Antarctica is the largest wilderness on the planet and one of the most remote places you can travel to. If you are dreaming about going to Antarctica but not sure where to start, I’m here for you boo! I structured this post around YOUR Antarctica questions (that you asked on Instagram) and I hope to give you all the information to plan a trip to Antarctica too! I happen to think it’s the most beautiful and majestic place on the planet. Anyone who loves nature should have Antarctica on their list.
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The most common way is via ship leaving from the port of Ushuaia in Argentina. This is the southernmost city in the world. You will have to fly first to Buenos Aires and then take a domestic flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Most people combine the Antarctica trip with a few days in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia. Some trips start their “tour” in Buenos Aires but either way, you still have to end up in Ushuaia. If you do the longer trips that visit the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island, these may start in Montevideo, Uruguay. You can get here via ferry from Buenos Aires or fly to Uruguay from your home country.
Some people wish to bypass the Drake Passage which contains some rough waters. Some want to ski to the South Pole or climb the highest peak in Antarctica. All of this requires flying from Punta Arenas, Chile and the latter two activities can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000! Essentially the answer is YES you can fly but you will PAY!
The city of Ushuaia is a beautiful alpine town with lots to do and I recommend at least one day here before or after the cruise. You can sail the Beagle Channel, visit Tierra Del Fuego National Park, see the Glacier Martial or pick up some last minute gear at the shops. We stayed at the Hotel Las Lengas the night before the ship left (it had a great pizza place). Other guests stayed at the Albatross Hotel which was more central. I booked one night on my own at a less expensive place with a great restaurant and amazing views called Hotel Ushuaia but it wasn’t central.
I chose G Adventures . I wanted an adventure focused expedition and I wanted a longer trip that crossed the Antarctic Circle. G Adventures offers 5 different Antarctica trips ranging from 11 days to 22 days. Another company I looked into that has a good reputation is Quark. Their prices are comparable to G Adventures but the kayaking had sold out a year in advance for their Antarctic Circle trip which is part of the reason I didn’t go with them. Also, the quad rooms, which are the cheapest, sell out more quickly. Some companies don’t offer quad rooms. I was able to get the quad room WITH kayaking with G Adventures. The trip I chose also had fewer passengers than the Quark trip (130 vs 200) which appealed to me.
Do you want adventure options such as hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, camping, etc? Quark is now offering stand up paddleboarding! Some ships are more adventure focused and some more luxurious. Many have saunas, gyms, and even hot tubs. Some ships cater to an older crowd. Do you prefer more or fewer people? Large ships with over 500 people aren’t permitted to do landings and the smaller expedition ships try to do as many landings as possible. How long has this company been in operation? What is their safety record? You may not want to choose the company just jumped on the Antarctic tourism boom and started doing expeditions 2 years ago.
My trip was 2 weeks. When you see the trip lengths, keep in mind that these are not all days in Antarctica and not all days at sea. For my trip, Day 1 was in Ushuaia. The ship left in the afternoon of Day 2. Two nights are spent on the Drake Passage. We made good time and had our first landing in the South Shetland islands on Day 4. The last 2 days are also on the Drake. We ended up with 8 and a half days IN Antarctica.
I am glad I chose this longer trip. Some trips are only a week and they may count the time you arrive in Buenos Aires as a day. Look at details before booking. Some trips don’t make it past the South Shetland islands and you may end up with just one day of land activities.
The Antarctic “season” runs from late October to early March.
November has the advantage of showing you Antarctica in its most undisturbed form, however, temperatures tend to be colder and polar ice is still breaking up, so access to some areas may be limited. Supposedly the ice is the most impressive at this time. Wildlife, especially whales, may not be as prolific this time of the year but it is the time that penguins mate and nest of eggs could be seen.
December and January have the most sunlight (up to 20 hours a day), and the warmest temperatures. Penguins begin hatching and wildlife is incredible at this time. Hello penguin chicks! This is a very popular time to go and therefore the most expensive.
In February molting penguin chicks run around while adults swim for krill. Fur seal and leopard seal pups are more commonly seen at this time. The plankton booms attract feeding whales. Humpback and Minke whales fatten up on krill for their voyages north while orcas are feeding on young seals and penguins which are out on their own in the ocean for the first time.
Mid-February and early March is late summer in Antarctica. More exploration is possible this time of year as receding ice opens up. The sunrises and sunsets become more dramatic. Temperatures are warm. This is the best time for whale watching but much of the other wildlife may be out to sea. The penguin chicks are larger now and starting to fledge. There are fewer vessels operating so you won’t have to compete with other ships for landings and the maximum amount of ice has melted so you will have better access to points south.
It’s not cheap, but you probably knew that already. Many things factor into the cost: time of year, type of ship, length of trip, which room you choose. Other factors that are less obvious include the caliber of the expedition staff, quality of the food and services, what clothing is provided, whether alcohol is included or the staff to passenger ratio.
The cheapest trips are one week long and cost around $6000. This price is for the cheapest room during the least popular time such as early November or early March. The most expensive time period is late December and early January.
I booked almost a year in advance for a relatively popular time of the year, late February. I chose the cheapest room (a quad room) but a longer Antarctic Circle trip (2 weeks). The kayaking was an extra $1000. G Adventures will give you 5% off after doing a previous trip with them so I had those cost savings as well. My trip ended up being approximately $10,000.
Antarctic Circle Trips are pricier but the benefits are that the trips are longer and give you more time to actually explore Antarctica. You also go further south than most other ships go and to a less visited part of the Antarctic Peninsula. Not many people get to say they visited the 66th southern parallel!
The 3-week trips that also visit the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island start at $13,000. South Georgia is called the Serengeti of the Southern Ocean because of the sheer density of wildlife. This is some of the most unspoiled and least visited scenery on earth. Add in the fascinating history of sealing, whaling, and the Shackleton explorations, not to mention the king penguin colonies. I have decided that I MUST visit at some point.
If you want to fly over the Drake Passage you are looking at a minimum of $10,000 for 8 days.
Yes, these exist. However, you have to factor in the last minute costs of flying to where you need to go. My non-last minute trip from Washington D.C to Buenos Aires roundtrip was around $1200. If you happen to be already hanging out in Ushuaia then hey…go for it! Trips can be up to 60% off last minute. Another strategy to save money is a super early booking. The deals aren’t as good but you may get 10-15% off. Also, if you are willing to travel during a less popular time (such as early season in November) you may find deals by looking now for this year.
So much! I was shocked at how busy they kept us. There was rarely a dull moment. Keep in mind all expeditions are slightly different. Some are shorter and they don’t all have the same itineraries. Also, everything is weather permitting. I was extremely lucky with the weather and we had a record amount of landings and often at hard to reach spots but some trips aren’t so lucky.
Typically the ship attempts landings on different islands and different places on the Antarctic peninsula. Sometimes you take zodiac rides and view icebergs and wildlife this way. Our ship had the option to do a photography zodiac with the resident photographer or do a science zodiac ride.
There are usually onboard activities such as presentations and lectures. My ship had experts on geology, penguins, whales and history so the lectures were fantastic. I tried to attend every one! There also will be games, movies and live music. You always have the opportunity to go out on the deck and look for whales and simply take in the gorgeous scenery. Also, most ships will offer the dreaded Polar Plunge!
I described all of this in detail in another post.
“Antarctica can kill you if you aren’t paying attention”. We heard this from the crew many times. That being said, if you follow the rules and do what the crew tells you, you should be very safe. You should keep a safe distance from wildlife and ice. Always stay on the paths marked by flags to avoid crevices. Dress well for the weather so you are protected from the cold and wind. Take care on the ship. The rule is “one hand for you, one hand for the ship” meaning always have a hand free to hold a railing or grab something so you don’t fall if the ship is rocking.
The dreaded Drake. If you don’t know, this is the channel of water that must be crossed between the southern tip of South America before reaching the South Shetland Islands. It is the roughest water in the world. Mother Nature determines how this goes, Drake Lake or Drake Shake. It can be calm or absolutely horrible. It typically takes 2 days to cross. Thankfully it was calm for our crossing and I was only mildly queasy. Some others did get sick but many were sick because THEY WERE NOT PREPARED. Bring sea sickness medication…get a prescription. BE PREPARED! I outline what to bring and common remedies in my packing post.
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and dryest continent on earth. The average annual temperature ranges from about −10°C (14 F) on the Antarctic coast to −60°C (-75 F) at the highest parts of the interior. When you look at temperature charts you will often see the South Pole mentioned, but with the average Antarctic excursion, you are nowhere near the South Pole. The Antarctic Peninsula is much warmer with the highest temperatures in the middle of summer (January) with averages of 1 to 2 °C (34-36 °F).
My trip had a high of almost 15 degrees C (59 F) one day which was amazing. Most people had to take their parkas off, especially after walking up a hill. In mornings and evenings without the sun, the cool temperatures were more pronounced. Wind makes everything colder and being out on the deck of the ship on the bow is much colder than the stern.
I am that person that is cold in Florida but I survived. It truly wasn’t as bad as I thought.
You don’t need as much as you may think. A few quality strategic items go a long way. The ships typically have a little store where you can get some basic items if you forgot something but I wouldn’t rely on this.
In this post, I cover all the clothing, gear and photography equipment you need.
Read More: What to Pack for Antarctica
In a heartbeat. I would do my EXACT trip again, that’s how much I enjoyed it. I never thought I’d want to go to Antarctica twice but it exceeded all my expectations and now I want to see South Georgia Island, as I mentioned above, and everything else that I possibly can.
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