Is South Georgia Worth the Visit?
This is a question we get from many travelers every season. Is it worth spending 18-20 days on an expedition ship, and spend the extra money to see this remote island? What is so great about it?
In order to understand this question and make your own conclusion about South Georgia, we should first do a quick recap about this island.
South Georgia is part of an archipelago of islands called the South Antilles. It is a sub-Antarctic territory that is administered by the United Kingdom. This group of islands is found 1,300 km southeast of the Malvinas (Falkland Islands). The human population is seasonal and has dissipated due to the lack of economic activity. The only place you can find people is at a British Antarctic Survey base, close to the historic whaling facility Grytviken.
When travelers ask us about South Georgia, the first reference we make is to Jurassic Park.
As you arrive to Saint Andrews Bay, one of the largest King Penguin colonies in the word with about 400,000 birds, you are greeted by a cacophony of sights and sounds. The beach is packed with Elephant seals and fur seals, with wandering albatross careening overhead. As far as the eye can see, there are King Penguins going about their day. The backdrop provides a dramatic contrast: green hills and snow-covered mountains dotted by glaciers. This is the real-life Jurassic Park.
As you move up the beach, it’s hard to process the King Penguin colony’s size. How can there be so many different animals all in the same place at the same time? It’s an image that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
If all of this isn’t enough to convince you of the magic of South Georgia, it’s also important to consider the dramatic history of this island
Captain James Cook carried out the first known landing on Saint Peter’s Island on the 17th of January 1775, and he named the island “Georgia,” in honor of King George III, claiming it for the King of Britain. During the 19th century, South Georgia was a base for sealing, and then in the early 20th century for whaling, in the Southern Ocean. Perhaps the most famous history is Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous trek across the island (which you can do part of on these trips). This famous explorer rests at Grytviken, where travelers usually stop and pay homage as well.
What are these long trips like?
Generally the long voyage, which includes South Georgia, Malvinas / Falklands and the Antarctic Peninsula, are 19 days long. The expedition departs from Ushuaia and sails one day to reach Malvinas / Falklands. After exploring these islands for two days, the ship sets sail for South Georgia. The crossing takes approximately two days and can be a great opportunity to spot seabirds and whales, not to mention to take advantage of the lectures and onboard education programs. Voyages then spend three or four days in South Georgia, focusing on seeing the King Penguin chicks (brown plumage) and adults, and other wildlife, and to also get a taste for the history of this famed place.
The chance to walk the route Shackleton hiked to save his crew, to see the ruins of 100-year-old whaling stations, to experience thousands of animals in their home environment with incredible mountains in the backdrop, all of this and more makes South Georgia worth the trip. If you have an adventurous spirit, interest in wildlife and the time & budget to do it, you should not hesitate to visit South Georgia, the “Galapagos of the Polar Region.”