LAN is the best bet for Buenos Aires; purchase tickets through local travel agencies. Aerolíneas Argentinas jets to Buenos Aires (one way 3½ hours) several times daily, sometimes stopping in El Calafate (70 minutes).
LADE flies to Buenos Aires, El Calafate and Río Grande, and may serve other destinations.
A few private yachts charter trips around the Beagle Channel, to Cape Horn and Antarctica. These trips must be organized well in advance.
For Puerto Williams (Chile), Ushuaia Boating goes daily in Zodiac boats. Tickets include a 40-minute crossing plus an overland transfer from Puerto Navarino. Note: inclement weather often means cancellations. Options include a 9:30am departure and sometimes (with sufficient demand) a 6pm departure. Another option to Puerto Williams is offered by Piratour.
A small tasa de embarque (departure tax) is paid at the pier.
Antarctica: the Ice
For many travelers, a journey to Antarctica represents a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Despite its high price tag, it's much more than just a continent to tick off your list. You will witness both land and ice shelves piled with hundreds of meters of undulating, untouched snow. Glaciers drop from mountainsides and icebergs form sculptures as tall as buildings. The wildlife is thrilling, with thousands of curious penguins and an extraordinary variety of flying birds, seals and whales.
More than 90% of Antarctic-bound boats pass through Ushuaia; in the 2014–15 season, that meant almost 40,000 tourists – a stunning contrast to the continent’s population of 5000 (summer) or 1200 (winter), consisting of scientists and staff. But travel here is not without its costs. On November 23, 2007, the hull of the MV Explorer was gashed by ice, but the ship was evacuated before it sank. The circumstances were highly unusual, although the incident prompted further safety measures.
So long as you’ve got a couple of weeks to spare, hopping on board a cruise ship is not out of the question. Some voyages take in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia (human population 10 to 20, estimated penguin population two to three million); some go just to the Antarctic Peninsula; others focus on retracing historic expeditions. A small but growing handful of visitors reach Antarctica aboard private vessels. All are sailboats (equipped with auxiliary engines).
The season runs from mid-October to mid-March, depending on ice conditions. It used to be that just peak-season voyages sold out, but now most trips do. When shopping around, ask how many days you will actually spend in Antarctica – keep in mind that crossing the Southern Ocean takes up to two days each way – and how many landings there will be. The smaller the ship, the more landings there are per passenger (always depending on the weather, of course). Tour companies charge from US$7000 to US$70,000, although some ships allow walk-ons, which can cost as little as US$5000 for 10 days. Required insurance costs extra (around US$800). Check to see if your ship provides outdoor clothing.
Due to Ushuaia’s proximity to the Antarctic Peninsula, most cruises leave from here. If you are chasing the discounts, it's best to check in with agencies a few weeks in advance, once you're actually in South America. Last-minute bookings can be made through the helpful crew at Freestyle Adventure Travel, a 1% for the Planet member that also offers discount Cape Horn trips, and Ushuaia Turismo. Other travel agencies and tour operators offering packages include Rumbo Sur, All Patagonia and Canal Fun, though there are many more.
Check that your company is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO; www.iaato.org), which mandates strict guidelines for responsible travel to Antarctica. The following are just a few companies that go to Antarctica:
Adventure Associates Cruise Australia’s first tour company to Antarctica, with many ships and destinations.
National Geographic Expeditions Highly recommended, with quality naturalists and experts, and the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer.
Peregrine Adventures Offers unique trips that include visiting the Antarctic Circle, with kayaking and camping options.
WildWings Travel UK-based company that focuses on bird watching and wildlife in Antarctica.
Check http://polarconservation.org for up-to-date information and articles. In Ushuaia, consult the very helpful Oficina Antárctica at the pier.
Ushuaia has no bus terminal. Book outgoing bus tickets as far in advance as possible; many readers have complained about getting stuck here in high season. Depending on your luck, long waits at border crossings can be expected.
Bus Sur has buses to Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales (Chile) three times weekly at 8am, connecting with Montiel services. It shares an office with Turismo Comapa, which also does tours and runs ferries in Chile.
Tecni-Austral buses head daily to Río Grande and Río Gallegos via Tolhuin, and to Punta Arenas three times weekly. Taqsa also has 7am buses to Río Grande and Rio Gallegos via Tolhuin; buses to Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales three times weekly; and buses to Río Gallegos, El Calafate and Bariloche daily.
Buses from Ushuaia
Punta Arenas, Chile