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How to Visit Antarctica: 5 Ways of Getting to the Bottom of the World

antartica icebergs
David Duran/The Manual

If you’ve ever dreamed of traveling to Antarctica but have no idea as to how to make it happen or where to even start, we’ve broken it down for you to help you plan your epic adventure to the seventh continent. Whether you are a budget traveler or have income to spare, there are options for everyone, depending on how much time you have on your hands. There’s even a day-trip option for those who just want to knock it off their bucket list without having to spend days on a ship. However you decide to get there, we hope to inspire you to learn more about one of the most remote parts of the world.

Hop on an Icebreaker

antartica icebergs
David Duran/The Manual

Before the boom in Antarctica tourism, you may have heard tales of people making their Ushuaia, Argentina, also known as the “end of the world,” which also happens to be the starting point for many Antarctica-bound ships. Backpackers and penny pinchers would go to the docks and offer money to mostly Russian ice-breakers that were headed towards Antarctica on their way to drop off supplies, or which were continuing to another destination for whatever reason. These ships are not meant for tourism and are therefore not at all comfortable, and you might even find yourself bunking in a room with some hard-working yet unfriendly sailors. This is by no means the best way to see the 7th continent, but during its peak popularity, it was the cheapest way to get there. But since you are on a working ship, don’t expect any stops or even narration as to where you are during the experience. In recent years, this type of travel has mostly been restricted to very limited spots and if you think you are the only person with the brilliant idea of jumping on a Russian icebreaker, you’d be sorely wrong. If you do plan to attempt this type of travel, know that it can at times take weeks to find space on a ship, and since there is such a demand, what used to cost barely nothing, has turned into a bidding war for space.

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Hope for a No-Show

Another option for budget seekers with time is to again, make their way to Ushuaia and knock on the door of ever tour operator you can find. Rarely, but at times, you can jump on a ship at the last minute, taking over a cabin that either wasn’t sold or has a no-show for someone who suffered a major delay and is unable to make the trip in time. Some operators sell the cabins at a reduced price due to it being last minute. That being said, the more well-known companies are steering away from doing this as guests who have paid the big bucks don’t appreciate knowing that someone could walk up to the ship the day of departure and pay about half of what they paid (which is still in the thousands).

Take a Cruise

When it comes to tourism trips to the continent, there are two options to choose from. The first is a standard cruise on a massive ship with lots of people. These larger passenger ships are billed as Antarctic experiences as they get you as close to the peninsula as possible but rarely go further south due to the size of the ship and its inability to maneuver through ice sheets. Additionally, if the ship can dock, due to the capacity of the ship, not everyone is able to step foot on land as there are strict guidelines as to the number of people per vessel that can step foot on the continent per day. These cruises can be much less expensive than the second and more desirable option, the expedition cruise.

Embark on an Expedition

If you’ve dreamed of making it to Antarctica and you’ve saved up your hard-earned money, an expedition-style cruise on a small passenger ship is your best option. These small ships tend to max out at 150 guest, making the experience a lot more intimate, which means you will have more time to step foot on the continent and take part in activities like kayaking. National Geographic Expeditions, in partnership with Lindblad Expeditions offers some of the best tours to Antarctica. Not only are you being catered to on a small ship with like-minded travelers, but you are also joined by a team of biologists, geologists, and undersea specialists who will offer insights and engaging presentations throughout the trip. In addition, each expedition has an onboard photo instructor and National Geographic photographer to ensure you are taking the very best images. National Geographic Expeditions offers 4 sailing options starting at $15,000, $18,000, $25,000, and $48,000, respectively.

A Private Experience

One of the benefits of traveling to Antarctica by private jet is how much travel time you’ll be able to shave off since traveling to the continent via boat takes at least four days, while a jet can get you there in a matter of hours from Chile or South Africa (not to mention skipping the seasickness). Plus, imagine the views of the icebergs from above. At the moment, there are no commercial flights to Antarctica, so if you plan on flying, private is the only way to do so. White Desert Antarctica is one of the premiere services offering flights to the continent. Travelers fly deep into the heart of the ice pack and stay at White Desert’s private camp before heading out for any number of adventures, like checking out a colony of Emperor penguins or visiting the research station at the South Pole. Getting to one of the world’s most remote continents isn’t cheap and will cost you around $100,000. The company also offers a 24-hour trip from Cape Town on an excursion they call “The Greatest Day.” Twelve passengers fly over icebergs to the land of continual sunshine, landing at the base of Wolf Fang peak, a stunning geological formation of jagged kilometer-tall rocks rising out of the ice-laden landscape. A hike to a lookout point is finished off with a champagne picnic at one of the most remote places on earth, and before 24 hours is up, you’re back in the warmth of the African continent. The 24-hour adventure costs approximately $14,000.

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