Gorgeous blue icebergs, fantastically shaped ice mountains sculpted by the wind, penguins, whales and fur seals, Antarctica can be the experience of a lifetime, but penetrating deep into the highest, driest, coldest continent on earth is risky and is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, if you are realistic and choose an approach that is right for you, you can experience one of the great wonders of the world, something you will never forget.
One option is to see the continent from the air. A flyover is the safest, most comfortable approach. Flights originate in Sydney or Melbourne on Quantas. The total trip is 12 hours with 3 hours spent flying over Antarctica, peering down. Economy class tickets range from $1,000 to $2,200 USD, depending on your position on the plane. Window seats cost more.
For more adventurous types, Aerovias Dap airlines departs Punta Arenas in Chile and lands at Frei Base airport in King George Island, Antarctica. The trip takes 3 hours and can be booked as a single day or two day trip. The one day trip is $2,500 USD. The two day trip with overnight is $3,500.
Most visitors, however, approach Antarctica by sea. Larger cruise ships are only able to skirt the outer edges of the continent, unequipped to penetrate deeply into icy waters. For those who want to see the continent up close, smaller ice strengthened cruise ships are the way to go. Polar Cruises specializes in arranging Antarctic Cruises in these smaller vessels. An 11 day Antarctic cruise departing out of Ushuaia, Argentina is priced between $22,000 and $50,000 USD depending on class of service.
A visit to Antarctica aboard an ice strengthened cruise ship generally entails an approach through Drake Passage where seabirds and whales arrive in great numbers to feed on nutrients pushed to the surface by the convergence of warm and cool waters. From there it’s onward to the Antarctic Peninsula where fantastic ice mountains and spectacular glaciers grace the landscape.
Daily trips aboard zodiac boats whisk visitors out to see penguin rookeries or stop by scientific research stations. Seals and minke whales are common sites, as are petrels and kelp gulls. A trip to Deception Island may find you inside the caldera of a collapsed volcano. An excursion to Paulet Island may reveal breathtaking blue icebergs or the remnants of a 1912 Norwegian expedition.
What you see will depend very much on the weather. Day trips may be initiated or scrapped depending on conditions. The Expedition Leader and Captain meet daily to decide the day’s itinerary. No one wants to get caught in closing ice or a sudden, unexpected storm.
Trips to Antarctica take place during the austral summer, November to March, when temperatures range from 15 C (60 F) to – 35C (-31 F). What’s more, Antarctica is the windiest continent on the planet where gusts can reach 300 kph (185 mph). A ship at sea will be tossed by such winds and waves can peak at 60 or 70 feet.
Make sure if you are going there that you are in good physical condition. This is not a trip for the elderly or enfeebled. Also, be realistic and pack appropriate gear. Listen to everything your guide tells you and follow orders. If an accident does occur you are days away from the nearest hospital and if you get lost or stranded, search and rescue operations are limited.
A trip to Antarctica aboard a small ice strengthened cruise ship should be considered adventure travel much in the vein of mountain climbing or extreme camping and should be approached as such. But if you are a hardy soul, resilient and realistic, visiting Antarctica this way can be the experience of a lifetime.
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