How to Get to Antarctica

By Hillary Jackson

Adventuring to Antarctica is easier than ever

How to Get to Antarctica

What makes Antarctica a thrilling destination are the same things that make it difficult to sustain human life: its icy terrain, subzero temps and unique wildlife. Visiting Antarctica might seem tricky, but it's possible. While the icy continent has historically proven difficult to travel to, great strides have been made in making Antarctica more accessible to visitors. In 2016, more than 44,000 people made the trek to Antarctica through ships and airplanes. Whether you're looking to check another continent off your list or say you've seen penguins in their native habitat, there are ways for you to get to Antarctica. Just make sure you schedule your trip at the right time. Antarctica's tour season spans about five months, from November to March.

Travel by sea

The first batch of tourists to visit Antarctica traveled by ship in the late 1950s, and today, that method of transportation remains the most popular in reaching the continent. According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, about 40 vessels routinely carry up to 500 passengers apiece into the area. Visiting Antarctica by ship takes a considerable amount of time, with voyages lasting from 10 days to several weeks, depending on the route.

Antarctica cruise ship routes: The primary route most tourist ships sail is to the Antarctic Peninsula region, with other available routes including South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. Typically, these voyages leave from three ports in Argentina – Ushuaia, Buenos Aires and Puerto Madryn – and Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. For tourists who wish to look at the icy scenery without stepping foot in it, larger vessels that carry up to 3,000 passengers deliver the Antarctic experience without a land itinerary, per the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators' guidelines. Most of these larger tours visit the Antarctic Peninsula through Argentina's port at Ushuaia.

Cruise ship tour providers: If you are looking for icy views instead of icy experiences, consider traveling to Antarctica aboard a larger ship from Holland America, Crystal Cruises or Azamara Cruises. These ships offer several days of scenic cruising with no landings. If you opt for a smaller ship, you will be able to set foot on land. Aurora Expeditions and Oceanwide Expeditions are among those that offer smaller-scale excursions. If you're looking for something in between, Hurtigruten, Quark Expeditions and Noble Caledonia give landing experiences and mid-sized ships.

Travel by air

Outside of traveling by boat, the next most common means of reaching Antarctica is by airplane. This mode of transportation is the most direct, though flights to Antarctica are less common than other tourist destinations, so you must plan well in advance. Like with cruise ships, there are several air routes to consider when traveling to Antarctica.

If you're only hoping to sight-see, consider taking a fly-over flight from Australia to Antarctica. From the safety of the plane, you can take in the continent's dramatic white scenery without experiencing its freezing temperatures. If you're short on time, this is a good option because it can be done in a day. If you want to land on Antarctica, look for flights that leave from a variety of locations like Australia, Chile, South Africa or Argentina. Companies like Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions and Swoop Antarctica offer experiences on the continent in addition to flights.

Travel by sea and air: Antarctica flight-cruise options

A popular option is a fly-cruise package, which cuts down the time spent on a ship but allows for in-person landscape and wildlife encounters. These packages come in a range of lengths and prices. Companies like Antarctica XXI and Mountain Travel Sobek offer fly-cruise combos. For example, Antarctica XXI packages begin with a flight from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Frei Station on King George Island. Travelers then cruise home from the South Shetland Islands and Peninsula.