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What is the difference in travel to the Arctic and Antarctica?

August 16, 2018

 

A question we often get asked is "what is the difference in the actual experience between travel to Antarctica and the Arctic"?  Read on to find out how travel to Antarctica and the Arctic differ.

 

 

Getting there

While there are a limited number of expedition cruises that start with a flight to Antarctica, part of the experience is getting there by ship.  Be it the three-day crossing from the Falklands to South Georgia, or the two-day crossing of the Drake Passage, you will have the feeling that you are sailing to the end of the world. 

In the Arctic most expedition cruises will start with a flight, either into the Canadian Arctic, to Greenland, Iceland or from Oslo to Longyearbyen in Svalbard.

 

Culture

The only people who live in the Antarctic are scientists.  If you want to experience age-old cultures and find out what it is like to live in a cold climate, you should travel to Greenland or the Canadian Arctic.  Here you can visit villages, interact with the people who live there, and hear first-hand what it is like to live in the Arctic.

 

Wildlife

While there is some overlap between the Antarctic and the Arctic in wildlife - sea lions, seals and whales can be seen in either, although the actual species can differ. 

But there are iconic wildlife species that live only in the Arctic: polar bear, musk ox, walrus, Arctic fox and reindeer, among others. 

In Antarctica you will find elephant seal, penguin and albatross.  For sheer numbers, sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia are the best places to see penguin and albatross, although Emperor penguin only occur in Antarctica.  

One note of interest, as wildlife is hunted in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland it tends to be more skittish there than in Svalbard.  In Antarctica animals have no fear of humans at all.

 

Remoteness

For a feeling of getting away from it all both Antarctica and the Arctic are great, with a slight edge given to the Antarctic as there are no towns and villages here.

 

Landscapes & flora

The Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia have incredible glaciers tumbling down high mountains right to the ocean.  In Antarctica there are very few plants (with only two species that flower), while South Georgia has a slightly larger number of species.  The Canadian Arctic has tundra, whereas in other parts, like in Svalbard, you will find mainly scree with some moss, grass and flowering plants.  Mountains in the  Canadian Arctic occur mostly on Baffinland and the island directly north of it (Devon & Ellesmere Islands). 

Greenland is famous for its deep fjords and calving glaciers.

 

History

Travelling in the footsteps of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition is a main draw for people to travel to the Canadian Arctic.  On Beechey Island you can visit three graves from said expedition and since the discovery of Franklin's flag ship the Erebus, it can be visited too.

In Greenland historic sites consist mainly of ruins from the Viking era while in Svalbard the draw are whaling stations from the 17th century.

In Antarctica you can visit some of the huts built by early 20th century explorers, while in South Georgia you can visit the whaling town of Grytviken where Sir Ernest Shackleton and his right-hand man Frank Wild are buried.

 

Icebergs

Icebergs can be found in both the Arctic in Antarctic but the bergs in the latter tend to be far larger in size.

 

Climate

Summers in the Arctic tend to be warmer than in Antarctica.  Temperatures of 10-15ºC are common in the Canadian Arctic in summer, whereas in the Antarctic Peninsula it is more likely to hover between 0 and +5ºC.

Storms occur in both regions a but are more common and fiercer in Antarctica.

 

Returning

No matter where you go in the Antarctic or the Arctic, you will have a phenomenal time.  And we find that once you go once, you are hooked forever on expedition cruising.  Almost all of our passengers end up going to both regions several times.

 

 

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