The best time to visit the Antarctic is during the peak summer months, which is from late November to early March as it is in the southern hemisphere. As the winter thaw allows us to enter this surreal and empty land for a time, the opportunities for interacting with tuxedoed penguins, exploring pristine ice caps and marvelling at this wonderful and diverse world is what a trip to the Antarctic is all about. Here's what to expect:
• Late Spring November / early December
The thick winter pack ice is at last beginning to break up and melt, making the area more navigable. The scenery is white and pristine, with massive icebergs and ever-changing pack ice formations. The colder weather offers bright white snowscapes and breathtaking scenery. Like elsewhere the world over, spring is the mating season for penguins and seabirds. Expect to see some flamboyant displays and courtship behaviour in the penguin rookeries as penguins begin building their nests. Elephant and fur seals will be seen establishing their breeding territories and spring flowers will be in evidence on the Falklands and South Georgia.
• Summer mid December / January
These are Antarctica's warmest months and the receding ice will give greater access for exploration. The extraordinarily long days (lasting up to 20 hours!) and superb lighting create great photo opportunities. Penguin fans will adore the cute penguin chicks and seal pups will be visible on South Georgia and the Falklands. This is the most popular season when the expeditions will be fully booked.
• Late Summer February and March
The further receding ice allows ships to venture even further south. Many fur seals will be seen in the Antarctic Peninsula. Penguin chicks will start to fledge and whale sightings are at their best as they frolic and breed in the nutrient rich waters.
The only golden rule for visiting the Arctic is to avoid the period from November to March when it can be completely dark, very cold and the wind-blown snow can be blinding. Most Arctic expeditions run from June through October and offer fantastic experiences and the chance to view wildlife "in the raw". See whales, polar bears and caribou going about their daily life in a bid to survive this inhospitable environment which they have adapted to.