South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are two groups of sub-Antarctic islands of the Southern Ocean east of the southern tip of South America, north of Antarctica. The islands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom that are administered from the Falkland Islands, but are also claimed by Argentina.
South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are rugged islands, rising out of the Southern Ocean. There are no indigenous residents, very few people live here and only those who really want to make the trip end up coming.
The islands have played a minor role in history, including a brief occupation by Argentina during the Falklands War in 1982, the Falkland Islands themselves being 1000 km (621 miles) to the west. One famous previous visitor is Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who used the islands as a staging post for his 1914 expedition. He is in fact buried in the small settlement of Grytviken.
As with the Falklands, Argentina still maintains a formal claim to the islands, however the British military presence on the islands came to an end in March 2001. Today, the King Edward Point station houses a permanent group of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, which also maintains a biological station on Bird Island.
These islands are one of the most remote places in the world, with the only access being by sea. The Southern Ocean is one of the roughest in the world with storms that can make even the most hardened sailor feel ill.
The islands allow visitors to land at multiple points around the islands. Usually all the documentation will be taken care of by the cruise or expedition you are with. Independent travel by ship requires prior approval of your entire itinerary. The application forms are available online . The main requirements for independent travellers are to have insurance and to ensure you are self-sufficient. A fee of GBP£105 is also payable per passenger for visits up to 3 days.
Only competent mountaineers need try and travel overland, because of the glaciers. The best way to get around is by boat. If you have time come by yacht - specialist charterers operate out of Ushuaia and the Falklands. If time is tight come on a cruise ship. There are around 40 visits a year between November and March. In winter the snow is down to sea level and cross-country skis, or snowshoes, are the way to get about. In summer you can walk normally, at least down near the coast.
Should you find anyone to talk to, the language most commonly used is English. More than likely, however, your only companions will be those who come with you, so you can feel free to converse in any language you choose.
There is a small gift shop at Grytviken which will accept Falkland pounds, British pounds, American dollars and Euros. Water is sold by the tonne. Most large ships visiting the islands will sell basic supplies (razors, shampoo, hats, snacks), but otherwise it is unlikely you will have any use for whatever money you bring with you.
It is illegal to kill or damage native flora or fauna so penguin egg omelettes and albatross chicks are off the menu.
While there is a small bar at King Edward Point, unless you're a researcher living at the station it's not a place that visitors have access to. As a result, all alcohol and other beverages should be brought with you.
Anyone wishing to sleep ashore overnight must have their proposal vetted by the Government's Expeditions Advisory Panel. This process will cost you GBP£1000 per expedition. As a result, nearly all visitors to the islands sleep aboard ship at night.
Camping may be permitted in the Grytviken area without going through the expensive expedition application vetting process, but you will have to have transport and medical backup prearranged.
Respect wildlife. It lives here, we don't. Breeding animals in particular are prone to disturbance.
During the summer mail may be left in Grytviken, and it is picked up whenever either a supply ship or a fishery patrol ship arrives - usually around once a month. The only other option for contacting the outside world is with a satellite phone, which most boats will make available at a charge of between US$2 and US$5 per minute.
There is no public Internet, phone or email access available on shore.