The seventh continent, Antarctica, was the last continent on the planet to be discovered and explored by man. In the past, this undiscovered land was described as the “Terra Australis Incognita”. It was thought that there was a huge continent in the southern part of the planet that balanced the size of the Euro-Asian continent in the northern hemisphere.
Even the legendary Captain Cook searched in vain for this continent. In search of this new continent he crossed the Antarctic polar circle on three occasions: in January 1773, in December 1773 and again in January 1774. In his last attempt James Cook went up to only 120 km from the coast of the Antarctic continent, but he never managed to see it, in fact his ships were forced to reverse course due to the frozen sea.
A CONTINENT RECENTLY EXPLORED
The history of the explorations of Antarctica is very recent. The South Shetland islands were discovered in 1819. The mythical southern continent was spotted by the first navigators in 1820. It was the Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen who on January 28, 1820 sighted the Antarctic continent at these coordinates: 69º21’28 “S 2º14 ’50 “W, in what is now called Queen Maud Land.
About 75 years must pass before the first documented and confirmed landing of a man in Antarctica. This happened in Cape Adare in 1895 in present-day Victoria Land in the eastern part of Antarctica: in January 1895 the Norwegian explorers Henrik Bull and Carsten Borchgrevink aboard the Antarctic ship landed in Cape Adare, this is the first documented landing in Antarctica.
Borchgrevink returned to Cape Adare in 1899 with a new expedition and built two huts there. These were the first human structures built in Antarctica. Today the coldest, driest, windiest and most remote continent on the planet has become a research laboratory for scientists around the world. The Antarctic Treaty System is the agreement that regulates human activities and protects the continent’s flora, fauna and ecosystem.
A CONTROLLED TOURISM
In recent decades, the Antarctic continent has become a destination for exploratory-tourist expeditions that allow simple tourists and not just researchers to visit this spectacular and immense frozen world. The first tourist trips to Antarctica began in the late 1950s. Over the past 50 years, tourism in Antarctica has increased in volume, in the number of sites visited and in the diversity of activities carried out by tourists.
Today there are many possible options for those who want to go to Antarctica. They range from cruises that allow you to visit the continent without making landings (cruise only). There are also cruises that allow you to land in some points of the continent (expedition cruising). There is the possibility of visiting Antarctica with yachting. And finally it is possible to make panoramic flights over Antarctica (overflights). In recent years, around 30,000 to 45,000 tourists have visited Antarctica per year. Visiting this continent is a unique opportunity to see unique animals such as penguins, seals, killer whales, seabirds and whales and to admire unique pristine landscapes made of ice, mountains and desolation.
WHERE TO LEAVE TO GO TO ANTARCTICA
Almost all tourist trips leave from the inhabited area closest to the Antarctic continent: Tierra del Fuego. The starting point is usually the small town of Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city on the planet. Other ports from which expeditions to visit Antarctica most rarely leave are Punta Arenas in Chile, Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, Hobart in Australia and Bluff in New Zealand. The most visited area of the continent is the Antarctic Peninsula, here are some of the most beautiful landscapes of the frozen continent. Such as those that can be admired in Antarctic Sound, in the South Shetland Islands, in the islands of the Palmer Archipelago, in the Danco Coast and in the spectacular Lemaire Channel.
ON A CRUISE IN ANTARCTICA
The area of Antarctica that is usually visited by cruises departing from Ushuaia, Punta Arenas and Port Stanley is that of the Antarctic Peninsula. This is a long peninsula that stretches for about 2,000 km towards South America. The Antarctic Peninsula has the particularity of being one of the few areas of Antarctica to be located north of the Antarctic Polar Circle. For this reason, therefore, it has, especially in the short Antarctic summer, a less rigid climate than the rest of the continent.
Usually the ships that carry out this type of cruises are medium to small in size and can embark between 50 and 300 passengers. Some of these expeditions also plan landings on the continent. However, there are also cruises made by larger ships with over 1000 passengers. In this case, landing in Antarctica is not allowed. But the beauty of the landscape crossed also makes this type of cruise a unique experience in life. Usually the itinerary includes a scenic cruise along some hundreds of kilometers of the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, usually of the Danco Coast. Then some of the islands of the South Shetland archipelago and the Palmer archipelago are explored.
WHEN TO GO TO ANTARCTICA
The cruise season in Antarctica begins in late October and ends in March. The best time to go to Antarctica are the months of December and January. In the summer period along the Antarctic Peninsula there are on average over 20 hours of light per day, these conditions allow you to have great opportunities to photograph the majestic Antarctic landscapes. In this period the frozen continent is teeming with life forms intent on exploiting the opportunities given by the milder climate. The temperatures in the short summer season reach values sometimes higher than 0 ° C. A trip to the last continent explored by man, the last frozen frontier in the world, is a trip to be done at least once in a lifetime.