It’s easy to imagine the Arctic as the literal polar opposite of the Antarctic, a mirror image of snow and glaciers located on the northernmost part of the globe. In fact, the Arctic is not only distinctly different in terms of landscape and environment from its southern counterpart, it varies greatly in terms of its own topography, ecology and wildlife. Snow-capped mountain ranges and fjords, epic glaciers, icebergs, rolling tundra, fascinating native culture and wildlife abound in the Arctic, and these have been luring explorers and travelers to this region for millennia. In years past, many areas of the Arctic were not navigable by vessel even in the summer months due to the impenetrable nature of the polar cap. As global temperatures have sharply risen in the past few decades, the pack ice in the Arctic has decreased and shifted dramatically, allowing ships access through inlets and passages that were previously best explored by air or snowmobile. This has opened the Arctic to the dangers of drilling and increased transportation, but also to scientists, conservationists, naturalists and curious travelers- all drawn to the abundant wildlife and magnificient landscapes.
The Arctic is defined by a longitudinal circle that rings the geographical North Pole. It is not simply the continental land masses and islands that exist with this zone, the Arctic also contains a massive polar cap of frozen sea ice that shifts seasonally and is defined as the area north of the Arctic Circle, or north of 66° 33'N.
Arctic expeditions explore anywhere from 1 to 4 regions, depending on their route which range from the heralded passages of the Canadian Arctic, the pack ice of the magnetic North Pole, to the shores of Greenland, Iceland, and Norway and the Russian Far East. A handful of land-based wildlife tours in Churchill Manitoba Canada offer visitors the chance to see polar bears close up and in great numbers as the wait for the might Hudson Bay to freeze over.
At ExploringCircle, we primarily recommend the small expedition ships that are specially outfitted to brave the rigors of the Arctic waters, allowing visitors an exceptional platform to explore this unique and rewarding region. These vessels range from 100 to 200 passenger luxury expedition ships to 36 - 180 expedition vessels that once served as cold weather ferries or scientific research ships. The nuclear icebreakers that venture to the North Pole employ helicopters to transport visitors to the more remote areas of the Arctic. Zodiacs are deployed from the vessels for landing and some vessels utilize kayaks as well in order to bring visitors closer still to glaciers, polar bears, walrus pods, icebergs and breaching whales. Shore visits with naturalists lend deep insight into this extraordinary landscape and its rich history and there are now adventure options that allow visitors the chance to cross country ski, snow shoe or even gain some mountaineering skills.