There are few places on earth that are more adventurous and exciting than Antarctica. The very definition of “off the beaten path”, this part of the world has long been inaccessible to the average traveler.
However, in recent years, cruise ships have started plying these frosty waters allowing the most intrepid explorers to get a taste of that polar chill.
Are you ready to learn more about this destination? Here is everything you need to know before you go.
How to Get to Antarctica
Perhaps the most important question is: how do I get to Antarctica? The vast majority of people who travel to this isolated continent do so by cruise ship. The journeys usually last between 10-16 days.
Most of the ships leave from Ushuaia in Argentina, which is the southernmost town in the world. Flights to Ushuaia leave regularly from Buenos Aires. You will probably want a day or two in Ushuaia to explore and adjust to the cold before you set off on your cruise.
Be aware that in order to reach Antarctica, ships must pass through the Drake Passage, which can take up to 48 hours and is notoriously turbulent. They then have to go back this way at the end of the trip. If you suffer with motion sickness, stock up on anti-sickness pills before you go.
Traveling to Antarctica is a once in a lifetime opportunity and as such most people want to splash out on the experience. Ponant is a company that offers luxury Antarctica cruises which include an on-board spa, open champagne bar, and opulent suites. The ships spare no expense in making you as comfortable as possible.
The Best Time to Visit Antarctica
The best time to visit Antarctica is between November and March. This is known as the Austral summer and is when the sunshine is most abundant. As the ice starts to melt, ships are able to access more of the continent. However, traveling at any time of the year will be a spectacular experience.
Things to Do in Antarctica
As with any cruise, you will spend most of your time in Antarctica on the ship. From here you will have breath-taking views of the icebergs and glaciers that make up the Antarctic landmass. Indeed, from the comfort of your bed or the ship’s fitness centre you will be able to gaze out at this icy wonderland.
Ships with more than 500 passengers are not allowed to let their passengers disembark. Ponant’s ships always have a capacity of maximum 200 guests so you can have the ultimate experience of setting foot on this desolate continent.
Once one terra firma, passengers can hike across the icy surface of Antarctica. Often described as other-worldly, the landscape here is nothing but snow and ice as far as the eye can see. There are no roads, people or even plants in Antarctica – but, of course, there are plenty of penguins and seals to ogle.
If you are really lucky, you might see a humpback or killer whale breach the water. These creatures migrate here during the Austral summer.
For those with thick skin (literally) some cruise ships offer you the chance to swim in the freezing water – this is known as the polar plunge. You won’t be able to spend much time in the water, but it is certainly something to tick off your list of travel goals.
Alternatively, you can hop in a kayak and get intimate with the water without being fully submerged in it.
Things to Know Before You Go
Antarctica is about as far as it gets from your average vacation destination. It is really, really cold. You don’t need to be told to take warm clothes but you should make sure what you bring covers your entire body. An exposed ankle, wrist, neck or nose can cause serious discomfort.
In 1959, 48 countries signed the Antarctica Treaty. This treaty designated Antarctica as a natural reserve without government or ownership. Therefore, Antarctica is a completely free landmass so you don’t need a visa or any customs control to go. You will, however, need a visa to travel to Argentina, the jumping off point.
Finally, an expedition to Antarctica means completely disconnecting. There is no WiFi out there and you’re unlikely to get any phone reception. Tie up all your loose ends before you go because once you’re there you will be incommunicado.
Has you interest in Antarctica been piqued? There is no time like the present to book an adventure that will stay with you forever!
Featured image credit: Nathalie Michel