For many, a trip to Antarctica, the seventh continent, is the ultimate bucket list adventure. Cruising through the oceans to dock at remote harbors where king penguin colonies nest or where whales breach in the waters along the Antarctic Convergence is an increasingly popular experience.
Although it’s possible to book a tour where the vast majority of your time is spent on deck, admiring the surroundings, for an extra element of adventure, consider taking a kayaking excursion. Paddle silently through the frigid Antarctic seas, getting within touching distance of icebergs and perhaps encountering an elephant seal or a playful penguin along the way.
For the even more intrepid, hiking and camping adventures across the icy terrain of the Antarctic Peninsula are a unique way of experience the region’s magic. Depending upon your level of fitness, you can choose between short beginner treks to longer hikes over more challenging landscapes. For the real cherry on the top of your adventure, spend the night under Polar skies with a tent or even just within the warm cocoon of a bivouac bag. The latter protects you from the extreme temperatures while allowing you to sleep beneath the most perfect blanket of stars.
Your point of departure can completely alter your Antarctic itinerary. The following options are available:
- Fly from Punta Arenas directly to King George Island (part of the South Shetland Islands) and then board a ship to explore the western coast of Antarctica.
- Cruise directly from Ushuaia, Argentina along the Drake Passage to Antarctica and the South Shetland Islands.
- Longer itineraries also include trips to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
- From 2018, flights will depart from Ushuaia Airport, Argentina to the Argentine base Marambio on Seymour Island, close to the end of the Antarctic Peninsula.
During a cruise, you can expect to see some of the following:
- Set sail from Ushuaia and face the adventure of crossing the legendary Drake Passage, a waterway known for the fierceness of its waves. When you reach the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll spend time visiting a range of wildlife colonies, including Adelie penguins, seals and various endemic bird species.
- Depending on the length of your cruise, you may also visit Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands and home to the largest of the three volcanic craters in the region (and where you can even take a dip in the water). Some itineraries also travel to the Falkland Islands to observe endemic wildlife in its natural environment.
- Fly from Punta Arenas Airport to land at the air base on King George Island. From here, board your cruise ship and sail through places such as the Lemaire Channel, arguable Antarctica’s most picturesque location, as well as going hiking and camping on the Peninsula.
- Restrictions mean that only 100 passengers are allowed to disembark at different places on the Antarctic Peninsular at one time. Avoid ships with a larger capacity to maximize your time spent on land as this prevents you from having to disembark in shifts.
- Additional excursions such as hiking, camping and kayaking may not be included in your basic itinerary. Make sure you organize this add-on activities with as much advance notice as possible.
- The cheapest cruises are those that visit only the Antarctic Peninsula. If you have a longer budget and vacation window, consider a cruise that includes the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
- However, the price of a trip to Antarctica varies considerably depending on your cabin type, cruise length and on-board facilities. Shop around to get the best deal.