A shadow engulfs the landscape, the temperature drops, and as the moon moves slowly to block out the last vestiges of sunlight, planets pop into view in the oddly darkened sky and the colours of sunset encircle the entire horizon. In these precious few minutes you can witness the movement of the celestial bodies in real time, as the sun's ethereal atmosphere dances around the total blackness of the moon.
On 4th December 2021 there is a rare opportunity to observe this remarkable event amongst some of the most breathtaking scenery that our planet has to offer, as the continent of Antarctica is darkened by a total solar eclipse. This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine two bucket list experiences into one unforgettable trip - you won't be able to see this phenomenon again here for another 400 years or so.
Here is our guide to the best expedition cruise lines visiting Antarctica for the 2021 solar eclipse:
This extraordinary voyage offers the most southerly view of the eclipse of any cruise ship in Antarctica, sailing on board Ponant's revolutionary new 270-guest electric hybrid icebreaker, Le Commandant Charcot. Travel from Ushuaia into the Weddell Sea, landing on the thick ice pack to observe the total solar eclipse. Explore the region where Ernest Shackleton was famously icebound, then explore the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and the imposing ice barrier formed by the Larsen ice shelf, which produces huge tabular icebergs. Returning to Ushuaia through the South Shetland Island, your voyage provides ample opportunity to see Adélie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins, Weddell, crabeater and leopard seals, humpback whales, and a variety of sea birds.
2. Silversea Expeditions - Silver Wind (20th November to 12th December 2021)
This is one of the most in-depth Antarctica eclipse cruises on offer, sailing from Buenos Aires on the 274-guest Silver Wind. Your 22-day expedition includes the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the total solar eclipse and the Antarctic Peninsula. You'll make several landings in the Falkland Islands, where you'll see penguin and albatross colonies, and Brits will experience a strangely familiar feeling of home. Then spend three days exploring South Georgia, with incredible wildlife experiences that surpass even those of the Antarctic Peninsula and will leave you speechless with their sheer scale. After positioning to see the total eclipse at sea, you have five more days exploring Elephant Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands, before crossing the Drake Passage to end your cruise in Ushuaia.
3. Aurora Expeditions - Sylvia Earle (23rd November to 8th December 2021)
Aurora's 132-guest Sylvia Earle is due to launch at the beginning of November 2021, and will be the line's second ship to feature the revolutionary X-BOW design. This technology not only increases passenger comfort by eliminating slamming in heavy seas, it also speeds up your journey so time in choppy conditions is minimised. This also results in environmental benefits, reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Departing from Ushuaia, Aurora's 15-night eclipse voyage includes the South Shetland Islands, six days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula, a positioning for the total solar eclipse and the return crossing of the Drake Passage. You'll be accompanied on the voyage by renowned astronomy expert Pete Lawrence, who has presented on programmes such as 'The Sky at Night', 'Stargazing Live', 'Horizon' and 'Forces of Nature' on the BBC.
4. Hurtigruten - MS Fram (22nd November to 15th December 2021) / MS Roald Amundsen (24th November to 12th December 2021)
Hurtigruten are offering not just one but two solar eclipse voyages to Antarctica. The longer Ushuaia round-trip itinerary departs 22nd November on board the charming MS Fram, which is limited to a maximum of 200 guests and has plenty of experience operating in the region. The 23-day voyage covers all the region's highlights, including the Falklands, South Georgia, viewing the eclipse from the South Orkney Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. The shorter 18-day Punta Arenas round-trip is on board the slightly larger 500-guest MS Roald Amundsen, one of Hurtigruten's pioneering hybrid vessels, and includes the same highlights with the exception of South Georgia.
5. Quark Expeditions - Ocean Diamond (26th November to 12th December 2021) / World Explorer (25th November to 14th December 2021)
Quark also offer two solar eclipse voyages. The longer 20-day trip on board the 189-guest Ocean Diamond includes three days in the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, four days in South Georgia and two days in the Falkland Islands, as well as the total solar eclipse. The slightly shorter 17-day trip on the newer 172-guest World Explorer is accompanied by American eclipse author David Baron (check out his popular TED Talk 'You owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse') and offers two days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula before positioning for the total eclipse and then sailing on to South Georgia for two days.