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.
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, Elephant, and Leopard Seals; Blue-eyed Shag, Southern Giant Petrel, Cape Petrel, Kelp Gull; and more.
There are no airstrips along the Peninsula, so the only access to the island is by boat. 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.
Companies that can help to arrange travel to the Antarctic Peninsula include:
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.
Food is limited to what is brought in by air or boat. Depending on your accommodations, you could experience a very limited menu all the way to larger cruise ships with several dining options. The cuisine is also influenced by the nationality of the tour operator and expected guests.
On a small cruise ship with between fifty and a hundred guests, the dining was buffet for breakfast and lunch, and a more formal dinner with two main dish options. Italian or barbecue might be the theme of a night's dinner.
Historically, travelers to Antarctica had very few food options. Packaged food was the majority of the diet. This would be supplemented by locally caught seal, penguin, or whale meat.
Two of the southernmost postoffices 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 (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 postoffice, part of which is directed to the upkeep of the museum when paid at Port Lockroy.