Are you considering traveling to Antarctica and looking for a few tips before you depart? Questions like how do you visit Antarctica, what operator should you book with, when is the best time to travel to Antarctica, and what on earth do you pack come up often.
We had a fantastic trip to the frozen continent, and although it was likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip, there a few Antarctica travel tips we wish we had known before we went! There is no mobile phone service, and WiFi is expensive, there’s no Starbucks, no restaurants, and no annoying tourist traps that you’ll find in places like Paris or Rome. Don’t expect an airport, and definitely don’t expect anything about getting to Antarctica to be easy.
Instead consider traveling here to disconnect completely, to view wildlife unseen by most human eyes, and to see one of the coldest and windiest places on earth with your own eyes. Before you travel to Antarctica, take note of all our tips so that you know what to expect!
What You Need to Know Before You Travel to Antarctica
Who Did We Travel to Antarctica With?
Our number one question is always – who did we travel to Antarctica with, and would we recommend them? We booked with Albatros Expeditions on the Ocean Victory ship and had the most memorable trip of our lives!
We wouldn’t hesitate to book them again! They have even offered us special discounted rates to our readers. Check their prices here and when enquiring, make sure to mention The World Pursuit to get your discount!
Can you travel to Antarctica?
One of the most common misconceptions about Antarctica is that you cannot travel there. While Antarctica has typically just been visited by researchers and scientists on scientific research expeditions, the general public can now travel to Antarctica.
However, the average person can not just travel to Antarctica independently like they could to say…Italy. There are no commercial flights to Antarctica and no hotels, lodging, or restaurants catering to tourists, and you must cross over the Drake Passage to get there.
Antarctica is a remote and harsh environment, and travel to the continent is heavily regulated to protect its unique ecosystem and prevent harm to visitors.
Most of the general public must hop on expedition ships or cruises to enjoy Antarctica travel, and these trips and itineraries are heavily regulated. They can only stop in certain places for a certain amount of time – more on that later.
Is it against the law to visit Antarctica?
It is not illegal to travel to Antarctica, but keep in mind that traveling to Antarctica is heavily regulated. Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, a set of international agreements designed to preserve the continent for peaceful scientific purposes and protect its unique environment.
If you want to travel to Antarctica, you must comply with the regulations set forth by the Antarctic Treaty System. This includes obtaining the necessary permits, which tour operators can do for you, and adhering to environmental guidelines to minimize your impact on the ecosystem.
Additionally, most travel to Antarctica is organized through tour operators licensed by the countries’ governments that are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty System. These tour operators must follow strict guidelines to ensure their activities do not harm the environment or violate the treaty’s terms.
Is Traveling to Antarctica Safe?
Traveling to Antarctica is not considered safe for the wallet, however it is safe in most other aspects! Traveling to Antarctica is considered safe if proper precautions and preparations are undertaken. Though keep in mind that Antarctica is a harsh and remote environment, and traveling there requires careful planning, specialized equipment, and adherence to strict guidelines, all set forth by most tour operators.
All tourists are carefully regulated when traveling to Antarctica to ensure safety for all and that they are taking care of the precious environment. Some factors to consider for safe Antarctica travel include:
- Choose a reputable tour operator: Do your research and ensure that the tour operator you choose has experience and expertise in Antarctic travel and follows all safety protocols. We personally went with industry leader, Albatros Expeditions.
- Acquire necessary permits: Obtain the required permits and approvals from the appropriate authorities before traveling to Antarctica. Most travel operators will handle all these logistics for you.
- Prepare for extreme weather conditions, including cold temperatures and strong winds. Dress in appropriate layers and use specialized gear suitable for polar environments.
- Physical fitness: Maintain good physical fitness and consult with a healthcare professional before embarking on the journey if you have any health issues or concerns, as Antarctica’s remote location can pose challenges for medical assistance or evacuation.
- Follow environmental guidelines: Respect and follow strict environmental regulations to protect the fragile Antarctic ecosystem.
- Transportation safety: Choose a reputable transportation method, such as a well-equipped ship or aircraft, to reach Antarctica safely.
Is Antarctica a Country?
Antarctica is not a country but a continent – the fifth-largest on Earth! Antarctica has no human population, though some people live there for part of the year for scientific research.
Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, a set of international agreements designed to preserve the continent for peaceful scientific purposes and protect its unique environment. More than 50 countries have signed the treaty system! These countries include the United States, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom.
So while Antarctica is not a country, it is governed by a set of international agreements agreed upon by other nations. These agreements ensure its protection and preservation for scientific and environmental purposes.
Who “Owns” Antarctica?
No country owns Antarctica, although seven countries – Australia, Argentina, Chile, France, Norway, the UK, and New Zealand all have territorial claims. These claims are not recognized by the United States or most of the world.
There are more than 70 active research stations in Antarctica! The United States, Russia, China, Australia, and others all operate year-long and part-time research stations in Antarctica.
When is the Best Time For Antarctica Travel?
Antarctica has two main seasons: Antarctic summer and Antarctic winter. The Antarctic winter season starts in late March and lasts until early September. It is freezing and dark during this time, and the sun does not rise over the horizon for many months.
It’s not the ideal time to be in Antarctica, and most research stations even shut down for the season. Even if you like -40 degrees Celsius and extreme darkness, you couldn’t travel here during this time anyway.
Travel to Antarctica is only during the summer months – from October to March. This is when it’s warmer, lighter, and when the sea ice melts enough to let ships safely navigate the waters, so if you’re wondering when the best time to visit Antarctica is during these months.
Now within those months, there are some pros and cons:
October: (great for the most sublime ice conditions and good value) Cruises won’t start operating earlier than late October at the earliest. This is considered shoulder season for Antarctic travel, and you may be able to catch an early-season deal. It’s still pretty cold during this time, and plenty of sea ice is lingering, making landings and ship navigation more challenging. The upside? The frozen tundra makes the landscape views that much more pristine.
November: November is excellent for large icebergs! Most cruise ships kick off their season in November! This is when we traveled to Antarctica and had a wonderful time. Days get longer during November, and the air is slightly warmer. The first tourists of the season arrive in November, and places like Port Lockroy begin to staff up and open up for the season. The bad news? Sea ice is still lingering, and the winds and weather are a bit wilder, meaning continent landings aren’t guaranteed. We had three canceled landings on our ship due to weather and sea ice blockage. The good news? The landscapes are at their most dramatic.
December: December is excellent for warmer weather and seeing penguin chicks! Many would say that December is the best month to visit Antarctica. Temperatures are getting warm (by Antarctica standards, that is). The sun barely sets, so you get long days, and the wildlife is at its most active. It’s an excellent time for birders.
Ready for the con? December is also the most costly time to go, especially around the holiday season – book this trip well in advance!
January: Best for access to the Ross Sea and warmer weather and seeing seal pups. It’s still peak season for Antarctica travel. Travel during this time, and you’ll get 24 hours of daylight and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife. Because the sea ice has broken up, you stand a good chance at making all your continent landings and might be blessed with good weather.
February: February is excellent for Antarctic circle crossings. February is the best time for whale watching in Antarctica, and if you’re lucky, you’ll even see some fur seals and seal pups. You likely won’t have any issues with sea ice, and as it retreats, more Antarctica itineraries open up, including the Ross Sea, Crossing the Circle, and East Antarctica voyages. Penguins are most active during this month, and adult penguins begin molting.
March: March is the best time for whale activity! March is the last Antarctica travel season, and things have started winding down. It’s beginning to get cold again, though March is an excellent time for whale watching and photographers since the sun is often so low in the sky.
How to Get to Antarctica
There are a few different ways to travel to Antarctica, but 90% of people will go the Ushuaia cruise route. Ushuaia, in Argentina, is the southernmost city in the world. It sits at the tip of Argentina, and one can fly to Buenos Aires and then take a domestic flight to Ushuaia from there. Most cruises depart from Ushuaia, which considered the gateway to the Antarctic.
It may take you a few days to get to Ushuaia from wherever you are (it took us three days from Cape Town!) And once you arrive in Ushuaia, your journey is just starting. So truly, it may take you about a week to reach Antarctica, depending on where you are coming from!
Ushuaia is where most will board their ship; from there, it takes nearly three days to cross the infamous Drake Passage, and after a hopeful smooth sailing, you have made it to Antarctica!
From Cape Town it took us nearly a week to take our first steps on the continent. It’s definitely the longest journey we’ve ever taken to a destination, and it was not a cheap affair, but well worth it!
What Are the Gateway Cities to Antarctica
Besides Ushuaia, several other gateway cities serve as departure points for Antarctic expeditions. They are Punta Arenas (Chile), Hobart (Australia), Christchurch, New Zealand, and Cape Town (South Africa).
Though it’s worth noting that routes from those other destinations are fewer and further between and often more expensive, we had a group of Kiwis and Aussies on our ship that traveled all the way to Argentina to tackle the Ushuaia route that everyone else was on.
We were coming from Cape Town, which is technically a gateway city, though upon further research, this option is only for those with a considerable budget as luxury tour operator White Desert owns much of this space, and their tours are upwards of $100k per person.
Book a Reputable Tour Operator
We did extensive research before traveling to Antarctica about who to travel with. Hundreds of companies seem to be now vying to take tourists to Antarctica. While just a few years ago, it was mainly expedition ships going to Antarctica, now large cruise ship companies like Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity are getting their little piece of the Antarctic pie.
We didn’t want to travel to Antarctica on a standard cruise ship. We wanted more of an expedition-style ship, so we chose Albatros Expeditions, which operates Arctic and Antarctic expedition-style tours. Unlike traveling to Antarctica on an expedition ship just five years ago, where staterooms and mess halls feel precisely like an expedition, Albatros makes expedition-style trips while still having pretty luxurious rooms and couldn’t have been happier with our choice.
Albatros is one of the many tour operators members of IAATO. IAATO stands for the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators. This group of select tour operators was founded in 1991 to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic.
Today is membership comprises more than 100 respected companies from across the world. Nothing in the world is quite like IAATO, but because no one owns Antarctica, this is a great way to initiate rules and regulations that tour operators must follow.
IAATO aims to promote safe travel to the region and ensure that all necessary precautions are taken to minimize environmental and wildlife impacts. Before booking your Antarctica trip, we recommend looking into IAATO and ensuring your tour operator is a member.
Follow environmental guidelines
This should go without saying, but all tourists in Antarctica need to follow the environmental guidelines set by IAATO. It’s important to understand that you are one of the few lucky people on earth traveling to such a fragile environment, and Antarctica must be treated with the utmost respect.
Stay on the designated trails, don’t touch wildlife, and, god forbid, don’t litter. Your tour operator will review everything, and the rules might change. For instance, when we traveled to Antarctica, there was an Avian bird flu outbreak, so we weren’t allowed to place backpacks, cameras, or tripods on Antarctic grounds.
How Bad is the Drake Passage?
After a few viral social media posts, I can’t count how many times I was asked about the Drake Passage.
But first, what is the Drake Passage? The Drake Passage is a body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to any other continent. Most must cross the Drake Passage to get to Antarctica unless you look into some of the few flight options.
Crossing the Drake is pretty notorious as it is considered one of the world’s most treacherous and unpredictable bodies of water. The passage is known for its fierce winds, strong currents, and rough seas, which can cause waves up to 30 meters (100 feet) high. Thankfully, ships nowadays are well equipped to handle the drake; ours even had stabilizers to help.
You can get the “Drake Lake” or the “Drake Shake” while crossing. Drake Lake is what it sounds like when the water feels like a calm lake. The Drake Shake is precisely the opposite. Unfortunately for me, we got the Drake Shake going to and coming back from Antarctica. I thought I was immune to getting seasick, but I was so SO wrong. On a scale of one to 10, our captain said our Drake Passage was about 7; even the well-seasoned staff had some green faces. To me, it felt like a 15!
I can’t tell you how bad your Drake Passage crossing will be. There’s no “good” season to cross the Drake, so there is no way to plan for smooth sailing – sorry!
How Long Does it Take to Cross the Drake?
A typical Drake crossing takes two full days. For us, leaving Antarctica was way worse seasickness-wise, plus we didn’t have all the built up excitement of getting to Antarctica to push us through!
Choose your floor wisely
If you get seasick, one of my top Antarctica travel tips is to request a lower floor when booking your room. Although the best rooms are typically on the higher decks, I couldn’t have been happier to be on a lower deck during our time.
The lower decks experience less movement than higher decks. So if you get a terrible Drake Crossing and are on the top floor, you’ll feel every rock the ship makes.
What Time Zone is Antarctica?
Antarctica has no designated time zone since it is not a country. However, the time zone used by research stations on the continent is usually determined by the government that operates the station.
For example, the United States operates the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which uses New Zealand Time (NZT), UTC+12. For tourism purposes, most cruise ships operate on Ushuaia time.
Do You Need a Visa For Antarctica?
There is no government and no population, meaning anyone from any nationality can travel to Antarctica visa-free. There are no customs officials and no passport checks. You won’t even get a “real” passport stamp (though they do have fun ones you can stamp yourself at Port Lockroy!)
That said, you will need to check entry and visa regulations from the country of your departure point. For most, this will be Argentina.
How Much Is a Trip to Antarctica?
There is no one way to answer how much a trip to Antarctica will cost. The cost of a trip to Antarctica dramatically depends on your itinerary, the time of year you are going, the operator, the ship, and so many other factors.
All that being said, a trip to Antarctica is never cheap. The average trip cost is between $8000-$10,000 per person for a 10-14 day trip, and this doesn’t include your travel to your departure point. This cost includes lodging, food, and excursions (not including add-on excursions like camping or kayaking).
At the very least, a journey to Antarctica will run $4000-$5000 a person. Some of the most luxurious ships cost more than $20,000, and some high-end luxury camps can reach upwards of $100,000 per person! The Antarctica trips traveling to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands take more time, and cost upwards of $20,000.
How To Save Money on An Antarctica Trip
I’m sure you see that $5,000 number and wonder how you can make travel to Antarctica happen for that amount. Well, there are a few ways this can happen:
Book exceptionally far in advance: You can usually score deals by booking over a year in advance.
Wait it out: We met multiple backpackers on our ship who paid $4500 (at least that’s what they said) by flying to Ushuaia and waiting until last-minute deals came along. How last minute? We met cruisers who booked their trip to Antarctica less than three days before departure. As the ship approaches the departure date, they will try to sell off their last remaining empty rooms at heavily discounted prices. This method only works for those who are super flexible and have time on their hands. It also helps to be in Ushuaia already, as you can waltz into tour operators daily and ask them for last-minute deals. This is best done during the shoulder season months.
Book the cheapest cabin: If you want to save money, book the cheapest cabin on the ship. You get exactly the same service, food, excursions, and overall experience. The only difference is your cabin won’t be as luxurious as the others.
Book a Small Cruise Ship to Antarctica
We were unaware that regulations stipulate that no more than 100 individuals per voyage can disembark the ship at any given time. This means that if you are on a huge ship with 500 passengers, your time on land could be severely limited, and you’ll be waiting around while others take their journey to Antarctica, before you get to land.
Additionally, selecting a larger cruise vessel may present an even greater issue, as it may prove too cumbersome to approach the continent, resulting in more distant sightseeing opportunities. The smaller the ship, the better when traveling to Antarctica.
What is the Currency in Antarctica?
What is the currency in Antarctica? Well, chances are you won’t pay for much on your ship, and most shops on board accept credit cards.
They also accept USD, Euro, Argentinian Pesos, and British Pounds. We only found we needed cash when we visited the Port Lockroy giftshop as they did not accept credit cards. Port Lockroy accepts USD, Euro, and British Pounds. As with anywhere in the world, it never hurts you to have USD handy anyway.
Antarctica Travel is expedition cruising, not Disney cruising
Our cruise director said this multiple times on our journey to Antarctica. Sailing to Antarctica is not your typical cruise with scheduled ports of call and guaranteed destinations. Nothing about traveling to Antarctica is 100%, and it’s even possible for some expeditions never even to make a continent landing if the weather doesn’t work out. Or it’s possible that the weather is fantastic and the expedition team crams in more stops than on the itinerary!
Everything about traveling to Antarctica revolves around the weather. This means that if the weather isn’t in your favor, you might be unable to leave the ship. You may have to miss specific stops if there is a storm, or the zodiacs might not be able to break through the sea ice.
Treat your itinerary as a guideline. Your tour operator will do everything they can to stick to that general itinerary, but if they can’t, don’t leave a bad review because they can’t control the weather, and you are in the most inhospitable place on earth.
We couldn’t make three of the planned stops we hoped to make on our trip because the weather was too wild and unpredictable. While at Port Lockroy, we had to rush through the museum as a storm rolled in fast, and the crew had to get everyone back on board the ship safely and as soon as possible
We were supposed to visit one of the largest penguin colonies on the continent, but because it was November, the sea ice was too thick for the zodiacs to make a safe landing, so we went on a zodiac cruise instead. The moral of the story is to prepare for anything when traveling to Antarctica.
What is a Zodiac?
What is a zodiac? A Zodiac is an inflatable boat commonly used for transportation to and from shore, as well as for exploring shallow waters and getting up close to marine wildlife.
These boats are small and lightweight, with a capacity of about 6-12 passengers. They are known for their stability and maneuverability, making them popular among scientists, photographers, and tourists for observing and studying marine life.
Antarctica has no docks, and ships must anchor at sea and transport passengers to Antarctica by zodiac. They are essential for accessing remote locations, and it’s important that visitors can adequately enter and exit a zodiac. That said, expedition ships welcome disabled guests and have ways of getting them onto the continent.
If you are disabled and worried about traveling to Antarctica, inform your tour operator.
Is There a Medical Requirement For Traveling to Antarctica?
It’s best to be in good health when traveling to Antarctica so you can move about the ship quickly and enjoy Antarctica to the fullest.
Before boarding, all guests must complete a medical information declaration to inform the medical staff on board of any medical conditions, allergies, or illnesses that could impact the voyage. Your operator will likely require you to have travel insurance with high evacuation coverage. As you can imagine, a medical evacuation for Antarctica would be quite costly. Also, a medical evacuation from certain places could take up to two days.
There are doctors on almost every ship, though they are limited in their capabilities. If you have a stomach bug, they’ll be able to help, but there wouldn’t be much they could do in the event of something like a heart attack.
Go to The Lectures
You may wonder what you will do with all that downtime crossing the Drake Passage. It depends on your ship and what amenities are offered. Our ship had a library, board game center, fitness center, and hot tub. Though one thing that is common on almost every boat is a series of lectures and talks
On every expedition ship is a team of experts that will give presentations related to your trip. These presentations may be about things like learning photography, hearing about regional birds, stories about Shackleton or Roald Amundsen, living in Antarctica, and everything in between.
I’m unsure of the exact number, but if I were a guessing gal, I’d say there were at least 40-50 different lectures throughout our cruise. Of course, it’s not expected to go to every single one, but we highly recommend you attend as many as possible as they will be highly beneficial!
Our ship, thankfully, aired their lectures on the in-room televisions as well, a godsend for me when I was lying horizontal trying not to throw up on the Drake Passage days.
Do the Polar Plunge!
Most ships have an opportunity to do a polar plunge. What is a polar plunge? Well, it’s when you jump into the icy Southern Sea. If you are in good health with no heart issues, we highly recommend braving the water and taking the plunge.
Although I was nervous, I couldn’t believe how refreshed I felt after – I even wanted to jump again! The jump isn’t just for young people either!
Over 120 people on our ship jumped, ranging from 16 to 70+! Just make sure you have no heart conditions that impact you jumping into icy water.
Are Kids Allowed to Go to Antarctica?
This is another question I get asked often, and the rules depend on your tour operator. Ours required that kids be over 12 years old; this is mainly for a safety aspect.
However, I personally don’t think an Antarctica trip suits young children. Not only will you want to bring them on such an epic journey that they can remember and appreciate the beauty. But also, there’s not enough to do for children on most Antarctica expeditions.
There’s no daycare, no children’s playroom, and no reliable WiFi to rely on for entertainment. Of course, you can bring books and movies, but there is a lot of don’t time. Remember when I said you go to lectures during your downtime?
Well, that is what children have for options too, and unless they are super intrigued with Antarctica facts and information, I can’t imagine young children would hold attention well. But it’s all up to you and your family. I do know that Disney has since started operating Antarctica cruises, which may be a good option for families.
Extra Excursions in Antarctica
Most Antarctica tour operators offer three extra excursions, though some offer more. These range from kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, snorkeling, to camping overnight on the continent to snowshoeing. These extras are often not included in the price of your trip.
Even though these activities cost extra, they remain in high demand and cannot accommodate everyone on board. This means there is a lottery system if demand is high enough. If you want to take part in these excursions and have the opportunity to book in advance, we recommend doing so!
We have an entire Antarctica packing list, but remember to pack accordingly for your trip! We packed for fall/winter weather. That means jeans, leggings, boots, sweaters, fleece jackets, a hat, gloves, and buff.
Most ships will give you a jacket on the trip; and you will probably get to keep this warm jacket and bring it home. We thought we would need sturdy hiking boots too, but we found out when we got on the ship that they also provided a pair of wellies.
Beyond that, you need your own waterproof pants (the zodiacs get wet), base layers, a hat, gloves, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Do you need to bring dress clothes for your trip? Our journey had no “captains’ nights” or formal dinners where guests were requested to dress up. When not on the zodiacs or exploring, I wore essential everyday wear. Sweaters, leggings, and jeans; however, you’ll have to check your ship itinerary to see if there are times when you may want to dress up.
Don’t forget a swimsuit if your ship has a hot tub and workout clothes for the gym. The number one item I wish I had was slippers. There’s a lot of downtime on the trip, and walking around the ship in comfortable slippers would have been more than acceptable.
Take Care of Your Skin!
Speaking of things to bring, don’t forget face moisturizer, lotion, and sunscreen. Although it’s cold and you may not think you’re getting much sun, the weather in the Antarctic circle is dry and harsh on the skin, but trust me when I say you can get sunburned in Antarctica VERY EASILY and all that ice and snow sure is reflective.
It only took me forgetting sunscreen on my face one day to learn a valuable lesson while traveling to Antarctica.
seasickness Traveling to Antarctica
If you are prone to seasickness (or even if you’re not), bring Dramamine with you for your Drake Passage journey. Any other motion sickness relief may be helpful too. Wristbands, ear patches, motion sick glasses, and ginger candies – I wish I had it all!
Prepare for a rocking boat
If it’s looking like you’ll have a rough crossing, which the crew should be able to tell you, pop that Dramamine before the ship gets a rockin’ and rolling. Once the seasickness has set in, it’s typically too late for a motion sickness tablet to have any effect.
Use Your Time on Land Wisely
There are many rules and regulations when traveling to Antarctica, and these rules trickle down to your stops and time on land. To minimize our impact on the eco system there are only a certain amount of people allowed on land at any given time, and for a certain amount of time.
For example, our ship had less than 200 guests on board. Guests were separated into four groups, sorted by color. Land visits were staggered by color, and then the zodiacs carrying those 40-50 passengers were also staggered, meaning there were never more than a certain amount of people on shore at once.
Almost all of our visits were less than an hour on land – so use your time wisely. Take your photos, observe, and ask the expedition team all your questions!
Stay on the Path!
Before you make it to land, the expedition team will go before you to set up a guided path for visitors to walk around.
This path ensures people don’t trample on the fragile ecosystem. Please stay on this path.
Bring a Camera When You Travel to Antarctica
You do not want to forget your camera for this once in a lifetime trip! Make sure to bring extra memory cards and batteries. Having a drybag for your camera gear will also be very helpful. The zodiacs can get soaked.
Is There Wi-Fi in Antarctica?
Amazingly, you can get WiFi anywhere, and this is true for Antarctica. Most ships will have WiFi that you can pay extra for. Be forewarned, it’s pretty expensive.
Does the WiFi actual work? I was shocked by how well the WiFi worked on our ship, even in the middle of the Drake Passage, I was able to send emails and work a bit. (Though I barely wanted to look at my screen with the boat rocking so much).
However, if you don’t need the WiFi, we recommend not worrying about it. Not only is it expensive, but it may detract from your whole experience on board!
If you’re sending a postcard
This is one of my most random Antarctica travel tips, but if you plan on sending postcards from Port Lockroy, have them written out and ready to go beforehand. I unfortunately purchased postcards at Port Lockroy as I didn’t get any in Ushuaia.
While the postcard images may have been slightly better, I ultimately rushed through writing my postcards against a wall in the Port Lockroy Museum. Getting multiple postcards written, addressed, and stamped quickly resulted in some anxiety on my end!
Do You Have to Take a Cruise to Antarctica?
You don’t have to cross the Drake Passage by ship, as there are ‘Fly the Drake” tours where tourists can pay a bit more to take a charter plane over the Drake. Though, as all great explorers had to cross the Drake before us, we think it is a right of passage that you must cross the Drake to get to Antarctica.
Plus if you opt to skip the Drake Passage, you’ll miss out on all that time learning from the seminars and preparing yourself for the best week of your life!
If you want to fly, more than 98% of flyers fly from Punta Arenas to King George Island, less than 1% fly from Punta Arenas to the South Pole. There is no commercial flight to Antarctica, meaning you must book a chartered flight. These don’t run frequently and operate between December and February.
Make Sure to Check Your Itinerary
All itineraries to Antarctica are not the same. Most 10-day cruises take you to the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. Longer cruises go to South Georgia and The Falklands, and some of the most extensive (and expensive) trips half-circumnavigation the entire Antarctic continent! Itineraries depend on your budget, time, and interests.
You Likely won’t see emperor Penguins
Maybe I should have done more pre-travel research – okay, I definitely should have, but for some reason, I was under the impression I would see emperor penguins on our trip. I guess I’ve seen Happy Feet too many times. I mean, I was going to Antarctica – and Emperors live in Antarctica. 🤪
Little did I know that even the most experienced birder on the crew, with over 20 years of experience, had never seen an Emperor Penguin. Emperor Penguins only live in Antarctica but in the harshest, most hard-to-reach areas of Antarctica. They are adapted to Antarctica’s most freezing temperatures and can survive winter.
Most visitors to Antarctica will not see emperor penguins. Seeing these giant birds requires a Drake crossing and venturing to places like Snow Hill Island, where travelers need to brave the icy Weddell Sea aboard the most resilient polar vessels, followed by a helicopter ride. Finally, the last leg of the journey entails trekking on foot.
But it still really is like happy feet
Even though you won’t likely see Emperor Penguins, plenty of wildlife remains to see. Penguin-wise, you still have Adélie Penguin, Chinstrap Penguin, Gentoo Penguin, and Macaroni Penguin.
Other wildlife you’ll likely encounter are Antarctic seals like the Weddell Seal, Leopard Seal, Crabeater Seal, Ross Seal, and Antarctic Fur Seal.
Different species of whales can be found in the waters around Antarctica, such as the Humpback Whale, Orca (also known as the Killer Whale), Minke Whale, and Blue Whale.
Birders will have a fantastic experience, so pack the telephoto lens! Besides penguins, various bird species inhabit Antarctica, including the Snow Petrel, Antarctic Petrel, Antarctic Fulmar, South Polar Skua, and Wilson’s Storm Petrel.
Lastly, don’t forget about Albatrosses. Several species of albatrosses, known for their impressive wingspans, can be spotted in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, including the Wandering Albatross.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get low.
- Book a Rental Car: We use Discover Car to book all our rental cars! You can also read our top tips for renting a car abroad here.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.