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To even the most seasoned globetrotter, Antarctica represents an impossibly exotic and irresistibly alluring adventure. Setting foot on the planet’s most inaccessible continent bestows travel kudos that no other destination can offer; the problem is, whichever way you look at it, an Antarctica cruise is not cheap. However, it is still possible to land yourself a good discount and here are the top tips for doing so.
Most people have little idea of what a trip to Antarctica would entail. To many, Antarctica sounds like such a distant and unreachable land. However, it is possible to reach the great southern continent from many places. As a tourist, you are most likely to arrive there from the ‘world’s most southern city’, Ushuaia in Argentina. From there, ships cross the Drake Passage and make their way to the Antarctic Peninsula, the long arm of land that curls up to within 500 km of South America.
The only way to reach Antarctica is on a cruise ship or take a flight to the Drake Passage and then join a cruise. There are many cruise options, and during peak season, there are departures from Ushuaia every day. Some cruises take in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, others call at the South Shetlands, many allow you to step foot onto the Antarctic Peninsula itself and a few even take you south of the Antarctic Circle. Cruises usually last around 10 – 20 days.
Read our guide on planning a trip to Antarctica to find out more.
Unsurprisingly, Antarctica travel is expensive. Cruises to the Falklands and South Georgia can start at around USD 6,000 per person, but the ones taking you to the Peninsula realistically start at around USD 10,000. For ‘special’ trips, including cruises south of the Antarctic circle, you are looking at around USD 14,000 – 15,000*.
The advantages of paying full price are clear: you can choose the cruise that takes you where you want, when you want and with the company of your choosing. However, if you can be more flexible — ‘flexible’ being the golden word — it is possible to find discounts of 50% and more.
One of the secrets to obtaining the lowest rates for an Antarctica trip is to look for last-minute deals. To do this, you have two options:
The traditional method is to head to Ushuaia and do the rounds of all the tour agents in town. Since Ushuaia is the world’s premier base for Antarctic cruises, many operators are located there; if any last-minute deals become available, they will be easy to find.
The possibility of discovering attractive propositions this way was always there. However, the main downside is that you may not find anything at all, and even if you are offered a tour, it may not be the one you really want. If you are determined to walk on the Peninsula and you are offered a trip to South Georgia instead, you may feel pressured into accepting rather than leaving Argentina with no trip at all.
- The chance of finding some of the cheapest Antarctica deals is fairly high
- You have plenty of time to organize your travel to Ushuaia and accommodation in advance.
- In the lieu of not finding a good deal, you may end up paying for a trip you are less interested in.
2. Look online
Another option to find deals on travel to Antarctica for cheap is to attempt to find last minute deals/sales online. To do this, you should first contact all Ushuaia agents and travel websites or tour operators. Add yourself to the mailing lists and follow the Facebook pages. You can often even set up alerts for every time a page changes or a sale starts. If you are fast enough to steal a deal, you’ve won the jackpot! That being said, you will still need to travel to Ushuaia last minute, which eventually may cost you more.
- This method doesn't require travel to Ushuaia not knowing if you will get a deal
- You are likely to end up paying for a trip that you really want
- Last-minute travel to Ushuaia may end up being more expensive overall
While last-minute deals may sound great, they are not something you can depend on unless you can afford to be spontaneous. But don’t lose hope just yet. Here are some other factors that can considerably bring down the cost of a trip to Antarctica:
This goes completely against the concept of last-minute deals, but sometimes it works like a charm. Some of the best chances of buying a cheaper cruise ticket run out the fastest — like shared cabins or smaller boats. If you want to get the best price of the lot, plan at least a year in advance.
Travel before December
The window for traveling to Antarctica is late October to early March, with the peak season running from December to February. So, if you don’t mind missing out on seeing penguins during December and January or whales in February and March, opt for a cruise early on in the season. While you might not find the biggest discounts, you have more chances of finding a good deal before December.
Look for short cruises
For the cheapest trips, look for shorter cruises. A 9-day cruise may not hit all the destinations in Antarctica or may not make long stops, but it will be cheaper than a 23-day trip by a long haul.
Book a small boat
Depending on the size, boats can accommodate between 80 to 500 people at a time. Larger boats may be more spacious, comfortable and susceptible to less movement, but they are often more expensive than smaller boats. Also, since only 100 tourists are allowed onto Antarctica at any one time, your opportunities to disembark will be more limited on a big boat.
Share a cabin and amenities
Again, it’s all about flexibility. If you are ready to share a three-berth cabin with strangers, you have more chance of getting a comparatively cheaper deal. That being said, most of us are looking to explore Antarctica at the lowest price possible, which is why the shared cabins are the first things that get sold out.
Book flights in advance
Just arriving in Ushuaia can cost quite a bit, especially if you keep it until the last minute. The earlier you find your tour, the earlier you can book flights in advance, usually saving quite a bit. You can also save more money by booking a return trip rather than one-way.
Consider taking the bus
Another option to save money is to take the bus from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. There are two schools of thought on this one. While bus services in Argentina are comfortable and efficient, the journey will take at least 20 hours and there is no direct bus, so you will need to change. The big advantages are the cheaper price and the fact that there is no risk of the airline losing your bags.
Pay attention to what is included
With any Antarctic cruise, three meals a day plus snacks will always be included. Many cruises also offer activities such as kayaking, hiking and camping in the total price. Compare different tours on offer. It is better to go for a trip that includes activities of your interest than for a really cheap tour that doesn’t give much.
If you are flexible and with some time, effort and a dash of luck, there’s no reason why you won’t be able to secure a trip for USD 5,000 or less if you’re fortunate. You need to factor in travel to Ushuaia, insurance (if you fall sick in Antarctica, you’ll need to be evacuated by helicopter), accommodation in Ushuaia and an Argentinian visa. Count on spending around USD 5,500 – 6,500 for the whole trip. When it comes to trips to Antarctica, the term ‘budget’ is relative — but this is still a lot less than paying the full price of USD 10,000* or more.
A trip to Antarctica is not something many will think about doing twice — even if they want to. It involves a lot of time, money and energy. There is a high possibility that you will only take this trip once in your lifetime. So, when looking for an expedition to Antarctica, don’t only look for the lowest price possible. Also keep in account the value the price offers. Make wise decisions and you are bound to have a memorable trip without breaking your bank account.
*Note: Prices are as of January 2020.
Editor’s note: This travel article was originally published on 29 January 2019, but has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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