Stunning icebergs of myriad sizes, shapes and colours. Pristine snowscapes. Leopard seals chasing penguins. Antarctica is everything you expect but much more too. This is a destination that certainly lives up to the hype. And Antarctica’s haunting beauty will stick with you forever. A growing number of visitors are making it to Terra Incognito, usually on an expedition cruise. However, you should still be able to avoid other people, other than your fellow passengers, and get to appreciate the solitude. A trip here isn't for those who like a fixed itinerary: Antarctica’s weather is unpredictable and a salutary reminder of the power of nature.
This will be a trip of a lifetime – so make sure you choose the right ship and with no more than 100 passengers. If you’re going all that way consider a trip that all takes in South Georgia and the Falklands.
Give a lot of thought to what to pack. You’ll want as many layers as possible but you need to be able to fit it in your bag. Ensure that your jacket is windproof, waterproof and roomy, and that it covers your lower back. Bright colours, such as red, look better in photos. You’ll need a hat that covers your ears and that won’t fly off on a speeding Zodiac.
Camera batteries run down faster in the cold, so take spares, and allow for much more memory than you would normally expect to use. It’s worth investing in a decent pair of binoculars too.
The southern summer months (November to March) are the only times the Antarctic is hospitable enough to travel. Temperatures typically hover around zero, but it can feel much much colder thanks to wind-chill.
November is best for ice and snow. December and January are warmer with longer daylight hours, and the chance to see penguins feeding their chicks. February and March are best for whales.
You’ll almost certainly be going on a cruise ship. The most common access point is Ushuaia (Argentina) but ships also go from Hobart (Tasmania), Christchurch (New Zealand) and Cape Town (South Africa).
You’ll be on a cruise ship, but with excursions and shore landings via Zodiacs. A few ships use helicopters (eg cruises that offer the possibility of visiting the emperor penguin rookery at Snow Hill) and some offer the opportunity to kayak.
Seasickness is the biggest potential problem – the Drake Passage between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula is particularly notorious. However, you can be lucky and have no rough seas at all. Take a commercial remedy and/or an acupuncture wristband, and don’t forget that ginger is nature’s remedy.
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