Lemaire channel at sunset.

Scenic sailing through Lemaire Channel in Antarctica

Lemaire Channel is one of the top tourist destinations in Antarctica! And for a good reason. This narrow channel with steep cliffs, old glacial ice, majestic icebergs and lots of wildlife has stolen our hearts and made our expedition cruise to the Antarctic continent the most unforgettable journey we have ever taken. So if you are visiting this area of the Antarctic Peninsula, prepare for the most amazing scenery! And keep your fingers crossed, as it is not always possible to navigate through this narrow passage! Your camera will be working overtime, so make sure to have your batteries charged!

Aurora Expeditions ship at the entrance of the Lemaire Channel.

Where is the Lemaire Channel?

The Lemaire Channel, a geographic marvel of Antarctica, is situated in the southernmost reaches of our planet. This narrow, steed-sided channel, can be found nestled between Booth Island and the Kiev Peninsula on the mainland’s Graham Land. Located at approximately 65°05’S latitude and 63°50’W longitude, it forms an integral part of the Antarctic Peninsula’s dramatic landscape. Stretching for about 11 kilometres (7 miles), the Lemaire Channel is renowned for its extraordinary natural beauty. Its narrowness creates an intimate and immersive experience for travellers, as only smaller expedition ships can navigate its pristine waters. 

Our visit

Date: At sunset, 13 December 2022.

Conditions: Clear skies, cold, but not windy (0°C).

What We Did:  

  • Navigated through the Lemaire Channel avoiding large icebergs (captain’s skills were certainly put into practice). 

Notable Things We Saw: 

Sailing through lemaire channel observing the scenery from the bow of the ship.

Will you be able to sail through the Lemaire Channel?

The bad news is that the Lemaire Channel is often impassable. Ships, attempting to cross this narrow, iceberg-filled passage, have to take a lot of things into consideration. Wind direction and strength, amount of sea ice blocking the way in and visibility, to name a few. Furthermore, icebreaker class ships may have less difficulty in navigating through the sea ice. But they may still struggle if the channel is packed with icebergs. 

Of course, the best time to cross Lemaire Channel is during the austral summer, which spans from November to February. During this period, temperatures are milder, and daylight hours are longer, providing better visibility and safer conditions for navigation. Additionally, warmer temperatures reduce the risk of ice congestion, making it more feasible for ships to pass through the channel. However, even during the summer months, weather conditions can be unpredictable in Antarctica, so prepare yourself to be slightly disappointed if things don’t go to plan. Our expedition leader told us that we were the last ship to cross the channel. It was packed with ice for the next couple of days. 

A huge flat-top iceberg in the Lemaire channel.

However, even if conditions aren’t quite right to sail through the channel, you will still be amazed by the scenery at the entrance of the Lemaire Channel. If you are starting at the Northern entrance, you will see towering Una Peaks (also known as Cape Renard Towers). The southern entrance presents a great opportunity to take photos of the scenery reflecting the protected waters around the Lemaire Channel. 

Generally speaking, the sea water is like a lake once you’re inside the channel – still and clear, reflecting the surrounding landscapes. The best time to sail through the channel for optimal lighting conditions tends to be early in the morning or later in the day. We sailed through the Lemaire Channel at sunset, and it was well… there are no words to describe it… 

Lemaire channel at sunset.

Quick facts

How long is the Lemaire Channel? It is approximately 7 miles (11km) long. Depending on the conditions, it takes about 1 hour to cross it. 

How wide is the Lemaire Channel? The channel is about 1600m wide at its narrowest point. But it seems even less wide due to icebergs floating on each side of the channel near the shores of the Peninsula and Booth Island. 

Who was the Lemaire Channel named after? It was named after the Belgian explorer Charles Lemaire, renowned for his expeditions in Central Africa. Charles Lemaire actually never visited the channel himself. His name was chosen by another Belgian explorer, Adrien de Gerlache, on a Belgian expedition to these remote places. 

Why is Lemaire Channel nicknamed ‘Kodak Gap’? Kodak is a well-known photography equipment manufacturer. Due to the exquisite beauty of this narrow passage, it is said that it’s impossible to take a bad photograph there. Therefore, the channel has been nicknamed Kodak Gap. 

still waters reflecting the mountain peaks in the Lemaire Channel.

Amazing scenery you can expect to see

We saw photos and videos of the Lemaire Channel when we were doing our research before the trip. But seeing it with our own eyes completely blew us away! As you venture through this icy corridor, you are enveloped by towering, glistening glaciers and breathtaking ice formations. Booth Island and the Kiev Peninsula, flanking the channel, offer a striking backdrop to this remote wonderland. The steep-sided cliffs of Booth Island and the rugged terrain of the Kiev Peninsula enhance the channel’s dramatic allure. This captivating setting is a testament to the untouched beauty of Antarctica, a place where the forces of nature have sculpted a breathtaking masterpiece. 

We started at the Southern entrance of the Lemaire Channel and were met with two snowy mountain tops, creating wonderful reflections of the surrounding landscape in the waters of Gerlache Strait. I could also see Pleneau Island to the left, with plenty of Gentoo Penguins on the shores. Learn more about Antarctic Penguins and how to capture penguins on camera here.

Reflections at the entrance of the Lemaire Channel.

We secured a spot at the bow of the ship and started the scenic sail through the channel observing the steep glacial cliffs on the Western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula and the rocky scenery on Booth Island, including Wandel Peak (the highest point on Booth Island). 

About halfway sailing through the Lemaire Channel, Deloncle Bay cuts back into the Antarctic Peninsula to the Hotine Glacier. The glacier tumbles down into the ice-cold waters, and the surrounding glacier ice calves away creating stunning icebergs and ice floes for seals to lounge on. 

At the end of the Lemaire Channel (which may be the entrance depending on which way you sail), we were greeted by Una Peaks (also known as Una Tits …). A sight to be seen to understand why these buttresses were so named (yes, it was the official name for a long while). 

Una’s Tits, really?

Una Peaks, located at the northern entrance of the Lemaire Channel in Antarctica, are a distinctive geographical feature known for their colloquial name, “Una’s Tits.” These two prominent, cone-shaped peaks rise dramatically from the icy landscape and have earned their playful moniker due to their striking resemblance to a pair of breasts.

The name “Una’s Tits” reflects the camaraderie and humour often exhibited by explorers in the challenging and remote Antarctic environment, where landmarks are sometimes informally named based on their distinctive shapes or characteristics.

Una Peaks (also known as Una's Tits) at the Northern Entrance of the Lemaire Channel.

Wildlife spotting opportunities

Crossing the iconic Lemaire Channel in Antarctica offers a unique opportunity to witness a diverse array of wildlife in their pristine natural habitat. As the ship navigates through the icy waters of this picturesque channel, keep an eye out for:

  • Humpback Whales, Orcas and Minke Whales. 
  • Seals. Leopard Seals, masters of the water, and Crabeater Seals can often be spotted lounging on ice floes or patrolling the channel’s waters. You may even spot Elephant Seals and Antarctic Fur Seals, especially during their breeding season, typically in the shoulder seasons of Antarctic tourism. 
  • Gentoo Penguins. These charming birds with their distinctive white eye patches and bright red-orange bills are often seen swimming in the Lemaire Channel.
  • Adelie Penguins. Characterized by their tuxedo-like appearance, Adelie penguins are skilled swimmers and can be seen porpoising through the icy waters.
Snow covered coast of the Antarctic Peninsular on the lemaire channel side.

A glimpse into the history of the Lemaire Channel

The Lemaire Channel has a rich history tied to exploration and discovery. Whilst it was first seen by a German expedition in 1873-74, its true story begins with the ship Belgica of the Belgian Antarctic expedition in 1897-1899. The expedition leader Adrien De Gerlache, aimed to explore the uncharted regions of Antarctica.

It was during this expedition that the Lemaire Channel was first crossed. In early 1898, the Belgica ventured into the narrow and ice-filled passage. And it certainly left a profound impression on the crew, which included Roald Amundsen and Frederick Cook. 

The Lemaire Channel in Antarctica is named after Charles Lemaire, a Belgian explorer of the Congo. The naming is a tribute to Lemaire’s contributions to exploration in Africa.

In modern history, the Lemaire Channel has become a popular destination for tourists and expedition cruises during the Antarctic summer. Its breathtaking scenery, with towering icebergs and wildlife-rich waters, continues to attract explorers and nature enthusiasts alike, perpetuating its legacy as one of Antarctica’s most iconic and historically significant passages.

A snowy mountain top in light clouds in the Lemaire Channel.

Tips For Photographers

Read the daily program of your cruise and listen for announcements on the ship, so you can secure a great spot on deck just before the ship enters the Lemaire Channel.

We found that the best spot was the bow of the ship. We got the first sight of huge icebergs we were approaching, the ship’s bulbous bow breaking through the thinner sea ice and any wildlife appearing ahead of us. You will also be able to see both sides of the Lemaire Channel if you are right at the bow.

However, consider the lighting when positioning yourself. We entered the Lemaire Channel as the sun started to set, and didn’t notice the amazing golden hues of the snow-capped mountains and the sky until much later when we moved to the aft of the ship.

Before sailing through the Lemaire Channel, get your camera gear together. We promise you one thing, you will not be able to put your camera down for one second.

Ice structure looking down from the ship.

I personally used my wide-angle lens most whilst sailing through the channel. But I would also highly recommend having a zoom lens accessible to capture any wildlife, remote icebergs and zoom in on the peaks of the surrounding mountains.

Sailing through the Lemaire Channel also presents a great opportunity for creating stunning time lapses. If you are not worried about taking up space and upsetting your fellow explorers, grab your tripod and set up at the bow.

Leave your polarizer in your cabin though – you will want to capture the reflections in the water (unless you want to take photos of the blue portion of icebergs in the water)! Read more about iceberg photography here.

For more tips, head straight to our article about Antarctica Photography Tips.

Are you going on an expedition cruise to Antarctic Peninsula?

Antarctic cruise is a trip of a lifetime (and here’s why you should visit Antarctica ASAP!), and it is one of the locations we truly hope to come back to sometime. So if you are brave enough to cross the Drake Passage to explore the frozen continent, you will likely visit some of these classic Antarctica lading sites:  

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