED Feb 2024
Immersive, interactive and a whole lot of fun – Antarctica activities make expeditions to the ends of the world truly memorable odysseys.
Antarctica often comes across as a travel destination that provides, primarily, magnificent visual feasting. Yet aside from the phenomenal wildlife spotting and intense scenery, this is a continent that also offers a stunning array of fantastic activities. Yes, the silence of Antarctica may well be deafening yet, sometimes, it is shattered by the excited squeals of cruise passengers taking a polar plunge.
A WHAT, you ask?!
There’s a world of fun to be had in the far south of our planet with a wealth of Antarctica activities aimed at adventure seekers of all ages and fitness levels. Not every expedition ship to the White Continent offers all the options detailed below, however, so if there’s a specific activity that you’d love to try on your own unforgettable journey, let us know and we’ll guide you to the right vessels.
Shore excursions are the backbone of almost all Antarctica excursions, with most ships making landfall at least once every day once they reach the continent. The weather plays a huge role in your daily itinerary down here, although given the sheer array of fantastic landing sites all over – from the South Shetland Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falklands – there are plenty of options your Captain can choose from. On-shore excursions in Antarctica allow you to visit scientific research stations, prominent penguin and seal colonies and take hikes to elevated viewing points for fantastic photography.
Strict guidelines set out by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) forbid cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers from landing their guests onshore. Antarctica really is the epitome realm of small ship cruising – not only does a smaller expedition ship allow you the priceless chance to set foot on the Antarctic continent but it also means you can explore smaller and shallower coves, sail closer to icebergs and simply explore parts of the rugged coastline that large ships simply can’t get to.
Sturdy, rubber, inflatable Zodiacs are the zippy boats that allow for shore excursions and they are the primary reason you should boast a decent level of agility if you want to get off your Antarctica cruise ship. Zodiac outings are absolute highlights of their own accord and not just an efficient way to set foot ashore.
On these nifty powerboats, you’ll be cruising the coastline in search of superb landing sites and be closer to the water for exceptional marine life spotting. In fact, some of the most unforgettable whale spotting experiences we’ve ever had have been on Zodiac outings – particularly as they can be launched swiftly in the case of a last-minute whale visit.
An altogether different Antarctica activity is sea kayaking, an ethereal experience that is hard to describe. You can paddle your way through the tranquil waters of Antarctica no matter your level of fitness, always accompanied by experienced guides and a small group of fellow kayakers. One of the most relaxing yet overwhelming excursions on offer, sea kayaking comes with an added level of quietness which, coupled with the gargantuan landscapes, makes for a soul-stirring experience.
This is, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular optional activities on Antarctica cruises and most guests book their slot even before boarding their ship. You may want to do the same as this is the one amazing activity you won’t want to miss.
Fit, active and ready for a challenge?? Then a stint of cross-country skiing in Antarctica may just be the activity for you. Take in the unbeatable scenery of the continent’s remotest regions while skiing off the beaten track and you’ll see places very few cruise passengers ever get to see. You don’t need to be a professional skier to give this a crack but some previous experience is required.
As if experiencing Antarctica above sea level isn’t mesmerizing enough, you can also take the deep plunge and explore the continent’s sensational underwater world. One of the world’s most unique scuba destinations, Antarctica offers ethereal experiences, with ice formations and an abundance of light creating a kaleidoscope of colours.
You may even be lucky enough to frolic with penguins and seals underwater. One of the more specialised and unique activities on offer in Antarctica, scuba diving here is not for beginners and does require you to have cold water diving experience and suitable dry suit experience. Only a limited number of expedition ships offer diving in Antarctica so if this is at the top of your must-do list, ask us for a list of available cruise ships.
Want to tick something unique off your bucket list? Then ice camping in Antarctica it is! With all the camping gear provided, spending a night out on the Antarctic shelf is ever so easy although chances you will actually get any sleep are quite slim. The excitement of it all will likely keep you up all night! From the lure of the midnight sun to the otherworldly spectacle of a dimly-lit sky, a night spent under the Antarctic sky is something to behold. This is undoubtedly one of the most breath-taking camping experiences you will ever have. Anywhere.
Camping is yet again a very popular activity in Antarctica so you’ll want to reserve your spot on the ice way ahead of time.
One step beyond cross-country skiing, in terms of challenge and adventure, mountaineering excursions in Antarctica are the stuff of legends. Push yourself just a little bit further and you can bag an exciting climb to the peak of an Antarctic mountain. Available on selected voyages only and requiring a somewhat decent level of fitness (given the snowy terrain, need for snowshoeing dexterity and uphill walking) mountaineering trips set themselves apart from general snowshoeing excursions, as they cross glaciated areas which require a certain level of care and experience. Groups are usually kept quite small for safety (up to 12 guests), with everyone tied together across the hairiest crevasse crossings.
Whilst not an Antarctic activity that’s suitable for everyone, mountaineering is an absolute dream-come-true for the right adventure-seeker.
Need some inspiration? Check out the crazy tale of this awe-inspiring mountaineering journey.
Now here’s something everyone can do! Standing in awe in front of a ginormous penguin colony is the absolute dream of everyone who heads to Antarctica and, luckily, you need not venture far to enjoy superlative bird and wildlife spotting on this surprisingly diverse continent. What kind of wildlife and birds you will see on your voyage will highly depend on your chosen destinations and the time of year you travel. Learn more about the unique and hardy Antarctic wildlife before you travel.
Hiking excursions are among the most popular options in Antarctica as many itineraries are short and suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. Guided hikes lead you to amazing vantage points and allow even closer interaction with local wildlife, so don’t forget to pack your camera!
And here are some more packing tips for Antarctica.
Capture the Antarctic wonderland at its most beautiful with guided photography tours that cater to all skills level. This optional extra includes several workshops, presentations and excursions – please note that this activity requires you to bring your own camera. Get the ball rolling with these 11 Essential Tips for Antarctic Photography.
The Ocean Endeavour, one of our favourite ships, also has a dedicated photography program that might interest you.
The crazy tradition of jumping into icy waters is perhaps the most famous of all the activities in Antarctica. Certainly, the most iconic. The (in)famous polar plunge can be taken from two jumping points: either directly from your ship or (perhaps more agonisingly slow) from ashore on Deception Island. The former really is the way to go: you can’t exactly chicken out when you’re halfway between the jumping platform and the water whereas, when you take a run up on the beach, your brain will be telling to STOP.RIGHT.THERE. the moment your toes hit the sea.
Either way, an absolutely crazy and invigorating activity and about the most unique plunge you’ll ever take in your life! Learn all there is to know about the polar plunge in Antarctica and do heed Megan’s advice: be the first to jump!
At Chimu Adventures, we’re in the business of making all your Antarctica activities dreams come true. Once you're worked through your top Antarctica planning questions, we can match you with the right expedition ship, itinerary, duration and budget and can help you secure your most desired excursion. Learn more on our (seriously) comprehensive Antarctica Travel Guide, where we detail the best ships, itineraries, highlights, costs, best time to travel and more – see our vast collection of Antarctica expeditions and, as always, you can contact us for more personalised advice.