If you’re already here chances are you’ve been to 6 of our 7 continents or you just have a keen interest in seeing Antarctica. With an estimated 750,000 people who have ever been, it’s hard to find information on getting there, when to go, and what you should be paying. Having just got back from the amazing journey, what’s about to follow is information that should help you decide if Antarctica is for you, and how to get the most out of your trip. I am by no means an Antarctic expert, but as a travel agent and fellow traveler, I have a few tips to get you started.
When to go
The Antarctic season runs from November to March and the entire season has something different to offer. NOVEMBER is when to see Antarctica at its most purest. Having been relatively untouched for 8 months it is the perfect time to see incredible icebergs and the natural landscape. Being the very beginning of summer does mean colder temperatures, though nothing unbearable. The coldest I experienced was about -10c. In terms of wildlife this is penguin mating season, and you will be seeing a lot of penguins! Although whales are more abundant later in the season, I saw quite a few humpbacks and there were orca sightings as well. DECEMBER – FEBRUARY If you’re mostly interested in wildlife, this is when it is most plentiful and when temperatures are at their warmest. You’ll get to see lots of baby penguins at their cutest. FEBRUARY – MARCH Approaching the end of the summer season and your chances of seeing lots of penguins are getting smaller as they start heading out to sea. The landings, although easier to get to, lack snow, and can be very muddy after the previous 4 months of landings. You’ll be seeing a lot more exposed rock than at the beginning of the season. It’s still a good time to go though because this is when whales are most abundant and there aren’t as many ships in the water.
Choosing your company and ship
Firstly, if you’ve cruised before, please be aware this is not a cruise! You’re very much embarking on an expedition to Antarctica. There’s no duty free, no comedy shows, but there is a fair bit of getting sea sick. Antarctic weather is unpredictable, and for this reason you often won’t have an itinerary and plans will change considerably while on board. No matter what the weather though, you are going to have an incredible experience. I consider the most important element of getting to the great white land to be choosing your ship size. With only a limited number of people allowed on Antarctica at once, a small ship (less than 100 people) gives you the best chance for more landings, and it can go to places some of the bigger ships cannot. Being smaller though it is going to make your journey getting there a rougher one. The Drake passage is no joke. Although I didn’t get sea sick, a lot of passengers were confined to their rooms. Once you arrive (after 2 days at sea) waters become calm again and you can begin to enjoy your experience. Larger ships over 100 people will make this journey across the Drake passage easier. The larger the boat, the more stable you will be. It does mean though potentially less landings and restricted access to some landing sights that only smaller ice-breaker ships can get to. I’d have to say one of the best advantages of a smaller ship was getting to know the staff. The biologists and Antarctic experts on board were fascinating and encouragingly enthusiastic. Their knowledge and experience appears unchallenged and if you have any kind of interest in Antarctica you could listen to them all day. I can’t speak for all ships but the staff on board the Ocean Nova with Antarctica XXI were unbelievable. Being such a small ship you were able to engage a lot with them and talk their ears off with any questions you had.
The deal with last minute deals
To put it simply yes they are available and no I wouldn’t recommend it! Last minute deals are available in Ushuaia where the ships usually leave from. They are sporadic and not guaranteed. They are more abundant at the beginning and end of the season and can potentially offer some big discounts. HOWEVER … The cheapest I saw was $4500 USD (not much less than what I paid to get the exact ship and date I wanted) and hotels, even hostels are expensive in Ushuaia. Often you need to wait a week or more for one of the last minute sailings, and after paying to stay in Ushuaia for that time, you may as well of paid full price. Not to mention the added cost of last minute flights. Sure if you are in the area and want to do it, it is a great option, but if you’ve got your heart set on it, I wouldn’t rely on it, and I certainly wouldn’t fly all the way there just with the hope of finding one. I’d recommend to do your research in advance, about seasons, boat size, inclusions, etc. Most companies will offer some kind of early booking discount. Sometimes you get free flights, I personally got a $1000 USD discount through my agent at Adventure Life. Booking in advance also gave me access to all the pre departure information, and what I love most, which is a good few months of getting very excited! If you’re from Australia like me, you probably also don’t own a lot of snow/thermal clothing. Different companies offer different inclusions too. Almost all of them will give you boots for your landings, but have a look at who includes a Parker as well. It could save you a couple of hundred dollars before you book. My advice is to pick an agent and don’t be shy about what you want. Call a travel agency and ask them to find you an agent that has been there so you can get some good advice. You’re probably only going to do this once, so make sure you’re getting everything you want.
Well if you’ve got this far you’re probably pretty interested in conquering the 7th continent. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Nothing can describe how you will feel beside this huge white land but I can guarantee you will have no regrets, unless you forget to pack sea sickness tablets!