A visit to Antarctica is not just a trip: It's an unpredictable journey. Once you arrive you are rewarded with a world so different from your own—thousands of penguins, elephant seals and icebergs, even volcanoes and thermal springs.

The landscape of Antarctica is reduced to its barest elements: ice, rock, water and sky. But within those elements are variations both subtle and dramatic. Ice in all its many colors takes on shapes from floes and bergs to sheets and shelves. There is old ice and fast ice, grease ice and pancake ice, striated ice and fractured ice.

And, of course, there is thin ice—the element of the unknown that reminds travelers of their vulnerability on the coldest, driest, windiest, highest and most remote of continents.

In the past decade, Antarctica has become so popular, especially for nature-based tourism, that concerns have been raised about the continent's delicate ecosystem. To protect it, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators limits the number of passengers allowed ashore.

Tour operators are also supposed to ensure that travelers have as little impact as possible on the wildlife and the environment, and visitors are forbidden from approaching too close to wildlife. However, if you stand still, penguins will often approach you.

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