From choosing a cruise line to packing the right clothes, here’s what you need to know before embarking on a voyage around The White Continent
Antarctica is one of the last true frontiers left to us. It’s a vast continent that spends most of the year buried by ice deep enough to cover mountain ranges and plays host to some of the planet’s most extraordinary ecosystems. An Antarctic expedition is said to be the adventure to end all adventures, and even the most well-travelled often tout it as their most memorable and life-changing trip. But with such an extraordinary location comes commensurate preparation to guarantee a hiccup- and stress-free holiday. Here’s how to ensure your visit to one of Earth’s most spectacular locations is done in style.
Booking the right trip
Antarctica is the world’s most isolated continent, so selecting a cruise line to get you there is, unsurprisingly, the first and most important decision you’ll need to make. There are a number of luxury cruise lines that will get you to the White Continent well fed and watered, and in absolute comfort, including Silversea, Scenic, Azamara, Oceania, Ponant and Regent Seven Seas. There is just one caveat: The Drake Passage.
The Drake Passage
The most direct route to Antarctica is from Ushuaia in Argentina, via the Drake Passage and arriving at Cape Alexander. This stretch of water between southern Chile and the Antarctic continent is considered one of the roughest in the world and has brought many explorers throughout history to their knees, or worse. With waves reaching 18 metres high, to say the Drake Passage is turbulent would be an understatement, and even cruising in the lap of luxury you should expect a potentially rough crossing that will unsettle even the most seaworthy among you. For those who cannot fathom this sea voyage, there is an alternative that will see you ‘fly-cruise’ in style, skipping the crossing of the troubled waters while providing you with a birds eye view of the waves below, before meeting your ship at its destination.
Voyaging to Antarctica puts you at the mercy of the elements. The weather in this part of the world is unpredictable at best, and sailings and flights can be delayed by days at a time meaning extended periods in hotels or airports. It is a part of the nature of this remote destination and just adds to its allure and reward. Expect the unexpected and you’ll be in for a great trip.
What to pack
While the weather in Antarctica can be difficult to predict, you can be sure of one thing: it will be cold. Packing lightweight, windproof and warm jackets, hats, gloves, scarves and insulated base layers is a great place to start. If you’ve ever packed for a ski trip you’ll be on the right track, just don’t forget your goggles or sunglasses to protect against the glary reflection of the ice.
Generally, your cruise vessel will provide you with appropriate footwear, so all you need is shoes for the boat, and some nice warm socks. Layering is an important part of staying warm so base, mid, and outer layers are the way to go. It’s also important to remember that Antarctica is a desert and despite all the ice, it can be extremely dry. Lip balms and moisturisers will help a lot.
While there is no need for a visa when visiting the White Continent itself (Antarctica is equally governed by a group of seven nations through a partnership called The Antarctic Treaty), you may well need visas for the countries you travel through, like Argentina, Chile or other stopovers. Check with your travel agents, cruise line or local border agencies before travelling.
Once you arrive in Antarctica, you’ll find yourself in one of the wildest places on earth. You’ll enjoy day trips to see the staggering wildlife including penguins, seals, albatross, stunning birdlife and if you’re lucky, orcas. There will also be visits to research centres where you can meet the scientists doing important experiments in the unique Antarctic conditions, and experience a day in the life of a science officer.
This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so enjoy every moment spent in this ethereal landscape.