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How to Plan a Trip to Antarctica: A Guide

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A trip to Antarctica is a bucket list item for serious travellers. Despite — and because of — its frozen wilderness status as one of the most remote places on earth, the Antarctic region receives up to 50,000 visitors each summer. However, a visit to the seventh continent is not only about checking boxes. It is a journey that requires serious commitment and a lot of preparation.

Why visit Antarctica?

  • To see the unique landscape — snow covered mountains, active volcanoes, glaciers and icebergs.
  • For the abundant wildlife. Think penguins, seals, whales and seabirds.
  • Sunshine, lots of sunshine. Up to 24 hours a day at certain times of the year!
  • For the adventure activities: diving, kayaking, trekking, climbing & exploring to name a few.
  • Bragging rights. Follow in the footsteps of revered 20th century explorers.
  • To discover a landscape few have had the opportunity to enjoy.

When to visit Antarctica?

When to go to Antarctica
A cruise passes through a mountain in Antarctica

It is best to visit Antarctica during the warmer summer months. When speaking about Antarctica, remember that warm is a relative term. By warm we mean not too far below zero. During winter, Antarctic temperatures drop to fifteen degrees below zero. In summer, temperatures hover around zero, ranging between two and minus two degrees Celsius.

An Antarctic summer lasts approximately five months, starting in November and ending in April. There are three distinct Antarctic tourist seasons. The high season, the low season and the shoulder season. October, November and March make up the shoulder seasons. During this time temperatures are relatively mild with long hours of sunlight and limited tourist activity.

During the high season, ie. December to February, tours are in full swing, with a number of vessels departing for Antarctica. You can expect pleasant weather with between 20 and 24 hours of sunlight each day. These are the best months to make shore, take in the sights and appreciate the brilliant wildlife at its best. The low season lasts between April and October. There are no tours running during this time due to poor weather conditions.

For more information, refer to our best time to visit Antarctica guide.

What does a trip to Antarctica cost?

When it comes to Antarctic tours, the sky is the limit, literally. You could take a fly-over tour and see Antarctica by plane if that appeals to you. You could also opt to fly in for a few hours from Cape Town, see the South Pole and fly out on the same day. You could book a 30-day ship cruise to explore both the eastern and western Antarctic peninsulas; or you could do a more reasonable 6 to 12-day tour which takes in all the highlights for a reasonable price. There are tour options to suit every taste, style and budget. It is important to set a budget during the early planning stages or your Antarctic tour could run into uncomfortably high figures.

How long should an Antarctic tour last?

As mentioned above there are tours to suit all tastes. How long you choose to spend touring Antarctica will depend on the pace you wish to travel at and which elements of an Antarctic tour appeal most to you. A mid-range tour will last 12 days to two weeks. It will include a few of the Antarctic Islands which are rich in wildlife. A few days travelling from your country of departure to Antarctica, and a few days in Antarctica sailing around the major ports. There should be at least a few days dedicated to offshore activities in-which to explore the major geographic and historic sights.

Here are four suggested Antarctic tours, each of different durations and costs:

8-day tour – Antarctic Express – Fly the Drake from Punta Arenas
12-day tour – Antarctic Explorer from Ushuaia 12 days
15-day tour – South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia
23-day tour – Crossing the Circle via Falklands & South Georgia From Buenos Aires

Or, if none of these appeal to you, visit our Antarctica tours page, if you’d like to check them all out.

Entry requirements

Many visitors ask whether Antarctica has any visa requirements. While no visas are required for entry to Antarctica, an Antarctic permit is required for visitors from certain countries. Permits are arranged through the tour operators. There may be visa requirements or tour levies payable depending on your country of origin and the country from which your tour will be departing.

How do I get to Antarctica?

Your mode of transport will be either ship, plane or a combination. Most ship tours to Antarctica depart from Argentina. Some depart from Chile, New Zealand and Australia. The combination fly-cruise tour departs from Chile and the one-day fly-in-fly-out tour option is available from Cape Town, South Africa.

For more information, go through our guide on How to get to Antarctica: Travelling to the earth's southernmost 

Top tour booking tips

  • Ninety percent of Antarctic cruises depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. These cruises focus mainly on western Antarctica.
  • There are also cruises leaving from Australia and New Zealand, which explore the Ross Sea and the eastern part of Antarctica.
  • When booking a cruise, double check to make sure that you will actually be setting foot on the continent and not just sailing through.
  • Most trips departing from South America don’t include crossing the actual South Pole. If that is your objective, look for a tour that specifically mentions polar crossing.

What to pack?

  • Sunblock. The sun at the south pole is reflected off the snow. Prolonged exposure can cause severe sunburn. A sunblock with a minimum SPF of 45 is a necessity. Sunglasses and lip balm are great for sun protection too.
  • Camera. Don’t miss out on those awesome photo opportunities. If possible, try to keep your camera in a waterproof bag to avoid damage during zodiac excursions.
  • Waterproof boot. A good pair of wellies will ensure that you can stomp around in the snow to your hearts delight.
  • Thermal underwear. Come prepared for freezing temperatures.
  • Anti-nausea medication. You would not want to miss the best parts of the journey by being ill, so come prepared for seasickness.

Health and safety

  • Listen carefully to any health and safety precautions provided by the tour.
  • In order to avoid dehydration, it important to drink plenty of water. The consumption of alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee should be limited as they contribute to dehydration.
  • Try to resist the temptation to stay awake for prolonged periods as this can affect many of the body’s metabolic processes. Even though days are long with extended hours of sunlight, try to keep to normal sleep patterns.
  • Make sure you sign up for travel insurance. Plan activities and be sure to book excursions in advance. Ensure that any activities you plan on doing are included in your travel insurance.
  • While it is not strictly necessary to be young and fit to travel to Antarctica, it certainly helps to be in good physical shape.
  • It is wise to prepare for the physical exertion of balancing on a swaying vessel, landing on rocky shores and walking up hills by getting in some exercise in the weeks ahead of your trip.

Travel tips

  • If you are departing from Argentina, allow a day or two to explore Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.
  • On a similar note, hundreds of cruisers miss the ship’s departure time due to lost luggage or delayed flights. It’s a good idea to arrive at the departure port a day or two earlier.
  • Travel light. Not only is it important to ensure that your luggage comes in under the ship’s maximum weight restriction, you also don’t want to be tripping over unnecessary clutter in your cabin. Keep in mind that even the most luxurious ship cabin is relatively small.
  • Make the most of the opportunity to meet new people and make friends. Have an open mind and try to be tolerant of others.
  • Dress in layers that are easy to remove if necessary. This will ensure that you are neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Bigger ships are less susceptible to the movement of the ocean. One advantage of a larger vessel is that the chances of motion sickness are lower. On the other hand, larger vessels may not always be able to dock at smaller ports. There are also longer queues with only a hundred people at a time allowed to go ashore.
  • If you are staying on a smaller vessel, keep in mind that rooms on the lower decks are less affected by motion sickness.

Antarctica is a vast and remote wilderness and a trip to Antarctica promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This dramatic landscape offers the perfect backdrop for fun, exploration, contemplation and adventure. Be sure to partner with a professional and experienced tour operator and do lots of research up-front. Even if you have an idea of what to expect from your trip to Antarctica, you can be sure that the journey will far surpass your expectations.

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