Antarctica is a land of extremes: it is the coldest and driest continent on Earth and has the highest average elevation. As the fifth largest continent in the world, Antarctica is also the most Southern, overlying the “South Pole”. Nevertheless, sarcely touched by humans, the frozen land boasts breathtaking scenery. Only a handful of scientific bases and a “permanent” population of scientists numbering only a few thousand. Visitors to Antarctica generally must brave rough sea crossings aboard ice-strengthened vessels, but those who do are rewarded with amazing scenery and tremendous and unique wildlife.
Flora and fauna
Antarctica is notable for being the only continent with no significant land plant life and no native land mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. (There are no polar bears; they are only at the North Pole.) However, its shoreline serves as nesting ground for many species of migratory birds and penguins. Moreover, the Southern Ocean surrounding is home to many fish and marine mammals, including whales.
Don’t be fooled by all the ice: Antarctica is a desert. The region’s moisture is all tied up in frigid seawater and the huge sheets, shelves, and packs of ice which cover nearly all of the continent plus surrounding waters. There is little snowfall here, and even less rain.
For tourists, Antarctica is accessible only during the austral summer season from November to March, during which sea ice melts enough to allow access, coastal temperatures can rise up to highs of 14°C (57°F). Also there are twenty four hours of daylight. Furthermore, during the winter the sea is impassable. Temperatures can fall to -40°C/F and there are twenty four hours of darkness.
The above temperatures apply to the islands and coastal regions that tourists ordinarily visit. Temperatures in the interior, such as the South Pole, are far harsher, with summer highs of around -15°C (5°F). Winter lows plummeting to -80°C (-112°F).