How to travel to Antarctica?

Thousands of documentaries show the amazing beauty of the White Continent, but hardly any of them explains clearly how to travel to antarctica. Particularly since the expeditions involve a considerable investment of time and money. Antarctic itineraries are so diverse that it is difficult to decide the best one to choose.

Visit Antarctica: the Antarctic Cruises classic route

Most of the trips to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia (Argentina) and Punta Arenas (Chile). These are the southernmost cities in the world, and are also the point where the Antarctic Peninsula extends north into the Drake Passage. This is just 1000 km away from the southern tip of the American continent.

This Peninsula offers less-harsh weather conditions compared to the rest of Antarctica, because the waterfront helps regulating the climate. On the other hand, the ocean wildlife and humongous ice blocks offer the most spectacular views imaginable:  penguins, whales, amazing birds, leopard seals, and more.  

Most Antarctica Cruises operate in this area, with itineraries that take 10-12 days for the traditional circuit (including, in many cases, a visit to the South Shetlands Islands and Cape Horn). Prices for these itineraries start at USD$5000, and the season runs between December and March. 

For instance, the M/V Ushuaia spends around five days in Antarctica and another 4-5 days navigating back and forth from Ushuaia through the Drake Passage. Once it reaches the Peninsula, and depending on the weather conditions, they program 2 landings per day, so visitors can explore the area in the best possible way. 

Flights to Antarctica

Antarctica can be also explored by Air-cruise expeditions, which are a combination between flights (from Punta Arenas to a Chilean Base in Antarctica) and cruises with landings around the area. There are different circuits to choose, with a return flight from Punta Arenas, or with a flight from Punta Arenas plus a ship back to Ushuaia. The main advantage of this method is that you can avoid the long navigation through the Drake Passage.

It is not possible to book the flights only, since there is no urban infrastructure big enough to receive visitors.

Adventure in Antarctica

There are many activities to do during shore landings, from Snowshoeing to kayaking across the gelid waters. One of the best activities called voyage is offered by the Cruise Ship Base Camp Ortelius, which gives you the chance of spending a night in a camp!

Most of the popular activities focus on Photography, and it’s amazing to see people’s faces when they meet the Adelie and Gentoo Penguins, or eventually see some whales or Leopard Seals.  

There is also the possibility of doing mountaineering to short-distance destinations, or as an outside–the-box experience, there is an opportunity to fly over the area by helicopter.

Wild Life, Flora & Sites of Interest

Even though it’s not possible to predict how many animals will be seen, the region offers a wide variety of amazing ocean wildlife, including: Humpback Whales, Emperor Penguins, Chinstrap Penguins, Killer Whales, King Penguins, Leopard Seals, Adelie Penguin, Antarctic Fur Seal, Antarctic Petrel, Macaroni Penguins, Gentoo Penguins, Minke Whales, Elephand Seals, Blue-eyed Shags, and more.

Naturally, as this is a continent, not everything is covered by ice. Therefore, there are many sites where you can see the soil or rock surface, particularly in the area of the Peninsula. The flora there is very peculiar, composed of lichens, seaweed and moss.

Regarding important sites of interest, there are –and have been- many research bases and a few settlements in Antarctica, such as Port Lockroy and Deception Island. The latter of these locations is famous because it is home to a volcano crater that sits at sea level, with warm coastal waters that can get close to 65° C.

Other sites of interest (natural attractions) that are popular during tours, are Aitcho Island, Cuverville Island, Half Moon Island, Paradise Bay, Petermann Island, Lemaire Channel and Livingston Island.

Travel to Antarctica: extending your route

Those who have more days and a bigger budget to explore the area can access an additional pool of experiences:

  • Polar Circle
    During this expedition, if the weather allows it, you can navigate further down until reaching the Antarctic Circle. Discover the spectacular landscapes and fauna along the way, reaching places that hardly anyone has been to before.
  • Weddel Sea
    This experience includes, apart from the classic circuit, a trip on the Weddel Sea, where huge tabular icebergs roam around, making navigation particularly exciting.
  • Subantarctic islands
    There are a couple of South Atlantic islands that are a paradise for ornithologists and nature lovers: the Falklands (Islas Malvinas), the South Sandwich Islands, the Sourth Orkneys Islands, and South Georgia. Some cruises visit these islands before heading to Antarctica.
  • From South America to New Zealand
    It is a spectacular 30 day journey that semi-circumnavigates the Antarctic ocean until reaching Oceania. Aside from the trip, there are other exclusive options that end in totally unexpected places, such as Cape Verde or Ascension Island.

Extensions in Patagonia

Together with a visit to Antarctica, the best would be to take advantage of your time and location to visit Argentina and Chile. It’s true that most travelers don’t have enough time to do this, but considering an extension that adds the main highlights of Southern Patagonia is a great idea.

The best places in Southern Patagonia are Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chaltén and Torres del Paine. Travel to Antarctica is already a fulfilling experience, but combining it with the natural scenery of Patagonia would be the perfect balance for your trip.