[All content and prices updated August 2013]

Why you should add Antarctica to your Indie/RTW trip

In days of yore, you had to be a whaler or a well-funded explorer to make it to this least visited continent. These days Antarctica is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination.

  • Antarctica is very much the final frontier for travelers.
  • This particular trip isn't really on the radar for budget travelers, but you'd be surprised at the deals you can get if you have some spare time on your hands in Argentina.
  • Want to know where you can get more hours of sunshine than any other place in the world for your winter travels? Antarctica.
  • You want vast? It doesn't get any more vast than Antarctica. Ice, mountains, ocean as far as the eye can see, and nary a person to spoil the views.
  • All that ice may fool you - Antarctica is actually a desert, the driest on Earth, and there is very little snow or rain because of it.
  • The trip to Antarctica from the southern point of South America is worth the price of admission.

Indie travel tips for Antarctica

  • Antarctica is only accessible in the summer months - November to March - when the sea ice melts enough for boats to pass.
  • Be prepared for 24 hours of sunlight.
  • The temperatures can actually reach near 60F in the summer months.
  • Unless you're a scientist or have loads of money, the Ross Sea area is where tourist boats visit.
  • Anver Island and the South Shetland Islands are the "touristy" areas of Antarctica, where cruise ships stop and attractions are located.
  • See penguins and hot springs at Deception Island, Hannah Point, Half Moon Islands, Aitcho Islands, and Artigas Base.

Transportation

There are several ways to get to Antarctica, thus obtaining bragging rights for years to come.

The easiest and most popular way is by boat. Cruise ships depart from Ushuaia, Argentina regularly from the months of November to early March. You can spend as little as 8 days up to a month or more visiting the continent. Before you go, be aware that you may not make every landing on the itinerary due to the harsh environment and unpredictable weather conditions. If you book your trip from your home base, wherever that may be, plan on at least $3,500-4000 without airfare. Special rates on shorter cruises are occasionally going for as little as $2,600 per person, although this is not the norm. If you're on your around-the-world trip or just backpacking around South America, you can book at less than half the retail price from the travel agents in Ushuaia. Think in the range of $1,800 for an 8 day trip. Private boats may also be booked in Ushuaia.

Tour operators are now offering flights directly to the South Pole from Ushuaia and Punta Arenas, Chile. Standard trips are about a week in length, though you'll need to arrive in South America several days prior for briefings and information. While this sounds fabulous, don't plan on jetting in and out on your week's vacation. This is the most inhospitable climate in the world for air travel and flights are frequently delayed. If you're on a tight schedule, go someplace else. For this type of Antarctic tour, plan on spending the equivalent of the average American yearly income. Prices are in the $30,000 range.

Accommodations

No matter how you book your trip to Antarctica, you will be provided with a place to lay your head. It may be anything from a place at the camp to a luxurious cruise cabin, but rest assured you will not have to book accommodations on this trip. Sorry, as of now, there are no hostels on Antarctica.

Photo credits: Andrew Mandemaker