Antarctica solar eclipse in 2021

The December 2021 solar eclipse in Antarctica will be an incredibly rare phenomenon, only the second time ever that humans have been able to witness a total eclipse from this region. And there can be few locations where the effect will be as dramatic, or for that matter where the excitement of the eclipse risks being overshadowed by the magnificence of the landscapes.

“This voyage is designed with the eclipse-chaser in mind,” assures David Tanguay of Quark Expeditions, which in partnership with our expert operator Exodus Travels will be embarking on a very special small ship cruise to Antarctica in November 2021, to experience a total solar eclipse. “We ran the only eclipse trip to Antarctica in 2003 and although we certainly won’t be the only ones out there this time, we have an advantage in that our 2021 voyage will be accompanied by Fred Espenak. He’s a retired NASA astrophysicist and a veteran of almost 30 eclipse expeditions, which is why they call him Mr Eclipse. If anyone knows their stuff it’s him.”
In the early morning of Friday 4 December 2021, the White Continent will, for a little under two minutes, be shrouded in complete darkness. Getting a successful sighting will be far from easy as the eclipse has to be appreciated from the sea. The best place to witness this incredibly rare phenomenon will be from the Scotia Sea, between the South Orkney Islands and South Georgia, and so eclipse-chasers (umbraphiles) need to set sail. The best way to get there is aboard a specialist small ship cruise. Then there is the fact that the eclipse will move east to west, the opposite direction to most eclipses, and something only possible in polar regions. While your specialist crew will know exactly when and where to position you for the best effect, there is still a chance you won’t see the eclipse, so it’s doubly important to make the rest of the trip memorable.
As with any other eclipse that takes place in a remote location, there is little point in going such a long way for that reason alone. The Antarctica 2021 eclipse is the perfect opportunity to explore one of the planet’s most spectacular regions: South Georgia, with its beaches a canvas of wildlife; the Falklands archipelago; the Antarctic Peninsula; the historic Beagle Channel and the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.

Our top Eclipse Vacation

Antarctic eclipse vacation

Antarctic eclipse vacation

A 14-day cruise to Antarctica during a total solar eclipse

From US $11995 14 ex flights
Small group travel:
2021: 29 Nov
Travel Team
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Highlights of an Antarctica solar eclipse vacation

Itineraries will vary depending on which cruise you opt for, but almost all will get underway from Ushuaia in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the southernmost town in the world. It’s a small place, easily overrun by tourists on cruise departure and arrival days, so some responsible operators aim to arrange their boarding and departure times for the quietest periods of the week to keep disruption to a minimum. There are plenty of local shops and cafes in Ushuaia to stock up on last-minute supplies.

Crossing the Tierra del Fuego archipelago you’ll sail along the Beagle Channel, named for the ship that carried Darwin to South America. The next few days are spent roaming the Antarctic Peninsula of the White Continent, where an atmosphere of absolute serenity and stillness can be shattered in a second by a glacier calving, or a seabird’s squawk. There are very few places where a cruise ship, even a small one, can dock, so you will instead explore using Zodiac, rigid-hulled inflatable boats ideal for this environment. You might be visiting a cacophonous colony of penguins – chinstraps, gentoos and Adélies are found here, as well as several species of seals.
Another big advantage of a small ship is that passengers are limited to around 200 (we never sell cruise vacations that exceed 250). That means you won’t be spending hours waiting around every day for your turn to disembark, and it also means that there will be fewer passengers to each crew member. And make no mistake – cruise vacations of this type are not employing your average crew. Besides leading you out snowshoeing or hiking on exciting shore excursions, piloting Zodiacs around icebergs and offering photography tips on the observation decks as minke whales swim past, these polar experts will be providing workshops on subjects such as the glaciology, wildlife and history of the region. The build-up to the eclipse will involve presentations on subjects including astronomy and meteorology. Many trips will be accompanied by experts such as Fred Espenak, there to impart their fascinating knowledge and experience around this rare event.
Depending on your itinerary you might then continue to South Georgia, its beaches blanketed with penguins, its hills and cliffs populated with vast numbers of seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels. Once a major whaling and sealing station, the island is also scattered with relics of human activity including Grytviken, where Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary Antarctic explorer, was laid to rest.
Longer itineraries may also spend some time in the Falkland Islands. Here Zodiac excursions may take you to colonies of Magellanic and southern rockhopper penguins, the occasional king penguin making an appearance too. Stanley, the capital, has a charming British outpost ambience, a good place to sink a pint while toasting the eclipse.
A total solar eclipse in Antarctica is a rarity and there will be plenty of cruises available, each of them likely to have one or two special guests aboard to share their expert knowledge. The 2021 eclipse can only be viewed from a ship, and luckily as far as accessibility is concerned, it coincides with summer in the Antarctic.

You will usually be equipped with a set of eclipse glasses on the big day (check with your operator before departure) which, obviously, it’s essential that you use. The visibility of any eclipse can be affected by weather conditions – that will certainly be the case with the extreme latitude of the 2021 Antarctica eclipse. Totality will fall in the early morning, after which you’ll be free to return to bed, or more likely be so excited that you’ll head straight for breakfast.

The Antarctic is a fragile, at-risk environment. Responsible tourism is critically important here. “In our experience most operators are 100% taking sustainability seriously,” says David Tanguay. “You have to if you want to be a member of IAATO (the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators), which makes it so much easier to get travel permits.”
Many travelers return from vacations in these regions as committed polar advocates, but there are steps you can take even before going to ensure your environmental footprint is kept to the minimum. As you need to fly, stay longer and choose a small ship. They will often take a leisurely pace to use less fuel, and may also run on more expensive but cleaner marine fuel too. Small ships mean lower impact all round. “We’re incredibly conscious of the sensitivity of these regions,” emphasises David Tanguay. “We use the latest technology in waste management for instance, in some cases reducing in by 95 percent, and we have a strict no single-use plastic policy too. We use sustainable and local seafood for meals wherever possible as well.” Towards the end of the trip, a passenger auction may be held to raise funds for charities such as the South Georgia Heritage Trust.
And of course, don’t think for a minute that small ship means skimping on the amenities. Sure, in the Antarctic these are expedition vessels and you shouldn’t expect the luxuries of a tacky mega-resort at sea, but you’ll still be nice and comfortable. A typical small ship will have a library, an observation lounge with large windows and a fitness suite. Others may be equipped with sophisticated lecture theatres, swimming pools, even running tracks for those that like to stay in shape on vacation. This type of trip often attracts solo travelers too, and some vessels will have single cabins available.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: James Niland] [Travel by zodiac: Liam Quinn] [Penguins and ship: James Eades] [Grytviken: Lexaxis7] [Life onboard: Ben Stephenson]
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