Paradise Harbour Travel Guide

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It's the coldest and windiest place on earth, cut off from civilisation by Drake's Passage, 1,000km (621 miles) of treacherous sea that would strike fear into the hearts of sailors in days gone by.

Yet the White Continent has also become one of the must-see destinations for adventurous tourists keen to tick off the last continent and see the vast wilderness that has spawned so many famous explorers over the past 100 years - including Amundsen, Cook and Shackleton.

It's a land of snow-capped mountains, dramatic rock formations and ice fjords, so cold that no plant life can exist and only a few birds and mammals survive. In summer, from November to March, there are floating icebergs the size of six-storey buildings; come winter the sea freezes into a layer up to two metres thick, effectively doubling the size of the continent.

Tourists can visit the White Continent on exploration-style cruise ships that sail around the Antarctic Peninsula, stopping at key sights so passengers can visit colonies of penguins, have a dip in the volcano-heated waters off Pendulum Cove in Deception Island or take a boat ride around giant icebergs in inflatable Zodiacs.

Typically, Antarctic cruises leave and return to Ushuaia, at the southern-most tip of Argentina, for 10-night cruises that visit all the top spots, although there are longer cruises that also visit the Falkland Islands.

As well as Deception Island, there are often landings on King George Island, home to elephant seals, Adélie and chinstrap penguins, skuas, petrels and other birds, and Paradise Bay, where gentoo penguins live surrounded by imposing mountains and creeping glaciers.
Antarctica is the most remote place on earth; a frozen world more than 50 times the size of the UK that spends half the year in total darkness.


Sightseeing in Antarctica is not like visiting a big city or ancient monument. There are no restaurants or bars, no souvenir shops - although some scientists set up stalls for visiting tourists, selling maps and home-drawn pictures - and no old relics to see.

Antarctica is all about scenery and wildlife, which is carefully protected to make sure the natural splendour of the region isn't compromised. Only 100 passengers are allowed on land at a time, and then only for a limited period, sometimes just an hour, depending on the size of the ship.

Cruise ships have set itineraries, but Antarctica's weather is notorious, changing from glorious sunshine to a complete white-out in seconds, from clear water to thick ice floes in minutes, so captains navigate according to the conditions.


• Take a dip in the thermal waters on Deception Island. The island you see today was formed by a volcanic eruption, which caused its peak to explode and left a huge caldera (crater) inside the island. The volcano is still active - the last eruption was 1991-92. Marine animals stay away from the caldera because the water is too warm but huge numbers of penguins live on the rocks.

• Look out for penguins at Half-Moon Island. It's only 2-km (1.3-miles) long, but the island has some dramatic rock formations, multi-coloured lichens and a large population of chinstrap penguins, which nest on the wind-swept outcrops of rock. Whales are often spotted patrolling the shores.

• Be on deck for a scenic cruise through the Lemaire Channel, a narrow passage -1,600m (5,249ft) at its widest point - separating the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island. The channel is often nicknamed Kodak Gap because the scenery is so stunning: steep cliffs, mountain peaks, icebergs, as well as the chance to spot minke or humpback whales.

• Walk among the world's southernmost colony of gentoo penguins on Petermann Island. Ships reach the island through the Lemaire Channel provided the latter is not blocked with icebergs. The 2-km (1.6-mile) long island is also home to a colony of Adélie penguins.

• Get kitted out in coats, boots and hats for a landing in Paradise Harbour, one of the most aptly-named places in Antarctica, with glaciated mountains and ice cliffs affording protection to the harbour. Most cruise ships take passengers ashore here, to walk amid the gentoo penguin colony.

• Have cameras at the ready for a cruise through the Gerlache Strait. The strait separates the Palmer Archipelago from the Antarctic Peninsula and is a popular spot with visiting cruise ships as it's a favourite hangout for humpback and minke whales, chinstrap penguins and leopard seals.

• See the light with the halo phenomenon. Halo displays occur frequently in Antarctica and are an atmospheric happening caused by the refraction of light by ice crystals. They are particularly bright when they form in diamond dust. The most common halo shows as a rainbow circle around the sun, sometimes with a secondary circle around it.

• See Elephant Island, where 21 of Sir Ernest Shackleton's crew lived for four months in 1916 while their leader went for help. The crew lived under an upturned boat, surviving on seal blubber, never knowing if help would arrive. The island is named for its large colony of elephant seals, but also has a large colony of penguins.

Transfer notes

Landings are made at Deception Island, Paradise Harbour and Half-Moon Island - all by inflatable Zodiacs (there are no piers or terminals in the Antarctic) - and most cruise ships also sail down 'iceberg alley' (so named for the giant 'bergs that line the route), through the Gerlache Strait and Lemaire Channel. Most cruisers go to Elephant Island.

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