A trip to the Antarctic is a once in a lifetime adventure. Very few people have witnessed this cold landscape, a region where the weather and the wildlife rule supreme. Such is its reputation, that Antarctica often makes the top spot on experienced traveller’s bucket lists.
The reason behind the White Continent’s popularity is the otherworldly feel that visitors experience. It’s an alien feeling of complete remoteness where the ice melts into the sea as far as the eye can distinguish.
As a tourist, your only option is to take a cruise to this virgin landscape. There are loads of options out there and you won’t struggle to find an operator. Because Antarctica is so unusual, there are things you need to consider prior to booking your trip. Below I’ve written my top 5 tips to consider before booking.
When To Sail
Because Antarctica is a harsh and cold environment, cruises only depart during the Austral summer from late October through to early March. Only emperor penguins and the occasional scientist can be found in Antarctica during winter.
Depending on when you travel during summer, your trip will change slightly. For instance, if you travel early in the season, you’ll see a lot more sea ice and icebergs. This is a beautiful sight that many photographers love. In the height of the cruise season, you’ll experience the midnight sun and penguin chicks. These cute creatures are super charismatic and very easy to spot. If you travel later in the season you’ll have the best chance of seeing numerous whales including minke, humpback and orca.
There’s no getting around it, visiting Antarctica is not cheap! However, you need to remember the operating costs associated with running a cruise in Antarctica. You also need to consider that your accommodation and food is covered during your cruise.
Basic cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula start around $6,000 for a shared cabin aboard a research-style vessel. For expedition or luxury ships, you’ll be paying a lot more. So, how do you save money and get an affordable option? Many people believe the answer is to book a last minute cruise in Ushuaia. Whilst this sometimes works, you need to be incredibly flexible in your travel schedule and be able to wait in the city for days. A better way is to book well in advance. I mean at least 18 months in advance, if not longer. You get great early bird deals this way and can save a lot.
What To Bring
If there’s one thing you can guarantee about Antarctica, it’s cold. Even during summer temperatures are regularly below freezing, especially at night. The wind can also pack a punch, particularly when you’re standing on deck watching wildlife.
I suggest bringing thermal layers, a good fleece, waterproof jacket, and a parka. Many operators will provide a parka, but not all. Because you’ll be making wet shore landings via zodiac boats, you’ll also need muck boots or wellies to keep your feet and lower calfs dry. Most of your body heat will escape through your head, so bringing a good beanie is also crucial.
Most Antarctica cruises offer added activities such as kayaking, camping, snowshoeing, climbing etc. The activities on offer vary significantly from ship to ship, so make sure you check this prior to booking. You also MUST book these activities when you book your cruises, you cannot book on the day.
My personal favourite is sea kayaking as it allows you to explore the landscape from a new angle. You can paddle next to seals, explore shallow inlets and circumnavigate amazing icebergs that look as if they’ve been carved by hand.
Get Proper Insurance
It may be a dull thing to think about, but getting the proper insurance is absolutely paramount. In fact, your cruise operator will not allow you on the boat without documentation proving that you are adequately covered.
You can forget complimentary credit card travel insurance or anything similar, these policies will not cover you in Antarctica. Because of the remoteness, rescue and evacuation costs are huge. This means your policy needs to be able to cover you for these high amounts. Expect to pay upwards of $200 for a good policy.