Antarctica is the southernmost of the seven continents on Earth and contains the geographic South Pole. It is not a country, and there is no government or indigenous population. Instead, the continent is governed by an international agreement called the Antarctic Treaty System. The treaty establishes that the continent is to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and ensures freedom of scientific investigation.
Antarctica does not have a permanent population. The only inhabitants are researchers and support staff who live temporarily in various research stations scattered across the continent. Approximately 5,000 people live in the research stations during the summer, dropping to around 1,000 during the harsher winter months. In the summer, there is almost constant daylight, while in the winter, it is almost always dark.
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth. It contains about 90% of the world's ice, and the Antarctic Ice Sheet can be up to 4.7 kilometers (2.9 miles) thick. The lowest temperature ever recorded was at the Russian Vostok Station in Antarctica, which dropped to -89.2°C (-128.6°F).
The existence of a southern continent was speculated about for centuries before it was first sighted in 1820 by a Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev. However, it wasn't until 1911 that humans first reached the South Pole, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen achieved the feat.
Visiting Antarctica as a tourist is possible. Most visitors arrive via ship, typically leaving from Ushuaia in Argentina, Punta Arenas in Chile, or other ports in New Zealand or South Africa. Trips often include stops at the Antarctic Peninsula, which is the most accessible part of the continent.
Tourism is tightly regulated to minimize environmental impact, and visitors usually engage in activities like wildlife viewing (penguins, seals, and birds), photography, and sometimes even scuba diving or kayaking in the icy waters. Given the remote and extreme environment of Antarctica, it is essential for visitors to be well-prepared and to travel with experienced tour operators who comply with the Antarctic Treaty's environmental protocols.