Size: 14.25m km²

Population: 1,200

Currency: Bases in Antarctica generally accept US dollars.

Language: International

Visas: Not required for the continent but check departure point.

When to go: November to mid-March, unless you fancy round-the-clock darkness and temperatures below -50°C.

South America is the most popular gateway to Antarctica, the last great wilderness in the world. Cold, wind-beaten and desolate, the continent boasts the lowest temperature ever recorded, at -90°C, yet for many it is the most beautiful place on the planet.

The coastline is teeming with rare wildlife; gigantic icebergs and vast mountain ranges reflect in the freezing water; and the continent shivers under a blanket of snow and ice. It is like nowhere else on earth. Cruises run during the Antarctic summer, from November to mid- March. This is the only way to reach unique landscapes such as the Ross Ice Shelf, a glistening mass of floating ice the size of France, and Paradise Harbour, Antarctica's most beautiful bay. But it is the wildlife that attracts most visitors: you'll be taken ashore in rubber Zodiacs to see some of the world's rarest bird life, including the endangered wandering albatross, plus Minke whales and seals.

Then there are the penguins - thousands of them. Visit in November, the beginning of the Antarctic summer, to see them courting; through December and January the chicks are born; and during the last days of the Austral summer, in February and March, watch the impossibly cute youngsters head out to sea.

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Getting there