So, can you visit Antarctica? Unequivocally, yes!
Antarctica is an elusive continent for many. Few people are fortunate enough to visit every year, although more and more people are making the trip to Antarctica in recent seasons. The best time to visit Antarctica is between November and March. Although the season has started pushing into April, purely because of demand. However, the shoulder months may experience more sea ice which makes reaching Antarctica a little more difficult.
If you are wanting to visit the Antarctic region, keep reading below for information on how to get to Antarctica and how you may be able to spend your time in Antarctica.
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Information about Antarctica
There are numerous Antarctica facts that I could go through, but before we get into the nitty gritty of getting there, here’s 10 facts about Antarctica that I found fascinating!
- Antarctica is earth’s only continent without a native human population.
- No one country owns Antarctica, instead, it is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System.
- Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent by size.
- Unlike the North Pole, the South Pole is covered by land.
- The Antarctic continent comprises the islands and ice shelves that are south of the Antarctic Convergence.
- Antarctica is not only a polar desert but also the world’s largest desert.
- Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole on 13 December 1911.
- Reportedly 11 children have been born in Antarctica.
- Antarctica holds 70% of the earth’s freshwater.
- There are active volcanoes in Antarctica.
How to get to the Antarctic region
If you’re thinking about going to Antarctica, the most important question you’ll need to ask yourself is how much time do you have? This is crucial for your Antarctica visit planning because it will determine which mode of transport you choose. This will also determine how long you get to spend in one of the most pristine regions of the world.
Flights to Antarctica
The quickest way of seeing the continent is by taking a flight to Antarctica.
This was originally done by flying over the continent with an Antarctica tour from Australia that departed from either Sydney or Melbourne. These flights are still a fantastic option because they are the cheapest and quickest way of seeing Antarctica.
Nowadays, flights from South America are becoming a popular inclusion as part of Antarctica holidays. If you are thinking about a flight as a way to travel to Antarctica, it’s important to understand the unpredictability of the weather in this region. This can mean that your perfectly planned Antarctic expedition may be delayed.
The alternative and most popular way to travel to the Antarctic region is via a cruise.
The most popular one is a direct Ushuaia to Antarctica cruise. Although, there are many different itineraries from Argentina to Antarctica and there’s sure to be the best Antarctic cruise to suit your requirements.
If you don’t want to book ahead, you can take your chances by trying to buy a cheap Antarctic cruise from Ushuaia. You will see last-minute cruise offerings in tour operators windows. However, I would be wary of this technique as you may be waiting a few days for a cruise to become available. Depending on your time available, this may not be the best method.
Please note: only small expedition ships will be able to have shore excursions. Larger cruise ships will not be allowed to dock and have passengers disembark. If you want to set foot on the 7th continent, make sure you book the right type of cruise!
How much does it cost to go to Antarctica?
Not everyone may want to book this far in advance, but I booked almost 2 years prior to my departure date, and I’m pretty sure I got one of the cheapest tickets onboard due to dynamic pricing. An Antarctica cruise costs anywhere from around $8700 AUD for a shorter cruise. But if you regularly search for Antarctica cruise deals and you’re able to pay a deposit straight away, you may be able to get a good deal.
If you’re a solo traveller, one thing to note about some of these Antarctica tours is that you may be able to book a cruise with no single supplement. As long as you are prepared to room with someone of the same gender, you may not have to pay any extra money. Awesome, right?!
In addition to the price of the cruise, you will need to factor in flights to Ushuaia, usually from Buenos Aires. These were around $250 USD. Then there’s accommodation before the cruise. You’ll want maybe two nights before the cruise to make sure you and your luggage arrive with plenty of time to spare. A cheap hotel can cost from $70 USD per night.
So, it’s certainly not cheap to travel to Antarctica! But given the restrictions on the amount of people that can visit, it certainly is worth it.
How long does it take to get to Antarctica?
If you are cruising, your adventures in Antarctica will need to wait a few days after you embark the ship. That’s because you will need to cross the dreaded Drake Passage. It will take TWO DAYS to cross the passage.
Doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Except the Drake Passage is horrible. You may be lucky and get Drake Lake conditions, or unlucky with a Drake Shake. Either way, the boat does not stop moving for two days. And that’s two days there and two days back again. I did succumb to sea-sickness on the return trip and I literally stayed in bed for 24 hours willing the boat to still for 60 seconds. The ship is well equipped to handle these situations though and sea-sickness tablets are readily available at the reception.
Things to do in Antarctica
Places to visit in Antarctica will largely depend on what tour you’ve booked.
Most shorter cruises will head towards the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. In this region, and if conditions permit, there will be shore landings to visit the Antarctic bases that are dotted around the islands. If you’re lucky, you may even visit Port Lockroy and send a postcard! Other activities in Antarctica can include sea kayaking but check with your cruise company for availability.
A cruise that has shore landings will usually offer zodiac cruises as an activity also. The zodiac cruises are a fantastic way to get closer to icebergs and other parts of the land that is inaccessible by walking. This could be due to a penguin colony being in the way, or simply it is too far to walk.When on these zodiac cruises, keep an eye on the Antarctic glaciers as you may be lucky enough to see some calving. Calving is the act of ice breaking off from a glacier and creating an iceberg. You may not always catch a glimpse of this happening, but you can hear it as it sounds like a rumble of thunder.
A longer cruise may also visit other islands such as the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. These islands are meant to be beautiful and a perfect compliment to an Antarctic Peninsular cruise. The wildlife and sights are plentiful and worth the additional time for your trip.
Animals and plants in Antarctica
A visit to Antarctica means you will see many animals in Antarctica. The animal life on Antarctica is extraordinary.
The most abundant animals that live in Antarctica are penguins! Large colonies of penguins are dotted throughout the region. Sometimes different species of penguins will hang around other colonies. The most common species of penguin that you will see are the Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap varieties. You might see some Macaroni penguins. If you are travelling to the more northern islands of South Georgia, then you will most likely see King penguins. It is unlikely that you will see Emperor penguins.
Humans aren’t predators of penguins and so the best part is when they see you, they won’t run away! So you’ll be able to get up close and personal, while maintaining a safe distance of course. For a creature that looks quite clumsy on land and often falls over, they create the most amazing Penguin Highways that lead up glaciers and ice sheets. Penguins are very curious creatures and are enjoyable to watch. You will watch them with awe every time you see them.
Whales are the giants of the sea and you will see them when you travel to the Antarctic. They are slow and graceful and you can only watch in amazement as you see them glide through the water. Humpbacks and Minke are the two whale species you will see the most. Whales are more difficult to find than penguins, so it makes the experience even more amazing. Sometimes the whales will be curious when the zodiacs are in the water and they may be seen playing by splashing their fin.
Seals can also be spotted lying on random icebergs and land. To the untrained eye, it can often be difficult to tell which species is which when it comes to the seals. Personally, I was hopeless at determining the species of seals! All I knew was which one to stay away from, and that was the fur seal as they will chase you and bite.
Birds are also abundant and amazing to watch, especially when they are cruising on the wind currents. Different species include petrel, albatross, blue-eyed shags, terns and skua.
Plant-wise, Antarctica does not have trees or shrubs. On your cruise you will see lichens, algae and moss and that’s about it.
If you are on an expedition cruise, most likely you will have a team of specialists on board and they are able to help you identify the wildlife. This is very useful and you’ll be surprised by how much information you retain from their lecture sessions and field chats. The specialists love talking about their field of expertise so don’t hesitate to ask questions.
The Polar Plunge
How does jumping from the side of a cruise ship into 1 degree water sound? Exhilarating!
And that’s exactly what it is! If your cruise ship does this, do not pass up the opportunity (unless you have health issues). Now, don’t worry, you have a belt around you and you are promptly pulled back into the boat. Everyone else on the boat watches over the side at all the people participating in the plunge. It’s a great opportunity and a fantastic talking point!
Unfortunately the only way to stay on Antarctica is to work in one of the research stations. There are no hotels in Antarctica. I know, it’s disappointing.
An Antarctic adventure is one of the most incredible things you’ll see and do. It really is a once in a lifetime trip. Nothing I have seen compares to the vastness of it all. The mountains and glaciers look tiny because there’s no reference points. The landscape is ethereal and pristine. The penguins will melt your heart and the lumbering whales will make you hold your breath in case they dive and you get to catch a glimpse of their flukes. The icebergs are nature’s art. This article doesn’t contain much information about them, but they are nature’s most beautiful sculptures.
The only negative thing about the experience is Drakes Passage, but don’t let that deter you. Wear the crossing like a badge of honour. I know I do.
So if you came here just to read an article on how to get to Antarctica, I hope you’ve been able have your question answered. I hope I’ve also inspired you to visit one of the most beautiful places on earth.