An Explorer’s Guide For How To Visit South Georgia Island

March 2, 2021

There aren’t many polar expeditions as adventurous, breathtaking, spiritual, and wondrous as an exploration of South Georgia Island. Known as the Galapagos of the Southern Ocean, South Georgia is accentuated by glistening glaciers and beautiful fjords. The island is home to many species of elephant seals and fur seals; alongside gentoo, chinstrap and Adélie penguins. South Georgia is also the only known habitat for the South Georgia Pintail and Pipit birds.

Quark Expeditions guests take in the rugged beauty and a rookery of King penguins at
St. Andrew's Bay, South Georgia. Photo: Acacia Johnson

South Georgia is rich with historical landmarks of both natural and manmade creation. One of the most celebrated structures is the Grytviken Church, which was first erected by whalers in 1913. The Grytviken Cemetery is located 700 meters south of the church, and historic polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton rests peacefully on the cemetery grounds (pictured here).

Once known as Roche Island, named in honor of the explorer Anthony de la Roché, South Georgia was later renamed in honor of King George III of England by famed British explorer Captain James Cook. Cook’s expedition to circumnavigate the globe on the Resolution led him to the shores of South Georgia on the voyage home. While exploring the South Sandwich Islands, Cook was the first explorer to correctly predict that the continent of Antarctica existed.

How to visit South Georgia Island

South Georgia Island is a sub-Antarctic climate; air travel is difficult against those kinds of elements. Instead, the government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands recommends that you travel by sea voyage to explore the wonders that the island has to offer.

It’s highly recommended that you book passage on a polar-ready ship that’s designed to deal with ice and polar waters. Such polar vessels are designed to withstand the frigid waters, allowing you to safely arrive at the island and disembark for an unforgettable adventure. A vessel staffed by a seasoned expedition team of polar experts can immerse you in the polar environment, help you safely locate natural wildlife, and take you on amazing off-ship adventures.

Best time to visit South Georgia Island

Tourists are welcome on South Georgia Island for most of the year, though the island is closed to most tourists in winter due to the extreme temperatures, heavy snow, and the ice that builds up along the coast of the island. Winter runs from May through September in South Georgia.

So when is the best time to visit the island? Photographers appreciate spring to capture local wildlife emerging from winter hibernation. Elephant seals, in particular, are very active in the spring months, and fur seals slowly emerge from hibernation to commence mating season along the beaches.

Time your visit right and you could get the chance to photograph an elephant seal pup. Photo: Acacia Johnson

Some of the most robust colonies of King penguins are found on South Georgia Island, also known as
the Galapagos of the Southern Ocean. Photo: Acacia Johnson

The summer months from December through mid-February are also very popular, and this is the time of year when tourism is at its highest. King penguins are among the most common wildlife during this period of time as they take control of many of the beaches.

Prime tourism season will be very popular in 2021. This year marks the first time in 16 years that an entire solar eclipse will be visible from South Georgia Island, which will commence on December 4, 2021. If you’re at all fascinated by the view of an eclipse, this is when and how to visit South Georgia Island.

How much does it cost to visit South Georgia Island?

The total cost will depend on the type of experiences and off-ship adventure options (and time of ship cabin)  that you select for your expedition. The type of excursions you select will affect the budget you’ll want to put aside for your life-changing polar adventure. 

You’ll need to factor in, of course, the cost of getting to your embarkation point from your home, and factor in the cost of any essentials for the trip. One of the must-have items is a polar-worthy coat. Guests who join a voyage with Quark Expeditions are given a high-end, incredibly durable Quark Parka upon boarding their vessel. This parka is yours to keep. That’s one must-have item you won’t need to buy!

How do you get to South Georgia Island?

Since air travel is out of the question, the most popular (and one of the few) ways of getting there is on a polar-sturdy vessel that can brave the icy waters surrounding the island. A ship as commanding as Quark Expeditions’ new polar vessel Ultramarine may be your best option to experience all that South Georgia can provide.

The technologically-advanced polar vessel Ultramarine will take travelers deeper into the Polar Regions
than was previous possible. Courtesy Quark Expeditions

Ultramarine is designed to take guests further into the polar regions than was previously thought possible, transporting travellers to new places and immersing them in the most amazing experiences the Polar Regions can provide. Off-ship adventures are made possible by Ultramarine’s two twin-engine helicopters and 20 quick-launching Zodiacs. The suites on this game-changing vessel  are among the most spacious in any category, and the rooms are powered by energy and water-efficient technology that exceed all industry standards.

But the most impressive feature about how to visit South Georgia Island aboard Ultramarine is the robust portfolio of adventure activities you can experience. There are also more outdoor wildlife viewing spaces onboard the ship than other expedition vessels of its calibre.

Things to do in South Georgia Island

One of the most popular activities in South Georgia is the chance to accompany experienced staff to observe wildlife species in their natural environment—and sometimes in staggering numbers. You’ll get the chance to see remarkable species such as penguins, walruses, whales and rarely seen birds, providing memorable and unforgettable polar experiences that you can reflect upon long after the trip is over.

The South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari is a highly recommended voyage. You’ll see the King Penguins as they roam the beaches, and watch as enigmatic albatross and pintado petrels swoop down from above as they soar between the shore and the sea. Your guides will even take you to the Grytviken Cemetery where you can pay your respects to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Most impressively, you’ll even get the chance to step foot on Antarctica itself, the world’s most southern continent.

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