You can hike. You can snowshoe. You can go mountaineering, you can kayak, you can even camp out under the stars. There are plenty of ways that you can explore the stark beauty of Antarctica – the rugged landscapes, the drifting icebergs, the determined wildlife that includes lots and lots of penguins. The question about Antarctica trips isn’t why you should go, but how do you get there?
Written by Daniel Fox.
Choosing an Antartic cruise
Antarctica is a vast place. Different cruises hit different hotspots (so to speak) around the continent, so make sure when you sign up that you’re choosing the cruise that visits the spots you most want to see. For example, some cruises in the Antarctic region are designed to take you to the various remote islands like St. Helena (the island where Napoleon was exiled) in either the Pacific or the Atlantic as you make your way south. These islands are all fascinating places to check out, but if you want to jump right to penguin-related action then you should definitely narrow down the types of cruises in your search. Other factors you might want to watch out for is if a cruise will take you to historic spots (like Shackleton’s hut or old whaling posts), if they’re designed around wildlife (bird-watching trips or crossing known whale migration routes), or if they include the types of activities you want to participate in (camping, diving, photography courses, and so on).
No country actually owns Antarctica, so you shouldn’t need a visa to set foot on our southern-most continent. However you do need permission from your home-country if your country signed the Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environment Protection. Most of the time your tour operator will handle this for you – make sure to ask!
The reason for all of this protection for the continent is that Antarctica, being one of the most pristine places left on the planet, is an important source of information for scientists regarding our impact on the planet’s environment as a whole. So it’s understandable then that governments would want to minimize direct impact as much as possible.
Also keep in mind that you will be visiting a foreign country (probably Chile or Argentina) as your embarkation point. So as part of your preparation check in to see what your own country and those embarkation countries require of you in order for you to pay them a visit. Again, if you’re working through a tour operator they should hopefully be able to get all this info for you. If not, see if your government as a travel advisory website.
Here are a few government sites to get you started:
New Zealand: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz
Travel insurance is always a good idea. Some cruise lines won’t let you travel if you don’t show up with travel insurance documents in hand. At the very least we’d suggest that you get yourself covered for medical expenses and emergency medical repatriation (the costs of getting you back to your home country for sustained medical care).
Under the “better safe than sorry” heading you might also consider covering yourself for loss of luggage, loss of personal effects, curtailment (if your trip gets cut short), cancellation, and personal liability.
The best time to travel to Antartica
Your cruise line is most likely going to visit the South Pole region somewhere between mid-November and early March (Antarctica’s summer). During the rest of the year large sections of the continent are unreachable because of the sea being covered over with ice. It’s also the best time of the year to see wildlife since for most species these months cover the mating season.
During the Antarctic summer you can expect temperatures along the coasts to hover around the freezing mark, ranging from about -2°C to +5 °C. It can be considerably colder out in the Ross Sea, with temperatures dipping down to -20°C.
Packing clothes for Antartica
There are two main things you should keep in mind when packing your suitcase – layers and waterproofing.
Most cruise lines zip you from their main ship to the shore aboard a boat called a Zodiac. Zodiacs have low sides which mean that chances are good that you will get splashed a bit. Also, you may have to jump out into shallow water to step from the Zodiac to the shore, so it’s a good idea to have high-topped rubber boots with good gripping soles (some cruise lines will provide these for you).
As for layers, you’re going to want to be doing a lot of temperature regulation depending on what kind of activity you’re involved in. Layers also add more warmth bang for your buck by trapping air between the layers. This air gets warmed by your body and acts as a sort of further insulation.
What you do once you arrive in Antarctica depends on your cruise. Some cruises will require you to pay for individual activities separately, while other cruise lines offer “basecamp cruises” that offer a wide variety of activities covered under one cost.
• Hikes of varying difficulty and length.
• Trekking (skiing across a portion of the continent pulling supplies with a sled).
• Visiting scientific stations.
• Visiting historic sites.
• Zodiac rides.
• Checking out the wildlife.
• Diving. (Usually for experienced divers only because of the shifting ice overhead.)
• Being checked out by curious penguins.
• Camping out.
• Seeing the Southern Lights (the Aurora Australis).
For this article, Bunch of Backpackers teamed up with Oceanwide Expeditions! Can’t wait to explore Antartica one day myself!