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As well as deciding which Antarctica cruise ship is the best one for you and finding the best itinerary out of those available, a key consideration is when is the best time to visit Antarctica?

The most important factor to first take into account that the cruise season in Antarctica is limited to the summer months (during our winter), when there is between 18 and 24 hours of daylight. This means that you will have more time to explore, meet the for wildlife and soak in the views. Therefore most cruise ships in Antarctica operate between November and March, with peak seasons being in December and January. It is worth noting as well that this is also summer in Argentina and Chile, the two countries you will combine with your cruise.

Let's have a look at some of these months in more detail to give you an idea of what to expect from your cruise.

Antarctica Cruise in November

  • More snow, bigger icebergs & penguin courtship
  • Too soon for penguin chicks & whales
  • Cheaper cruises available

November can provide good value for a cruise to Antarctica, with some cheaper departures available. This is spring in Antarctica and much of the snow remains across the peninsula, with temperatures lower than in the coming summer months. Large locks of ice can still be seen floating in the waters, before they melt away with the onset of summer.

Many species of birds and penguins can be seen searching for mates during November, some displaying interesting courtship rituals, whilst many others nest and lay their eggs and can be seen regularly waddling through the snow between the sea and their inland nests.

Keep in mind then that November is not a great time to see penguin chicks, nor are whales particularly prevalent. Access to the Ross Sea and across the Polar Circle is also more difficult, for those wanting to undertake these specialist itineraries.

For those considering an extension to South Georgia, November is the time to see fur seals and elephant seals courting.

When to visit Antarctica - NovemberPhotos by Sea Spirit

Antarctica Cruises in December & January

  • Best time to see penguin chicks & baby fur seals
  • Longer days & great accessibility
  • Higher costs but more opportunities for activities

As we move into summer, the days become longer yet and the melting snow and ice open up more of the region for deeper exploration on both zodiac boat and land excursions. Icebergs remain large, though will inevitably shrink bit-by-bit as the days pass and the sun shines brightly.

In early December on the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and later the same month in Antarctica, penguin chicks begin to hatch. They can be seen in abundance during the ensuing feeding frenzy, as their parents return from their forages in the sea. Young seals can also be seen en-mass during December and January. These months are also the prime period for camping on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Best time for Antarctica cruise - DecemberPhotos by Quark Expeditions

Antarctica Cruises in February

  • Best time for whale watching & more active baby fur seals
  • Adult penguins begin to leave their young
  • Days begin to draw in and icebergs significantly smaller

February has both advantages and disadvantages for those looking for the best time for Antarctica cruises. The passing of time usually shrinks the giant sculpted icebergs one normally associates with the region, however the scenery remains spectacular and snow-bound. The young penguin chicks remain in huge numbers as they begin to shed their downy fur. However their parents would likely have left them to fend for themselves as the days pass, heading off into the sea for an extended feeding season and a well earned rest. The young fur seals become more active and expressive at this stage.

Days will begin to draw in again, but the major benefit for those travelling to Antarctica in February is that this period offers the best chance to encounter whales as they return to feed.

best time to visit Antarctica - february

Conclusion

So when is the best time to visit Antarctica? Broadly speaking, December and January offer the best all-round experience, with wildlife in abundance, greater accessibility and impressive icescapes. November can offer significant cost savings and affords views of the biggest icebergs, whilst February brings whales in far greater numbers.

The reality is that anytime between November and February will be offer an immersive and unforgettable experience, even more enriching when combined with the varied delights of Buenos Aires and Tierra del Fuego in Argentine Patagonia.