Seasons & climate

It will come as no surprise that Antarctica’s climate is the coldest on earth — however, it’s worth noting just how cold Antarctica is. The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth, a decidedly brisk -89°C, was recorded at Vostok Station in 1983. Winds of 199mph blew through Dumont d'Urville in 1972. It almost never rains in Antarctica, rendering much of the continent technically desert, with precipitation and humidity levels on a par with Death Valley in the USA. It is not somewhere that you want to be caught unaware.

This unforgiving environment means that there is only a short window in which to visit. Unsurprisingly, this is in Antarctica’s summer months between November and March. Summer in Antarctica is a relative term — temperatures rarely reach over 2°C, but the sea warms enough to melt the pack ice so that ships can reach land.

Best time to visit Antarctica

Choosing the best time to visit Antarctica depends on what you want to see and experience. The early part of the season in November offers the best chance of seeing penguins mating, building nests and laying eggs, as well as offering photographers beautiful sunsets and evening light before the 24-hour daylight kicks in.

Antarctica’s high season of December and January is the best time for those looking to follow in the footsteps of intrepid explorers like Shackleton and Scott. A small window opens up once the ice has melted allowing travellers onto Antarctica’s Ross Island, where they can visit the portable wooden huts that gave the legendary British adventurers shelter during their 20th-century expeditions.

If whale-watching is your main reason for visiting Antarctica, plan your trip for the end of the season in February. Fewer boats on the water mean a more peaceful journey, but the trade-off is less wildlife and muddy — rather snowy — landings.


November is the time to head to Antarctica if the untouched wilderness is what you want to see. Its natural beauty is at its stunning best; the icebergs are enormous, the landing sites are pristine and the snow caps are crisp. There are wildflowers starting to bloom on some of the more northern islands. It is also technically shoulder season, so there are deals to be had. Of course, the weather is always a factor when visiting Antarctica and it is more unpredictable in the spring, so some sites may not be accessible, and November is usually a little too early to see much wildlife beyond penguins.

High season is between December and January. December brings nearly 24-hour sunshine, almost untouched wilderness scenery and the start of the birthing season for seals and penguins, which continues into January. These two months are the best time to visit Antarctica, but they are correspondingly busy and expensive. It’s a wise idea to book at least a year in advance.

February is still a viable time to visit and is the best time to cross the Antarctic Circle.

The chance to spot a whale increases in February, with humpbacks, orcas and minke whales all around until April, although much of the other wildlife will have gone out to sea by this point. March is the very end of the season; by the end of the month the temperatures have plummeted, the pack ice begins to form and the long nights draw in. Despite this, it is a great time to see whales as the water is clearer and the visibility at its best for diving.

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