How to Travel to Antarctica
Travel to Antarctica is a daunting task due to its remoteness, restrictions and the outright cost of getting there. I was fortunate enough to step foot on it myself, so allow me to walk you through some of the steps involved with visiting the stunning 7th Continent.
Preparing To Travel To Antarctica
Your first considerations should be when you are able to travel and how long you intend to stay. It is only possible to visit Antarctica as a tourist during its summer months from November through March, with December and January being the prime wildlife viewing months. Once you have your date range, start looking for tour operators that can accommodate your time frame. The two most important criteria for tour operators are that the ship you intend to travel on carries less than 100 passengers and that they are a member of the IAATO.
Ship Size – The biggest reason it is important to be on a smaller ship is due to the IAATO rule that no more than 100 passengers may be ashore in one location at a time. If your ship carries more than 100 people, you are in danger of not being able to participate in every landing or having tougher time restrictions imposed upon how long you may spend on land. As an added bonus, a smaller ship results in a more intimate and personal experience for everyone on board.
Environmental Consciousness – IAATO members (full members, not associate or affiliate members) are the most experienced operators and follow the strictest environmental regulations. It is important when traveling to Antarctica to minimize your footprint and preserve the beautiful continent for generations to come, so be sure to choose an operator that makes these things a priority. Our operator required us to vacuum all of our Velcro to remove foreign contaminants and double wash our boots before and after every excursion to make sure there was no cross-contamination, among many other things.
Departure Port – You may also want to give some consideration to where your ship departs from. Most Antarctic expeditions leave from Ushuaia, Argentina, although there are a few that leave from New Zealand and Australia. Like most remote towns, Ushuaia is not the cheapest place to fly into, but it is an incredible destination in its own right boasting the gateway to Patagonia and the “End of the World” bragging rights as the southernmost city in the world. It is also a very charming town with some great scenery, hiking and restaurants. Additionally, if you want to travel to the Antarctic Peninsula, Ushuaia is the place to depart from.
Booking Your Cabin – One important thing to mention is that there isn’t much need to book a fancy cabin on board your ship. Trips down there are absolutely jam packed with activities, and if you’re properly enjoying your trip then the only times you’ll be in your cabin are when you’re sleeping or trying to overcome motion sickness on the Drake Passage. Cabin upgrades can be very expensive, and in the end you are getting the exact same experience as everyone else on the ship. You may even miss out on some fun adventures if you’re not sharing a cabin with someone else!
You’ve booked your ticket? Great! Now make your way down there!
Gear – If possible, travel with carry-on bags only. There were at least 2 members of my 96 person ship who had their luggage lost in the airports, putting them in a tough situation when they had to travel to Antarctica the next day, even with travel insurance! You can pack light thanks to most of the serious waterproof clothing being provided on board the ship. Additionally, you pretty much end up wearing the same thing every day except for thermals and maybe a shirt over them, so go easy on the clothing. There’s no need to go too crazy with equipment like ski masks, waterproof shells, fancy snow equipment or even boots (those are provided and actually quite comfortable)!
In Ushuaia – Carve out some quality time in Ushuaia and the surrounding area if you can. Not only does it give you some buffer if you have problems with your airline or need extra supplies, but it’s a great place to visit as well. Tierra Del Fuego is a destination all on its own, and I was glad I was able to spend some time sight seeing and hiking around the park. In the town itself, make sure you eat at one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, Kalma Resto. For the price of a meal at any mid-grade restaurant in the US, you can get one of the best meals of your life made with locally sourced ingredients with personal attention from the chef himself!
Sailing To Antarctica
Now it’s time to enjoy your voyage! See my other posts on travel to Antarctica for more ideas of what to expect, and get out there, you won’t regret it!