If you’re looking for an original and unique travel destination for the adventure of a lifetime, few options can beat a trip to Antarctica, a place whose very name conjures up images of wild frozen wildernesses where very few human beings have had the privilege of setting foot.
But how do you get there? Where do you leave from? How much does it cost? And is it even possible? In this post, we bring you all the info you need as we answer the question, can you travel to Antarctica?
Can You Travel to Antarctica? The short answer
Before we jump in and start looking at the details of traveling to Antarctica, let’s start with the short answer.
Can you travel to Antarctica? Yes, absolutely you can!
Furthermore, it’s not even as hard as you might imagine – in the 2016-17 season, around 45,000 people traveled to Antarctica. The only problem is the cost because it’s not cheap, but if you have the budget, a trip to the great southern continent is a real possibility.
So now let’s look at how it works in a bit more detail.
How do you get to Antarctica?
A great part of the allure of an Antarctic adventure is that it is one of the most inaccessible places on the planet, so how do you actually get there?
While there are several possibilities, including arriving there from South Africa or New Zealand, by far the most common way of getting there is from South America, either from Ushuaia in the far south of Argentina or from Punta Arenas, just over the border in Chile.
From Ushuaia, travel is by boat, an option that sees you crossing the 600-mile Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic Peninsula, a voyage that usually takes about a day and a half, depending on the weather. This is the most popular way to go.
The advantage of making this memorable crossing is that it allows you to relax into your trip while keeping an eye out for some of Antarctica’s iconic wildlife, including whales and great wandering albatross.
Alternatively, from Punta Arenas, you can fly directly to an island close to the Antarctic Peninsula where your boat will be waiting, giving you access to your destination in just a few hours.
This has the advantage of saving you a lot of time, allowing you to start your exploration as quickly as possible – although it lacks some of the romance and adventure of the slower sea crossing.
What kind of trip can you go on and what can you see?
There are several options for visiting Antarctica.
The first is traveling to subantarctic destinations that include places like the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
Although these trips won’t take you to Antarctica proper, you will still have the chance to experience the southern oceans and come face-to-face with local wildlife. The advantage of these trips is that they are much more affordable than trips to the Antarctic continent.
Alternatively, the most popular option is one that takes you to the Antarctic Peninsula, the only place in Antarctica where tourists are allowed to leave their boats and go ashore.
Finally, it’s also possible to join trips that go even further south on extended expeditions that descend into the Antarctic Circle. These trips usually stop at the Antarctic Peninsula first, allowing you the opportunity to step foot on land.
They then continue their journey, allowing you to experience more of the stunning and lesser-seen sights the continent has to offer. Of course, these trips are the longest and also the most expensive.
Cruise ship vs expedition boat
Other than your point of departure and your itinerary, one of the major decisions you’ll have to make concerns the type of boat you’ll travel on.
Nowadays, a number of companies run high-end cruise ships that head to Antarctica. They can carry up to around 2,000 passengers and offer the full suite of luxuries including spacious cabins and even butler service in your room.
However, the big disadvantage here is that, due to the Protocol on Environmental Protection signed in 1991, ships carrying more than 500 passengers are not allowed to disembark, so if you choose this option, you will not be allowed to step foot on land.
For a more adventurous and arguably more fun – although less luxurious experience – you can choose to travel to Antarctica on a so-called expedition ship.
These vessels usually carry between around 70 and 200 passengers, and they allow you to enjoy a broader range of activities, many of which take place on land once you arrive.
These ships are equipped with ice-class-rated hulls that are designed to stand up to the shocks of impacts with small icebergs and evoke the crossings of old, giving you a small taste of what it must have felt like when the first adventurers began exploring this mysterious frozen land.
What kind of activities can you do?
So apart from simply seeing the stunning landscapes, haunting icebergs and exotic wildlife of Antarctica, what other activities are available?
For many, a highlight is simply leaving the boat and stepping foot onto the world’s most inaccessible continent, but you can also enjoy activities such as hiking or snowshoeing among babbling penguins and against the backdrop of creaking, groaning glaciers.
Many operators offer activities such as zodiac tours, sea kayaking and even stand-up paddle excursions. For more adventurous types, it’s possible to camp out overnight beneath the star-filled Antarctic skies – and if you’re feeling especially brave, you can also try an ice plunge.
When is the traveling season?
As well as being one of the hardest places to reach on Earth, Antarctica also endures some of the most challenging weather conditions, with fierce gales blowing and temperatures that remain way below freezing.
As a result, it isn’t possible to travel there year-round – and the small community of scientists and researchers who overwinter there are essentially cut off from the rest of the world during the harsh Antarctic winter.
For tourists, the season runs from October to March when the sea ice releases the continent from its frozen grip, permitting ships to make the crossing.
High season runs from late December to February and is the time of year with the warmest temperatures and the most hours of sunlight. At this time, you have the best chance of seeing everything you came for, including icebergs, wildlife and much more.
Late October, November and March constitute the shoulder season, but it’s still quite possible to visit at this time. However, in early October and April, few trips are organized, and those that are run the risk of being canceled due to poor weather conditions.
Other than this, from May to September, no tourist trips are operated, and even for researchers and others, it becomes extremely challenging traveling to or from Antarctica at this time of year.
Restrictions, red tape and vaccinations
Everyone visiting Antarctica needs the relevant permits, but assuming you travel to Antarctica with an organized trip, your travel company will take care of everything for you.
In terms of vaccinations, you don’t need anything special to travel to Antarctica – although you should check with your tour operator for the latest information regarding covid vaccinations.
You should also remember that you will need the necessary documentation and possibly visas to enter either Argentina or Chile, depending on your point of departure.
Is it expensive to visit Antarctica?
In a word, yes. Depending on the length of your trip and the activities involved – as well as the level of luxury you hope for – a trip to Antarctica will cost you anything from $5,000 right up to $25,000 or more per person.
This means a trip to Antarctica is not a budget vacation option, and unfortunately, it’s not the kind of thing everybody can afford.
Can you get a cheap deal?
There are some ways you can attempt to reduce the cost of your trip, and one of them is simply to travel to Ushuaia without a trip booked and try to grab a last-minute deal.
There are several offices selling Antarctic voyages in the town, and if they have a late cancelation, they may be willing to allow you to join for a significantly knocked-down price since this is preferable to sailing with empty spaces.
You can also boost your chances of nabbing a bargain if you are flexible about the itinerary as well as if you are willing to share a cabin with strangers.
However, this way, you risk ending up on a trip that might not be quite what you were hoping for – like going to South Georgia instead of to the Antarctic Peninsula – and you may not even manage to book a trip at all.
Very possible and an amazing experience you’ll never forget
As we’ve seen, traveling to Antarctica is very possible – as long as you have the budget – and it’s something that thousands of people manage to do every year.
However, despite the number of people who make the trip, it still feels like the kind of faraway destination that is very much off the beaten track – and if you decide to make the journey there, it will be an adventure that you’re likely to remember for the rest of your life.