Antarctica is one of the most majestic and unexplored regions of the world. As access to the icy continent becomes easier and more accessible for tourists, adventure seekers and animal lovers alike are interested in visiting what is often considered the last continent. Read on to discover the best routes to Antartica.
Antartica currently has a tiny population, mostly of US citizens, who work at one of the few research labs located on Antarctica. These labs conduct important research regarding the ice caps, global warming, animals, sea life, and the ever changing weather conditions. With harsh and cold conditions year round, Antarctica is not for the faint of heart. Many travellers spend between 8 and 14 days travelling to Antarctica and visiting some of the islands on the way, before returning to their original destination.
However, some trips take a lot longer and some travellers now have the chance to spend almost 2 months travelling to the continent and back. There are many different methods of transportation to take to get to Antarctica as well as a few entry points from three different continents including Australia, Africa, and South America.
One important thing to note is that many trips to Antarctica don’t actually cross the 66 degree point of latitude and into the Antarctica Circle. This area of the world is the only place to receive an entire 24 hours of daylight and has only been visited by a few people from an even fewer amount of countries in the world. It is often not possible to visit the area of 66 degrees latitude due to weather conditions and frozen peninsula waters, however it is possible to make the trip during the austral summer, when the ice melts.
Consider what you are hoping to see before heading to Antarctica. The types of things you would like to see will determine which route is best suited for you as well as your location in the world. For example, if you are in South America, most of the routes leave from the southern city of Ushuaia in Argentina and all sail through the Drake Passage and head south to the Antarctica Peninsula.
Methods of Transportation
There are a few different ways to reach Antarctica from either New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, or South Africa. Most of the journeys use boats to leave from the entry point and arrive in Antarctica. However, some of the trips can be made by plane.
Flying into Antartica is very rare and a lot more expensive. With already high costs to visit the continent, flying is a higher added expense, however it takes a lot less time. Flying also limits other experiences occurred during the sailing voyages including stops at islands and notable passages.
Most tourists visiting Antarctica use sailing as their preferred method of transportation because they get to see plenty of wildlife and sea life along the way as well as spend more days making the incredible journey. Consider how much time you have before heading out on your journey. If you have plenty of time to spend and you enjoy the idea of sailing, this may be your best option.
Again, your beginning location may play a big role in determining your entry point into the Antarctica Peninsula. You should also note that some seasons are easier than others to visit the region. During the austral summer, the ice caps melt and access to certain points of the continent are easier than during times of cold and severe ice caps.
1. The Classic Voyage
Leaves From: Ushuaia
Duration: 12 – 14 days
Route: Ushuaia, Drake Passage, South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage, Ushuaia
Argentina is one of the most popular entry points for tourists and travellers to reach Antarctica. This is partly due to Argentina serving as the home of the most southern city in the world known as Ushuaia. Known as the Classic Western Voyage, the route from Ushuaia heads to the iconic Drake Passage before visiting the South Shetland Islands and finally reaching the Antarctic Peninsula. This trip usually takes between 12 and 14 days, depending on the boat company and the type of package.
Oftentimes, these boat trips depend on the season and the weather may play a role in the length of trips as well as any delays or cancellations. The boat trip from Ushuaia leaves the city where it heads south, spending two days crossing the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage is generally incredibly still or incredibly shaky. After travelling across the iconic Drake Passage, the boat will navigate to the South Shetland Islands. Here, passengers will have the chance to disembark the boat and wander around. Many incredible animals and sea creatures live on and around these islands.
The South Shetland Islands consist of about 20 islands and many of the tour boats leaving from Argentina stop at Half Moon Island, Aitcho Island, and King George Island. Penguins, seals, and many incredible bird species can be seen on these islands. Boats will often take visitors to the flooded caldera of Deception Island, which is incredible to see. After making a stop at some of these islands, the boat visits the Antarctic Peninsula where it will usually dock for several days.
Most of these trips include day visits to some magical spots like the Lemaire Channel, Pleneau Bay, Neko Harbour, Paradise Bay, and Port Lockroy. Depending on the tour company, many trips include a chance to partake in some kind of activity including the “Polar Plunge”, skiing, camping, kayaking, diving, or hiking. Most trips also take visitors to at least one scientific station so that visitors can see the hard and interesting work being done by scientists on the continent. The trip back from the continent takes 2 days, where the boat heads back through the Drake Passage.
2. The Longer Classic Voyage
Leaves From: Ushuaia
Duration: 18 – 21 days
Route: Ushuaia (or Buenos Aires), Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage, Ushuaia
Very similar to the Classic Voyage, there are longer voyages leaving from Ushuaia which envelope more than just wildlife and spectacular views. This voyage embraces the history and knowledge of the early explorers who first arrived to the Antarctic Peninsula. Unlike the classic voyage, the first stop on this trip is the Falkland Islands, where visitors have the chance to explore the world’s most isolated capital city of Port Stanley. Many penguins, birds, and sea creatures can be seen around this area. After leaving this area, South Georgia is next on the list. South Georgia is a completely uninhabited island and boasts some of the most spectacular wildlife in the world. Depending on the trip, a stop may be made at the South Orkney Islands before heading on to the South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula, and back to the entry point through the Drake Passage.
3. The Weddell Sea Voyage
Leaves From: Ushuaia
Duration: 12 days
Route: Ushuaia, Drake Passage, Antarctic Sound, Weddell Sea, Antarctica Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, Drake Passage, Ushuaia
Not many people travel to Antarctica via the Weddell Sea. This is considered to be incredibly wild compared to the already wild region of Antarctica. The seas here are home to the stunning emperor penguins as well as some utterly breathtaking icebergs. While many of the other boats head to the western side to cross to Antarctica, this voyage takes visitors to the eastern seas, where there is arguably more wilderness and way less visitors each season.
Since this area of the world is so untouched, it is possible to see many spectacular animals including penguins and seals of many different types, sea birds, whales, and much more sea life. This voyage heads through the Antarctic Sound until it reaches the Weddell Sea where there are many humpback and killer whales. Heading on further into the Weddell Sea, there are many different types of penguins and plenty of varieties of seals. The trip continues on to the Antarctica Peninsula where many of the activities are similar to the classic and longer voyages that head through the Drake Passage and make stops at the South Shetland Islands.
This voyage allows visitors to partake in many activities once they reach the Antarctica Peninsula including skiing, diving, and other incredible activities. As usual, this trip will also generally make a stop at a research center. The draw to this trip is that the route is less visited, meaning that the natural scenery and wildlife is quite untouched and is currently thriving. This trip is also shorter than some of the other trips leaving from the southern port of Ushuaia in Argentina.
4. From Chile
Leaves From: Punta Arenas
Duration: 1 – 8 days
Route: Punta Arenas – Antarctica Peninsula
Punta Arenas is one of the most southernly cities in Chile and offers visitors the chance to head to the South Pole and see the Union Glacier Camp, which is the only privately operated camp located on Antarctica. The draw to flying and missing the sailing trip and islands on the way from nearby Ushuaia is that this camp is located near to the highest point in Antarctica known as Mount Vinson. Landing on a natural ice runway is alone an incredible experience, however guests can spend a few hours partaking in activities like skiing, skating, hiking, climbing, and exploring.
5. From South Africa
Leaves From: Cape Town
Duration: 1 – 8 days
Route: Cape Town – Antarctica Peninsula
Much like the tour operator in Chile, there is one company who have flights leaving from Cape Town in South Africa. This tour operator is called White Desert and they fly to Queen Maud Land where you can fly on to the South Pole and visit the Amundsen-Scott Research center. Although you aren’t able to sail to many of the islands on the way, not many people can say they have visited this region of Antarctica. If you don’t have much time and really want to visit the region of Antarctica, this is often a great way to accomplish your dreams as it is quick and efficient.
6. From New Zealand
Leaves From: Bluff (South Island)
Duration: 30 days
Route: Bluff, The Snares, Auckland Islands, Macquarie Island, Antarctica (in the Ross Sea), Campbell Island, Bluff
Arriving to Antarctica from New Zealand is quite rare as only a few boats head to the region each year. If you are lucky enough to head on this adventure, you will see a part of Antarctica that not many people get to see. The Roses Sea region is known as “the Gateway to the South Pole” and has an incredible history. Leaving from the South Island, the voyage takes around one month give or take a few days depending on the weather and the conditions. In this region of the world, the sea, winds, and currents are a lot stronger and the trek can be very hard.
Since this voyage spends many days on the seas at a time, there are a few stops at beautiful islands along the way. Many trips stop at the Snares Islands, Macquarie Island, Campbell Island, and the Auckland Islands. On these islands, there are many penguins, seals, and whales. Once the boat reaches Antarctica, much like the other tours there may be a stop at a research facility. What makes the visit via the Ross Sea magical is the fact that two great explorers, Shackleton and Scott, first entered Antarctica via this route. Both of their huts still stand to this day and can be observed. This journey is unlike any other due to its duration, incredible scenery, and first glimpse of Antarctica.