There are some destinations in the world that present us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness something truly magnificent. Antarctica is one such destination. You may wonder why should you go to Antarctica, or why it is the pinnacle of many travelers bucket lists?
Antarctica is one of the last true uninhabited wilderness in the world – it is a land of pristine beauty; of unparalleled majesty and magnitude. Where else in the world could you sail past colossal icebergs as tall as buildings, or stand mere feet away from thousands of Gentoo Penguins with their young?
Antarctica defies our imagination and anyone who has traveled to the white continent can count themselves as exceedingly lucky.
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If you are considering your own expedition to the depths of the southern hemisphere you will need to prepare, and you will need to know how to go to Antarctica – it is not a straightforward journey! This article will help you in your preparation and shed some light on what you can expect from a trip to Antarctica and what things you need to take to Antarctica.
1. Clothing will make or break your journey
This might sound like a drastic statement but it is no lie! The weather in Antarctica can be unforgiving and if you are unprepared you may not enjoy the experience as much as you could. It is important to purchase quality clothing and prepare for the worst case scenario weather. You will need a base layer (thermal leggings, top, and socks), a middle layer (waterproof trousers and a fleece), and a top layer (hat, expedition parka, and gloves). Always wear your thermal layer, and only remove the top layer if you become to warm (it can be hot in Antarctica too!).
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2. Take sea-sickness tablets for the Drakes Passage
Most Antarctic journeys will involve a 2 day crossing along the legendary Drakes Passage. This is the stretch of water between the southern tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands of the Antarctic Peninsula.
You may have heard stories of the ferociousness and unforgiving nature of this sea and do not be fooled – sailing across this passage can be a nightmare. Imagine waves as high as the small boat you are sailing in throwing the vessel around and causing rocking motions that feel like an earthquake. Even if you do not suffer from sea-sickness it is advisable to take some tablets beforehand – even the hardiest of travelers can succumb to the wild nature of the Drakes Passage.
3. Opt for a shared cabin to reduce costs
There is no denying that traveling to Antarctica is expensive. First, you have to travel to a far off destination like Ushuaia – these flights are usually not cheap and involve multiple changeovers. Next, there is the cost of the cruise itself which is again pricey. To help reduce the over cost of an Antarctic tour it is highly recommended to opt for the largest sharing cabin you can. A quad occupancy cabin is usually the cheapest and can be half the price of a dual occupancy for example. Aside from the reduced cost, this is also a great way to meet like-minded travelers!
4. Book flights separately for flexibility and to further reduce costs
Most Antarctica tour providers will give the option of booking flights as part of your package. Whilst this might seem tempting and convenient, there is no guarantee that you are getting the best price. Furthermore, this doesn’t leave any room for flexibility. If your starting point is Ushuaia for example, you may want to spend several days here to explore Patagonia – booking your own flights will ensure that you can comfortably do this and also save you some cash in the process.
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5. The Antarctic weather is truly unpredictable
Antarctica is a land of extremes and this is reflected in the weather conditions. When embarking from the ship onto land or in your zodiac boats, do not take the weather for granted! If you see clear blue skies, sunshine and calm seas this does not mean it will stay that way! The weather can literally change in a matter of seconds, and that very same sunshine and blue skies could be masked by a snowstorm and gale force winds in an instant.
This is why it is important to always embark with your full gear on – if the weather takes a turn for the worse then you will not be cold and unhappy. Alternatively, if the sunshine prevails then you can always simply take off your parka and hat to cool down a little.
6. Never miss an opportunity to leave the boat
During an Antarctic cruise, you will in most cases have a scheduled landing every day once you have reached the Antarctic peninsula. Notable landmarks include the British Port Lockroy, Neko Harbour, Paradise Harbour, The Lemaire Channel, Deception Island and the US Palmer Research Station. Unless you fall ill and are unable to disembark, there should be no reason at all to miss out on these excursions. This might sound harsh, but if you simply want to sit on a ship, then why not take a cruise around the Mediterranean?
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Leaving the boat and exploring the continent of Antarctica should be every traveler’s dream and you should always jump into those zodiacs whenever possible. Just think that these are places you will most likely never see again, so make the most of it and do everything you can (including the polar plunge!).
7. Protecting your camera is imperative
If you want to travel to Antarctica, you will undoubtedly want to take a camera to capture some fantastic moments and scenes. Photography is not as simple as you may expect in Antarctica, and if you plan on taking an expensive DSLR then you must understand how to protect it properly. Imagine traveling to Antarctica, taking a myriad of exceptional photos, only to find that your camera has broke or your SD cards have frozen.
Firstly you should keep your camera in a waterproof case at all times unless using it. This will help keep the batteries insulated and warm. Also, consider insulating your camera case and spare batteries with bubble wrap as this can provide and extras layer of protection. Your batteries will become cold and lose their charge if you do not protect them properly therefore always carry several fully charged spares.
8. Attend the lectures and talks
During the time you spend on the actual ship, the expedition crew will usually hold various different lectures and talks that are meant to enhance your experience, and help you learn about Antarctica. We wholeheartedly advise attending these lectures and using this time to further your knowledge, and also to improve your enjoyment of the shore landings and your time in the white continent. The more you learn, the more you will understand what you are seeing.
Lectures are often held by professionals in certain fields. For example, the MS Expedition which is an Antarctic vessel run by G Adventures has played host to an expert on Penguins – Frank S. Todd. You can really learn from these people and take this knowledge away with you.
9. Expect regular route & itinerary deviations
An Antarctic cruise will usually head through the northern parts of the Antarctic Peninsula and the surrounding islands. Each day, the captain will outline an expected route and itinerary with suggested shore landings. It is important to understand that this itinerary can change – you have to remember that sea conditions and pack ice can cause deviations, and until the boat actually arrives in an area, it does not become clear of the conditions and whether a particular place is even passable.
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Routes can change, itineraries can alter, and whole shore landings can even be canceled. If there is something you are desperate to see then don’t get your heart set on it, is there is no guarantee that the Antarctic weather will allow you to see it!
10. Have fun and engross yourself in the experience
Above anything else, this is the top tip we can give. Most people are lucky enough just to travel to Antarctica once, and few people can say they have visited the white continent twice. To that end, you must savor every moment and ensure that you make the most of every single excursion and activity. Enjoy your time on the boat – get to know your fellow travelers, have fun, go out of your comfort zone – just immerse yourself in the Antarctic experience and make sure it is a once in a lifetime adventure.
We hope this article has given you a clearer idea of why you should go to Antarctica, and how you can prepare for this unforgettable experience. If you love to travel and take a walk on then you will truly understand why this journey could be so special. Just imagine looking out on the horizon after an invigorating push across the Drakes Passage and seeing the first ship-size iceberg hone into view; you then realize that you are about to enter the Antarctic Peninsula – this is where the fun begins!
Next stop… Greenland!