Antarctica is at the very top of our travel bucket list and as such we have done a LOT of research!
100 years ago no more than a handful of people had journeyed to Antarctica, however today it is slowly becoming a popular travel destination. Around 30,000 travelers visit Antarctica every year, however ecologists fear that the impact of tourism may be adversely impacting one of the most fragile environments on earth. As such, many international conventions have been put in place in order to protect the continent and its wildlife from such disturbance. Regardless of these conventions (which don’t really impact the average persons ability to travel), and eco concerns aside, Antarctica remains one of the most unique destinations on earth, and expeditions are available to the average person seeking an exceptional experience!
The majority of travelers head to the North Western most tip, known as the Antarctic Peninsular. You can only visit by traveling with an organized tour, which generally means booking a cruise. Cruises leave from Punta Arenas in Chile or Ushuaia in Argentina and set off for the South Shetland Islands, stopping at several research stations while sailing along the Antarctic Peninsular. Some Antarctic cruises, however, also include the Falkland Islands.
A trip to Antarctica is a once in a lifetime voyage – as you make your way to the world’s most remote continent you see giant ice-bergs, phenomenally steep cliffs, ice shelves and stunning mountains. You have the opportunity to step out of your boat for hikes through ice fields, and close up encounters with rare wildlife who are not afraid of people.
Wildlife is obviously one of the main draws for those traveling to Antarctica. Elephant seals, humpback whales, earless seals, leopard seals, orcas and baleen whales are easy to spot as soon as your cruise departs South America, and once you have arrived, you will witness the impressive Antarctic penguin colonies! Travelers commonly arrive in time to watch penguins begin their ‘mating and courtship process’, which I am assured is a not-to-be-missed spectacle!
As winter in Antarctica is severe and inhospitable, trips are only run during summer months between November and March. The best time to go is during December, January and February.
Pros: Traveling to Antarctica is an incredible experience which the vast majority of travelers can not say they have done. The wildlife is impressive and rare.
Cons: Your itinerary is dependent on ice and weather conditions.
Embassies: There are no embassies in Antarctica. www.iaato.org
Travel Documents: You will require a Passport.
Health Issues: You must travel with proper clothing to remain protected from the severe cold and wind.
Language and Currency: English and Spanish are the primary languages spoken in Antarctica. The Argentine Peso, Chilean Peso and American Dollar are common currencies.
Population: While there is no permanent population on the continent, international personnel are continually coming and going to complete their work at research stations.
You can, however, considerably cut down your costs by NOT booking your trip in advance. Last minute deals are readily available for those willing to show up in Ushuaia in November/December; you may need to be flexible with dates, however can potentially save a few thousand dollars.
A great resource I used for information on Antarctica is Rudy Maxa’s “100 countries, 5000 ideas“.
Have you been to Antarctica? Do you have anything to add?