Most tour prices are all-inclusive, but at the last moment some deals can be had. This is your chance to bargain.
Antarctica is synonymous with cold, thanks to its polar location, high elevation, lack of a protective, water-vapor-filled atmosphere, and permanent ice cover (which reflects about 80% of the sun’s radiation back into space). The Antarctic Peninsula is warmest year-round.
Mean temperature in Antarctic interior -40°C to -70°C in coldest month; -15°C to -35°C in warmest month.
Coastal temperature -15°C to -32°C in winter; 5°C to -5°C in summer.
Precipitation Antarctica’s interior, despite its ice cap, is the world’s driest desert, since the extreme cold freezes water vapor out of the air. Annual snowfall on the polar plateau is equivalent to less than 5cm of rain. Antarctic blizzards are common, but are usually violently blown snow which has fallen over years and never melted, not falling snow.
Wind Antarctica experiences the strongest winds on Earth because of katabatics caused by denser, colder air rushing down off the polar plateau to the coast. These achieve velocities of up to 320km/h. Winds on the plateau, by contrast, are usually very light.
Dangers & Annoyances
Shipboard Each ship has its own type of electricity based on its country of origin; check with the tour operator before buying converters. Many ships are Russian, and use 220V, 50Hz, with electrical sockets accommodating the standard European two round-pin plug.
Argentina 220V/50Hz; V-shaped flat prongs and round-pin European-style prongs
Chile 220V/50Hz; round-pin European-style prongs
Falkland Islands 220V/50Hz; straight, flat, British-style prongs
Entry & Exit Formalities
No single government controls Antarctica, so visitors do not need visas; visas may be required, however, for countries visited before or after a cruise.
Check the regulations of your gateway countries; those are the ones that apply.
It is prohibited to bring alien species to Antarctica or to take anything from the environment when you leave.
No single government controls Antarctica, so visitors do not need visas. All tour operators, yachts, researchers and independent expeditioners of countries that are signatories of the Antarctic Treaty must have a permit from their country (permit rules vary).
- Cruise-ship passengers are covered under permits applied for by the operator.
- Japanese nationals must register with their Ministry of the Environment if they are on a tour authorized by any country other than Japan.
- Yacht passengers/crew, expeditioners, researchers and anyone visiting by air should check with their national government to ensure their paperwork is in order.
If uncertain about your status, check with your tour operator. Also, you may need visas for countries you visit before/after your cruise.
On the Ice, carefully follow all of the Guidelines for Visitors to the Antarctic.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
If in doubt that gay and lesbian travelers are welcome, check with your tour operator to get the feel of what the social scene is like on your prospective cruise.
Travel insurance is highly recommended as cancellation penalties are stiff and medical evacuations costly. Most tour companies offer supplemental insurance (check with your operator). Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road. Always check the insurance fine print: often known medical conditions are not covered.
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov) Lists medical evacuation and travel insurance companies.
Checking insurance quotes…
Ships offer different services: some have in-cabin wi-fi, others use a common computer for web access for a fee (eg €35 per 100 minutes). Some tour companies offer internet cards for pre-purchase and some offer free text-only email accounts. Ask your operator. Speed is slower than on land, and coverage can break up based on location and weather/atmospheric conditions.
Antarctica Satellite Map The National Geographic Society sells a detailed digital mosaic of 4500 satellite scans with up-to-date information.
Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (www.comnap.aq) Has an interactive base map.
Graham Land and South Shetlands Islands The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust has the best visitors’ map for the Antarctic Peninsula (UK£12). Reverse-side Scotia Sea (1:4 million), shows southern Tierra del Fuego, Falkland Islands, South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia and northern Antarctic Peninsula. Also good: Brabant Islands to Argentine Islands (UK£10). Available through UKAHT and at Port Lockroy.
Ocean Explorer series Includes Antarctica, South Georgia and Falkland Islands (each US$12).
Satellite images (downloadable) http://lima.usgs.gov
Each ship runs its onboard economy differently, but in general you sign for items and pay at the end of the trip. These bills can usually be settled with cash, traveler’s checks or credit cards; check with your operator.
ATMs/banks No access in Antarctica; take cash and credit cards.
Bases National currency or US dollars, euros and British pounds.
Currencies on land Chile and Argentina each have their own currency (with the same name: peso). Falkland Islands uses British pound (£) or local pound (FK£).
Tipping Some tips are included in some cruises (check with your operator). Although optional, when not included in your fare, it’s considered appropriate to tip crew and staff for good service. Near the end of the voyage most tour operators distribute guidelines (eg US$10 to US$15 per day).
Since there are no banks or currency exchanges in Antarctica, you will simply be at the mercy of your tour operator's exchange rates for anything related to cash, or your credit card company's fees for overseas transactions. Check ahead.
Some tips are included in some cruises (check with your operator). Although optional, when not included in your fare, it’s considered appropriate to tip crew and staff for good service. Near the end of the voyage most tour operators distribute guidelines (eg US$10 to US$15 per day).
The services on board your cruise ship will have their own opening hours which the operator will tell you.
Send postcards (to others or yourself!) from Antarctica for the novelty, understanding that service is slow (often two to three months). Some stations don’t accept tourist mail.
Antarctica has no set public holidays, but bases and cruise ships will celebrate the major holidays of their nation.
- Smoking Check with your tour operator about their policies and facilities for smokers. Never leave cigarette butts in Antarctica.
Ship communications use International Maritime Satellite (INMARSAT), often for a significant fee ($5 to $8 per minute). Coverage can be disrupted based on location and weather/atmospheric conditions. Iridium phones also work in Antarctica. Standard mobile phones don’t work at sea or in Antarctica. Ask your operator.
Standard mobile phones don’t work in Antarctica. Ships offer satellite communications for steep fees; service varies based on location and weather conditions.
There are no time zones in Antarctica. The summer sun stays up as long as 20 hours a day; in winter it’s the reverse. Most ships’ clocks are based on ports of departure/disembarkation.
Argentina GMT/UTC minus three hours
Chile GMT/UTC minus four hours
Tourist ships and Antarctic bases are equipped with toilets. Follow all rules stringently so that the Antarctic environment is protected.
All tour operators provide visitors with information on their journey. Many also offer lectures on Antarctic topics while underway so that visitors make the most of their cruise. International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators offers a wealth of information as well, as do national polar programs, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.nzaht.org).
Travel with Children
Children are still relatively rare visitors to Antarctica. Antarctica’s amazing landscapes and abundant wildlife are exciting for young people, but sea time can be tedious. Help children learn about Antarctic topics before and during the voyage and encourage them to question ship staff. Meredith Hooper is a great author of children’s Antarctic stories.
Travellers with Disabilities
The physical challenges of shipboard life, Zodiac boats and icy landing sites can make Antarctica difficult for everyone, no matter their physical limitations. Nevertheless, disabled travelers may be able to make special arrangements with a tour operator, especially if an able-bodied traveler accompanies them. Check with tour operators to see whether they can meet your needs (some ships, for example, have elevators and helicopters).
There are no volunteering opportunities in Antarctica to speak of for the layperson. The scientifically trained can come with permitted science projects, potentially as volunteers; check directly with science groups or universities, such as the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (http://caslabs.case.edu/ansmet/).
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is the dominant form of weights and measures used in Antarctica.
Scientists usually go to Antarctica on specific research proposals. Support personnel are selected by national programs (usually hiring only citizens or work-eligible people). Contact your country’s national Antarctic program. The US is Antarctica’s largest employer; personnel are hired by private contractor Lockheed Martin (www.lockheedmartin.com) through Leidos (www.leidos.com). It recruits about 600 people for US bases, from chefs, clerks and hairstylists to construction workers.