The first stop for anyone on a fly-cruise to Antarctica, the South Shetland Islands serve an important role in Antarctic exploration. The group of islands lies about 75 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula and is home to several national research bases including: Chile’s Frei Station, Russia’s Bellingshausen Station, Peru’s Machu Picchu Research Station and the important air strip that services more than 200 flights a year. Explorers have been visiting the islands since at least the 17th century, due to its strategic location close to the Antarctica Peninsula. There is even some evidence that indigenous peoples from nearby South America may have visited at some point in the distant past.
Weather on the South Shetlands can be unpredictable, even during the more temperate summer months. Frequent fog often delays incoming flights from South America and can delay return trips as well. The terrain of the islands is stark but does manage to support limited plant life and like many of the surrounding islands attracts a large number of seals and penguins. Most visitors do not spend much time on the islands during their cruise, but the stations do serve as an unusual point of interest and are usually welcoming to visitors.