Photo Courtesy of James Eades
Hillary, Ross, Byrd, Shackleton…and you? Once unimaginable as a tourist destination, today thousands of people travel down to the bottom of the planet for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Not every voyage is the same, however, and although options may be more limited than a traditional vacation, ther…e is still much variety and many fascinating places to explore. Whether you brave Drake Passage or fly directly to the last continent, a visit to Antarctica is a must for every nature-loving travel enthusiast.
What to know before you go to Antarctica
Austral summer is opposite the Northern Hemisphere's summer, so the tourist season in Antarctica usually begins in November and ends in February, when temperatures and weather conditions are the most favorable. While Antarctica is a dark, inhospitable place in winter, summer days can be quite pleasant. Temperatures in the middle of summer rise to the 30s and 40s (Fahrenheit), and unless you’re traveling overland to the South Pole, extreme weather clothing won’t be necessary.
The seventh continent is more challenging to reach than other places around the globe, which is one reason a trip there is so special. The majority of leisure travelers arrive via South America—on either a traditional expedition cruise or a fly-cruise. For decades, intrepid tourists have visited Antarctica on an expedition cruise usually from Ushuaia, Argentina. The globe's southernmost city, Ushuaia in the summer months bustles with people preparing to cross the mighty Drake. This dangerous body of water is part of every traditional cruise to Antarctica, and the two days (each way) spent crossing the turbulent passage can be a nausea-inducing experience. After a successful crossing, though, ships usually stop at various points along the Antarctic Peninsula, on the small islands, and even farther south on the continent itself. A fly-cruise is a newer option that eliminates the hassle of negotiating Drake Passage. Explorers selecting this option usually leave from Punta Arenas, Chile, another extreme-southern city, where they connect to a special Antarctica-bound flight. Only a few tour companies operate these chartered fly-cruises, but since they save time and energy, they are becoming more popular. Landing at Frei Station on King George Island, cruisers then meet up with their cruise ship for an experience similar to those who traverse the Drake. Weather is still a concern with fly-cruises, though, since harsh conditions in Antarctica can delay flights leaving Chile. No matter how you decide to travel there, a trip to Antarctica truly is a defining travel moment for almost all who make the long trek south.
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An experiential traveler at heart, Matt Long shares his adventures with thousands of readers every day through his site LandLopers.com. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Based in Washington, DC, Matt has been to more than 60 countries and all 7 continents.