The Antarctic Peninsula is the most-visited region of Antarctica. This northward-reaching extension of the polar continent reaches within 1000 miles of the southernmost tips of Chile and Argentina. It includes both the landmass of the actual continent of Antarctica, numerous islands, and the ice sheets that extend and connect many of these bodies of land.
- Brown Bluff.
- Cierva Cove. While no landings are possible due to land areas being designated areas of special scientific interest, the cove is home to dozens of leopard seals which lounge on the ice flows.
- Deception Island.
- Baily Head. Home to the world's second-largest colony of chinstrap penguins, set amidst an incredible natural amphitheatre. The penguins come and go from the colony through a narrow passage, with thousands of penguins following American driving rules by always walking on the right.
- Whaler's Bay. Hot springs, the remains of an old whaling station, and the remains of a British Antarctic Survey base destroyed by eruptions that lasted from 1967 through 1970 are the highlights of this stop.
- Pendulum Cove. A popular spot for visitors wanting to take a swim in the hot springs and thus claim the distinction of having swum in Antarctic waters.
- Gerlache Straits. A body of water that stretches along much of the western side of the peninsula and offers amazing opportunities for whale watching.
- Hannah Point.
- Palmer Station.
- Paradise Harbour.
- Paulet Island. A volcanic island that is home to the largest adelie penguin colony in the world. The strenuous hike to the top of the island takes about three hours round trip and offers incredible views of the surrounding area. In addition, the remains of a hut used by the Nordenskjold expedition can be found on the island.
- Peterman Island.
- Port Lockroy. Since 1996 the historic base at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island has been staffed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust during the Antarctic summer. Receiving about 10,000 visitors a year, it is one of the most visited sites on the continent. Visitors can tour the museum, buy souvenirs, post mail, and view the large gentoo penguin colony.
The Antarctic Peninsula is almost a mirror image of southern South America. In fact, it's a geologic extension of the Andes mountain range; an underwater ridge looping through South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands connects the two features. It is claimed by Chile, Argentina, and the United Kingdom, with the United States and Russia both reserving the right to stake a claim should the Antarctic Treaty ever fall out of force. Under the provisions of the treaty, international access to the territory is permitted.
This region of Antarctica is anything but a wasteland. Many animal species call this area home and concentrate in the short Antarctic summer to reproduce; it is here that you will find huge colonies of penguins. Wildlife that can be seen include Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Emperor Penguins; Humpback, Minke, Blue, and Orca Whales; Crab-eater, Weddell, and Leopard Seals; Blue-eyed Shag, Southern Giant Petrel, Cape Petrel, Kelp Gull; and more.
As there is no native population in this area, the language of communication depends on the nation of the base you are staying at or who organizes your tour. Spanish and English should be the generally most helpful languages in this part of Antarctica, all things considered.
Most tourists arrive on ships with an ice-strengthened hull. There are many islands scattered along the west side of the Peninsula, several of which are occupied by scientific research bases organized by different countries. King George Island of South Shetland Islands contains a runway for the majority of the flights coming into the Antarctic Peninsula. Many expedition ship cruises offer the option to fly-cruise by flying into King George Island first before embarking on a cruise tour of the region.
Companies that can help to arrange travel to the Antarctic Peninsula include:
- Cheesemans Ecology Safaris. Offers an in-depth itinerary that stresses maximum time ashore and Zodiac cruising with a large staff of Antarctic veterans. They offer various itineraries on different years, including an extended Antarctic Peninsula and Continent only expedition. This special extended itinerary explores the remote and iceberg-filled Weddell Sea, the many wildlife-rich islands in the northern and western Peninsula and South Shetland Islands, the great white continent itself, and a push south to the Antarctic Circle. They charter an entire ship that is the best fit for the expedition and always take less than 100 people so all can land at once to provide more time ashore.
Many different itineraries are offered by tour companies, from short 7-day to extended 20-day voyages. The longer itineraries offer more landings and can travel farther south than shorter versions; they are also more flexible and can adjust landings if weather and conditions become an issue.
Tours usually start in Ushuaia at the very tip of South America then sail for about two days across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. The west side of the peninsula is navigable since it is relatively ice-free during the Antarctic summer tourist season. Many islands are scattered along the coast here providing many landing sites for visitors. Huge penguin colonies are usually found in ice-free areas such as on Paulet, Deception, and Livingston Islands. Zodiac cruising is popular along the peninsula where landing is either not permitted or not possible, providing a great way to see whales, seals and penguins on ice floes. Landings on the Antarctic continent itself can be accomplished in several areas such as Almirante Brown, Neko Harbor, and Brown Bluff.
Tourism in Antarctica is strictly regulated to protect its fragile and pristine environment. The Antarctic Treaty provides strict guidelines to reduce tourism impacts. Private tour companies formed the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) in 1991 to promote responsible tourism in the Antarctic regions. Tour itineraries must be approved by and registered with IAATO.
Two of the southernmost post offices in the world are located in the region, from which you can send mail with a true "Antarctica" postmark—and these are (relatively speaking) the most accessible ones where you can do so, given the difficulty of getting to US Post Office at South Pole. One of them is located at Villa Las Estrellas (a place that is claimed by Chile to be the only permanent civilian settlement of the continent; part of President Eduardo Frei Montalva Base on King Island), and the other at research base-turned-museum Port Lockroy, run by Chilean Post and UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, respectively. Postage for a standard letter or card costs US$2 to anywhere in the world from either post office, part of which is directed to the upkeep of the museum when paid at Port Lockroy.