For years it was my dream to travel to Antarctica. This was a dream to set foot on the end of the earth and to see penguins in their natural environment. Finally in December 2017, my mom and I made the journey and had an adventure to remember for a lifetime. It still gives me chills to think about that trip, and not just recalling the freezing temperatures. In fact, it was not nearly as cold as I had imagined, usually hovering around -3 Celsius.
After doing a lot of research, we booked with Quark expeditions and I cannot recommend them enough. We opted to fly and then cruise from Punta Arenas, rather than to take the boat all the way from Ushuaia. In the end, this choice cost us nearly a day of our trip due to weather conditions and an unfortunate wing clipping incident at the airport. But the important thing is that we made it and had an incredible journey! This page is meant to give some tips and highlights to plan a trip. I will write more about our travel to Antarctica for a future blog post, because there is so much to say!
- Penguins! We saw three types, Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie. Penguin chicks were just starting to hatch late December.
- Other wildlife such as whales, seals and birds
- Lemaire channel filled with ice, we had to turn around and detour but the crunching sound of icebergs in the silence was magical
- Port Lockroy historic British station with a mini museum and post office.
- Neko Harbour hike up the hill and stunning views of the glaciers
- Cruising around in zodiacs for close up views of icebergs and wildlife
Before you go
- The travel season is short from around November through March, summer for the Southern hemisphers
- There are two main ways to get to Antarctica. One is by boat from Ushuaia and the other is to fly from Punta Arenas then join a boat. The seas can be very rough between Ushuaia and Antarctica.
- Weather and other conditions affect departures- be prepared for last minute changes and delays. It is part of the adventure experience
- Most tours will supply boots and jackets so check before you pack
Getting to Punta Arenas probably will involve a flight via Santiago, Chile from foreign destinations.
Easy transport upon arrival at Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport to the city centre by taxi (about 20 minutes)
Quark expeditions arranged other transfers between hotel and airport
You must walk from the landing in Antarctica to the boat, about 1 mile on ice and snow. Poles available to borrow.
This part was easy since we were on a boat (Ocean Adventurer) almost the whole time!
- The tour stayed at the comfortable and rather luxurious Dreams Hotel in Punta Arenas before and after the trip
- Two people per cabin, single beds and en suite bathroom
- Library room
- During good weather, lots of places to walk around the boat for views
- Blackout curtains for the 21 hours of daylight
I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave, as this fluctuates. However, at the few Antarctic stations we visited, they seemed to prefer dollars. Take some cash.
On the boat, you can pay by cash or credit card.
You can see how this compares to other places in my post, Sending postcards from abroad
Postcards were available on the boat and at Arktowski station. Postage on the boat was $1 per postcard and we postmarked them ourselves at Port Lockroy station.
My expectations for food were basic on an Antarctic boat tour.
We were extremely surprised to be served gourmet meals every night by the amazing crew. There were options from fresh salmon, to Filipino food to prime rib.
Breakfasts were varied and filling
And we had a special outdoor Antarctic BBQ one evening
Q: Do I need a tour guide?
A: Yes, you need to be part of an organised and approved tour to visit.
Q: Do people speak English?
A: Definitely all staff on the tour speak English. Some of the staff also spoke Mandarin. Since there was a large Chinese tour group on the tour, they had headsets with a live translator.
Q: How big are the cabins on the boat?
A: They are narrow with little storage space, so just bring what you need.
Q: Is there a weight limit for luggage?
A: Yes there is due to the smaller sized planes from Punta Arenas to Antarctica. Your tour company can advise and will likely let you store some items at the hotel in Punta Arenas.
Q: How fit do I need to be to travel to Antarctica?
A: You have to be mobile enough to get on and off of Zodiac boats from the larger boat, and to walk a mile from the landing site of the airplane to the boat. The staff are extremely helpful, as we were other passengers. You can choose how much to walk around at each landing. Essentially you can choose to stay close to the landing site and there is usually plenty to see like penguins and the view. However, if you want to have a physical challenge there are some walks and hikes as well. There were many elderly people including a 92 year old woman and an 86 year old man both traveling solo.
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