Thinking of embarking on a journey of a lifetime to Antarctica, or maybe it’s a bucket list destination you want to know more about? We answer the 11 biggest questions about voyaging to Antarctica.
When is the best time to travel to Antarctica?
The available times to travel to Antarctica is between November and March, which is during the continent’s late spring and summer season and each month has its own special highlights.
November is ideal for voyagers hoping to see towering glaciers and magnificent icebergs in its glory. It’s also an exciting time to go on zodiac excursions and kayak along shorelines with a spell of courtship rituals among penguin colonies and fur seals.
December and January are Antarctica’s warmest months with wildlife activities in full swing. The summertime hails krill species which attract beautiful marine life, penguin chicks begin hatching by mid-January and seal pups are visible. With more daylight during the day and splendid photo opportunities at midnight, this season is a photographer’s dreamland.
In February and March, see the penguin colonies at their busiest and young fur seals at their most playful. And for those keen to go whale watching, the late summer months are ideal.
Should I stop at South Georgia?
The spectacular island in the far South Atlantic Ocean is a must stopover for wildlife lovers. The northern flanks of the island comprise of a series of harbours that once sheltered large fleets of whaling ships and are now home to a treasure chest of flora and fauna.
A South Georgia voyage with an Antarctic Peninsula exploration is the perfect pairing to gain an unfiltered lens into a region boasting a rich diversity of king penguin colonies, elephant seals, albatrosses and more. It’s landscape of tussock grass, shattered glaciers and rolling mountains is a striking contrast to the white, frozen scenery of Antarctica.
How long should I stay in Ushuaia? What can I do here?
Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, is the base for cruises to Antarctica and arriving at least a day before your voyage is ideal to take in the local sights and prepare for your journey ahead.
There are some attractions and experiences on offer, so time spent here can vary on what you plan to do. The city itself is a tourist hot spot with lively restaurants along the waterfront and bars housing renown craft beers. Make sure you savour traditional Fuegian cuisine such as fresh seafood from local waters (a must-try is their famous southern king crab!) and their deliciously grilled Patagonian lamb.
For history buffs, hit the town’s local museums such as the Marine Museum – which is housed in an old fort – and the Museum of the End of the World. You can also choose to explore Tierra del Fuego National Park, Martial Glacier, Cerro Guanaco or the trailhead of Laguna Esmeralda for those with a bit more time.
If you’re looking to splurge a bit, there are some stunning 5-star lodges further up into the mountains with spas, lovely eateries and free shuttle options into town.
For those thinking of extending their holiday, Ushuaia can be a gateway to the wildlife and parks of Patagonia with trekking adventures to Fitz Roy, Cerro Torres, Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno Glacier, which is accessible via a short flight to El Calafate.
How cold is it? What should I bring?
During the summer months in the Antarctic Peninsula region you’ll encounter freezing temperatures with wind chill factor to account for. In the Ross Sea however, you’ll experience significantly lower temperatures often below - 10°C (<14°F), as well as wind chill factor.
When booking an expedition with us, we will provide an extensive gear list and suggestions for your voyage so that you are well prepared for your trip. Some basic items to bring include:
- Wind and waterproof outer layers
- Warm pants
- Thermal underwear
- Warm and breathable layers (Wool, silk and some of the new synthetic fibres like polar fleece retain heat better than cotton.)
- Beanie or balaclava
- Warm socks
- Sturdy shoes with non-slip shoes (not sneakers)
- Rubber boots
- Camera with plenty of memory card space/film
Is seasickness common? How can I deal with it?
Seasickness will depend on the individual. There is usually a small percentage of people who get sick when cruising to Antarctica and most of these people are fine after a day or so
If you feel that you are particularly susceptible to seasickness, then it is a good idea to talk to your GP. Consult your doctor about appropriate medication should you require it, such as motion sickness tablets. Remember, once you start to experience motion sickness medications are of little help, so take it well in advance.
To avert motion sickness, avoid alcohol, tobacco, excess liquids, and confined spaces. Most people feel better sitting on deck looking at the horizon or lying in bed. Oddly, you will feel better with some food, such as crackers or dry toast in your stomach. Be sure to inform the doctor, expedition leader or staff about your situation.
How close do I get to encounter wildlife?
An overriding concern when travelling to Antarctica is the protection of the wildlife, environment and cultures, so a respectable distance is expected for passengers to follow. The minimum distance is five metres (15 feet) from animals on shore and, at sea, the minimum distance is 100 metres from icebergs and glaciers as per the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators’ (IAATO) guidelines. However, conservation issues and what can be done while ashore will be addressed in on-board briefings and when expedition staff assist you ashore.
How ‘rough’ is the Drake Passage crossing?
The Drake Passage is renowned for providing an unforgettable sea crossing experience for passengers, you could say that sailing through it is an adventure in itself.
This area is where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Seas converge – the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone – and is seen as a rite of passage for many polar explorers. It can just as often be calm as it is rough, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. You can either be fortunate to experience the “Drake Lake”, when the passage crossing is smooth and calm; or the “Drake Shake”, where conditions can become bumpy from the impressive waves.
The crossing takes approximately two days in favourable conditions and turbulence is to be anticipated during this crossing; however, expedition vessels are equipped with stabilizers to absorb much of the swaying. While motion sickness may kick in from the rocky waves, it is completely safe to sail through and experienced crew, who have sailed through the passage countless times, are on-board to help.
What parts of Antarctica can I explore on the voyage?
We have over 70 voyages that take you to Antarctica, each unique in encompassing different highlights of the continent depending on the time of year, vessel and passenger’s interests. From Basecamp adventures in the Antarctic Peninsula and the fabled Antarctic Circle to voyages encompassing the South Atlantic Islands and Weddell Sea, our detailed trip notes (which you can download from our trip pages) outlines a proposed itinerary for each journey. However, weather will always dictate the itinerary and having experienced staff aboard will mean that you will always get the most out of your trip.
You don’t need to be on an active basecamp voyage to get the most out of the icy continent. Often these types of voyages tend to spend more time in one area, rather than venturing to more remote parts of the Peninsular that encompass unique stops like Deception Island.
How much time do we spend ashore?
While our aim is to spend as much time ashore as possible, this will depend on the weather and the constraints of time and distance. Depending on the voyage, you may spend several days aboard the ship, followed by a series of landings, each several hours long. On some voyages we hope to land two or three times every day, weather permitting.
What activities can we do ashore?
On select voyages there are various active activities you can do, these include:
- Mountaineering/glacier walking
- Photo shooting
- Field camping
- Zodiac excursions
- Wildlife spotting
Are there hotels in Antarctica?
There are no ‘hotels’ in Antarctica. IAATO does not support any permanent infrastructure solely for the purposes of tourism in Antarctica. Only semi-permanent facilities are used, such as field camps and blue ice runways, that can be removed with only a minor or transitory impact on the environment.
Visiting Antarctica is a privilege with opportunities to marvel at dramatic icebergs and steep glaciers and encounter its unique wildlife in an almost untouched corner of the world. View our range of Antarctic expeditions >