Antarctica is the southernmost continent on earth. Covered by permanent ice this continent has always fascinated mankind. No wonder that many have the dream to visit once in their lives this dessert of ice. Whether it is because of sheer love of adventure, of historical interest, because of the unique wildlife or just to have been once on every continent of the earth, the reasons for an Antarctica trip are as variable as the people themselves.
With this article we want to help you to make your dreams come true and show you how you can travel to Antarctica on a budget.
What is the best starting point for my Antarctica trip?
If you wish to travel to Antarctica, you have different opportunities.
You can, for example, fly by plane from Cape Town (Africa) to the white continent. Or you can start a boat tour from New Zealand or Australia. Also from South America, you can start from various ports to Antarctica.
The best way, however, is a cruise from Ushuaia (Argentina), since from here you have the shortest travel time and thus you can spend the most time in Antarctica itself. Not for nothing Ushuaia is considered the southernmost city in the world.
Further advantages that speak for a start from Ushuaia: the city has an international airport and is, therefor, easy to reach and, more importantly, you can easily connect the Antarctica cruise with a visit to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The latter is a true paradise for wildlife viewing.
When is the best time for an Antarctic trip?
The peak tourist season for Antarctica is the end of October to March because it is the time of spring and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. If you travel relatively early or late in the season, the weather can be be quite rough and ice can block your way to Antarctica. On the other side, you will probably traveling together with fewer people.
Generally, each month has it’s special attraction – depending on what exactly you are interested in:
In November you have good chances to see many icebergs, as sea ice is now usually breaking up. But if the ice last long in the year, the changes to go ashore or even to reach Antarctica may be limited.
In addition, the November is considered to be a quite windy month, which can complicate the crossing of the Drake Passage. November is also mating season and you can watch many birds and penguins building their nests, observe their courtship behaviour and watch sea lions and their territorial behaviour. While there are currently no pups, you are able to enjoy probably THE image that we all associate with Antarctica: Penguins on snow.
We startet our way to Antarctica in late November to early December. Our review can be read here.
December – January
These are the months of the pups. Everywhere you can now watch penguins and bird chicks or other newborns. It is the most popular travel time in the Antarctic. Accordingly, it will be quite full on board of the ships and last minute deals are scarce due to the popularity of this season.
A little tip on the side: Menthol (eg Wick or Tiger Balm) under the nose helps you against the overwhelming odor which now prevails in the animal colonies. Everywhere is feces or sometimes dead newborns who were accidentially killed in the throng.
February – March
Now is the time to prepare for the approaching winter. The chicks will fledge and many adult animals are moulting. This time is also ideal to see whales.
Important things you should consider when you plan your trip
Generally you should consider the following things when choosing a cruise in advance:
The shorter a tour, the less it is likely to cost. But comparing the number of days with the possibility of shore leave, the reason why you want to travel to Antarctica, more expensive trips can often offer the better price / performance ratio.
The larger the ship, the higher the number of passengers. This may cause problems especially for very large ships, because no more than 100 people are allowed to simultaneously go ashore in Antarctica. So the smaller the boat, the more often you will have the opportunity to attend all field trips or the longer the individual excursions can be.
The larger the ship, the more amenities are usually offered. Furthermore, larger ships are often more stable in the raging sea. This can be important especially for people who are quickly seasick.
Most cruise ships that sail to Antarctica are no icebreaker! Although they have a more or less ice-strengthened hull, they can not travel trough meter thick ice. This you should take into account if you want to start very early or late in the season.
What do the different trips to Antarctica offer and how do they differ, for example, in price?
There are different tours, each of which is carried out by several operators. These trips vary in location visited, the length of the cruise, the ship and thus the number of passengers and of course the price.
The number of passengers on board ranges from nearly 50 people right up to large cruise ships with more than 500 people on board (for more information see Point 10). Again, you should keep in mind that strict regulations exsist for the preservation of Antarctica. So, for example, only 100 people are allowed to go simultaneously ashore. You should keep this in mind if you choose your ship / cruise.
Of course, the companies ensures that all passengers have the chance for a trip ashore. But the personal time ashore is limited when two or more excursion groups waiting for their chance to set foot on the white continent.
The following table should serve as a first overview about the different cruises which are often available in different variations. Prices serve as first, approximate guideline and are per person without discounts or special activities:
- From US $ 6000 in the four bed cabin
- Trip to the Antarctic Peninsula
- Duration 10 – 11 days
- Of which 4 – 5 days at sea
- Of which 4 – 6 days ashore
- From US $ 7000 in the four cabin
- A variation of the classic Antarctic Cruise
- It remains longer in one place for different activities on land (rock climbing, hiking, camping, etc.)
- From US $ 8000 in the four bed cabin
- A variation on the classic Antarctic Cruise
- The cruise will cross the Antarctic Circle and therefor it travels further south than the other tours
Antarctica, Falkland Islands and South Georgia
- From US $ 11,000 in the four bed cabin
- Trip to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula
- Duration 20 – 21 days
- Of which 8 – 10 days at sea
- Of which 11 – 13 days ashore
In addition, further trips such as kayaking, hiking or camping can often be booked. Since the available seats for this purpose are often very limited (for example, only 30 people are allowed to camp in Antarctica), it is advisable to book early.
How much money can I save on average with a last minute deal?
Antarctica is not a bargain, this should everyone know! Even with the best offer, the journey will tear a hole in your travel budget. But under normal circumstances you can expect savings between 30 – 60%!
And you should also not forget that this is one of those famous „Once in a Lifetime“ experiences, which will be certainly worth every penny you spent… so we were at least told effusively from many travelers!
Were we also delighted by our Antarctic cruise or was it just a waste of money? Find it out in THIS Article.
Nevertheless, to save as much money as possible you should bring a certain degree of flexibility, since not all timepoints, ships or cabin types can be always offered as a „Special Deal“. Also, the avoidance of high season will save you quickly a lot of money.
If you want to take advantage of a last minute deal you should keep in mind that the additional services such as camping or kayaking, are highly limited in space and, therefor, often excluded from discount offers.
How much time in advanced are last minute deals usually offered?
This is probably the hardest part, because here it is most important to keep calm!
While many minor discounts are available already several months in advance, the best deals with the biggest savings are usually announced very short term, ie one to two weeks before the scheduled date of departure.
But you have to consider: The more popular a travel date the more limited is the range of available last minute places. It is, therefor, advisable to opt for the shoulder season, if you have a very tight budget.
How and where can I find the best deals in advance? Do I have to write to each travel agency?
The internet provides you with various information. Mostly you will be quickly overwhelmed by the wealth of different information you will find. There are innumerable tour operators who tries to attract you with a variety of offerings.
And now? Do I need weeks to scour all the web pages of the tour organizer or even do I need to contact all of them personally?
Luckily, this is not really necessary, because if you do such a research you will soon regconize that most travel agencies offer always the same boat trips. No wonder since there are only a few large shipping companies, which offer tours to Antarctica (and accordingly the Arctic in the summer of the northern hemisphere).
Thus, you can specifically look at the website of these providers for the various offers, because often you can book here directly a special offer.
While this is still associated with some work the number of things you have to look up has luckily become somewhat simpler. The following list presents the various ship owners in alphabetical order:
The ship of Antarpply Expeditions, the MV Ushuaia, was originally built for NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) of the United States. Today, the expedition ship can accommodate 88 passengers.
Who likes to travel with a bit more luxus is probably best served with the floating hotels of Hapag-Lloyd. The smallest ship in the fleet is the MV Bremen, a 4-star-plus ship for 155 guests. The MV Hanseatic is a luxury expedition vessel with 5-stars and offers space for 175 guests.
The shipping company Hurtigruten has two ships in its Antarctic fleet: MV Misnatsol offers space for 638 guests and MV Fram for 254 guests. The original Fram already served Nansen and Amundsen 1893 – 1912 as an expedition ship for the two poles.
One Ocean Expeditions
The shipping company has two ships for polar regions: the Akademik Ioffe (96 passengers) and her sister ship, the Akademik Vavilov (96 passengers). Both ships have a high ice-strengthening and were designed as research vessels.
With the shipping company Oceanwide Expeditions you can choose between the following ships: the MV Plancius for 116 passengers or the MV Ortelius for 116 passengers.
The ships of Poseidon Expeditions start primarily from Ushuaia. In addition to the nuclear-powered icebreaker i/b 50 Years of Victoria, which is used only at the North Pole, they have the MV Sea Spirit, a ship for 116 people.
The ships of Quark Expeditions offer a wide range with its large fleet. From a luxury trip on the Hans Hansson, with just 12 passengers, the MV Ocean Endeavor with space for 199 passengers, the MV Sea Adventure with 117 passengers or the MV Ocean Diamond with 189 guests they have a ship for everyone.
The MV Silver Explorer offers 132 guests the opportunity to explore comfortable the Antarctic.
We have put a lot of effort into compiling the list and hope to have listed all regularly moving vessels for Antarctica. Should any ships / companies are missing, just write us a comment below.
How do I find the best deals on the spot? Do I have to scour every travel agency?
Of course travel agencies have the advantage that they may have worked out special conditions with the ship companies that you would never get by yourself.
If you are in Ushuaia you will quickly notice that there are tons of travel agencies for Antarctica since Ushuaia is one of the most favorably situated cities for travel to the seventh continent. Everywhere you can see colourful offered promotions.
How do you find in this jungle now the best travel agencies with the best deals?
The good news is that neither you nor I were the first that asked themselves this question. Luckily, we can benefit from the experiences of other travelers! Therefor, we would like to recommend you the travel agency of Freestyle Adventure Travel, which many travelers recommended to us and since they do a fantastic job, we highly recommend them, too!
Do I need a special travel insurance? If yes, which one?
For all Antarctica travels a special emergency-rescue-insurance is necessary. These must have a coverage of at least US $ 150,000 and conventional travel insurance usually can not cover this high costs.
The insurance is seldom included in the price, but can quickly, easily and for little money bought at your travel agency or directly on the web pages of the shipping companies. The insurance for our 20-day trip costed us US $ 37 per person.
More Tips and Tricks
So, now you know all our tips and you hopefully found the perfect trip for you.
Here we have put together a few more tips and tricks for you so that you can take the perfect holiday photo from this unique experience home. You’re still unsure about which photo equipment you need for Antarctica? No problem, just look it up.
Are you looking for a review about traveling to the white continent? Do you want to know how it can be to cross the famouse Drake Passage? HERE you can read about our personal experiences from our trip to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.
We hope this article could help you to complete your travel plans. If so, you may want to subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date about oncoming reports, reviews and much more!
Or do you have any further questions? Have you been recently to the Arctic / Antarctic or do you want to tell us something? Then just write us a comment. We look forward to hearing from you.