The icy and otherworldly landscapes of the Polar Regions have intrigued and captured the hearts of ancient and modern explorers for centuries. These regions are home to some of the harshest conditions on the planet, yet their mystery and beauty continue to awe and inspire.
While areas of the Arctic have been inhabited for thousands of years, Antarctica is a more recent discovery and its only human inhabitants are scientists. Both regions have similarities – glittering glaciers, a labyrinth of perfectly-sculpted icebergs, and the dancing lights of the aurora borealis and australis – but both also have unique differences.
Although the Antarctic in the South Pole is a continent, the Arctic is merely a massive ice cap. However, the Arctic is part of the northern polar region, which includes portions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Russia. Only in some of the Arctic regions can you view the magnificent polar bear roaming wind-swept shores in search of food and only in Antarctica can you view beaches covered in thousands of adorable penguins.
Antarctica is the world's largest desert
No country owns the North Pole
Antarctica contains 90% of fresh water on the planet
17 of 20 highest US peaks are in Alaska
Through endurance we conquer.
Even today, Viking legend lives on through sagas and is a rich part of Iceland and Greenland’s history. Few Vikings are more well-known today—over 1,000 years after his death—than Erik the Red.
Born in Norway around 950 AD and nicknamed for his hair/beard color, Erik Thorvaldsson grew up in an Icelandic Viking community, but not long after his first son was born, he was exiled from Iceland for killing some men. So, he set off in search of new lands, sailing around Greenland until he discovered verdant valleys. He later returned home with grand tales of his adventures in the “Green Land,” hoping to entice fellow Vikings as they had recently endured a famine in Iceland.
His salesmanship skills proved strong, and he soon led a fleet of Viking ships to Greenland. They began settling the area, and by the turn of the millennium there were around 3,000 Vikings living on 300-400 farms. Their society survived on Greenland for another 500 years before disappearing for reasons that remain unknown.
Antarctica’s most universally loved wildlife is its penguins, and the up-close encounters visitors are virtually guaranteed to have only made them more so. The continent and the sub-antarctic islands are home to eight different species, all of which can be seen in fairly large numbers.
The emperor penguin is the tallest and heaviest, averaging around 50 pounds and four feet in height. Although they typically breed on pack ice and shelf ice, several breeding colonies have been found on the Antarctic Peninsula in recent years. Individuals are occasionally spotted on South Georgia, where you’ll also find king (the second largest penguin species), macaroni, gentoo, and chinstrap penguins.
Adelie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins are all commonly seen on the Peninsula and surrounding islands, nesting on rocks relatively close to shore. Adelies are the smallest and the only ones you’ll see sliding on their bellies. Chinstraps are identified by the distinctive facial markings, while gentoos boast beautiful reddish-orange bills.
On the Falkland Islands, view huge populations of southern rockhopper penguins, the small crested species pictured in Happy Feet, as well as gentoo and Magellanic penguins, named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Discover more of the polar region’s wildlife.