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Antarctica History

  • Penguin sliding down the slopes
  • Elephant seal
  • Wonderful iceberg nearly transparent
  • Beautiful snow capped mountains
  • Big cruise ship in the waters of Antarctic
  • Man exploring the waters

Antarctica has no indigenous populations and the first supported sighting of the fifth largest continent did not occur until the 19th century. In the first century AD, Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman writer suggested that there was a land in the south that served to balance the known northern lands of Europe and Asia. Before exploration of the southern part of the globe began in earnest in the 18th century, many believed that Antarctica was an enormous place that covered the entire Southern Ocean and some thought it connected to other known continents. 

Serious storms coupled with immense ice made it difficult to travel to this part of the world, yet many explorers went in search of the southern continent. In January 1773, Captain James Cook of England made the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle in history and later, in 1775, Cook also completed the first circumnavigation of Antarctica. In doing this, Cook proved that the continent was much smaller than anyone had previously thought. In his studies from his travels, Cook made note of the seals and whales he and his crew had encountered thus ushering in the sealing era. 

Between 1803-06, Fabian von Bellingshausen, a captain in the Russian Imperial Navy, and his crew became the first Russians to circumnavigate Antarctica. In 1819, Bellingshausen, at the request of Czar Alexander, was sent to explore the area again and in January 1820, he became the first person to spot land. Despite this accomplishment, the captain did not realize the significance of his journey. Just over a year later in February of 1821, Captain John Davis and his crew were credited with being the first men to step foot on the continent.

The Nimrod Expeditions led by Ernest Shackleton in 1907 resulted in many “firsts” for the explorers including being the first humans to cross the Ross Ice Shelf, the first to set foot on the South Polar Plateau and more. One of the most famous expeditions in Antarctica’s history was the race for the South Pole at the beginning of the 20th century. British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott was pitted against Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Eventually, Amundsen won the race, arriving at the South Pole on 19 December 1911 with Scott arriving a month later.

The mechanized age of exploration allowed for much more in-depth discovery of Antarctica.  Stronger ships and airplanes were essential while newly introduced radio communications meant explorers were able to keep in touch in this inhospitable climate. Sir Hubert Wilkens made the first Antarctic flight in 1928 which provided important aerial photos that were used for mapping and he also discovered new lands. Richard Byrd, an American naval officer, became the first to fly over the South Pole and his 1934 expedition proved (after centuries of debate) that Antarctica was a solitary continent.

In 1946 the United States launched Operation Highjump which became the largest Antarctic expedition in history. In 1954, the Australians set up the first permanent scientific research station on the continent. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in December 1959 and came into effect in 1961. This treaty meant that the continent was entirely dedicated to research and prevented any one government or military from overseeing the entire continent. Research conducted in Antarctica has significantly helped with the world’s understanding of climate change and many countries maintain research stations on the continent.

While Antarctica’s tourism season is relatively short, increasingly people are embarking on cruises and expeditions to this incredible continent. A place consistently surrounded by mystery, has to be seen firsthand to truly be experienced.



Antarctica Information

At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Antarctica.

Learn about the history of Antarctica and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Antarctica's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Continent Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Antarctica for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Antarctica cruises today!


Book your Antarctica tour with Goway! 

LATIN AMERICA by Goway is an exclusive division that specializes in planning and organizing Antarctica tours and experiences. Explore the world's seventh continent on a cruise or choose from one of our independent travel modules and more. We want to be your first choice when next you go globetrotting to Antarctica.

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