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One of the most unique travel destinations in Antarctica, they are inhabited by a large variety of seals, penguins – including Adelie and chinstrap, and seabirds – including Antarctic terns and giant petrels.

As the islands are directly on the route to the Antarctica Peninsula most cruise ships heading there will stop at the South Shetland Islands, offering visitors wonderful photo opportunites in this unique landscape.

View suggested itineraries

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: Adélie penguin, elephant seal, chinstrap penguin, gentoo penguin, southern right whale, leopard seal, South polar skua, Antarctic minke whale

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itineraries:

Classic Antarctica

This voyage is a perfect introduction to the Antarctic, visiting prime wildlife sites along the Peninsula and in the nearby South Shetland islands. Encounter huge rookeries of gentoo, chinstrap and Adelie penguins, beaches adorned with wallowing elephant seals, and whales and dolphins along the way.

  • When to go: Nov-Mar
  • Duration exc. flights: 10-11 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £4,590 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Antarctic Odyssey Fly-Sail

This comprehensive itinerary retraces Shackleton’s voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, and ends in the Falkland Islands. Antarctica’s scenery and ice are matched by the prolific wildlife on South Georgia, which includes 150,000 pairs of king penguins and numerous other species.

  • When to go: Nov-Mar
  • Duration exc. flights: 18 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £14,795 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Classic Antarctic Fly-Sail

This trip takes the easiest way to Antarctica and flies from Punta Arenas in southern Chile, to save time and enjoy an aerial view of the Drake Passage. This active adventure involves daily landings by Zodiac inflatable, and with ever-changing ice and weather conditions, each voyage is unique.

  • When to go: Nov-Mar
  • Duration exc. flights: 7-11 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £10,245 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Polar Circle Fly-Sail

Flying to the South Shetlands over Cape Horn and avoiding the rough waters of the Drake Passage, this itinerary offers the easiest way to travel to Antarctica. Sailing down the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, the voyage passes spectacular icebergs in the company of sea birds, penguins, seals and whales.

  • When to go: Nov-Mar
  • Duration exc. flights: 9-11 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £8,760 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

South Georgia

Embark on a superb voyage to South Georgia, the remotest and wildest of the UK's Overseas Territories. After exploring the abundant wildlife of the Falkland Islands, it is a two day journey to South Georgia, where you will find snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and a huge numbers of seabirds and marine mammals.

  • When to go: Nov-Mar
  • Duration exc. flights: 15-20 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £10,655 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Weddell Sea Explorer

Take a trip to follow in the wake (and footsteps) of Sir Ernest Shackleton and travel to one of Antarctica's hidden gems, the Weddell Sea. A land of icebergs and volcanic islands, the area is a haven for birdlife and a great place to experience wildlife amid stunning scenery.

  • When to go: Nov-Mar
  • Duration exc. flights: 12 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £6,800 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour
Recommended cruise vessels:

Akademik Ioffe

Designed originally for polar research, the Akademik Ioffe is modern, comfortable, safe and ice-strengthened. Carrying around 100 passengers, facilities include a fitness room, massage room, sauna and plunge pool. Kayaking, camping, hiking, snowshoeing and skiing are available on most voyages.

Akademik Sergey Vavilov

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov is an ice-strengthened vessel which started life in Finland as a scientific research vessel, and has since been refitted and refurbished to sail the Polar seas. The ship’s bridge is an excellent place from which to view wildlife, and the on board hot tub is a great addition!

Greg Mortimer

The Greg Mortimer introduces an exciting new generation of ship for cruising in the Polar regions. Purpose-built for expedition cruising with a uniquely designed ice-strengthened hull to provide a more comfortable voyage, this small ship can venture into remote areas that larger vessels cannot reach.

Ocean Nova

An extremely comfortable and well-equipped Polar expedition vessel, Ocean Nova is one of the leading vessels classified to operate in ice-filled waters. Accommodating around 60 passengers, cabins are outside facing and there is an excellent glass-enclosed forward observation lounge on the top deck.


The ice-strengthened Ortelius is an excellent vessel for expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. With the highest ice-class notation, it offers possibilities to travel to remote locations such as the Ross Sea and Franz Josef Land. Flexibility assures maximum wildlife opportunities.


The Plancius accommodates a maximum of 114 passengers in cabins ranging from triple to superior, all with outside view and private facilities. She offers a range of itineraries in Antarctica and the Arctic, and the large open deck spaces offer excellent opportunities to watch wildlife.

Polar Pioneer

Small and manoeuvrable, the Polar Pioneer is an ice-strengthened vessel, capable of venturing into remote corners of the world that many larger ships cannot reach. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, and you will be in the company of an experienced team of expedition experts and crew.

RCGS Resolute

Starting life as the first purpose built expedition cruise vessel for the Polar regions, RCGS Resolute continues with her purpose, sailing 146 passengers in comfort, with an excellent on-board crew to educate on the spectacular wildlife to be found in the Antarctic region.


The Ushuaia is an ice-strengthened vessel specially refurbished for Antarctic expedition voyages. She boasts 46 cabins and suites for a total of 88 passengers, and has a fantastic observation lounge designed to maximise wildlife viewing. A fleet of Zodiac inflatables is used for shore landings.