Antarctica Travel Guide
Antarctica, the white continent, has traditionally been off-limits for vacations. Previously only a few lucky scientists and intrepid explorers made it to Antarctica. Since the turn of the Millenia, the continent has increasingly opened up to tourism, far too fast many would say. With the melting of the Antarctica ice sheets, large parts on the continent might not be there in the future. Of primary importance, if booking a vacation should be one’s own consideration of the impact upon the environment. Choose your tour operator carefully – and inspect their responsible tourism policy.
Antarctica Cruises & Vacations
There are no flights to Antarctica (though one can fl to St. George Island with DAP, and airline based in Punta Arenas in Chile). The only way to visit the actual continent is by a cruise holiday, which costs anything from $6000 per person and upwards. Most of these Antarctica cruises last from between 10 and 19 days, and while all have slightly different itineraries, the overall travel experience is the same – unforgettable. Some cruises last about 35 days and go all the way around the continent.
The season to visit Antarctica is from November to March when it rarely, if ever, gets dark. The cruise ships generally depart from Ushuaia in Argentina, though a few do also depart from Punta Arenas in Chile. From South America it takes two long days to cross the straits of Antarctica – the weather may be bad, and the boat will rock at times so bring sea sickness pills. Once there, all agree that the long voyage is well worth it. The bleak landscape is spectacular, and the wildlife fearless of humans.
Best Time to Visit?
Antarctica’s vacation season is from November to March. Depending upon the time of year one visits, attractions and the weather will vary. November and December are at the start of the summer – the landscape is at it’s most spectacular and rugged from recent heavy winter snowfalls. As the ice sheets melt with the summer thawing, they spectacularly crash into the ocean forming icebergs. January and February are the high seasons as the weather is warmer (though the weather is always unpredictable) and this is the mating season – as such the chance to see baby animals like penguins is higher (almost guaranteed). March is the end of summer – the weather is as it’s warmest as the continent hasn’t seen night for months. The wildlife is still active, but the landscape not as awe-inspiring as it is earlier in the season.
Antarctica Cruise Ships
Most of the boats now accommodating tourists on vacation are old scientific explorer ships that have been modified for tourism. Many of the cruise ships are Russian, and while all are comfortable, none could be considered a luxury cruise. A holiday to Antarctica is not about luxury – it’s an adventure vacation after all. The guides and cruise staff are all very knowledgeable – many are scientists who have been working in Antarctica for many years.
Animals & Wildlife
Antarctica vacations are about both the scenery and the wildlife. Most of the wildlife has no fear of humans as they don’t see them as a threat – humans are viewed like any other animal, just like they are in the Galapagos Islands. One can get very close to the wildlife, but your guides will advise you to go no closer than 10 feet or so, but that doesn’t stop the inquisitive animals walking towards you! One of the animals you might see is the Emperor penguin if you are lucky (you will need to check your cruise itinerary if determined to see Emperor penguins, as most cruises do not pass near any Emperor Penguin colonies. You may well see Emperor Penguins out at sea though). However, there are numerous other penguin species that you are very likely to see. Seals and sea lions are also seen when you visit their colonies. In addition, other wildlife in Antarctica might include various species of birds, whales, and dolphins.