How to Visit Antarctica
There is at least one place left on earth where you really can disconnect: Antarctica.
There is no mobile phone service. There are no ATMs, no souvenir stores, and no tourist traps. The local “airports” are really just ice or gravel landing strips.
Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia and mostly covered with a thick sheet of ice. It’s one of the most remote destinations on earth and a bucket list item for many travelers. It’s also more accessible than one might think.
Lars-Eric Lindblad first took a group of 57 visitors to Antarctica in 1966. “At that time it was more or less like accomplishing a moon landing,” his son Sven-Olof Lindblad said. “In those days, we were not as prepared as we are now. There were no satellite ice charts. You were not that different navigationally from the early explorers.”
Even now it can be hard to really understand a place like Antarctica. It is the coldest, windiest, and driest place on earth. It has no currency of its own. It is a desert with no trees, no bushes, and no long-term residents. More meteorites are found in Antarctica than any other place in the world.
“Antarctica is about the wildest place you can go on the planet,” Lindblad said.
It’s also an increasingly popular place to visit. Intrepid Travel alone has seen an 84% increase in bookings for its polar trips in the past year.
“The conversation around climate change has elevated people's interest and created a sense of urgency,” Lindblad said.
When to Go to Antarctica
The Antarctic travel season lasts from November through March, the Antarctic summer. Temperatures can range from around 20 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best time for penguin spotting is late December or early January. Wait too long and previously pristine penguin colonies get dirty and smelly, said Nik Horncastle, a regional specialist with Audley Travel. For peak whale watching, try February or March.
Other activities including snowshoeing, kayaking, skiing, camping, snorkeling, diving, and visits to historic sites from earlier expeditions can be experienced throughout the season.
How to Get There
One of the more common routes to Antarctica is by ship via Ushuaia, a city at the southern tip of Argentina. Several companies including Lindblad’s Lindblad Expeditions, G Adventures, and Intrepid Travel offer a variety of cruises ranging from 9 to 24 days.
On board, expect to mingle with scientists, naturalists, historians, and underwater specialists. “The onboard experience is a conversation around where you are and what does this place mean,” Lindblad said. Internet service via satellite is available but comes with a hefty price tag.
Antarctica is one place where smaller boats offer a big advantage. “We don't recommend a boat over 200 people,” Horncastle said. “Big boats can only stop at a few sites.”
Expect to spend between $6,000 and $50,000 to visit Antarctica, depending on the length of the trip and level of luxury you seek.
“It's an expensive trip,” Horncastle said. “A lot of people will ask for the cheapest option.”
Don’t fret if you’re on a budget. Intrepid and G Adventures don’t require single supplements for solo travelers. Sightseeing flights, which never land on the continent, also are available from Australia with prices starting around $1,200.
To both fly over and step onto Antarctica, Antarctica XXI combines a two-hour flight from Chile with cruises passengers can board in Antarctica. This option doesn’t give visitors the chance to cruise the famous Drake Passage, but it does save time and minimize the risk of seasickness.
“The Drake Passage is a crossing full of unpredictable conditions,” said Antarctica XXI’s Francesco Contini. “When the crossing is rough, passengers tend to be not very comfortable.”