You’re Antarctic bound - or considering it - and now you’re wondering … what will I do when I get there? Turns out, there’s a staggering amount of activity on the White Continent. From sea kayaking to snow camping to shadowing penguins, there never has to be a dull moment. After all, you’ve craved this adventure for so long - make the most of it. Here’s how. 

Depending on your cruise ship and tour operator, your Antarctica small-ship experience may offer several of the following activities. Which ones speak to you? 


This isn’t your regular weekend outing on the local lake! There is nothing quite like kayaking in a glassy sea along the Gerlache coastline, the only sounds the dip of your paddle into the water and Antarctic birds calling. This is your opportunity to paddle right past a fur seal lounging on an ice floe and glimpse minke, orca and humpback whales from water level. 

There are several ways to kayak in Antarctica, depending on your comfort level. For those seeking a focused kayaking program, with several outings during your voyage, look for operators that offer sea kayaking. You’ll need a bit of stamina for these multiple outings. The sit-inside kayaks require more of an effort than the sit-on-top versions. 

If it’s just one, maybe two, paddling excursions you’re after, you’ll enjoy the sit-on-top kayak. As long as you can enter and exit the kayak from the Zodiac, you don’t need an ounce of further kayaking experience to explore in this manner. You’ll get a water-level experience and can see the polar regions from a different point of view. 

Hang Out with Penguins

Photo by Susan Tuckey, Penguins2PolarBears, South Georgia, January 2019

This is the biggie, everyone’s bucket-list item when visiting Antarctica. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to get to know these giggle-inducing waddlers, including Adelie, Gentoo, Rockhopper, Chinstrap, Macaroni and the regal Emperor. Penguin watching usually takes place in the Weddell Sea and the Antarctic Circle. 

Stand-Up Paddleboarding 

What a fantastic way to experience the surreal seascapes of Antarctica. Through this hybrid of surfing and kayaking - particularly popular in the past several years - you can move through the water in small groups over calm bays and harbors.

Hovercraft Outings

Some Antarctic small-group operators offer exciting hovercraft excursions. With its unique propulsion system, this type of craft allows for exploration on land and at sea no matter what the weather conditions. 

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

With the right gear and guide, you can see what Antarctic marine life is awaiting you below the surface. Polar snorkeling, as it’s called, will introduce you to kelp walls, crabs, sea butterflies, sea-hedgehogs, krill and the like. You may even swim next to a fur or leopard seal or a playful penguin. Divers can undertake shallow ice diving, view underwater icebergs and unique coral and, perhaps, meet a walrus or two. The ever-changing hue of the blue water is mesmerizing. 


Check out the Antarctic landscape like an albatross does - from the sky. If you’re really into penguins, this is a splurge that’s totally worth it. Look for multi-day helicopter visits to remote Emperor penguin rookeries, where you’ll really be able to immerse yourself in the wildlife and the habitat. Or, go all out and take a month-long cruise of the entire western Antarctic shoreline by ship, with expeditions into the interior via helicopter. One particular cool flight-seeing destination is Blood Falls. It’s actually bright red and spews from the Taylor Glacier. Ask your guide about the science behind the phenomenal color - it’s fascinating. 

Travel with (More) Experts

Whichever Antarctica small-ship cruise line you travel with, you’re likely to be accompanied by a variety of nature and wildlife experts. Take it one step further and learn from scientists, historians, explorers and artists - you may sail with Peter Hillary, son of Everest’s Sir Edmund Hillary or Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of Everest pioneer Tenzing Norgay. Along these same lines, you can visit the Vernadsky Research Base on Galindez Island, where the scientists are hard at work studying meteorology, ecology, biology, glaciology, seismology and more. 

Ski or Snowboard 

Think you’ve skied plenty of backcountry? Think again. A few expedition cruise lines offer off-piste skiing and snowboarding on Antarctica’s pure white snow. You can even reenact Shackleton’s famous journey into South Georgia on skis, snowboard or by foot. 

Go Camping 

No noisy neighbors here … your tent camping nights in Antarctica will be gloriously silent. What’s that? A penguin waddling by? That’s the kind of once-in-a-lifetime disturbance you won’t mind. Plenty of expedition tour operators offer this kind of adventure as an add-on to your voyage. Should you choose it, you’ll get a briefing on the basics of camping on the 7th continent and help preparing your site. Plus, you’ll be snug as a bug in your tent and insulated sleeping bag - or, for a more extreme experience, a waterproof, cold-weather bivy sack and thermal mat. The stargazing is magical. 

Take a Polar Plunge 

This is likely your only chance in life to swim in Antarctica’s freezing water. Go ahead and do it. You’ll fully submerge, hop back out and have bragging rights for life. 

Ready to Go? 

I can help you narrow down your activity choices in Antarctica, honing in on those of which you’ve long been daydreaming and making reservations plenty in advance. Typically, excursions that include exploring by Zodiac or on foot do not come at an extra fee. However, those add-in activities, like sea kayaking, skiing, stand-up paddleboarding and camping - will require advance planning and an extra cost. 

Let’s embrace your inner Antarctic explorer!