Antarctica is a frozen wasteland inhabited only by penguins and committed scientists trying to discover God-knows-what, right? Wrong! A visit to the Antarctic could be a fascinating adventure; a trip of a lifetime…like no other!
If it’s exotic you’re looking for, the Antarctic fits the bill. If you want a life-changing travel experience, you must travel to the frozen extremes surrounding the earth’s South Pole. Being the coldest, driest and windiest of continents on earth, traveling to the Antarctic may not be anything like the yearly holiday that you take with your family, but it will be memorable like no other!
Why visit Antarctica
It goes without saying that Antarctica is utterly unique and quite unlike any other place on earth. 98% of the continent is covered by a sheet of ice that is, on average, about 1.6km (or one mile) thick. Even in summer, the temperature rarely goes above freezing here. Antarctica has no permanent residents, no towns or cities; though about 70 research stations are maintained here by about 30 countries. So, the total ‘population’ of this continent is in the region of a 1,000 individuals in winter and as many as 4,000 people in summer.
Inhospitable and barren as it is, Antarctica has a certain stark beauty and some truly stunning ice formations and a spectacular coastline that is unlike anything else on earth. The continent has utterly unique wildlife not found anywhere else on earth. Since there are no land predators here, and because they are not generally disturbed by humans or hunted, the birds and animals are quite unafraid of humans. Gentoo penguin colonies, albatrosses circling up above, killer whales, humpback whales and leopard seals are just some of the attractions here. If you time your visit properly, you could coincide it with the nesting season and maybe able to see chicks of penguins and seabirds around that time.
The huge and stunning icebergs, visiting the Lemaire Channel, crossing the awe-inspiring Drake Passage (the area you would traverse if you took a cruise ship from the south of Argentina to the Antarctic) and visiting Deception Harbor (which is an active volcano) are some attractions. It is also possible to camp out and enjoy activities such as kayaking and skiing at a few locations. If you’re truly brave you could decide to take a polar plunge into the literally freezing water as well!
When and how to visit the Antarctica
The South Pole is in darkness for much of the winter months and it is unimaginably cold. Some of the passages that would be used for travel would also be blocked at this time, making winter travel a virtual impossibility. So the best time to plan a trip to the Antarctic is during December to February. This also coincides with the nesting season so it may be possible to actually wander among the penguins, and take pictures of their chicks in their natural habitat.
Since there are no cities or towns, there are no hotels here. So how can you ‘visit’ Antarctica, you ask? Unless you are a part of a research team in the area for specific reasons, you would visit the continent via a cruise that begins at various points in the southern hemisphere. Cruises operate from Ushuaia, one of the southernmost points of Argentina, from certain points in Chile, Hobart in Australia or Invercargill in New Zealand, and also some locations in South Africa. Trips could be anywhere upward of eight days and could stretch up to nearly a month depending upon your itinerary.
It is also possible to fly to Antarctica. It can be a single-day fly-over option or you can land there and then board a cruise ship or camp out. This is a good option for those who get seasick or who have less time. However, usually one would need to charter a flight (an expensive option) since there are no airports or permanent landing strips there either. Most fly-over trips leave from Punta Arenas, Chile.
If you decide to cruise around the coastline of Antarctica, you can choose from among various sizes of cruise ships and levels of luxury provided on board. Everything including boarding, lodging, entertainment and travel is made available on board the ship so this type of travel is the best in terms of lowering the impact of your travel on the fragile ecological balance of the area. For those plagued by seasickness, larger boats may be the better option.
Other tips to help you plan the trip of a lifetime
It is possible to travel to the Antarctic from November up to March. Prices are lower if you decide to visit in November or in March; however it is also a lot colder, the days are shorter and many of the routes may be closed at the time so your itinerary may be limited by this. You could travel to the Ross Sea or the Commonwealth Bay Region in Eastern Antarctica if you’re traveling from Australia or New Zealand. However, these are the less-traveled areas. The most popular destinations in the Antarctic are around the peninsular region and the Shetland Islands.
Many cruises include the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as well so if you have three weeks or more (and some extra cash) to spare, this may be a better itinerary for you. For Indians it makes sense – in terms of time taken as well as cost involved – to visit the Antarctic via Australia or New Zealand rather than via Ushuaia (Argentina). You could visit CoolAntarctica to find out more about visiting the frozen continent from India, about costs, routes and other details. You may also want to check out what Tripadvisor contributors have to say about their Antarctic experiences.
Remember to pack quality winter wear, preferably waterproof outerwear as well as a cap that covers the ears. Since you would be visiting some of the most stunning scenery in the world, it makes sense to carry along a good quality camera to capture the memories of a lifetime. One warning if you’re planning to visit Antarctica though: all subsequent holidays may seem rather pale after this one!