How to Visit Antarctica
NOTE – This post is now over 5 years old so some of the info, especially the prices may have changed.
Anyone Live There?: No, but there are around 25 research stations, so there can be up to 5,000 people in Antarctica at any given time.
Who Owns it: Despite various claims, nobody actually controls it because of an international treaty agreement.
Visa Requirements: Visas to Antarctica are for some reason that makes no sense controlled by the UK. If visiting Antarctica, you or your tour group must have a valid permit allowing you to travel to the continent. Given that it is virtually impossible to travel there independently, chances are your tour leader will sort it out. Otherwise you just need to fulfil the entry requirements for the country you are departing from, most likely Chile or Argentina.
Climate: It’s predictably cold but contrary to popular opinion, this is one the driest places on the planet, it hardly ever snows or rains. The coastal region where you will be visiting experiences pretty much 24 hours of sunlight during the summer and temperatures can get as high as 15 °C. It isn’t possible to visit during winter as the sea is basically ice and totally inaccessible.
How to Get There?
Everyone has heard of it but not many know how to visit Antarctica. Unless you manage to get on some sort of research expedition, your best bet for getting to Antarctica is via Ushuaia, the world’s most southernmost city in Argentina. Ships depart from Ushuaia’s port during the summer months of November to March. Another option is doing a fly-over, but obviously this isn’t going to be quite as rewarding or memorable as actually setting foot on the continent.
Of course you also have to get to Ushuaia first, which is accessible by air, as is nearby Punta Arenas in Chile. Some companies run tours from Buenos Aires which include a flight to Ushuaia before setting off on the cruise. There is also an excellent bus network in both countries so it is easy to fit in if you are backpacking around South America, although it is a long journey south to somewhat chillier conditions than you’ll have grown used to.
It is also possible to do a trip to Antarctica from South Africa, Australia or New Zealand but the distance is much greater so it will work out a longer trip and more expensive.
How much does a trip to Antarctica Cost?
The cheapest option is to book your trip from one of the travel agents in Ushuaia. This will be around half the price of booking it at home and will normally set you back in the region of US$3000 for the shorter trips which are about 8 days and include several stops. There are occasionally some special offers on where you can get better deals. Some points on the itinerary are very much dependent on weather conditions which are highly changeable. It is possible to do longer cruises lasting anything up to a month. All trips include accommodation every night which will normally be in the form of a cabin on the ship, although you may spend some nights on dry land (well ice).
What is the Experience like?
The trips are certainly an unforgettable experience. Even aboard the ship as you cut through the vast freezing cold oceans, you see some stunning sights such as the giant whales which are found in the region. There are several excursions onshore such as visits to one of the many penguin colonies, a trip to see the Southern lights or a visit to one of the research stations.
Photos courtesy of gamma><addict and Guille Avalos on flickr.
This article was published in July 2011.