Whale Watching In AntarcticaWhale watching in Antarctica is at its height in February and March. Of the eight whale species that visitors may see, six are baleens: the southern (Antarctic) minke, humpback, sei, fin, blue and southern right. Perhaps Antarctica’s most extraordinary whale watching experience is encountering the largest whale of all, the blue, in part because of its gigantic proportions and also because so few are left. Though it is mostly baleens that inhabit Antarctic waters, visitors may also observe toothed whale species, most likely orcas, as well as southern bottlenose and long-finned pilot whales, and several smaller dolphin species. Lucky travelers may also see sperm whales in waters off the Falkland Islands or near Antarctic pack ice. Bring along Moby Dick just in case. There couldn’t be a better time to finally get around to reading Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel about man vs whale.
Penguins As Far As the Eye Can See
And then there are the penguins, the other stars of the show. Seven of the world’s penguin species find the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic climate to their liking for at least part of the year. Visitors who depart from South America on Antarctica tours will have the most opportunities to observe Emperor, Chinstrap and Adelie penguins if they choose an itinerary that travels to the Weddell Sea, the islands off the Antarctica Peninsula and along the peninsula itself. After arriving at their breeding grounds at the end of October, Chinstraps are laying eggs about the time that Emperor colonies begin to head back out to sea with their new brood.
On their way to the Antarctica Peninsula, some Antarctica tour itineraries travel to the South Shetland Islands, home to Gentoos, Rockhoppers and Macaroni penguin species. Some vessels with longer itineraries also land at South Georgia Island to observe Gentoos, thousands of Kings and millions of Macaronis, as well as at the Falkland Islands where there are many wildlife viewing sites. Here the vast array of penguins includes large colonies of Gentoos, hundreds of thousands of Rockhoppers and a few Macaronis and Kings. On these island locations, you may also get to walk among penguins here.
Avoiding Patagonian Crowds
Spring and summer are the most popular seasons for Patagonia tours, starting in September. While true, the weather tends to be mildest during these months, there are many reasons to consider waiting until summer is ending in February or fall begins in March for your Patagonia tours. It’s when the winds usually die down and weather becomes more predictable. Note that the winds are stronger in Southern Patagonia than Northern Patagonia. Come March, the temperatures drop from the 70s into the 60s in Argentina Patagonia, and slightly cooler in Chile Patagonia.
While crowded is a relative term, you will share the trail with far fewer hikers by waiting to travel to Patagonia until March and you won’t have to arrange yours so far in advance.