“We had seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man,” wrote explorer Ernest Shackleton during his final trip across Antarctica. This polar region, so far from permanent inhabitation or civilisation, is on the must-visit list for all true travellers.
Based on my own visit to Antarctica, I wanted to share with you some travel tips for one of my favourite trips.
1. When to Visit the Great White Continent
The best time to visit Antarctica is during the summer months in the Southern Hemisphere: late October to March, when days and temperatures are at their best and the winter ice has broken up to allow passage to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Within this short season, there are other variations that could influence your visit.
If you are drawn towards the dramatic views of the great white continent, then early on in the season is best for you.
Mid-season, from November to December sees the longest days and the return of some of the Antarctic animals. This is when the light is brightest, and the continent is warming for the summer. Animals such as humpback whales and different bird species return to the area. From mid-December, the first penguin chicks begin to hatch.
In the last months of the summer, January to February, the ice is starting to melt and animals such as penguins and fur seals can be seen on the beach.
By March, it is starting to get cold however it’s an ideal time for whale watching.
2. Things to Do
My top five activities in Antarctica
- Photography trips
- Wildlife viewing
- A polar swim (yes you read that correctly)
- Sea kayaking
- Trekking to the quarters of the old explorers
3. Journey Options
There are no direct flights to Antarctica and for recreational visitors, it is only accessible via a cruise. Most cruises start either in the city of Ushuaia (Argentina) or Punta Arenas (Chile).
1. The Classic Antarctica
This is the most popular and undoubtedly the most affordable way to go. This fascinating journey begins and ends in the southernmost point in the world.
The cruise begins and ends in Ushuaia, before moving through the infamous Drake Passage (which may be calm and enduring or fierce and foreboding)
Popular stops include King George Island, Aitcho Island, Half Moon Island and the flooded caldera of Deception Island.
Length: Generally 10-12 days
- Neko Harbour, The Lemaire Channel, Port Lockroy, Plèneau Bay, Paradise Bay.
- An abundance of Antarctic wildlife including penguins, killer whales, seals and Antarctic birds such as the Albatross.
- Opportunities for camping, kayaking, diving, climbing, skiing, photography or even a ‘polar dip’ for those wanting a truly Antarctic experience.
- A visit to Port Lockroy – an old British Post Office
2. Across the Antarctic Circle
Crossing the Antarctic circle is not the typical route taken on the journey to Antarctica and at a dramatic 660 south, it is an option that appeals most to those adventure seekers yearning for a greater sense of beauty and isolation.
This trip includes the traditional cruise elements whilst adding additional elements of exploration in the polar region by crossing the Antarctic Circle
Length: 12-14 days
- Experience the intensity of the enormous icebergs.
- Journey across the isolated territories beyond 660 south; truly the road less travelled by.
- Seeing the magnificent whales
3. Antarctica, South Georgia and Falklands
For those with more time on their hands, this trip combines a visit to Antarctica with the history and hotspots of the Falkland’s and South Georgia.
The route commences at Ushuaia before moving onto the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Shetlands and then returning to the Drake Passage. Other routes might start in the Falkland Islands.
Length: 18-21 days
- The island of South Georgia; one of the world’s most thriving wildlife sanctuaries.
- Some of the famous battle sites of the 1982 war.
- The lands of the king penguins, you can’t miss them.
- Grytviken, where the bodies of explorers’ Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild are buried.
- Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s Endurance crew, over twenty men strong, were stuck in 1916.
4. Top Travel Tips
Prepare for all weather types
Don’t forget that during the Antarctic summer months temperatures can be above freezing. So as well as your warm weather clothing, I recommend taking multiple layers that can be added or removed as required. No matter how cold it is outside, the boat is always kept warm and you’re likely to want lightweight wear for your time onboard.
Waterproofs will also be required for shore landings. I would suggest one heavy duty pair and one that slips easily over your walking attire.
Check your insurance
You must be sure to check that your policy covers travel in Antarctica, paying particular attention to the level of cover for emergency evacuation and trip cancellation.
Isolation and remoteness are not to be underestimated in Antarctica and you must ensure that you are covered for emergency evacuations from land.
Book in advance
Places are limited on all cruises, in particular, if you are wanting to undertake any of the activities such as camping or kayaking. A year in advance is the normal look ahead time. Generally, by booking more than a year in advance you can find good discount prices.
Follow the advice of your guides and cruise operators
Expedition staff are there to make sure you get the most out of the experience whilst protecting the landscape and wildlife. Don’t deviate from the route they’ve marked as it’s for your safety and the safety of the beautiful world of Antarctica.
Take all of your cameras and spare batteries
You may not return to this once in a lifetime destination and this is not the place to run out of batteries.
For my trip, I made sure to take a DSLR Nikon camera, my phone, as well as multiple memory sticks an ample battery power. For my dream holiday, I was not taking any chances with my devices or storage and despite having no photography training I returned home with an impressive account of my trip in pictures.
5. What to Pack
- Sunglasses and hi factor sunscreen
- Extra camera batteries
- Waterproof/windproof jacket
- Comfortable insulated rubber boots
- Balaclava or wrap around scarf
- Go pro
- Additional memory stick
- Seasickness tablets and ear plugs
- Lip balm
Whether you have an unquenchable desire to see Antarctica (as I did) to those looking for the ultimate wildlife or photography experience Tambo Travel can put you together with the ideal programme.
If you would like further information about the activities, or cruises, or would just like a chat about the region please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 3637 5959.
Images courtesy from One Ocean Expeditions © Ira Meyer – Photographer & Polar Latitudes
By Elena Larkin