The Antarctic Peninsula is the long mountainous peninsula projecting north from Antarctica. A long way north - its tip is about three times further away from the South Pole than it is from the South American mainland, some 1600 km away. On a map, it looks like what it is: an extension of the Andes, which submerge at Tierra del Fuego and loop underwater via South Georgia to re-emerge here. It's the most accessible part of the Antarctic mainland and the most visited.
For practical purposes, the area you can visit is the west coast and islands of the northern Peninsula, which is called Graham Land. This lies mostly outside the Antarctic Circle and has a climate transitional between the marine polar climate of the Antarctic islands (where the sea only freezes in mid-winter) and the intense cold of the continent's interior. This means ships can approach, and there's things to see, with fjord-like scenery and historic bases. Penguins and other land life depend upon sea access for food, so they form huge colonies here. By contrast the east coast of the Peninsula faces the Weddell Sea, always socked in by ice. South of a line at 69° South the mountains merge into the Antarctic Plateau, though an offshore ridge persists as the large Alexander Island. This area is called Palmer Land, the climate is continental polar and the coast is ice-bound; there are few scientific visitors and even fewer tourists. Further south beyond 80° is Ellsworth Land, part of West Antarctica, even less visited.
South Shetland Islands are an archipelago some 120 km north, described here as they're often an air-sea transfer point for visitors. They have several bases and sights of interest.
This region and the rest of the continent is governed by the Antarctic Treaty, which seeks to protect the fragile environment, forbids military use, and sets aside national claims. Thus, various nations own and operate bases here and have hypothetical claims to territory which they waive. References to nations on this page should be understood accordingly.
Bases and points of interest
- 1 South Shetland Islands are often the starting point for trips to the Antarctic, as their ice-free areas are suitable for an airport and for building bases. Indeed there's a civilian town, Villa las Estrellas.
- 2 Paulet Island is one of the Joinville Islands, the archipelago east of the tip of the Peninsula. It last erupted perhaps 1000 years ago, but geothermal heat continues to keep parts of it free of ice. There's a huge colony of 100,000 pairs of Adélie penguins. The Nordenskjöld expedition of 1903 was shipwrecked nearby and their refuge hut still stands.
- James Ross Island has Mendel base (Czech, summer) and Dundee Island has Petrel (Argentina, summer).
- Brown Bluff at the tip of the Peninsula is a "moberg" - a volcano that erupted under an icecap. It has a colony of 20,000 pairs of Adélies.
- 3 Esperanza Base (Argentina) is near the tip of the Peninsula. It acts as a civilian community (like Chile's Villa las Estrellas on King George Island), with 55 residents in winter, and 8 children have been born here. Elichiribehety station (Uruguay) is part of the same complex. It stands on ice-free rock and has a colony of 125,000 Adélie penguins.
- 4 Bernardo O'Higgins (Chile) is 30 km southwest of Cape Legoupil, the Peninsula's most northerly point. The original location of the base, founded 1948, is protected as a historic site.
- 5 Marambio (Argentina) is on Marambio Island south of the tip of the Peninsula. It has a large airfield suitable for wheeled aircraft so it acts as a hub for other Argentine bases. Chapel of Santisima Virgen de Lujan is in a steel prefab here.
- Matienzo (Argentina, summer) is one of the few bases along the east coast, perched on Larsen Nunatak.
- The Palmer Arch are a chain of islands west of the Peninsula; Anvers and Brabant are the largest, with Melchior base (Argentina, summer) on nearby islets. They're separated from the mainland by the Gerlache Strait, which narrows into the spectacular Lemaire Channel.
- Cierva Cove, on the mainland at the north end of Gerlache Strait, has Primavera base (Argentina, summer only) and the Cobbett refuge. Tourist trips approach but landings are not permitted - the cove is home to dozens of leopard seals.
- 6 Palmer (US) is on Anvers Island off the west coast of the Peninsula. It has an air base.
- Port Lockroy was a UK base on tiny Goudier Island, just off Wiencke Island and facing Anvers. It closed in 1962 but re-opened as a museum in 1996. If you want to contribute to science in Antarctica then simply become one of the 10,000 tourists who visit each year, since the subject of study here is the effect of tourism on the island's large gentoo penguin colony.
- Paradise Bay on the mainland facing Wiencke has Almirante Brown (Argentina) and Videla (Chile) bases. It's a good natural harbour often visited by cruise ships. So too is Neko Harbour just north, with Refugio Neko (Argentina).
- Yelcho is a Chilean base on Doumier Island 10 km southwest of Port Lockroy. It closed in 1998 but re-opened in 2015.
- Cuverville Island is just off the mainland, 30 km northeast of Port Lockroy. It has a large gentoo colony, with 6500 breeding pairs.
- 7 Vernadsky (Ukraine) is on Galindez Island 40 km southwest of Anvers. It was the British station Faraday, but offered to Ukraine when the UK no longer had a use for it, and when Russia refused to transfer any Soviet bases to the newly independent States. St Volodymyr Chapel (Ukraine Orthodox) is a simple wooden hut with a richly-decorated interior. It's named for Grand Prince Vladimir (958-1015) who was dubbed Sviatoslavich, "Equal-to-the-Apostles".
- Petermann Island 10 km north of Galindez has a large gentoo penguin colony. Argentina's Groussac Refuge is here.
- 8 Rothera (UK) is on Adelaide Island, along with Chile's Carvajal Villaroel summer camp.
- Horseshoe Island to the southeast has ITÜ PolReC (Turkey, summer) and the remains of UK "Station Y".
- 9 San Martín (Argentina) is on Barry Island.
- 10 Fossil Bluff (UK) is on Alexander Island in Palmer Land.
- 11 Endurance was Ernest Shackleton's ship, crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea in Nov 1915. The wreck was located in March 2022 at 3008 m / 9869 ft depth and 6.4 km south of the position logged as it sank. It's in good condition, as the cold anoxic depths have no timber worms or similar eroding creatures. The wreck has been mapped to create a 3D digital tour, but nothing has been removed.
There is no "native" tongue here, but each base or visiting ship has its own working language, usually either English or Spanish.
See Antarctica#Get in for options. Cruise ships from Ushuaia routinely tour the Peninsula in summer. Other visitors fly to Villa las Estrellas on King George in the South Shetland Islands then transfer to smaller ships.
Tourists get around on their cruise ship, using RIBs (Zodiacs) for trips ashore. The bases use small planes and helicopters for supplies, and skis and skidoos around their locality.
See and do
- Check the suggestions for Antarctica § See and do. The most important thing for you to do here is come home safe.
- Wildlife: Antarctic land animals need access to the ocean for food, so the intricate Peninsula coastline and its islands support large colonies. They include Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo and Emperor Penguins; Humpback, Minke, Blue, and Orca Whales; Crab-eater, Weddell, and Leopard Seals; Blue-eyed Shag, Southern Giant Petrel, Cape Petrel, Kelp Gull; and more.
- Lemaire Channel is a spectacular section of coastline. It narrows to 1.6 km, and cruise ships sail through a canyon of cliffs and towering ice. Its waters are remarkably still and populated by whales. It's close to other attractions such as Port Lockroy, Cierva Cove and Paradise Bay so it's on many cruise itineraries, but the channel is sometimes blocked by icebergs, so the ship has to back up and seek another route.
- Climb the peak of Paulet Island, 353 m (1,158 ft), and reckon 3 hours. It's unlikely to erupt.
- Cross the Antarctic circle - maybe. You need to reach Adelaide Island, Rothera base, or points south, and many cruises don't bother going that far.
- and see the Antarctica page for Eat, Drink and Stay safe advice
Send a postcard home from Port Lockroy. Postage for a standard letter or card to anywhere in the world costs US$2, which goes towards the upkeep of the museum.