To the adventure-addict, there are few areas in the world as alluring as those locked in ice. Polar destinations are as stunning and pristine as they are inhospitable, and the fact that these places are rarely seen by human eyes make them that much more enticing. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, there’s a world of discovery awaiting those who venture near the poles.
1. North Pole
The treacherous, ice-filled waters surrounding the North Pole proved disastrous for early explorers; it wasn’t until 1948 that anyone set foot on this northernmost edge of the world. In 1985, the North Pole drew two of the most extreme explorers in human history: Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong, the first men to stand on Mt. Everest and the moon, respectively.
Today, our fortified ice breaker vessels and helicopters make it possible for a select few adventurers to explore this mythical, remote location each year.
2. Camping on the 7th Continent
Here, at the bottom of the world, there will be no roasting marshmallows over a campfire; outside food and beverages are strictly forbidden to campers, so as to preserve the habitat of one of earth’s last true frontiers.
While the stark natural landscape is incredible, it’s the thrill of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that draws adventurers here. Few people can claim to have camped on the seventh continent, and those who do are rewarded with hefty bragging rights.
3. Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge
Fully appreciating the rarely-seen wildlife and panoramas of the Arctic tundra requires the immersive experience of an Arctic Wilderness Lodge. Nestled 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle and equipped with plenty of modern comforts, Arctic Wilderness Lodge is within hiking, kayaking and ATV-traversing distance of attractions from anthropological sites to ancient whale skeletons.
Here, visitors spend their days among beluga whales, polar bears, bearded seals, sea birds and the wild Arctic landscape.
4. Antarctica's Scotia Arc
The Scotia Arc is a small chain of islands off the eastern tip of the Andes. Though small and mostly uninhabitable, these islands hold some of the most incredibly diverse wildlife on earth.
This circuit includes the famous Falklands, South Georgia, Saunders and Elephant Islands, sites which mark Shackleton’s famous voyage and other historical sites. Those who venture on this intense, multiple week voyage encounter countless sea mammals and colonies of chinstrap penguins in the hundreds of thousands.
5. Kayaking in the Antarctic
Views from atop polar cruisers are stunning, but the sights are even better from the water itself. A common optional activity on polar cruises, kayaking gives visitors a much more intimate way to experience the incredible wildlife and scenery of the Antarctic.
Kayakers can glide alongside whales, ride at eye-level with penguins and seals, and sail past incredible icebergs.
6. Northern Lights in Eastern Greenland
During the summertime, Greenland is known as the land of the midnight sun. But once the sun starts to set in early fall and through winter months, an otherworldly light dominates Eastern Greenland: Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights.
This culturally unique, fjord and ice-filled region is known as home to some of the most stunning displays of Northern Lights in the world. Eastern Greenland’s fall, winter and early spring skies are routinely lit up in once-in-a-lifetime spectacles of shifting neon green, blue, rose and gold.
7. South Georgia, 'Galapagos of the South'
At the peak of breeding season, the northern edge of South Georgia Island is rumored to have more wildlife per square foot than anywhere else on earth. Aptly nicknamed “the Galapagos of the South,” South Georgia is home to more than 30 species of breeding birds and penguin rookeries which number in the hundreds of thousands.
Fur seals, elephant seals and whales also patrol the black sand beaches here, and ice-capped mountains tower overhead. Visitors to South Georgia can also pay homage to Sir Ernest Shackleton, patron saint of Antarctic exploration, at his graveside in Grytviken.
Once known only as cold and dangerously inhospitable, these polar destinations offer some of the most fascinating experiences on earth. Thanks to modern transportation, they’re not only accessible, but actually fun to visit. With ice-strengthened ships and Zodiacs, such as those used in polar expeditions lead by Quark Expeditions, allow adventurers and extreme vacationers to enjoy sights and wildlife which, up until the past century, were beyond imagination.