Welcome to Antarctica Guide
The web’s No. 1 resource for Antarctica cruises
Our aim is to provide free and inspiring advice to help you prepare for an amazing Antarctica cruise experience.
Because you are reading this page you are most likely planning a trip to Antarctica. You may have already booked a date. If so, congrats! We can tell you from personal experience that your Antarctica cruise will be something that you will remember for the rest of your life!
Below we have provided summary information on the most frequently asked questions we get from folks looking to visit the White Continent. To help you plan your Antarctica travel adventure, we suggest reading all the information on this page and then following the links to sections you want to know more about.
Please use the quicklinks to navigate to key sections below.
- Antarctica Travel Overview
- Best Time to Visit Antarctica
- Types of Cruise Ships
- Antarctica Travel Costs
- Choosing the Right Tour Itinerary
- Things to See and Do in Antarctica
- Antarctica Travel Packing List
- Antarctica Travel Insurance
- Other Resources
Antarctica Travel – Overview
“The land looks like a fairytale.” – Roald Amundsen
Antarctica’s incredible remoteness, huge ice shelves, wonderful wildlife and extreme cold make it one of the most fascinating places to visit on earth. You cannot simply visit Antarctica when you wish, instead you must travel by its itinerary, you must wait for the seas and the weather to allow you to journey. However, when you do get there you will witness things you have only ever seen on TV!
You can expect an experience unlike any other, a beautifully harsh world of ice, sea, snow and rock, where you can visit penguin colonies, watch whales, kayak, scuba dive and even climb an Antarctica peak! The gorgeous antarctic light and the wide array of wildlife make Antarctica a photographer’s dream.
Unless you’re the extreme adventurous type looking to travel to Antarctica alone on an expedition, you will most likely visit the continent as part of a group tour on an Antarctica cruise ship of some kind. Although this does not suit everyone, it has the added advantage of including your accommodation, transportation and meals all in one combo. This also means that the pristine landscape of Antarctica is kept clear of harmful infrastructure.
We understand that the wide array of Antarctica cruises and itineraries, not to mention pre-trip preparations, can be daunting! Therefore, on this website we have tried to provide a comprehensive overview on everything you need to know for your Antarctica travel experience.
Best Time to Visit Antarctica
The Antarctica travel season is roughly 5 months long from late October to late March. No matter when you travel during these months you will have a fantastic trip. The wildlife will vary slightly depending on when you travel, as will the length of daylight. Antarctica cruises later in the season may be less crowded (and possibly slightly cheaper), however, the later you wait the more wildlife will have already departed the continent for open sea. Please note that the infamous Drake Passage – the two-day sea crossing to get to and from Antarctica- is no calmer during any period of the year.
October – November: Although not common, occasional Antarctica cruises depart in late October. These cruises have the advantage of seeing the beginning of the penguins courting and mating season on South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. However, further down near the Antarctica Peninsula your boat will need to push its way past the winter sea ice. The ice will start to break up in November, creating magnificent icebergs and ice sculptures! Seals begin their courtship at this time and wildflowers bloom on Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Temperatures on the peninsula are usually around -5 to -10 degrees Celsius.
December – January: This is the high season for Antarctica travel. During this period temperatures on the antarctic peninsula are at their ‘warmest’ (5 to -5 degrees Celsius) and the days are at their longest – 20 hours of daylight. This is by far the busiest period in Antarctica and you will need to book well in advance to get your spot secured on an Antarctica cruise.
February – March: This is the best time to visit Antarctica for whale watching! Humpback, Sperm and Killer whales are common during this period. Sea birds are still abundant during these months and you’ll also see the fledgling penguin chicks.
April – September: This is the winter period in Antarctica. Strong winds and extreme freezing temperatures prevent Antarctic cruises during this period. Adventurous photographers looking to travel with a research team or similar during the winter period will be rewarded with a continuous sunset and sunrise sky and some unrivaled views of Aurora Australis.
For a detailed page on the best time to visit Antarctica, please click here.
Types of Cruise Ships
What cruise boat you choose depends very much upon what sort of Antarctica travel experience you’re looking for. Cruise sizes range from boats that carry fewer than a hundred passengers to larger vessels that carry over 500!
If you want an Antarctica cruise that allows you to go ashore and get up close and personal with some of the wildlife, then a smaller vessels may be your best option. Antarctica Cruise vessels that carry less than 200 passengers have the right to land at most places, whereas larger ships are more restricted. Antarctica cruise ships carrying over 500 people cannot land at all.
Whilst smaller vessels have the benefit of being able to land and go ashore, larger vessels are generally more comfortable and luxurious. The large ships also have the added advantage of being less affected by the rough seas. Your crossing of Drake Passage will certainly be more comfortable on a large ship. If you are susceptible to sea sickness, cabins on the lower decks receive less motion than the upper level cabins. Lower level cabins are usually slightly cheaper also. Please see our Drake Passage sea sickness page for more information.
Remember that Antarctica cruises are not the same as other big cruise tours. Entertainment is usually in the form of lectures from the experienced on-board guides. You will often socialize with staff, guides and the captain in the evenings. Do not expect an on-board cinema and swimming pool!
There is the option to fly to Antarctica also. This is a great option for people with a bit less time on their hands, or for people who suffer from sea sickness. Tour operators will usually give you the option to fly one way and take a cruise the other – known as fly-cruise trips.
Antarctica Travel Costs
There is no getting around the fact that visiting Antarctica is not cheap. Because of its remoteness, operating cost are high. Expect to pay at least $5,000 for a basic tour – this price would mean sharing a 4 bed cabin with communal bathroom facilities on a small vessel with only 3 or 4 days of Antarctica landings. However, depending on your itinerary package and accommodation, cruise prices can be upwards of $30,000 per person. For a great 2 week experience, expect to pay between $10,000 – $13,000.
Solo travelers inevitably pay more for a single cabin, although there is usually the option to bring the price down by being placed with another solo traveler in a twin cabin. It is important to note here that these prices include, all meals, accommodation and transportation around the peninsula, there are very few added costs once the trip begins.
There are however, other costs you need to budget for when it comes to planning your Antarctica cruise trip. Tour operators do not include flights and you will need to budget for your initial travel to the port of departure. Most Antarctica travel tours depart from the southern tip of South America. Ushuaia, Argentina is the port of choice for the majority of Antarctica cruise departures, so chances are high that you will board your ship there. For travelers who plan on flying to Antarctica, the airport in Punta Arenas, Chile is the most popular option.
If you plan on making a trip to the Ross region and the less-visited Eastern side of Antarctica, you will more than likely depart from the port of Invercargill / Bluff (New Zealand) and less commonly from Hobart (Australia). Please note that these trips often involve two different ports – departing from one and returning
to another. Departures very rarely set out from South Africa or Western Australia, although it does occur occasionally.
Although no vaccinations, visas or permits are required to visit Antarctica, you may need a visa to enter Argentina (depending upon your country of origin). Please see our visas page for more info.
Another key cost to budget for is your gear. Any Antarctica travel will involve wind and cold weather. Therefore, you’ll need to be prepared with the right clothing and equipment. Please see our Antarctica packing list information further below or click here for our detailed Antarctica packing list page.
Please remember that cost should only be one of many factors when choosing your Antarctica cruise. Often, if you pay just a little more, you’ll get the itinerary you really want. For a detailed page on Antarctica cruise costs, please click here.
Choosing the Right Antarctica Cruise
Before you book your tour, please make sure your tour operator is a member of the International Association Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).
An Antarctica cruise is a significant investment, so choosing the right Antarctica cruise is a must. With so many itinerary options and so many tour operators, choosing the right one can be tricky. Please see our How to Choose the Right Cruise page for our detailed article on different itineraries and operators.
Some things to remember when deciding are:
Make sure to research the different periods you can go and how this will affect what you see and do. Also take into account how long you can go for as this will whittle down your itinerary options greatly. Your budget will also be a major determining factor.
Destinations are a major factor. Do you want to simply visit the Antarctica Peninsula, or do you want to combine this with a trip to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia island? Remember, the more places you visit, the longer and more expensive your tour will be.
Book ahead – many people book 1 – 2 years in advance. Booking early can often reduce the price of your Antarctica cruise slightly. Although it should be noted here that ships do occasionally offer great last-minute deals when they are not fully booked.
Make sure to choose the right cabin accommodation. Antarctica cruise cabins can vary dramatically from luxurious to very basic and it is important that you know what you’re getting yourself into before you book. This usually means asking for photos from the tour operator you are speaking to.
Things to see and do in Antarctica
In such an amazing environment, the opportunities for sight-seeing and activities are almost endless. The wildlife is what draws most people to the White Continent and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. There aren’t many places on earth where you can sit an arm’s length from a penguin or feel the spray from a whales blowhole.
Like the Galapagos Islands, the wildlife in Antarctica are incredibly tame and approachable. If you’re a photographer then you’re sure to get some amazing shots. Inquisitive, photogenic and comical, penguins are the consummate charmers of Antarctica and make everyone’s visit a memorable one. Please click here for our article on Antarctica photography tips.
If you’re the active type, then Antarctica provide a wide array of activities to suit any adventurous individual. Kayaking is the most popular Antarctica activity as it allows you to navigate the icebergs into smaller channels of water. Tours also often take their clients on small zodiac boats that take 10-12 people. This is a great way of getting close to seals – including the Leopard Seal!
Scuba diving is another popular activity. Seeing icebergs from below is something that few people on earth have seen and is well worth every cold moment! If you like your swimming then there is also the option to swim at Deception Bay. Deception Bay is actually a caldera of a volcano which makes the water warmer in this particular area (although still cold!).
Other possible activities include trekking, camping, skiing and climbing! These are fairly specialist activities and you will need to make arrangements with your tour operator well in advance. For more information on things to see and do in Antarctica please see our detailed article here.
Antarctica Travel Packing List
The packing list for your Antarctica travel includes a number of critical items. Some of these can be rented or bought in Ushuaia before your trip, but there are some very important pieces of gear that we strongly recommend you bring with you to Antarctica.
This detailed Antarctica packing list provides a comprehensive overview on the gear you need as well as recommendations and links to specific gear outfitters. Click here for our detailed packing list.
Here are links to specific sections within the packing list:
Clothing: Weather conditions in Antarctica are significantly colder than most places on earth. In this detailed section we provide advice and recommendations on the type of clothing you require and the importance of layering.
Headgear: From beanies, hats and balaclavas, to UV sunglasses and headlamps, we cover it all in this section.
Footwear: The right footwear is critically important when traveling to Antarctica. Read this section to understand what type of boots you need, as well as the best sock options.
Gloves: Your hands will be the first part of you to freeze. Therefore, it is vitally important to get the right gloves for your trip.
Bags and Daypacks: There are two types of bags you need for your Antarctica travels. Read this section to understand which bags are ideal for you.
Photography Gear: If you’re into your photography, then you’ll want to view this section as it provides you with all the equipment you need, along with some great Antarctica Photography tips!
Important Accessories: Here we provide a comprehensive list of all the other accessories you need to for your Antarctica cruise. From water bottles and zip-locks to earplugs and spare batteries, we cover it all in this section.
Antarctica Travel Insurance
Any travel journey comes with certain risks. Therefore, it is important that you get adequate insurance for your Antarctica travel. Most standard travel insurance policies will not cover this sort of trip. Also, many travel insurance companies will only cover you if you stay on-board your cruise ship. Make sure to read the fine print!
In our article – Antarctica Travel Insurance – we provide detailed advice on the type of insurance cover you need for your Antarctica cruise as well as provide a useful insurance calculator so you can get a quote in seconds!
There are a number of very interesting and useful guidebooks that have been written about Antarctica travel.
We recommend having a look at our Resources page where we review some of our Antarctica literature.
The most comprehensive and authoritative guidebook is, on our opinion, Lonely Planet’s ‘Antarctica’. The cheapest option we could find for this guide-book is here.
Do you still have burning questions about you Antarctica travel journey? Feel free to contact us and we will respond to your query within 24 hours. Or, if you would prefer, just leave a note below and we’ll get back to you shortly.
Haven’t booked your Antarctica trip yet? We can put you in contact with the best Antarctica cruise specialist out there. These guys blew us away with their friendliness, professionalism and knowledge. Our specialist works with every single Antarctica cruise operator out there so you can compare each cruise itinerary and price! Click here to get our recommendation.
Thank you and happy travels!
Antarctic Guide Team
Tags: Antarctica travel, Antarctica trip, Antarctica guide, Antarctica travel guide, Antarctica cruise, Antarctic cruise, cruise Antarctica
References: This site is maintained by a group of passionate Antarctica travelers, all of whom have visited Antarctica many times. Much of the site is based upon personal experiences which we then cross-reference with secondary sources like travel guides, i.e. Lonely Planet, Rough Guides. If you find any inaccuracies on the site please contact us.