Ice-crowned Antarctica allured me ever since I was a little girl. This past November, on the eve of my 33rd birthday, I got the gift of a lifetime when I visited the world’s most pristine frontier.

Beginning in Buenos Aires

My journey to the Earth’s end began in Buenos Aires, where I crashed for a few hours of sleep in a hotel after a long flight from the US.

At dawn, it was right back to the airport to hop another plane down to the southernmost tip of Argentina.

Ushuaia: Where the End of the World Begins

After a 3.5 hour flight to the end of the South American continent, I wandered around the port city of Ushuaia before it was time to board the boat for Antarctica.

Known as the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia is the primary access point to the Southern Ocean – more than 90 percent of expedition cruises to Antarctica depart from here.

The Drake Passage

After the first day of calm cruising aboard the M/V Ocean Endeavour, the ship ventured into the notorious Drake Passage. The confluence of three oceans, it is the world’s most treacherous body of water – this is where one must earn their journey to Antarctica.

Stretching 1000km between Chile’s Cape Horn and Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands, the Drake takes about two days to cross. Between staggering around the swaying ship’s decks and attempting to avert bouts of dizziness and seasickness, I had plenty of time to curl up with a book and a cup of tea.

Approaching Antarctica

After a safe crossing of the Drake Passage, we got our first glimpse of the incredible landscape when we approached Antarctic Sound, a body of water that connects the northernmost tip of the Antarctic mainland and the glaciated Joinville Islands group.

Known as a ‘parking lot for giant icebergs’, Antarctic Sound was an astounding preview for all of the magnificent ice formations I would soon encounter.

Exploring the Landscapes

Once we reached the South Shetland Islands, and later the Antarctic Peninsula, we disembarked the Ocean Endeavour twice each day to witness the spectacular landscapes.

Navigating the waters of the Weddell Sea in boats called Zodiacs was a thrilling and intimate way to take in the breathtaking scenes of the Antarctic, and carried us ashore the continent where we could get up close and personal with the spectacular wildlife.

Meeting the Penguins

On an Antarctic expedition cruise, penguins are the primary topic of conversation. I never really thought twice about them before taking this trip – but after seeing Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adélie penguins in droves over the course of 10 days, I came to understand all the hype.

One morning, we awoke to a special announcement from the ship’s ornithologist: a lone Emperor penguin had been spotted on an iceberg in the distance. We had gotten incredibly lucky – such a sighting is rare on this part of the continent.

Taking the Plunge

There were lots of activities to keep us engaged and entertained on board the Ocean Endeavour when we weren’t out on Zodiac expeditions – lectures, yoga, Q&As with scientists and the occasional dance party in the ship’s lounge, just to name a few.

But the most memorable and exhilarating was an event called the Polar Plunge, where we jumped off the side of the ship into the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean.

Soaking up the Midnight Sun

During the Antarctic summer (November to March), the sun barely dips below the horizon – and at the peak of the season, it never sets at all.

Even at midnight, when this last photo was taken, the landscapes are illuminated with an unforgettable magic. No matter the hour, every single moment in Antarctica is replete with inspiration and humbling grandeur.