Antarctica is a highly secluded place that attracts numerous travellers seeking an unforgettable experience. Have you ever fantasised about venturing into the White Continent and witnessing awe-inspiring icebergs, encountering whales, and observing wildlife like seals and penguins in their natural habitat? Perhaps you are also drawn to the mesmerising deep blue skies and snow-covered mountains. Contrary to popular belief, travelling to Antarctica is not as difficult as it may seem, but like any journey, it does require some careful planning. Are you ready to embark on a voyage?
What is the right time to start planning your trip
To ensure you get your preferred options, it is highly recommended to start planning your trip at least 12 months in advance, as there is a high demand and a limited number of ships available, especially during peak season. If you are considering popular Fly & Cruise trips or those that include South Georgia, it is advisable to start planning 18 months ahead.
Best time to visit
The best time to travel to Antarctica is from November to March since this is when temperatures start to rise, the days become longer, and the sea ice melts, allowing cruise ships to visit. The best month to go depends on your objectives for the trip. November offers excellent opportunities for photography and snowshoeing, while December to February provides more favourable weather and clearer ice conditions, making it possible to embark on Polar Circle voyages. March is particularly advantageous for whale watching, although the weather becomes more unpredictable and daylight hours decrease.
The month you select for your trip to Antarctica affects the cost and the type of scenery and wildlife you are likely to encounter. December is considered to be the optimal time to visit Antarctica due to relatively warmer temperatures (by Antarctic standards), extended daylight hours, and abundant wildlife activity. However, it is also the most expensive period, especially over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Therefore, it is advisable to make your reservations well in advance. Notable wildlife sightings in December include migrating whales, seal pups in the South Georgia beaches, and the courting season for seabirds, making it an excellent time for bird enthusiasts. January is the warmest month in Antarctica, with average temperatures reaching up to 0 degrees in the Antarctic Peninsula. The slightly higher prices during early January reflect the popularity of this period. During January, you can also witness penguin chicks playfully learning to venture away from their mothers, while a variety of seal species can be observed as well.
Pictured chinstrap penguins in January.
Departure port Ushuaia
Most cruises to Antarctica typically start from Ushuaia, Argentina, the preferred departure point for 90% of tourists due to its extensive range of voyage options. However, some Antarctic air cruises depart from Punta Arenas, Chile, offering a unique experience of flying in one direction and sailing in the other.
Choosing your itinerary
Visits to Antarctica typically focus on ice-free coastal areas between November and March. While most ships navigate the Antarctic Peninsula, a few routes also include South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. If you have the means and availability for a 17–21 day expedition, I suggest selecting an Antarctica itinerary that incorporates South Georgia and possibly the Falkland Islands. This choice provides the opportunity to witness a subantarctic scenery, a wider range of wildlife (including king penguins absent in Antarctica), and significant historical sites such as the Grytwiken Whaling Station, where renowned polar explorer Ernest Shackleton is laid to rest.
When planning a trip to Antarctica, you may observe that the itineraries are less detailed compared to cruises to other destinations. For instance, they may state: 'Days 1-2 cruising the Drake Passage, Days 3-7 South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula'. This is primarily because expedition cruising heavily relies on weather conditions, resulting in a flexible itinerary without any guarantees regarding the locations to be visited or the duration of stay. Consequently, you can select an itinerary that aims to explore certain regions, such as South Georgia Island, but you will not be able to choose specific places to visit there. The ship will make landings wherever the conditions permit at that particular time.
Choosing a tour provider
Several highly recommended expedition cruises to Antarctica are available for booking, including Silversea Expeditions, Quark Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, AE Expeditions (a division of Aurora Expeditions), Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Ponant, Seabourn, and Scenic. I chose Quark Expeditions because they are renowned for their expertise in polar cruising and offer a diverse range of Antarctic expeditions. Their exceptional reputation was further validated in 2015 when they were recognised as the World's Leading Specialty Cruise Line at the prestigious World Travel Awards.
When considering ships for expedition, it is important to consider their size, type, stability, speed, common facilities, and comfort of cabins. For ships with 100 passengers or fewer, it is possible to disembark at every stop and engage in activities such as observing wildlife or stepping foot on land through Zodiac trips. Smaller vessels offer a more intimate atmosphere on board, providing ample opportunities to socialise and make friends, which is particularly beneficial for solo travellers. Additionally, smaller ships can access smaller harbours and, consequently, more landing sites. On the other hand, larger ships offer certain advantages, such as enhanced stability, which reduces the likelihood of seasickness, especially on lower decks. They also provide a wider range of facilities on board. However, it is essential to note that regulations permit only 100 passengers to be on shore at one time in Antarctica. Therefore, remember that you may not be able to get on shore at every stop if you travel on a ship carrying over 200 passengers. As there are very few ships under 100 passengers, I would advise you to consider ships up to 200 passengers if you want to spend more time on shore. Furthermore, ships carrying 500 or more passengers are not allowed to land at all, so passengers in these cabins will have to settle for observing the frozen continent from their portholes and shipboard only.
Your selection of an Antarctica ship will depend largely on your budget and the type of experience you desire. It is crucial to consider how well you handle ship movement, as some Antarctica cruise ships are equipped with ice-strengthening and stabilisation features, while others are not. Individuals prone to seasickness should take this factor into account. Additionally, it is advisable to check the maximum speed of the vessel, typically measured in knots. For instance, the World Explorer is known for its swiftness in polar waters, with a cruising speed of 16 knots, equivalent to approximately 29.6 kilometres per hour.
Joining Antarctica Facebook groups
I suggest you consider joining Facebook groups related to Antarctic travel early on when planning your trip to Antarctica. I am participating in the following groups: Antarctica: Sales, deals&special offers; Antarctica travel group; Antarctica Travel- from bucket list to booked
Typically, when travelling to Antarctica, it is essential to possess insurance coverage for emergency evacuation, repatriation, and medical expenses amounting to US$200,000. In general, the lowest possible expense for an evacuation from Antarctica would be around US$100,000.
Health requirements for Antarctica
A cruise to Antarctica can be considered an expedition, as it involves exploring a remote continent that is far from civilisation. Given the distance from medical facilities, it is crucial to thoroughly evaluate your health before deciding to book such a trip. It is advisable to consult your doctor before your journey, regardless of whether you have any existing medical conditions. Even if you are in good health, visit your doctor to obtain necessary medication refills and discuss preventive measures for seasickness. You would rather want to avoid seasickness altogether than attempt to treat it after it occurs. To alleviate symptoms of seasickness, methods such as acupressure or medications can be used. It is wise for passengers to wear scopolamine patches before entering the Drake Passage, a prescription-only medication that should be brought along. Depending on the tour operator you choose, your healthcare provider may need to sign and verify a medical history form for the ship's doctor to review.
Antarctica trip cost
The cost of your Antarctica trip includes various components such as flights to your departure port, pre-cruise hotel costs, cruise expenses, insurance, tips, special gear, souvenirs, and additional services like kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Let's take a closer look at these factors. When planning your trip to Antarctica, it is essential to consider the cost of flights, as they can vary based on several factors like the departure location, time of year, choice of airline, and availability. When looking at the cruise costs, you will notice a significant range of prices for your Antarctica journey. In general, the costs of an Antarctica cruise will typically range between $5,000 and $40,000 per person. Here are some specific price ranges to consider:
Classic Antarctica Peninsula cruise (10–11 days): USD$6,000–USD$14,000.
Antarctica Fly & Cruise (8 days): USD$11,000–27,000.
Antarctic Circle cruise (12–14 days): USD$8,000–18,000.
Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica cruise (18–23 days): USD$12,000–25,000.
The lower end of these ranges are for last-minute discounts only, available in the 2-3 months before departure. While it is not mandatory to tip on Antarctic trips, it is highly recommended as a gesture of appreciation towards the staff and crew. It is advised to allocate approximately $15–$20 per day for gratuities. On most Antarctic cruises, equipment such as rubber boots and parkas will be provided on loan, so you will not have to purchase expensive gear specifically for this trip. If you are fortunate and select the right tour, you may even receive an Antarctica insulated jacket as a souvenir.
Buying your trip
To ensure you find a more affordable option for your desired trip, it is necessary to dedicate sufficient time towards searching for sales and better prices. Facebook groups can help discover good deals. It is possible to make purchases directly from travel companies or agents, with the prices being the same in both cases. However, travel agents may offer better responsiveness and a genuine interest in meeting your preferences.
By conducting thorough research and exercising patience, you can discover the best deals that align with your budget without compromising the overall experience. On the whole, while it might seem a bit extravagant to invest in a trip to Antarctica at first, this trip is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the memories you make are priceless.
Booking hotels in Ushuaia
If you are considering extending your stay in Ushuaia either before or after your trip, I suggest opting for alternative hotels in the area rather than those specifically catering to cruise ship passengers. Based on my personal experience, the level of service provided by these establishments may not be up to par. Regardless, it is advisable to thoroughly review the feedback and ratings of all potential hotels before finalising your decision.
Getting to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires airports
You will probably travel to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires, and it is necessary to note that there are two primary airports in Buenos Aires: Ministro Pistarini International Airport, also known as Ezeiza (EZE), and Jorge Newbery Airport, commonly referred to as Aeroparque (AEP). Both airports offer flights to and from Ushuaia. Ezeiza Airport is situated 31km/19.2 miles from downtown Buenos Aires, on the southwest side of the city. Although Jorge Newbery International Airport also serves Buenos Aires, EZE Airport remains the primary aviation hub for the capital of Argentina.
When purchasing airline tickets, it is critical to verify the airport codes to ensure that your departure and arrival airports are the same. If they are not, it is advisable to allocate sufficient time for transferring between airports. The most convenient method for a transfer is to utilise the shuttle bus service operated by Manuel Tienda Leon. The trip from Ezeiza to Aeroparque costs approximately $9, and the journey takes approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. The shuttle can accommodate up to 45 passengers and departs roughly every 40 minutes. This option offers affordability and comfort.
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- Published by Anita on January 19, 2024
Author: Anita Sane
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.