The most accessible part of the continent, the beautiful Antarctic Peninsula extends a welcoming arm north toward South America’s Tierra del Fuego as if beckoning visitors. And intrepid travelers do come, for the Antarctic Peninsula, the warmest part of the continent (facetiously called the ‘Banana Belt’) is Antarctica’s major breeding ground for seabirds, seals and penguins.
With its dramatic landscapes of steep snow-covered peaks, often plunging straight into the sea, and with narrow iceberg-studded channels weaving between countless islands and the mountainous mainland, the Peninsula also offers some of Antarctica’s most stunning scenery.
In recent decades, tourist landings have concentrated on sites along the western coast of the central Peninsula; relatively few ships of any sort visit the Weddell Sea, on the Peninsula’s eastern side. It has, indeed, earned its reputation as an ice-choked ship-eater. Shackleton’s Endurance is only the most famous example of the half-dozen vessels crushed there.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Antarctic Peninsula.
The Swedish South Polar Expedition’s prefabricated black-walled hut, the Antarctic Peninsula’s oldest remaining building, is a protected historic site. This dwelling, in which five Swedish and one Argentine scientist spent an unplanned two years, sits on a fragile beach terrace easily eroded by footsteps. The 6m-by-8m hut contains three double bunks, a kitchen and a central living room. Two large metal signs in Spanish describe the site’s history, as do leaflets in English inside the hut. Two angled wooden planks, original to the design, support the northeast wall. The Argentine government, whose Marambio Station on Seymour Island is 21km northeast, maintains the hut. No more than five people are allowed in the hut at a time, with no visits between 7pm and 8am. Behind the hut is a snowless ravine, where visitors can pluck fossils of clams and ammonites from the gravel to show to one another (but not take them!).
On the fast ice about 400m from the low ice cliffs on Snow Hill Island’s south coast is Antarctica’s northernmost (and most accessible) emperor penguin rookery. First sighted from a small aircraft in 1997, it was finally visited in 2004 by a Russian icebreaker carrying tourists. The colony is estimated to hold more than 4000 breeding pairs.