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Visiting the Poles

Visiting the Poles travel guide

The Arctic and Antarctica: poles apart, but with similarly spectacular wildlife, icebergs and adventures

The Arctic and Antarctica were once the preserve of extraordinary polar explorers, of whalers and trappers, and – in the case of the Arctic Circle – of nomadic indigenous people. However, these icy wildernesses that once seemed so remote are now accessible to all.

Several countries fall within the Arctic Circle – parts of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the USA (Alaska). An estimated 650,000 indigenous people live here today, although they live in settlements and buy food at the supermarket rather than live off the land as they once had to do.

For the visitor it is the wildlife, the wilderness and the remoteness that bring them, as well as natural phenomena such as the midnight sun and the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). However, once here the history and culture of the peoples can fascinate just as much. You can explore the oceans and coastlines of the area on an expedition cruise, or you can stay in any of the countries that fall within the Arctic, perhaps having a go at dog sledding or snowmobiling, or enjoying the brief, bright summers.

Antarctica is very different to the Arctic. For a start, there are no polar bears; instead this is the land of the penguin. There are no permanent populations of people either. Stunning icebergs of myriad sizes, shapes and colours dot the water. Antarctica is everything you expect but much more too. This is a destination that certainly lives up to the hype, and Antarctica’s haunting beauty will stick with you forever.

A growing number of visitors are making it to this terra incognita, usually on an expedition cruise. However, you should still be able to avoid other people, other than your fellow passengers, and get to appreciate the solitude. A trip here isn't for those who like a fixed itinerary: Antarctica’s weather is unpredictable, as is the Arctic’s, and a salutary reminder of the power of nature.

Some people find that they prefer the far North. Some find that it is Antarctica that they fall in love with. Either way, you cannot fail to be impressed, touched and moved by the Poles.

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