Antarctica polar research vessel (Getty)

The ultimate travel guide to Antarctica

Can you go the Antarctic?

Indeed. Once the sole preserve of eccentric sponsored explorers and tycoons with times their hands, that intrepid voyage to the bottom of the world is a trip-of-a-lifetime now available to us mortals, too, both through adventure companies and luxury Antarctic cruise lines.

How long do you need?

Some cruises are leisurely multi-week affairs that feature the Antarctic Peninsula as a part of a longer South American itinerary. Some take in the polar regions of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands– highly rated stops teeming with wildlife. Others involve a 10-day trip to Antarctica, beginning with a flight to King George Island, in the nearby South Shetlands, avoiding the Drake Passage crossing.

How much should I pay?

If you’ve got savings to spare, use them – this ultimate bucket-list tick-off is not a trip to scrimp on, since you probably won’t be returning any time soon, if ever. Most travel guides will agree that good quality trips sit between £8,000 and £15,000 depending on what’s included.

Where will I stay?

With no permanent settlements and certainly no hotels or resorts, the only real residents of Antarctica are the professionals (researchers, scientists) stationed there – plus the select few wannabe Amundsens with upwards of £39,000 to spend on exclusive treks to the South Pole. Home for the rest of us will be a cruise ship. You need to be aboard a small vessel, most often an expedition ship, if you want to go ashore – environmental protocol forbids landings with more than 500 guests on board. And you will want to disembark; otherwise you won’t fully be able to appreciate this extraordinary wilderness of snowy peaks, icy waters, immeasurable horizons, passing orcas and penguin colonies by the thousands, as well leopard seals and humpbacks. No polar bears, mind you – they live in the Arctic.

What are the best trips to Antarctica?

Next departure: December 1st 2019

 

Next departure: November 4th 2020

What countries are in the continent of Antarctica?

The nearest countries to Antarctica are South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.

How much of Antarctica is covered by ice?

On Antarctica there are no cities or villages, 98% of the continent is covered by ice.

What are the best things to do in Antarctica?

1. Spot amazing wildlife

Despite being one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, Antarctica supports an impressive diversity of wildlife which not only survives but thrives in this icy wilderness. Penguins are, perhaps, the most famous residents and there are many different species to get up close and personal with: king, emperor, chinstrap, the list goes on. Other noteworthy creatures include, but are by no means limited to, leopard seals, humpback whales and wandering albatrosses, which have the largest wingspan of any bird alive today.  

Emperor Penguin (Getty)Emperor penguin (Getty)

2. Visit extraoridnary landscapes

Devoid of trees and plants – or anything much of colour, come to think of it – the ‘White Continent’ is about as alien as you can get without leaving Earth. The coldest, highest, driest, windiest and remotest place on the planet, Antarctica has an immense beauty that inspires awe in all who visit. While the continent’s glistening ice sheets, rocky shores and towering icebergs provide a dramatic backdrop, they also make visitors think about their own place in this fragile, finely-balanced world.

Despite all the ice, Antarctica is actually classified as a desert because so little moisture falls from the sky

3. Sail on state-of-the-art ships

Visitors are able to explore Antarctica aboard some of the most luxurious and scientifically-advanced vessels known to the cruise industry. One such ship is the Magellan Explorer, a 69-capacity polar expedition vessel that features a glass-enclosed observation lounge and state-of-the-art lecture theatre, where passengers can learn more about this fascinating region. It’s not all work and no play, though; the ships also boasts a stylish dining room, a bar and a gym, which is kitted out with a sauna to warm guests after a long day on the ice.

4. Experience extreme weather

The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at Vostok Station in Antarctica, where the mercury plummeted to -89.2C. Despite all the ice, however, the continent is actually classified as a desert because so little moisture falls from the sky. Antarctica does, however, still get hit by blizzards, which drop snow that never melts and bring with them winds of up to 200mph. You’ll want to pack your thermals.

5. Go back in time 

Antarctica’s isolation and extreme weather haven’t prevented a fascinating human history from unfolding there. Indeed, the continent has played host to some thrilling expeditions, a great many of which ended in tragedy. The Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, was the first person to reach the geographic South Pole in 1911, five weeks ahead of an ill-fated expedition led by Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott, whose team perished on the return leg. Visitors can pay tribute to Scott and his men on Observation Hill near McMurdo Station, where a small cross was erected to honour them.

6. See the Southern Lights

Some people claim the Southern Lights – or Aurora Australis, as they are also known – are even more impressive than their counterpart in the Northern Hemisphere. Boasting a dazzling colour palette that goes beyond the green and blues commonly seen in the Arctic, this epic light show is lauded for its vibrant pink, purple and orange hues, which dance above Antarctica on long winter nights.

There is a catch: the Aurora Australis are far more elusive than the oft-spotted Aurora Borealis, and there are fewer places to view them from. This just makes it all the more special when you do actually see them.  

View from an Antarctica cruise ship (Getty)View from an Antarctica cruise ship (Getty)

7. Witness the midnight sun

Because the Earth rotates on a tilted axis, the South Pole experiences only one sunrise and one sunset per year, which happen on the September equinox and March equinox respectively. At the South Pole, therefore, the sun stays above the horizon throughout summer and below it during winter, which means light nights and dark days depending on the time of year.

8. Discover ground-breaking science

Antarctica’s remote research stations are home to dedicated teams of scientists, who live in extreme conditions to help further humanity’s understanding of complex issues such as ozone depletion and climate change. Indeed, Antarctica has become an important barometer for measuring the impacts of a warming planet and the likely impact rising temperatures will have on the world. Visitors can learn about this pioneering work at various research stations, which are scattered across the continent.

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