Tourism in Antarctica - the
continent in brief
Tourists on a Cruise Ship sailing through Antarctic
There are no indigenous people
on Antarctica. The population varies from fewer than
1,000 in winter to over 50,000 in summer: 5,000 scientists
from 27 of the countries party to the Antarctic Treaty,
plus tourists. In the 2012/2013 season there were 34,354 tourists,
the peak was the 2007/2008 season with 46,069 visitors.
Antarctica surrounds the South Pole. The nearest
landmass is South America, which is over 620 miles from
the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Surface area: 14 million square miles (36 million
no indigenous government, management of the Antarctic
is organised through the legal framework of the Antarctic
Treaty of 1959. Forty-three nations are now party to this
agreement, and seven of those - UK, Norway, Chile, France,
Australia, Argentina and New Zealand - have historic claims
on parts of the continent as national territory. The 1959
Antarctic Treaty preserves the status quo of the continent
by neither recognizing nor rejecting the claims of these
countries and by not allowing expansion in any way on the
Antarctica currently has no
economic activity apart from offshore fishing and
tourism, and these are carried out by other nations (i.e. not the
continent of Antarctica)
Tourism in the Antarctic is mainly
by ship, around 20 vessels carrying 45 to 280 passengers
The ships are ice strengthened and sail primarily to the
Antarctic Peninsula region sometimes also including South
Georgia and the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas).
There have been occasional voyages to Antarctica by larger
passenger vessels (up to 960 tourists), some of which conduct
sightseeing cruises only without landings. These will no
longer happen however since regulations came into force
in 2009 preventing such large vessels operating in Antarctic
Yacht travel is also popular, and gives a smaller scale
more intimate contact, though often without the luxuries
and facilities of the larger Antarctica cruise ship.
Several expeditions take place outside the Peninsula region
each season. Voyages are made to the Weddell Sea, Ross Sea
region and, on occasion, East Antarctica including islands
of the Indian Ocean sector. These expeditions include visits
to emperor penguin colonies, historical huts, the Dry Valleys
and other remote areas.
Weather and ice, not clocks and calendars, set the schedule
for a journey here. No matter what the reason for your visit,
you'll be at the mercy of the continent's changing
moods and weather patterns. You may be able to make a landing
as expected at the appropriate time, but don't rely on it
if the weather and sea state have other ideas.
Most trips take about 10 days to
3 weeks from port to port, though occasionally longer or
shorter trips are possible.
Fly - Cruise trips are about 6-7
are now "Air
Cruise" trips to Antarctica whereby you
can fly to Frei Station (Chile) on King George Island
in around two hours flying from Punta Arenas, Chile.
You then embark on your ship where you follow the Antarctic
part of the cruise for around 6 days along the Antarctic
Peninsula before returning to King George Island and flying
back to Punta Arenas again.
Avoid crossing the Drakes Passage by ship
- this can be a very rough crossing which for some people
may prevent them going to Antarctica at all if they feel
ill on ships.
Time saving - two
sailings across the Drakes Passage saves about 4 days in
all meaning that is possible to go to Antarctica without
spending so much time getting there and back.
You don't get to cross the Drakes Passage
- there is something magical about arriving in Antarctica
by ship where the weather and ice change slowly over a longer
period, spotting albatrosses following the ship, the first
ice-bergs, first penguins and seals etc.
Delays to your trip -
While no Antarctica Fly and Cruise
departure has been cancelled due to weather conditions (yet),
some departures in the past have experienced delays of up
to three days. The current estimate is that the chances
of delay are in the range of 5-10%. Ships can operate in
conditions in Antarctica that leave planes grounded. In
particular you will need to have some flexibility in your
return journey timings.
Minimum about US$5,000 for
a place in a twin cabin (triples may be available
for 15-25% less) plus the cost
of air fares and other sundry costs to and from your point
of embarkation and then up to US$50 000 and even beyond.
These are for regular scheduled trips. Of course you pay
more if you want the best cabins on the more luxurious vessels.
You could put together a trip of your own with other people
with the help of a small vessel operator running your own
itinerary, cost - negotiable, but not too different to the
mid to high range scheduled trips.
$8,000 -$12,000 per passenger for a 10-14 day cruise is
a reasonable amount to expect to pay.
|When and where do trips take place?
visits are mainly concentrated at ice-free coastal zones
over the Antarctic summer, the five-month period from November
to March, in high summer there will be 20+ hours of daylight.
The formation and movement of sea-ice outside of these times
means that from March to November, Antarctica is left
to the over-wintering scientific bases and their crews.
Tourist ships possibly could get in and out earlier or
later in the season, but there is the all too real danger
of not being able to get to the places on the itinerary,
or more importantly of being stuck in the sea-ice and having
an enforced winter (for an extra 8 months or more) as has
happened on scientific bases occasionally. So apart from
the odd ice-breaker trip that may leave in October, tourist
ships just don't risk it outside of these months.
Winter pack ice extends over 620 miles around the continent,
it is almost permanently dark and temperatures can drop
to as low as -90°C (-130°F)
Temperature Range; December to February 20°F
to 50°F / -6°C to +10°C
Early December (Late Spring / Early Summer)
season for penguins and seabirds - see spectacular courtship
visible on fast ice.
wildflowers in the Falklands and South Georgia.
and fur seals establish their breeding territories
pack ice is starting to melt and break up. The scenery
is white, clean and pristine with pack ice and giant
Mid-December and January (Mid Summer)
Longer days create
great light conditions and fabulous photo opportunities
South Georgia and
the Falklands - first penguin chicks emerge and fur
seals are breeding.
Seal Pups visible
on South Georgia and the Falklands.
Receding ice allows
for more exploration.
and March (Late Summer)
Whale sightings are at
their best on the Peninsula.
Penguin chicks start
to fledge, most Adelie and Gentoo penguin colonies are
nearly vacated by late Feb to early March.
Blooming snow algae prevalent.
Receding pack ice allows
ships to explore further south.
More fur seals on the
|Where do trips
voyages generally depart from Ushuaia in Argentina, other
South American ports are rarely used. The great majority
of trips leave from South America, those that leave from
elsewhere tend to be longer and more expensive - considerably
For trips to the Ross region and Eastern Antarctica,
commonly used ports are: Hobart (Australia), Invercargill
/ Bluff (New Zealand). These trips may involve two different
ports sometimes departing from one and returning to another.
Departures very rarely set out from from Cape
Town and Port Elizabeth (South Africa) and Fremantle / Perth
(Australia), i.e. they have done in the past, though do
not do so every year.
No documentation or visas are required to visit Antarctica,
but if your cruise stops off at other countries en route,
visas and documentation may be required for them.
It is worth thinking about what you will do on your Antarctic
trip beyond icebergs and glaciers. Trips that take in the
Falkland Islands or South Georgia for instance can add significantly
to the experience. Once you have decided to make the long
journey (and for the vast majority of the planets inhabitants
it is a long journey) to get there, you should aim to make
the most of where you are.
There are passenger ships of a variety of sizes that
sail to Antarctica and the choice of ship can make a big
difference to your journey and experiences.
First of all Antarctic cruises aren't
like other more well known cruises to warmer climates with
professional entertainers, though the larger the ship, the
more likely there is to be entertainment provided.
What you will find are a number
of very well informed and experienced cruise guides working
on the ship who will give lectures on a regular basis about
various aspects of Antarctic history and natural history.
These will also often be around to socialize in the evenings
along with some of the ships crew and captain.
There are rules laid down by the
International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO)
covering such things as the size of cruise ship allowed
to enter Antarctic waters and covering conduct at landing
sites in Antarctica. This is a voluntary organization and
is well respected, you should always make sure that the
ship / tour company you go to Antarctica with is a member
One of the main rules that
will impact on your visit is that only 100 passengers
at any one time may be landed in any one place
If you are on a small ship of up to 100 passengers,
then you get a chance to go ashore every time.
If the ship is larger, then there will be
less opportunity for landings. Sometimes, trips
ashore are time limited so that multiple groups
can go, say for an hour or so before going back
aboard the ship so the next group can go. Although,
surprisingly, there are number of people who
go to Antarctica and never leave the ship -
the choice obviously is yours.
from the Cool Antarctica forum:
Q. I'm considering going on an
Antarctic cruise, but I'm a bit wary that the reality
won't be like it seems from pictures I've seen and
hearing from people who spent years there. How realistic
is two weeks for instance? I'd be interested in hearing
form any one who has been on an Antarctic cruise whether
it lived up to expectations or not.
A. Hello, I know you posted your question
a long time ago, so you may well have visited the White
Continent by now - if not, and you can afford it - go!
It is the experience of a lifetime.
2 weeks is never enough, but is
a good introduction to the landscape, scenery and wildlife.
I came back about 2 weeks ago and it surpassed all my hopes
- none of the books you read, photos you see, prepare you
for actually being there in the most spiritual, beautiful
landscape in the world. You will no doubt go on a cruise
ship - don't choose a big one, or you'll never get
ashore - go with a small ship (less than 50 passengers)
and make sure they are members of the IAATO (Antarctic tour
operators association) as this will guarantee your trip
does not adversely impact the environment there.
I've just returned from an expedition to the Ross
Sea aboard the 'Kapitan
Khlebnikov' with Quark Expeditions. Definitely
the trip of a lifetime - the scenery, wildlife, historic
huts etc are just awesome and we also visited several science
stations. I can't recommend Quark too highly; their
logistics are superb (ship, helicopters, zodiacs) and the
expedition staff are fantastic!
If you can afford it (and
it's not cheap), then a voyage on an icebreaker rather
than just an ice-strengthened ship is the way to get to
the places others can't, and the helicopters do add
a whole extra dimension to the possible range of shore landings
(plus sight-seeing flights as well).
The Lonely Planet 'Antarctica' guide has
good info for trip planning, and a Google search on 'Antarctic
tourism' will also point you to several useful sites.
Finally, take far more film / video tape etc than you think
you could possibly need...
Mike - Wales, UK
"Our weather was perfect. Cape Horn could have been
rounded in a rowboat (which rather now spoils reading adventure
stories). The Antarctic Circle and the Midnight Sun were
more than exciting. A new appreciation of the continent
and the need to protect it environmentally are now part
of my being.
I know from reading your site that you
are concerned about the tourist industry and Antarctica,
and justly so. We were tourists on a ship (Holland American
- Amsterdam - 1100 passengers) that simply came to look.
Since there were so many people we could not set foot on
the continent due to the logistics of getting 100 people
at a time on land and off. I was very impressed by the quality
of the scientists who lectured to us - an ice pilot, a biologist,
a man who had led a polar expedition several years ago,
a geologist with 40 years experience in the polar regions.
As soon as we entered the Antarctic waters
the tone of the trip changed to one of an expedition - no
fancy entertainment, no talk of fun and games but a delighted
seriousness of being in a very special place. (the food
and comfort however remained probably not one of a serious
I have printed your What's it like
in Antarctica? pages 1 and 2 to put with my photo album.
Thanks so much for getting that information into one place.
I know it represents many hours of hard work. It is appreciated."
Phyl Weaver - USA
Tell me more about a trip to Antarctica!
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Peninsula, Falklands, South Georgia cruises
10 days from $5,995
Shackleton Centenary Cruise
20 days from $13,195
and Antarctic Peninsula
scuba and kayaking options
over the Drake Passage then join your ship in
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South Georgia and the Falkland Islands
23 days from $15,995
Fly / sail 11 days, active adventure
scuba and kayaking options
14 days, Luxury Accommodation
Cruise - The Peninsula
Active Adventure -
Fly cruise with Antarctic
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12 days from $6,295
Antarctic Circle, Historic Areas
scuba and kayaking options
11 days from $7,100
Antarctic Peninsula, Penguins,
Seals, Whales, Historic sites
days from $11,073
in Eastern Antarctica - Ross Sea Region
in the Wake of Scott and Shackleton
Ross Ice Shelf, McMurdo Sound
days from $19,500
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