While we’re stuck at home dreaming of post pandemic travel to new frontiers – what better journey to dream about than a voyage to the end of earth – Antarctica! Interestingly enough with strict protocols in place about who can and cannot visit, Antarctica remains the only continent in the world with zero Covid cases. Until the pandemic ends (or a vaccine is found) tourists will be unable to travel to Antarctica.
‘Antarctica’ in Greek literally translates to ‘the opposite of North’. The continent consists of over 90% of all the ice on our planet – so needless to say it is extremely cold. In fact, it is the coldest, windiest and driest continent of all. With such conditions, Antarctica might not seem appealing at first, but the stunning landscapes, white mountains and views of a neverending expanse of ice and snow, make for an absolutely incredible scenic experience!
With a population of barely 5000 people (consisting of mainly scientists, researchers and their support teams) on the continent, Antarctica is one of the few true wilderness experiences on our planet.
A word of caution
Due to the extreme weather conditions a trip to Antarctica is only recommended for those who are comfortable with the cold. Temperatures on the coast usually don’t rise beyond 0 degrees celsius, even at the peak of summer. The interiors usually never get warmer than -20 degrees celsius.
When to go?
The best time to visit is in the Antarctic summer – November to February where you get close to 24 hours of daylight.
How to get there?
Getting to Antarctica is easier than one might imagine.
The most popular way to get to Antarctica is on a ship, the best option for those interested in experiencing the incredible wildlife in the continent.
For those who are more interested in experiencing the Antarctic icecap and it’s terrain, you can also take a flight straight to the interior of the icecap.
Ushuaia to Antarctica (via ship)
Ushuaia in Argentina is a three and a half hour flight from the more well connected Buenos Aires airport. Cruises that start at Ushuaia go via the Drake Passage – a 1000 kilometer body of water that separates Antarctica from South America. It usually takes 36 hours to make the journey to the Antarctic Peninsula. This journey is a wonderful opportunity to get some albatross sightings. Trips that start at Ushuaia range from 9 – 20 days.
Punta Arenas to Antarctica (via ship)
If the idea of the Drake Passage and 36 hours of travel in a ship to get to the peninsula doesn’t appeal to you, you can opt to start your journey from Punta Arenas, Chile. The journey from the southern tip of Chile only takes a couple of hours to reach the Antarctic Peninsula. Due to the shorter distance to get to Antarctica, cruises starting at Punta Arenas offer short 4 day trip options.
Punta Arenas to Antarctica (via flight)
A flight to Antarctica is the best option for those who get seasick and prefer to experience the vast icy wonder of Antarctica’s ice cap (and perhaps even visit the South Pole). This flight to Antarctica takes 5 hours on a Russian Illushian plane. The flight itself is an incredible experience as the plane lands on a blue ice runway at a small settlement on the ice cap called Union Glacier. Delays due to weather conditions flying into the glacier are common and you should set aside at least 15 days for such a trip.
What to do in Antarctica
Cruise: Once you reach your destination, you spend your nights on the ship itself. The days are spent exploring the surrounding areas on smaller boats with options to get on the icecap and even spend a night in a tent. This option is highly recommended for those interested in wildlife. There is a high probability of amazing sightings of seals, penguins and whales.
Flight: When you fly directly onto the glacier you spend your days hiking, using snow scooters and snow cycles to explore the area surrounding Union glacier. You also have the option to venture further towards the center of the continent by taking another flight to the South Pole.
Service Providers/Travel Agents
While there are many service providers offering cruise options to Antarctica, there is only one company, Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE), offering the flight option. You will, therefore, have to book well in advance for flight and accommodation on the icecap, if that’s your preferred travel option. Once you get there, ALE will provide comfortable tented accommodation for you to stay in.
Regardless of which company you choose to go with, the company will provide for your food, accommodation and activities throughout the duration of your stay. As Antarctica is barely inhabited, you will not be seeing towns or restaurants during your journey there. Due to your sole dependence on your provider, I suggest that you spend your time researching and choose wisely before you pick who you want to book with.
Note on what to Pack
Because of the extreme temperatures in Antarctica you will need specialised gear to ensure that you’re safe and comfortable. While the company you choose to travel with will share a detailed list, there are a couple of items that you will certainly need and should plan for:
- A good down jacket: To ensure that you stay warm during the colder parts of the day.
- A pair of sunglasses: The sun’s rays are very harmful for your eyes in these extreme regions.
- A good pair of boots: So that you can move about comfortably once you are off the ship/ plane.
- Sunscreen: The Antarctic sun is very harsh, sunscreen is a must for any part of your body that is exposed.
Antarctica is an absolutely incredible part of our planet. Experiencing the incredible wilderness of the coast or the stark beauty of the landscape are journey’s like no other. Step a little out of your comfort zone for an experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life.
Originally written for Onmanorama