You’ve Decided to go to Antarctica: Now What?

It’s been a lifelong dream, you’ve been inspired by the BBC’s Frozen Planet, you’ve just seen a friend’s photos from their trip or you are a frequent traveller who only has one continent left on their bucket list. Whatever the reason, the decision has been made: Antarctica will be your next travel destination.

Now what?

Antarctica is a continent like no other. It is remote, costly and challenging to reach which makes it a ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure for most people. So you want to get it right! Once you have made the decision to go, you will need to ask yourself the following questions:

1. How will I get there?

Unless you are a scientist, medic or other specialist who has secured a placement at a research station, or are wealthy enough to arrange your own private yacht, your transport options are limited. Whilst some travel companies have introduced flight options to avoid the Drake Passage or for those who are short of time, the most common method of visiting Antarctica is a group tour via a ship.

Departing-Ushuaia

2. Where will I go?

The most common tour offered is an 11 day round trip from Ushuaia that crosses the Drake Passage towards the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, before returning across the Drake again. There are alternative tours that travel a little further south and the granddaddy of them all is the three week expedition that encompasses the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica and only has one Drake crossing. This is the one I chose and it provided an unbeatable combination of historical, wildlife and scenic highlights over a period of time long enough to allow me to completely soak up the experience I was having. The decision you make will be influenced by your available time, budget and personal interests.

3. When will I go?

You will be limited to the Antarctic summer, where tours are offered between November and March. Again, your decision will be influenced by your personal interests and there are no guarantees when it comes to the continent that plays by its own rules. Some general guidelines are:

November:
At the beginning of the tourist season, temperatures are likely to be at their coldest and polar ice is still breaking up which may limit access opportunities. But landscape is often more pristine, undisturbed and breath-taking. Whilst there are likely to be less whales at this time of year, the penguins will be finishing their mating season and nesting on their eggs.

December – mid February
During this period the days are at their longest and the daily temperature at its warmest. This is the period where wildlife can be at its most plentiful with penguin chicks providing entertaining and endearing sightings.

Mid-Feb to March
This is the best time for spotting whales but it is likely that a lot of the other wildlife will have returned to sea. Penguin chicks will be larger and have started to fledge and the temperature will start to drop again. There may be better access to areas further south and you are more likely to experience rocky and muddy landings rather than snow.
But remember that nothing is guaranteed in Antarctica! I went in late December and was spoilt with wildlife sightings, especially penguin chicks. But ice that was not present in November prevented a landing at Elephant Island, after we had already had to change route as the South Shetland Islands were not accessible.

Kellie-Netherwood-2

4. Who will I go with?

There are a number of tour companies that offer expedition cruises to the region and almost all have great reputations. I travelled with Quark Expeditions and have nothing but great things to say about them. I liked that they are polar specialists, have been running tours in the area for a long time and were as enthusiastic about my trip as I was. Like any tour company decision, do your research and make the decision that suits you. Your decision may end up being more influenced by the timing of a particular itinerary that you are interested in, the size of the ship or other factors. The cost tends to be the same amongst the companies, although it’s worth looking out for specials throughout the year to reduce what is an incredibly expensive adventure. It is also possible to pick up last minute deals in Ushuaia – we had a few passengers on board who had arrived in Ushuaia and booked the trip the previous day – but there is obviously some risk involved in this if you arrive and nothing is available.

(The information in this post is based on my own experience of planning and joining an Antarctica expedition cruise – I don’t pretend to be a polar specialist – but I can share a ‘real life’ experience with you!)

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. I’m really excited and inspired by this. Doing some extensive browsing through your Antarctica posts right now… 🙂

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