Is it safe to visit Antarctica?
August 31st, 2021 / Burnham Arlidge
Antarctica is one of the most breathtaking and incredible environments on earth. The scenery and wildlife is on a scale rarely seen anywhere else. However, Antarctica is also the most remote continent on earth and home to the most powerful winds and coldest temperatures ever recorded. It’s no surprise then that we get numerous readers asking us if it is safe to visit Antarctica?
The simple answer is yes, it is safe to visit Antarctica. Thousands of tourists visit Antarctica every year without any complications. Ship operators and expedition staff are trained to deal with the harsh environment of Antarctica and keeping visitors safe is always their top priority.
Like all travel though, there are always risks involved when visiting Antarctica. Some can be minor such as seasickness, whilst others can be more complicated such as being evacuated in a remote location.
To give potential travelers peace of mind, we have written this guide on how safe it is to visit Antarctica. Please also note that adequate travel insurance is compulsory for Antarctic cruises and your expedition team will not allow you onboard the ship without proof of this.
Is the Drake Passage safe?
The vast majority of travelers visiting the White Continent will sail from Ushuaia, crossing the Drake Passage to reach Antarctica. The Drake Passage is an infamous body of water and often considered to be one of the most dangerous stretches of sea on earth. This is because of its latitude at which the currents meet no resistant landmass, often causing enormous swells.
Whilst these facts can put off some travelers, others relish them, seeing the crossing as a rite-of-passage. Regardless of how you view the Drake Passage, all modern day vessels are equipped with state of the art weather tracking systems and your operator will not set sail if the weather is too rough. You will wait in port until it is safe enough to cross.
Despite this, it is not uncommon to encounter large swells on your crossing, but certainly never anything of dangerous levels. The most common problem that guests encounter on the Drake Passage is seasickness. For more information, please read this page on seasickness.
Are icebergs safe?
Icebergs pervade Antarctica, often looking like ice sculptures carved from an artist’s hand. However, images of the Titanic’s downfall are often conjured up by guests when first seeing these incredible ice formations.
Whilst icebergs can certainly be dangerous for ships that are not prepared for them, all tourist vessels that visit Antarctica are equipped with sonar navigation and designed for Polar use. All Antarctic operators also relate information to each other regarding weather and iceberg sightings and there will always be someone on the bridge with binoculars looking out. These factors combine to mean that Antarctic ship operator are incredibly safe from unseen ice.
Is the wildlife of Antarctica safe?
Unlike the Arctic, there are no land predators in Antarctica that can pose any threat to humans. On most shore landings, guests will see penguins and the occasional seal. Although penguins can be aggressive among themselves, they are never aggressive to humans and will often waddle past guest’s feet completely unperturbed by the situation.
On some Antarctic itineraries you may come across elephant seals. Early in the season, the large males battle for supremacy over the female harems and the fights can get quite bloody. With some of the male elephant seals weighing over 4 tones, you should keep a good distance from them at all times. Your expedition guides will make sure of this, but it never hurts to be prepared.
When kayaking or taking a trip on a zodiac, whales will often approach you, particularly in the latter half of the season. The whales are not aggressive, but simply curious. The whales will never hit your boat or kayak and there is no danger, even when these giant creatures are right next to you.
Is the weather in Antarctica dangerous?
Given Antarctica has the most extreme weather on the planet, it’s understandable that many guests query the safety of it when aboard the ship.
Whilst it is true that the weather in Antarctica can be extreme, this is generally not the case in the summer months. Although still cold, the summer months offer far more stable conditions for sailing.
There is still the chance that you will encounter blizzards, white outs, strong winds and extremely cold temperatures, but they will not be as extreme as the winter months and your ship will be able to find a safe bay to weather storm if need be. The worst thing about poor weather in Antarctica is missing out on the shore landings and zodiac trips.
As mentioned earlier, your ship will be equipped with state of the art weather tracking systems. This means that your crew will not be caught by surprise and you’ll always have time to fund a safe bay before rough weather hits.
Is an Antarctic cruise more dangerous than a standard cruise?
In general, there is no more danger sailing to Antarctica than there is sailing somewhere like the Mediterranean. The ships that sail to Antarctica are designed for Polar travel and go through rigorous testing prior to sailing. The expedition staff are all trained to operate in extreme conditions and there are no risks taken during your cruise.
The only extra danger that comes from sailing to somewhere like Antarctica is the remoteness of the location. Should something go wrong, rescue operations are difficult and potentially quite slow. This is why having the proper travel insurance is absolutely vital when visiting Antarctica as the costs of such a rescue can be huge.
About the Author Burnham Arlidge
Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has visited some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet - his most memorable experience is Antarctica!
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