The women in our group had started calling me shoulders – not necessarily because there was anything spectacular about mine, but because they could see them. Which was a novel concept when we were hiking across a continent covered in ice.
In fact, Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest continent on earth, and summer temperatures average just above freezing. So stripping off my carefully planned out layers wasn’t something I expected, or originally had in mind.
But the sun was beating down, and I was ridiculously overdressed. I had even started sweating! So there I was, hiking across a glacier, with bare shoulders, now recommending that every traveler to Antarctica packs sunblock. Because the biggest killer in Antarctica is the reflection off the ice.
The Time I Got Sunburn in Antarctica … Watch Out for the Reflection off the Ice!
Expect the Unexpected
Before traveling to Antarctica, you might have an idea in your mind of what the experience will be like. It might be cold. The landscape is likely to be white. You’ll probably see penguins. There’s the high probability you’ll see ice and snow.
But for everything you expect Antarctica to be, the continent is likely to hit you with a few surprises. Like the fact that it can be beautifully sunny which will send you stripping off your layers. Which means you’re vulnerable to sunburn from the reflection of the ice.
Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But I highly recommend you pack solid sunblock before you go.
Summer in Antarctica
As winter in Antarctica is severe and inhospitable, trips are only run during summer months between November and March. And even though summer temperatures might dip below zero, the sun can shine out in full force.
Summer is a great time to experience Antarctica, because you benefit from extended hours of sunlight; it’s almost never dark. But this also means that the Antarctic sun can loom for 24 hours at a stretch some days.
And don’t let the chilly conditions fool you – the hole in the ozone layer and the light’s reflection off the water and ice means high levels of UV exposure, which is a real opportunity for sunburn even in frigid temperatures.
Most days are even sunny enough for the crew to set up an outdoor BBQ lunch.
Getting Sunburned in the Snow
Antarctica may not exactly be a tropical location (though palm trees did sway on the green shores of Antarctica 50 million years ago), but you can easily get sunburned in the snow.
UV radiation is reflected from light surfaces on the ground, and because snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, it means you’re often being hit by the same rays twice.
So to protect your skin, make sure you pack water-resistant sunscreen (at least SPF30+) and wear sunglasses.
“Snow blindness (sunburn of the eyes) is a real thing and it totally sucks. Protect your eyes against the incredible glare which reflects off the ice. Wrap around UV-protected sunglasses are the best choice.”
When you’re packing for Antarctica, it’s important to aim for quality of clothing over quantity (also remembering you have to fit everything in your bag). Make sure your jacket is windproof, waterproof and comfortable, and that it covers your lower back.
The temperatures are cold, but they’re not extreme. Sensible warm clothing is a must, and your best course of action is to layer up. Utilizing layers means you can easily bundle up or strip down depending on the weather changes. Because the weather is unpredictable in Antarctica.
Don’t be surprised if you’re too warm. But do make sure you pack protection from the sun. You should wear sunscreen on any exposed skin, even when you’re rugged up.
Getting There: Cruises leave from Ushuaia in Argentina. Flights leave from Buenos Aires daily via LATAM and the local Aerolineas Argentinas.
Travel Insurance: mandatory with every Antarctica cruise due to the remoteness and isolation of your destination.
I used Cover-More travel insurance as they offered premium cover, affordable policies, and included our land based activities (other insurance companies told me they would only cover time spent on the ship, which is pointless for an adventure cruise). Click for a quote.
Disclosure: Special thanks to Chimu Adventures for providing our cruise. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to travel with a vibrant, committed and socially-responsible company.
More info: For more information on Antarctica travel visit the Chimu Adventures Antarctica Resource Centre.
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