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Located between the Martial mountains and the Beagle Channel, Argentina’s Ushuaia is the southernmost city on the planet. The town’s motto: "Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything.” That motto rings true if you plan on heading to Antarctica. The voyage between Ushuaia and Antarctica is breathtaking, full of natural sites and open waters. Here's what you should know before taking the journey.
Home to a population of around 55,000, Ushuaia began as a missionary settlement before becoming an Argentine naval base. Today, it’s a bustling tourist destination and port-hub. Ushuaia is where the vast majority of the world’s cruises to Antarctica leave, but during the winter—i.e. summer months in the northern hemisphere—many visitors will also flock to the city for skiing in the nearby mountains. The views from the water at the south tip of the city are stunning: multi-colored buildings transform into green forest transform into towering snow-capped mountains as your eyes move upward.
While most travelers come to Ushuaia as a one-night stop-off before their cruise departs, the city has developed plenty attractions of its own. There are multiple museums, casinos, top-notch hotels, and restaurants. The nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park can be toured either by car or helicopter and plenty of companies offer trips down the Beagle, where you’ll be able to see penguins, sea-lions, and whales.
The Drake Passage is named for the 16th-century explorer, Sir Francis Drake, who discovered that there was, in fact, a place where the Atlantic and Pacifc Oceans converged. There is barely any land, anywhere on the Earth, at the latitude of the Drake Passage, so a volume of water 600-times the Amazon River flows unimpeded.
Much of the Drake Passage’s reputation—inclement seas caused by the aforementioned unhampered sea—comes from eras way before our current technology. Captains of ships have accurate weather- and wave-predicting software they now use to make the trips manageable. Most trips from Ushuaia to Antarctica take around two days. Peak cruise time is from November through March.
Why go by ship if you can just fly overhead? The convergence of warm northern water with frigid southern currents creates the sometimes choppy seas, but also a nutrient-rich stretch of open ocean that attracts all kinds of animals. Make sure you bring your camera, as you’ll likely see a variety of whales and various sea-birds, along with, possibly, some dolphins. You’ll see penguins when you arrive - along with the seabirds and marine life—take the plane and miss out on passing through the convergence—a biological boundary of warm and colder waters
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“Paradise” and “frigid, frozen Antarctica” might not seem like they go together, but the tranquil, blue beauty of this place makes the name fitting. Paradise Harbor is one of many sites that expedition ships visit and is known for its absolute beauty with its mountains and glaciers. The area is characterized by jagged, ice mountains in all different shades of blue. Gentoo penguins waddle by, and humpback whales float along. Visitors can jump on smaller Zodiac boats to travel across the slimmer channels that their cruise ship won’t be able to access on the more remote Western coast of Antarctica.
Some 131 nautical miles north of Paradise Harbor, the South Shetland Islands sit at the tip of the Antarctic peninsula. They’re the first land most boats reach after crossing the Drake Passage and thus a popular stop for cruise ships before traveling southward. As such, the Shetlands aren’t as quiet as Paradise Harbor. The big attraction is Deception Island, a circular island with a collapsed volcano at its center. Thanks to the warm temperatures from the volcano, the wildlife on Deception Island is unique in that it’s a caldera that you can sail into. A large Chinstrap breeding colony of some 100,000 pairs can be found at Baileys Head—a prominent headland on Deception Island.
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