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You may not think the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth is a desirable travel destination, but then you haven’t heard enough about Antarctica! While this enigmatic continent is known for its remoteness and extreme elements, it is also these aspects that make it such an impressive place to visit. But when is the best time to visit Antarctica? The changing and sometimes unpredictable weather make this a tricky question to answer, but we’ve pinned down the best time to travel to earth’s most untamed place.
It’s important to plan your Antarctica expeditions around the seasons and the weather. Tour operators, boat expeditions, and accommodations are not open year round, meaning Antarctica is not always accessible to tourists.
- High season: Late December – February
These are the best months to visit because they have the highest temperatures and the most hours of sunlight (up to 20 – 24 hours per day). Hence, all the expeditions and camps are open to explorers. This is also your chance to experience the most Antarctica has to offer, such as large icebergs and a plethora of wildlife, including whales and breeding elephant seals. This is also the best time for successful Arctic Circle Crossings. December and January are significantly wetter than other months. However, this doesn’t affect this “high season” in Antarctica as these are still excellent months to visit.
- Low season: April – early October
These are poor months to visit as the temperatures plunge to their lowest. There are virtually no tour operators running expeditions at this time and accessing Antarctica as a tourist is not possible.
- Shoulder seasons: Late October – November & March
These are good months to visit as the temperatures remain relatively mild and sunlight hours are steadily getting longer. You can have a completely different experience in the shoulder months as opposed to the high season months; it all depends on what you’re after as to when you choose to visit Antarctica!
- Antarctica is a dry continent. Even the wettest months receive very little precipitation and it’s usually in the form of snow. While the precipitation doesn’t affect the travel dates, it does dictate what natural occurrences you can see and experience during your visit.
Take a closer look at each season. Decide what your priorities are for your visit and identify the best time to travel to Antarctica based on the season that offers what you want most.
1. Late December to February / High Season
These months have the highest temperatures and the longest sunlight hours - there are times when you can experience 24 hours of light!
- Average temperature: 0 – 1° C (32 – 34° F)
- Rainfall: 7.6 mm
- Season: Wet & mild / Summer
- Highlights: Temperatures and hours of sunlight aside, these two months provide the opportunity to see and experience all of the highlights of Antarctica. This is the season when wildlife is hatching and most abundant, making it a great time to see penguin chicks, breeding elephant seals, and whales. The warm temperatures also melt the ice and allow very good chances for additional expeditions, such as the Arctic Circle Crossing and accessing the Ross Sea. Despite the mild weather, December and January are great months to see impressive icebergs. February is one of the best months for whale watching. This is also the season when a fly-cruise trip to Antarctica is possible.
2. March to early October / Low Season
Temperatures are at their coldest and the winds at their strongest. Due to the extreme conditions and frozen-over access routes, Antarctica is inaccessible to tourists during this time. These months see the lowest temperatures, windiest conditions, and very few hours of sunlight.
- Average temperature: -6° C (21° F)
- Average Rainfall: 4.4mm
- Season: Extremely cold, dry & windy / Winter
3. Late October to November / Shoulder Season
Fewer expeditions and tours are operating at this time, but some can definitely be found. Temperatures are not at the their coldest, but they certainly haven’t reached their mildest either. This is also the driest time of the year. If a more intimate experience is what you seek, then this is definitely the time to go. It’s before the rainiest months of the year and the most popular high season; the pure white, undisturbed landscape is free of mud and telltale signs of other travelers.
- Average temperature: 3° C (24 – 25° F)
- Average Rainfall: 2.5 mm
- Season: Dry / Spring
- Highlights: November is the month to visit if you want to see the largest icebergs. This is also when you have the highest chance of seeing the breeding elephant seals and the best chance of spotting the elusive emperor penguin. Spring is mating season so it’s the best opportunity to catch some otherwise impossible to see mating rituals. The pristine snow conditions (free of animal droppings during this time) are a photographer’s dream.
4. March / Shoulder Season
During this month, you can expect cold temperatures, less sunlight, and the number of expeditions and tours are fewer. The ice starts to freeze in interesting patterns across the seas, which is something that is very unique to this season. There are also snow algae blooms in the fall, which changes the color of the surrounding cliffs from green to pink.
- Average temperature: 0° C / 32° F
- Average rainfall: 5.8 mm
- Season: Cold / Fall
- Highlights: This is the other best month for whale watching. It’s also still possible to make the Arctic Circle Crossing at this time. March is a perfect month to watch the penguin chicks leave their nests on land and set off for a life at sea. Expedition cruises are likely less crowded (and less expensive!) as March is the end of the season.
In terms of wildlife, weather conditions, and spectacular sights, the summer season is definitely the best time to visit Antarctica. This is your chance to see the most animal activity and access the most of this wild and isolated continent. However, it’s certainly possible to have amazing experiences no matter which season you decide to go — it will be the trip of a lifetime either way!
*Please note that these are the average temperatures of one of the warmer location on the Antarctica Peninsula, the Academician Vernadskiy Reporting Station. These averages change depending on location. It’s important to remember that temperatures are warmest around the Antarctica Peninsula, which is on the northern tip of the continent, closest to South America. The closer you get to the South Pole or the higher you climb in the mountains, the colder the temperatures become!