Antarctica, a magic frozen land located 621 miles away from Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, has aroused deep interest in tourists around the globe. Its wealthy fauna, its unspoiled sceneries and fascinating auroras australis (southern lights) make it one of the most beautiful and mysterious places on our planet.
Setting Sail from Ushuaia's Port...
Most cruises travelling to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia's port, although a few of them depart from Punta Arenas, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. Setting sail from Ushuaia saves one day of travel compared to other ports, such as Punta Arenas, since Ushuaia's is the closest port to the white continent at a latitude of 54° 56´S. The port of Punta Arenas is located at a latitude of 53° 10´S, which means travelling one extra day. You reach Ushuaia via direct flights from Buenos Aires. Around 50,000 people travel on 250 Antarctic cruises every year.
Different Itineraries to Antarctica
Pictures of Antarctica have captivated people of all times, from the ancient Greeks, which considered that the white territory was balancing the lands in the north, to nowadays, when the offers to visit these remote and mystic lands are incredibly numerous.
There are many different trips to Antarctica; the classic itinerary is the most traditional one. The points on this voyage include the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands. You can also add adventure travel to these programs, such as camping, kayaking, scuba diving, photography courses or snow racketing. Other longer trips reach Sub Antarctic islands, such as the Falkland Islands, the South Georgia Islands, the South Sandwich and Orcadas Islands. Some people devote days to reaching the Antarctic Circle and the most venturous ones travel around Antarctica taking the semi-circumnavigation trips arriving in New Zealand. Most of these programs are by land, embarking at Ushuaia's port, in Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. However, some other itineraries arrive in the white continent by air - the so-called air cruises. Most of these flights depart from Punta Arena and just a few of them from Ushuaia.
In this brief explanation, trips to Antarctica are classified as follows:
- Classic Antarctica
- Classic Antarctica + Adventure Travel
- Antarctica and Sub Antarctic Islands
- Antarctic Circle
- Exclusive (VIP)
The most popular of the classic trips is expedition cruise M/V Ushuaia departing from Ushuaia. Other programs arrive in the Antarctic Peninsula for Christmas or New Year, such as M/V Polar Pioneer. M/V Plancius offers a special trip for humpback, minke and southern right whales in Guillermina Bay. There are also a number of different available dates for traditional itineraries on board of M/V Ocean Diamond and M/V Ocean Endeavour.
Classic Antarctica + Adventure Travel...
M/V Plancius and M/V Ortelius add adventure travel to the program, such as camping, kayaking, snow racketing, climbing, and photography courses. Some special dates even offer scuba diving in Antarctica. On trips called Base Camping, all adventure activities are totally free, except for scuba diving, to your advantage. This last activity is not available on all adventure trips to Antarctica. On some of the classic programs, camping and kayaking are available at an extra fee. Depending on the season, you can go trekking with skis, but this is not available every year.
This cruise is different from all other expedition trips because it combines a ship and an airplane. You can start taking the flight and coming back on a ship or the other way round, embarking first on the ship and coming back by air. The purpose of this option is saving the extra days needed to cross the Drake Passage or Sea of Drake. Typically, the ship travels into this area by night when the crew is sleeping, in order to avoid seasickness and headaches due to the roughness of the sea in this area. However, this is not always the case.
These Antarctic air-cruises can depart either from Ushuaia and Punta Arenas, although most of them depart from Chile. Cruise ships connecting with airplanes are M/V Ocean Nova, MV Sea Explorer and Sea Adventurer. One of the aircrafts is the BAE-146 built in the United Kingdom by British Aerospace. This aircraft has high wings and the ability to land on short runways. It has 4 Honeywell turbo reactors model ALF 502R-5. Cruise speed is 466 mph and maximum altitude is 30,000 ft. It seats 60 people.
Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic Islands
These trips to Antarctica are the most complete of the traditional programs reaching the Antarctic Peninsula exclusively and they disembark in the South Shetland Islands only. The reason why these programs are so complete is the fact that you will disembark in the Falkland Islands, the South Orcadas Islands, the South Sandwich Islands and the South Georgia Islands. On some of the trips with M/V Plancius or M/V Ortelius you can even go scuba diving in these islands. There are cruises travelling exclusively to the South Georgia Islands with a particular objective: Skiing or go hiking with skis. These are highly exclusive trips recommended for ski lovers, as they try to emulate the world greatest feat of survival by Ernest Shackleton.
Trips to the polar circle are typically offered by M/V Polar Pioneer with a number of different options. M/V Ushuaia, M/V Plancius among others also reach the polar circle. These programs take 11 to 14 days approximately depending on current weather conditions. What are the highlights of the Antarctic Circle? At least for 1 day in the whole year, the sun is above the horizon and another day the sun is below the horizon. In other words, there is one day without a night, and one night without day. The reason for these two days (one 24-hour of daylight and one 24-hour of night darkness) is that the rotation axis of the Earth is inclined in relation to the Earth's orbit around the sun.
Exclusive Trips to Antarctica (VIP)
These are VIP itineraries to Antarctica, such as the traditional program in search of the Emperor Penguin in the Weddell Sea, which includes a helicopter flight. Another program offered every year is the Atlantic Odyssey travelling to Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands on the Coast of Africa as far as Cape Verde, and visiting Georgia Island on the white continent to arrive later in Tristán Da Cunha, St. Helena, Ascension and Cape Verde. Another VIP adventure is Epic Antarctica which reaches Georgia Island through the Falkland Islands and an extreme point in the Polar Circle. On some years, Antarctic semi-circumnavigation is available. This trip ends in New Zealand.
When to travel to Antarctica?
Wildlife is more active during summertime in the white continent. Along the coasts, numerous colonies of birds and mammals choose their natural Antarctic habitat. The season starts in November and ends in March. January and February are the best months for a visit to Antarctica.
From Spring to Early Summer...
The dark winter is behind and Spring blossoms with the sun promoting phytoplankton growth in the whole region. Zooplankton, which includes krill, feeds on this phytoplankton. This is the staple of fish, squids, birds, seals and whales.
January and February are the warmest months in Antarctica. Wildlife is in its peak of activity. These months are ideal for visiting the South Pole.
Summer Gives Way to Autumn...
Again, darkness shows up early in the evening when the sun sets below the southern horizon. Temperature has not gone down to below zero yet, but nights of frost are already present. You can observe the first layers of ice on the ocean's surface. Snow has not covered the areas yet, so you can trek the trails of the South Shetland Islands.
The darkness of the night starts, as the sun sets on the southern horizon. Temperatures are still above zero but you can experience a little of the Antarctic winter with its frozen nights creating beautiful shapes with thin layers of ice on the surface of the ocean. Snow barely covers the area, so long easy hikes are possible on the South Shetland Islands.
Important Notice: Spring and Summer first show up in the Falkland Islands and the South Georgia Islands, whereas in the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands these seasons start later on. This explains why there is more reproductive activity of birds and marine mammals, especially in Georgia which is the habitat of birds whose reproductive cycles are over 12 months long.
Choosing Expedition Cruises Instead of Luxury Cruises...
Travelling to Antarctica is not an ordinary trip, not only for the enigmatic and passionate quality of the Southern Pole, but also for the native flora and fauna offered by Antarctica. There are many options for Cruises to Antarctica, but the best advice for taking the decision to travel to the white continent is to choose an expedition trip and not a luxury cruise which only reaches Antarctica as one of the many points included in their available itineraries.
As we consider Antarctica as a truly fascinating place with much to learn from, we only offer expedition trips to the Antarctic Peninsula, the Antarctic Circle as well as Semi-Circumnavigation of Antarctica. Once you have decided you will take this kind of cruise, you need to bear in mind that not all trips have bilingual guides available. Most of them are Spanish-English spoken and there are a few where only English is spoken. This is key for understanding the technical-scientific talks, such as the lessons about local flora and fauna, offered on this kind of trips to Antarctica.
The most popular cruise for our customers is M/V Ushuaia, offering the classic route to Antarctica, which final destination is the Antarctic Peninsula. This is a bilingual cruise with professional and friendly services from technicians, biologists and even kitchen staff where the human touch is outstanding.