Getting there & away
The vast majority of visitors reach Antarctica via group tours on a ship, but there are several alternatives for the intrepid or wealthy. Some tours can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services. All of the shipping companies listed, most of the yachts, and many of the air operations, are members of International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO; iaato.org), which promotes environmentally-responsible travel to the continent.
Nearly all visitors arrive by sea, most of them by ship from Ushuaia. Smaller ships (few than 100 passengers) offer far more time ashore, and guests are generally free to wander around landing sites. Larger ships – which would cause much greater environmental problems and pose enormous rescue challenges in case of an accident – offer greater comfort and less movement in heavy seas, and also cross the Drake Passage much faster.
Below are some of the oldest and most established companies cruising to The Ice; all are IAATO members. For more choices, visitwww.iaa to.org.
Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com) Charters Minerva, an ice-reinforced vessel carrying 199 passengers.
Aurora Expeditions (www.auroraexpeditions.com.au) Operates the 56-passenger Polar Pioneer and the 100-passenger Marina Svetaeva, which carries two helicopters. Aurora also offers scuba diving, kayaking, mountain climbing and camping.
Fathom Expeditions (www.fathomexpeditions.com) Offers small-ship voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Heritage Expeditions (www.heritage-expeditions.com) Operates the 48-passenger Spirit of Enderby, which carries two hovercraft. Heritage offers trips to New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic islands, Macquarie Island and the Ross Sea.
Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com) Operates the 110-passenger National Geographic Endeavour and the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer and offers kayaking.
Mountain Travel-Sobek (www.mtsobek.com) Sells several trips and offers kayaking.
Oceanwide Expeditions (www.oceanwide-expeditions.com) Offers trips on the 46-passenger Grigoriy Mikheev, the 46-passenger Aleksey Maryshev, the 52-passenger Professor Molchanov and the 52-passenger Professor Multanovskiy. Also offers scuba diving.
Quark Expeditions (www.quark-expeditions.com) Offers trips to the Ross Sea aboard the powerful Russian-flagged, helicopter-equipped, 112-passenger icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, and a variety of trips to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia on Akademik Ioffe (109 passengers), Akademik Sergey Vavilov (104 passengers), Clipper Adventurer (122 passengers), Ocean Nova (68 passengers), Orlova (110 passengers) and Akademik Shokalskiy (48 passengers).
Rederij Bark Europa BV (www.barkeuropa.com) Operates the three-masted barque Europa with a professional crew of 14 plus 48 ‘voyage crewmembers.’ WildWings/WildOceans Travel (www.wildwings.co.uk) Operates bird- and wildlife-focused tours to Antarctica.
Zegrahm Expeditions (www.zeco.com) Offers cruises on several different vessels.
A small but growing handful of visitors reach Antarctica aboard private vessels. All are sailboats (although obviously equipped with auxiliary engines), and some have even wintered in sheltered anchorages such as Yankee Harbor at Greenwich Island or near Palmer station on the Peninsula. In three decades of Antarctic cruising, there have been about 200 yacht voyages to The Ice. For some reason, this type of travel particularly seems to appeal to the French, who have made up the majority of yacht visitors to Antarctica. Several hundred fare-paying passengers visit Antarctica by yacht each year.
Although the national Antarctic programs cannot regulate yacht tourism, since Antarctica is open to everyone, research stations are no longer instantly hospitable whenever a yacht turns up on their doorstep. Where once they welcomed the rare visitors from the outside world, these days the traffic is so heavy at most stations that advance notice of several weeks or even months is required for a station tour; there are some exceptions, mainly at stations operated by countries with smaller operations in Antarctica.
Visitors to Antarctica on yachts must follow the same rules as those visiting aboard cruise ships.
Sailing to Antarctica is not something one undertakes lightly. An old sailor’s adage has it that ‘Beyond 40°S, there is no law… Beyond 50°S, there is no God.’ And, by tradition, writes Alan Gurney in Below the Convergence (Norton, 1997) : ‘Those who have rounded Cape Horn under sail can take their after-dinner drink with one foot upon the table; those who have sailed across the polar circles can drink with both feet upon the table.’
It would be unwise to attempt to sail to Antarctica without taking one – or, better, both – of the following books: The Antarctic Pilot, 6th edition (2004), published by Britain’s Hydrographer of the Navy; and Sailing Directions (Planning Guide & Enroute) for Antarctica, 6th edition (2007), published by the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The Antarctic Pilot (US$160) is superior, with more comprehensive entries, color photos and a hardcover binding, which Sailing Directions (US$26) lacks. Both are available from New York Nautical (www.newyorknautical.com).
Anyone considering a yacht voyage to Antarctica should also read Sally and Jérôme Poncet’s excellent 160-page book, Southern Ocean Cruising. This guide, first published in 1991 and re-edited in 2007, is available from the publisher, Environmental Research & Assessment (www.era.gs) or from Sally Poncet (500-21826; Beaver Island, c/o Post Office Stanley, Falkland Islands FIQQ 1ZZ United Kingdom).
A number of yachts sail to the Antarctic regularly, most from Ushuaia or Stanley. They primarily charter to private expeditions and commercial groups such as film crews but most also take fare-paying participants who help with sailing.
Commitment (www.tonymowbray.com.au) This 18m fiberglass schooner skippered by Tony Mowbray accommodates six participants.
Evohe (www.evohe.com) This 25m steel ketch skippered by Steve Kafka accommodates 12 participants.
Fernande (www.fernandexp.com) This 21m aluminum ketch skippered by Pascal Grinberg accommodates ten participants.
Golden Fleece (www.horizon.co.fk/goldenfleecexp) This 19.5m steel schooner accommodating eight passengers is skippered by Jérôme Poncet, the world’s most experienced Antarctic yachtsman. IAATO member.
Kotick (www.kotick.net) Alain and Claudine Caradec skipper this 15.8m steel sloop that accommodates five participants. IAATO member.
Le Sourire (www.lesourire.com.ar) This 19.6m aluminum cutter skippered by Hugues Delignières and Marie Paul Guillaumot accommodates eight participants. IAATO member.
Northanger (www.northanger.org) This 15.6m steel ketch, owned and operated by Greg Landreth and Keri Pashuk, accommodates four participants.
Ocean Expeditions (www.ocean-expeditions.com) Skippers Roger Wallis and Ben Wallis operate two yachts: Australis, a 23m steel motor sailor (nine passengers) and Philos, a 14m steel schooner (five passengers). IAATO member.
Pelagic Expeditions Ltd (www.pelagic.co.uk) Managed by Skip Novak, it operates two vessels: Pelagic, a 16.5m six-passenger steel sloop; and Pelagic Australis, a 23m 10-passenger aluminum sloop. IAATO member.
Sarah W Vorwerk (www.sarahvorwerk.com) This 16m steel sloop skippered by Henk Boersma and Jacqueline Haas accommodates eight participants.
Seal (www.expeditionsail.com) This 17m aluminum cutter skippered by Hamish and Kate Laird accommodates six participants. IAATO member.
Spirit of Sydney Expeditions (www.spiritofsydney.net) Operates Spirit of Sydney, an 18m aluminum cutter accommodating eight participants, and Paratii2, a 29m aluminum aero-rig schooner accommodating 12 participants. Skippers Cath Hew, Darrel Day, Wayne Tyrril and Ben Tucker alternate between the boats. IAATO member.
Tiama (www.tiama.com) This 15.2m steel cutter owned and skippered by Henk Haazen, accommodates six participants. IAATO member.
Tooluka (www.tooluka.com) This 14.2m steel sloop skippered by Eef Willems accommodates six participants.
Turismo Sea, Ice & Mountain Adventures (www.simltd.com) Operated by Wolf Kloss and Jeannete Talavera, it has two vessels: Santa Maria, a 14.7m steel sloop carrying five participants, and Santa Maria Australis, a 20.2m aluminum ketch carrying nine participants. IAATO member.
Unicornio (www.unicornioexpeditions.com) This 11m fiberglass sloop skippered by Julio Brunet accommodates four participants.
Vaihéré (www.vaihere.com) This 23.9m steel schooner skippered by Eric Dupuis accommodates ten participants. IAATO member.
Xplore (www.xplore-expeditions.com) This 20.4m steel cutter-rigged sloop skippered by Stephen Wilkins accommodates eight participants. IAATO member.
The 110-passenger French resupply ship Marion Dufresne II visits France’s Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises to deliver personnel and provisions to the three research stations there. Since 1994 the territory’s administration has allowed a small number of tourists to travel on the resupply voyages. About 30 people visit the French sub-Antarctic this way each year. The voyages last about a month and sail from Réunion in the western Indian Ocean. The amount of time spent at the islands depends on how long is required to load and unload goods and people at the station. To safeguard the islands’ environments, guides accompany tourists on landings. At Îles Kerguelen, tourists can stay overnight at Port-aux-Français station and go on hikes of up to several days’ duration, staying overnight in small refuges including at Port-Jeanne d’Arc. Fares start at €5350; bookings are handled by the Paris travel agency Mer et Voyages (www.mer-et-voyages.com in French).
Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE; www.antarctic-logistics.com) in 2003 acquired the pioneering tour operator Adventure Network International (ANI), which was the first company to offer flights to Antarctica’s interior and operated for 18 seasons.
Using Ilyushin IL76 aircraft, ALE flies guests 4½ hours from Punta Arenas, Chile to their camp at Patriot Hills to get acclimated to Antarctica’s altitude and cold before heading off to other points. The camp offers accommodations for 60 guests in large insulated tents. Primitive hot-water showers are available and a physician is on staff. A wind generator and solar panels generate all camp power.
From Patriot Hills, ski-equipped Twin Otter aircraft fly to such destinations as an emperor penguin rookery (US$40, 450) or Vinson Massif, on which guided climbs cost US$31, 500. The ‘South Pole Fly-In’ features four hours at 90° S and costs US$35, 000; a guided 65-day trip, skiing 1175km from the edge of the continent to the Pole, costs US$61, 950. ALE is an IAATO member.
The Antarctic Company (TAC; www.antarctic-company.com), founded in 2004, provides support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private expeditions and adventure travelers to the interior of Antarctica (mostly East Antarctica).
Clients can stay either in large heated tents or in TAC’s four-building wooden guesthouse complex located 400m from Novolazarevskaya. Building One has a kitchen, dining room, toilet room, shower, a double bedroom and a dorm room for eight guests. Building Two has two double rooms, two single rooms, a room for four guests and a toilet room. There is also a cafeteria/canteen with a dining/sitting room and a toilet room, while another very handsome wooden building houses a Russian-style banya (sauna).
TAC’s standard programs include trips to Queen Maud Land (three-day trips begin at about €15, 750 – and longer trips are available). Three-day ‘fly-in South Pole’ trips cost €32, 000.
‘Ski to the South Pole’ trips, starting at the Filchner Ice Shelf and covering 968km in approximately 60 days, cost €45, 000. Ten-day, 110km trips where clients ski the ‘last degree’ to the South Pole from 89°S, cost €40, 000. Emperor penguin photo-safaris cost €23, 500.
The company’s operational season begins at the end of October and finishes around the end of February, with an interruption of intercontinental flights from the second half of December until the end of January due to melting of ice on the Novo Airbase runway. Feeder flights to destinations within Antarctica are performed by ski-equipped Basler Turbo 67 aircraft during the entire season.
White Desert (www.white-desert.com) flies guests in a 12-passenger Gulfstream G-IV private jet the 5½ hours from Cape Town to the same destination as TAC, Novo Airbase in Queen Maud Land. The company also uses a Ilyushin IL76 aircraft flying six hours from Cape Town to Novo, sharing space with scientists going to remote stations.
White Desert sets up its temporary Whichaway Camp, described as having ‘the old world opulence of African safaris, ’ and dismantles it at the end of each season. Located a few kilometers from Novo airbase, Whichaway is powered exclusively by wind and solar energy. The main living area comprises two large dome tents which house a dining room, library, kitchen and communications center. Five sleeping tents, each heated by its own stove, are each shared by two clients. A wash tent has a shower room and there is a separate wooden Finnish sauna.
White Desert operates four 10-day trips per season with only 10 clients on each. After arrival at Whichaway, clients depart for either the wildlife option (€32, 000), including a DC-3 flight to an emperor penguin rookery, or the adventure option (€28, 000), a DC-3 flight to nearby mountains for ice and rock climbing, abseiling, kite-skiing and ice-caving; one guest even flew his own hot air balloon.
Chilean regional airline Aerovías DAP (www.dap.cl) flies from Punta Arenas to Frei station several times a month during the summer, using twin-engine Beechcraft King Air turboprops (10 passengers) and four-engine BAE-146 aircraft (80 passengers). As always, the weather can be very uncooperative, and it may take several days before a flight can be made; sometimes flights must be canceled after five or six weather delays. Aerovías DAP offers one-day programs (US$2950), and two-day, one-night stays (US$3950; King Air flights only) at what DAP calls ‘our own refuge’ at Frei, made from modified shipping containers, with five rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen.
AntarcticaXXI (www.antarcticaxxi.com) flies from Punta Arenas, Chile 1½ hours to Frei station using four-engine BAE-146 aircraft (50 passengers). Passengers transfer to the 46-passenger ship Grigoriy Mikheev for several days of cruising in the South Shetlands and Peninsula region before their return flight. Fares begin at US$7600. The company is an IAATO member.
Day-long flights over the continent on a Boeing 747-400 are offered once or twice a year between the months of December and February by Australia’s Qantas airlines. Contact Croydon Travel (www.antarcticaflights.com.au). Prices begin at A$2199 for economy premium (not over a wing); A$1399, economy standard (over a wing); and A$999, economy center. All seats, except economy center, rotate. For more information, see the Continent in a Day, above.