Antarctica is trending as a travel destination, with tour companies and cruise providers offering incredible expeditions to the White Continent. If you’re thinking about going on this once-in-a-lifetime journey, here are tips about visiting Antarctica.
Viking cruise ship in Antarctica waters; Photo courtesy of Viking
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHAT CRUISE TO TAKE?
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) lists Antarctica cruise companies within its member directory. IAATO sets regulations including the size of ships permitted to disembark, as only 100 people are allowed on shore at any given time.
View cruise company websites for ship layouts, routes, amenities, and programming, Also check the size of the ship, as those carrying 500+ passengers are not permitted to make landings.
WHEN CAN YOU SAIL TO ANTARCTICA?
Antarctica’s cruise season is tied to its Austral summer, so sailings are usually from November through February. “There isn’t a specific time that is best,” said Viking’s Expedition Operations Manager Aaron Lawton. “It really depends on what you would like to experience during your voyage. November and December are best for watching the continent come alive after winter, while still offering dramatic views of snow-covered landscapes.”
Holland America Line Travel Director Ian Page explained that temperatures can range from 32° F to 65° F. “Days rapidly get longer there in summer, until, eventually, the sun doesn’t set at all.”
WHAT TYPE OF CLOTHING DO I NEED TO BRING?
Antarctica cruise providers often supply clothing suited to the elements, but passengers should also pack some weather-related apparel.
Lawton recommends packing a set of top and bottom base layers that are preferably made of Marino wool as “it provides excellent thermal properties as well as moisture wicking capabilities.” Also, have a warm pair of socks, a wool hat or beanie, and waterproof gloves or mitts.
People walking through snow during Lindblad Expedition; Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins/Lindblad Expedition
WHAT TYPE OF FOOTWEAR DO I NEED?
According to Lindblad Expeditions’ Chief Expedition Officer Trey Byus, a pair of fully waterproof, knee-high rubber boots with sturdy, high-traction soles will keep your feet dry. Like other cruise lines, Lindblad offers rental boots. “Also, comfort is important—if your boots are too heavy or bulky, your footing will be awkward during hikes,” said Byus.
FROM WHERE DOES THE CRUISE DEPART, AND DO I NEED A VISA?
Cruises to/from Antarctica often depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. They can also depart from other South American cities, such as Buenos Aires. Remember to pack warm-weather clothing if you are departing from a southern city, and decide how want to spend your pre- or post-departure time.
You do not need a visa to enter Antarctica. However, be sure to check if you need a visa for entering the transit destinations in South America.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT ANTARCTICA?
Crews on Antarctica cruises usually include experts in geology, history, and marine biology. Onboard lectures and presentations are also a great opportunity to learn more and ask questions. Many ships have libraries and you can view Viking’s recommended reading list.
You can also find resources for learning more about your ship's viewing decks and balconies, as well as the cruise line's off-shore excursions, which typically depart in vehicles known as zodiacs.
DO I NEED ANY SPECIAL MEDICINES?
It's always best to consult with your physician about any medication for your travels. If you’re prone to seasickness or motion sickness, bring medication for nausea and other related symptoms.
The medicine for seasickness could help when crossing the Drake Passage—known for its rough waters— from Cape Horn to Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands.
Penguins sitting on iceberg in front of Lindblad Expedition cruise ship; Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins/Lindblad Expedition
WILL I SEE WILDLIFE IN ANTARCTICA?
Byus noted that in November and December, passengers “are likely to see penguins building their nests and seal pups still being weaned by their mothers.” He also explained that Gentoo, Adélie, and Chinstrap penguins begin to hatch by the end of December and are running about by mid-January. February and March expeditions may offer increased sightings of orcas, humpbacks, and Minke whales.