So you’ve decided you want to go to the white continent, one of the remotest and coldest places on earth. You know it’s buried under one mile of ice, has no trees and that the temperature is mostly below freezing and none of that has scared you off. But you haven’t got a clue how to get there, what to pack or how long to go for.
Well let us help you. This is really a once in a lifetime trip and you should get it right, starting with the right kind of transport. It might surprise you to discover about 37,552 people visited Antarctica and its nearby areas in the summer of 2006-07. This number is expected to reach 80,000 in 2010. Tourists to Antarctica come via three different means including commercial sea voyages with shore visits, expeditions or sightseeing by air. The most common of these transportation modes are the sea voyages.
The tourism industry to Antarctica is managed by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) who have more than 102 member companies promoting private travel to the Antarctic. So basically you have a lot of choice in terms of a travel provider. You can see a full list of operators on the www.iaato.org website. Where you are based might help determine which cruise ship to select. Most depart from either Ushuaia (Argentina), Punta Arenas (Chile), Bluff (New Zealand) or Hobart (Australia). Peninsula visits usually depart from Ushuaia, those to Eastern Antarctica and the Ross Sea often go from Hobart, Auckland and Lyttelton-Christchurch. Rarer departures are from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in South Africa and Fremantle/Perth.
You should also note that there are pros and cons to selecting either a smaller or larger vessel. Some of the larger ships can carry over 1000 people and while they are less prone to rough seas they may mean you have more limited landing options. This is because access to land is more difficult in a larger vessel and the IAATO stipulates only 100 people are allowed ashore at any one time. If you’re not that keen on going ashore this kind of cruise will suit you.
“Smaller ships can go where big ships can’t but if you have a sensitive stomach you may find them a little rough.”
In any case if you are choosing between providers consider also what excursions they offer. Many will have naturalist guided hikes, zodiac excursions, sea kayaking, mountaineering, camping or scuba diving. And of course you’ll want to go ashore and meet the penguins or see some of the scientific stations or historical huts.
Where you want to go may also play a large part in helping you choose a travel provider. You will need to research this further but briefly the prime destinations usually include a research base, the Antarctic Peninsula or the Ross Sea area. Some itineraries might include South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, other will visit the Weddell Sea or the sub Antarctic islands.
Key sights also include the world’s southernmost active volcano Mount Erebus, the Palmer Station and museum in the Anver Island / Anvord Bay area and the penguins and hot springs on the South Shetland Islands.
Wherever you choose to go you will need warm clothing. Your travel provider will give you lots of ideas but basically you need to think warm - that means boots, gloves, thermal underwear, fleeces, warm jackets and pants that are waterproof and windproof. You maybe able to pick these up in the port of departure or even hire them, but it might be best to have your own. Other necessities include sunscreen and sunglasses and some kind of medicine for seasickness. Of course you should also bring a camera, books to read on the voyage and any other entertainment options to keep you occupied.
Visits usually occur during the five-month period from November to March when coastal zones are mostly ice-free and there are 20 or more hours of daylight each day. Most itineraries are usually between three to six weeks although you can find shorter ones too. We would recommend you take the longer options if you can afford it to give you more chances for excursions and weather to improve if it’s bad.
Unfortunately the price of trips to Antarctica makes them a once in a lifetime experience for those with mere mortal savings. Trips can set you back anywhere from about USD $7-15,000. Plus you need to factor in the cost of airfares to/from your point of embarkation. It is also possible to put together your own trip but this is still costly.
If you’re keen to engage in some kind of pre-trip preparation, then you could engage in a fitness regime that may help withstanding the voyage a little easier. If some of the excursions are to be fairly active you might want to do some specific exercise or skill acquisition for specific hiking, scuba diving, sea kayaking or zodiac excursions.