How Many People Actually Travel to Antarctica?
There are roughly 7.7 billion people on planet earth, but only about half a million have traveled to the White Continent. I am one of them. Traveling to the ends of the earth, to a continent that is not a country, to a location that is so pristine and untouched changes one. If you decide to travel to Antarctica you will come back a different person.
Antarctica is not a country, and is not owned by an existing country. Many countries lay claim to it, including the United States. Back in time Argentina actually took a pregnant woman to the white continent specifically so that she could give birth to a “native,” thus hoping to lay claim to the continent. There are no permanent residents. Several nations maintain research stations on Antarctica (the United States has 3 stations). Some of these are inhabited only in summer, when there are about 1000 researchers and support staff at one of the U.S. stations, McMurdo Station. In winter that number drops to about 200.
The Antarctica Treaty System regulates international research and access to the continent, which is the only place on earth with no human native population. Click To Tweet Anything south of the 60 degree south latitude is considered to be Antarctica. It is truly the last frontier, the only place on earth that is not a country. Despite Antarctica’s reputation for ice and snow, the humidity there is usually quite low and the driest place on earth is also on the continent. The Dry Valleys of Antarctica have seen no rain for 2 million years!
Deciding to Travel to Antarctica
Travel to Antarctica occurs during its summer, which is December 21st to March 21st. This is because of access, and also because Antarctica has the coldest recorded temperatures on earth. Ice blocks access to the ships that sail to Antarctica during the rest of the year, and sometimes this is an issue in summer, as well.
One of the big decisions you will make about your trip to Antarctica is whether to set foot on the continent or not. Click To Tweet On the one hand, you’ll invest in a long trip to get there and so you might feel like you want to actually “stand on the ground” there. But on the other hand, every footprint on the white continent changes it. You can sail Antarctica and see it up close and personal from your ship, meanwhile not adding to the impact of humans walking on the fragile terrain. Deciding which of these options is for you will, in turn, impact what tour operator I will recommend to you.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) was formed in 1991 to advocate for environmentally responsible ways to visit this mostly untouched continent. I will not recommend a tour operator or cruise line who is not a member of this association, but that gives you a wide range as there are more than 100 members of IAATO currently.
You can go on several types of trips to Antarctica.
- You can sail from South America
- There are special land-based photography trips available to Antarctica
- You can go on an expedition small ship that offers access to the land through small Zodiacs from the ship
- You can find tours that focus on bird-watching (I visited the largest penguin colony in the world, over half a million penguins. We saw many types of birds, including the wandering albatross.)
Whatever you decide to do, be prepared to see a place that is stunning in the feeling of remoteness, sheer beauty, and size. We sailed past a few icebergs that were over a mile long! You can watch a very short video with some of my photographs and comments to see the landscape.
Related Article: If Antarctica isn’t for you, take a look at the top travel destinations for families.
Gear Needed to Travel to Antarctica
Partially, this depends on whether you will leave your ship and walk on the continent. It also depends on your activities there. Some tour operators will provide a list of gear you must bring with you to survive the elements. Others will provide some of the cold weather gear for you.
- Count on multiple layers of clothing and a good windbreaker type coat.
- Don’t go to Antarctica without warm head gear and gloves, and closed toe waterproof shoes or boots.
- I also recommend sunscreen and moisturizers for your face because of the winds.
- You’ll probably want a good pair of sunglasses to cut down from the glare of the snow.
- This is one place on earth where it’s worth it to take a good camera with a large telephoto lens. I know it’s a lot to lug around, but if you want shots of wildlife you’ll need this type of equipment.
Picking a Cruise Line or Tour Operator for Antarctica
You probably won’t go to Antarctica a second time, so choose your trip provider after talking with me about what you want to see and do. Depending on the level of activity you want, you can sightsee from your ship, kayak, go on a Zodiac expedition, camp, hike, take a Polar plunge, visit with scientists at one of the research stations, take photographs (no place else on earth will be the same), visit Deception Island, walk among penguins (they have the right of way), whale watch, see sea lions, and bird watch. Based on my own experiences and talking with other travel advisors, I tend to recommend one of three cruise lines.
- Silversea has a reputation for taking environmental concerns seriously and offers top of the line trips to Antarctica.
- Hurtigruten is an experienced expedition cruise company that offers trips to both Antarctica and the Arctic Circle.
- Holland America was one of the first cruise companies to offer Antarctica, and brings scientists from Palmer Station onboard for lectures and visits.
- G Adventures offers active, land-based travel to Antarctica including several itineraries specifically for photography.
There are others, but these would probably be the tour operators I would consider first, depending on who is traveling with you and what you want to do. Believe me, you’ll have the trip of a lifetime to a part of the world that few people have the opportunity to see. You won’t ever forget your trip to Antarctica! To set up a time to talk please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I can go over the options with you and help you pick the best fit.
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