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You can’t quite sail off the edge of the world, whatever ancient travellers might have thought, it certainly does feel that you have reached the ends of the earth. The Arctic and Antarctic are the least inhabited, least visited places on the planet, and the rarity of the experiences you might have there is a major part of their allure.
As the world tilts on its axis, the Arctic and Antarctic experience the most extreme of seasons, with midnight sun in their summers, and days and weeks of darkness in the winter months. When the Arctic is enjoying its warmest months in June and July, and the ice begins to melt, making otherwise cut-off areas temporarily accessible, the Antarctic is at its coldest and darkest. The same is true in reverse: the best time to visit Antarctica is surely in December and January.
Taking advantage of these seasonal extremes, polar exploration vessels such as the Silver Explorer and the Akademik Ioffe migrate from pole to pole with the weather. An adventurous traveller might board the Silver Explorer in Canada’s portion of the Arctic Circle to view the Northern Lights, then sail on through the Northwest Passage to Greenland. By September, it is time for the boat to head south to Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina, to begin its dramatic itineraries around the Antarctic Peninsula, to South Georgia, to Drake Passage, and to West Point Island.
Although the polar regions are alike in the severity of their climate, there are notable differences between the Arctic and Antarctic, in their geography, their human populations, and their wildlife. The Antarctic, a continent in its own right, is a vast land mass coated in ice, whilst the Arctic is primarily an ocean, in which lie numerous islands. The flora is notably richer in the Arctic – you’ll see tundra and flowering plants – and the Arctic has both marine and terrestrial mammals. Only marine mammals, the penguins, whales and seals, live in the Antarctic. The only human inhabitants here are the scientists who have made the continent their temporary home.