The Arctic is one of those destinations that invariably scores highly on most people's travel wish lists. Pristine landscapes, bountiful wildlife, indigenous tribes and natural phenomena give the Arctic a unique appeal, while its proximity to Europe and the northern reaches of Canada and the United States make it more accessible than other wilderness areas. Plus, it has much to offer travelers wanting to follow in the footsteps of explorers to discover a region that is rich in natural experiences and, in parts, still relatively untouched by the 21st century.
Unlike Antarctica, which is a continent in its own right, the Arctic is generally defined as the area contained within the Arctic Circle, which spans the top of the earth at a latitude of 66.5622 degrees. Stretching across the North Pole, it encompasses the northern regions of Norway plus the Svalbard archipelago, Sweden, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Russia and the U.S. (Alaska) -- accounting for 6 percent of the earth's surface.
Such a vast area is home to a rich array of wildlife. Polar bears, the so-called "Kings of the Arctic," roam the icy wastes and are the top attraction for many visitors. Other species to be seen include whales, seals, walruses, Arctic foxes, musk oxen, reindeer and numerous birds.
Inuit tribes have lived in settlements in Greenland, Russia and Canada's far north for centuries. More recently, this harsh wilderness has attracted the attention of explorers like Briton Sir John Franklin, who disappeared during a disastrous expedition to chart a section of the elusive North West Passage in 1845, and Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who in 1903 to 1906, was first to sail this legendary channel connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.