Expeditions blog

The Arctic and the Antarctic – Are they really poles part?

April 29, 2021

The Antarctic and the Arctic might be at opposite ends of the planet but are they really so different? In this article we compare and contrast these wonderful destinations to help you decide which should be first on your bucket list and why travelling with National Geographic is the best way to discover the spectacular landscapes and wildlife they both offer.

An icy ocean, or a frozen continent? Take your pick.
Whilst they have much in common, what lies below these breathtakingly beautiful destinations could not be more different. The Arctic is actually a frozen ocean surrounded by the landmasses of Canada, the US, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Finland all of which have territorial rights over parts of it. In contrast the Antarctic is a continent in its own right, entirely covered by ice, and is not part of any country at all.

When should you go? Follow the Sun.
It is only possible to visit the Arctic or Antarctic in summer. So whilst you can visit the Arctic during the northern hemisphere’s summer, from May to September, the Antarctic is only accessible during the southern summer, between November and March. And whilst both of them offer you plenty of sunshine, you’ll need to wrap up warm to visit either! In the Arctic, summer temperatures can sometimes get as high as 12˚ Centigrade although more open they hover around zero. The Antarctic is significantly colder, and even in summer the temperature rarely exceeds 0˚C. But there’s no need to worry because we’ll provide you with a complimentary National Geographic Polar Parka to keep out the cold!

Cool Wildlife: polar bears or penguins?
As well as visiting the Polar Regions to marvel at the silent grandeur of these white wonderlands, most travellers are keen to get acquainted with the unique wildlife that is found here. And once again there’s a marked contrast between them. Anyone hoping to see both polar bears and penguins in one place is going to be disappointed!

The Arctic is the only place on the planet that is home to the polar bear. And although it is not always possible to guarantee that you’ll see one of these magnificent creatures, travelling with our onboard team of naturalists and experts, with their extensive knowledge of the region, gives you the best possible chance. There are also walrus, musk ox, reindeer, and arctic fox to be seen as well as whales and marine life in abundance.

The Antarctic, in contrast, has no land-based wildlife. But if you want to see penguins, this is definitely the place! There are also whales, seals and many fascinating seabird species who make the Antarctic their home.

Life in a landscape of ice
Human life is dramatically different in the two Polar Regions. In the Arctic there are a number of local communities who live within the Arctic Circle in the northernmost regions of Canada, Greenland, and Russia. Many have inhabited this beautiful but inhospitable place for centuries and their remarkable way of life, heavily based around the animals who live around them, has changed very little over time.

Conversely, the only humans on the continent of Antarctica are the scientists who work at polar research stations. But what the Antarctic lacks in native culture it makes up for with a landscape which has a drama that is truly unique. Despite being almost completely covered with snow and ice, its towering peaks, vast white vistas and surreal blue glaciers will take your breath away.

Whichever Pole you choose, choose to travel with us…
There is no one better to help you explore the Earth’s Polar Regions than National Geographic. Our luxury small expedition ships take you closer to the heart of the destination and visit remote places not accessible by large ships. On our cruises you’ll be accompanied by a National Geographic Expert, photographer as well as a team of naturalists who will share their knowledge and passion for the breath-taking destinations that we visit and will help you capture its incredible landscapes and wildlife.

National Geographic Expeditions is committed to sustaining the character and integrity of every place we visit. Our cruises go above and beyond environmental regulations, and our research and innovation help us minimise our impact on our destinations and the local communities who inhabit them. Travelling with us you’ll enjoy astonishing scenery, remarkable wildlife and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But above all you’ll be supporting the work of the National Geographic Society and their continued efforts to protect and preserve our world.

You can find all our cruises to the Polar Regions here.

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