Penguins in Antarctica

For many adventurous travelers, Antarctica is the ultimate destination. Few people get to visit this region, which feels like the very edge of the world. But, for those lucky enough to do so, it’s often a life-changing, memorable experience. If you’re currently planning (or thinking about planning) a trip to Antarctica, here are our top 10 things you should know before you go. 

1. There are two ways to get to Antarctica 

There isn’t exactly an international airport that you can land in when getting to Antarctica. In fact, it’s actually quite challenging to get to Antarctica, and you basically have two options: by plane or by boat. 

Most people choose to take an expedition ship into Drake’s Passage, which can take one to two days. After which, most expedition ships give the passengers between 6-12 days on the continent. 

The more direct, faster option is to fly directly into Antarctica via a charter plane. However, this option is notably much more expensive than traveling via ship. 

Overall, we recommend choosing the expedition ship. You get to elongate the trip as you sail closer to the continent and take in the beautiful scenery. 

Penguins in Antarctica with a cruise ship in the background.

2. Be prepared for seasickness

If you choose to travel by ship, be prepared for potentially experiencing seasickness. Anyone who goes on a cruise knows there’s potential for seasickness. Drake’s Passage has a relatively high risk of being a bumpy journey, as the swell can get up to 15 meters. As you’re going to be spending several days at sea, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Bring medications like Benadryl or Dramamine, a transdermal scopolamine patch, and natural options like ginger candy or ginger tablets. After all, you paid a lot of money for this trip, so you won’t want to spend the entire journey down in your cabin! 

Large ocean waves crashing against a boat

3. Pack the right clothing

Most people are surprised to learn that Antarctica isn’t quite as cold as they think. Temperatures can get as low as -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees F) deeper into the continent, but along the coastline where you’ll be, the temperature is much warmer. Tourists can only visit Antarctica between the summer months for the continent (October to March) and are exposed to much more stable temperatures.

Still, you want to make sure you’re adequately prepared. You can look up average temperatures for the months you’re visiting, but generally speaking, travelers should be ready to experience temperatures between 0 to -15 degrees Celsius. You should do some research into what to pack, but some of the most essential items are:

  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Warm Parka
  • Waterproof Pants
  • Warm Gloves and Liner Gloves
  • Warm Fleece
  • Thermal Socks
  • Hiking Boots
  • Thermal Beanie
  • Thermal Headband
  • Face Scarf
  • UV Sunglasses

Remember that most tour operators have luggage limits, so you’ll have to make sure you don’t overpack. The key is to pack smartly and think about layering!

A stack of wool scarves and sweaters

4. Book in advance

In your own inner circle, it may feel like nobody travels to Antarctica, but it’s actually a pretty popular trip to take. But, this popular destination comes with some limitations. 

Tourists are only allowed to travel here between October and March, and ships carrying more than 500 people aren’t allowed to stop and let people get on land. Even for those that can stop, only groups of 100 at a time are allowed on the land. Additionally, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) regulates all tourism in Antarctica, including how often and for how long ships can stay at sites. 

All this is to say that spots to Antarctica book up quickly and you should be planning your visit in advance. Many Antarctica cruises sell out quite quickly and most travelers are told to book their visit one to two years in advance. 

Pro Tip: Book an excursion on a smaller vessel if you can. As there is a limit of 100 people on land at a time, the larger ships of 300-400 people send people out in groups, and the groups get less time for their excursion than smaller ships that don’t have to split up their time. 

5. Make time to explore Ushuaia

Ushuaia, Argentina, is known as the “End of the World” as its the southernmost tip of South America. Many people begin their trip to Antarctica through Ushuaia. But, we strongly recommend you don’t just see Ushuaia as a transition destination and take a few days to explore the region. After all, you may never return to the area again! Spend a few extra days here, enjoy the beautiful scenery, hit the ski slopes, and take a penguin tour. 

Ushuaia, Argentina

6. You’ll see plenty of animals… but no polar bears!

One of the main reasons people go to Antarctica is for the wildlife. The continent has over four species of penguins, six species of whales, six species of seals, and 46 species of birds. You’ll be able to see the wildlife both from the ship as you cruise and directly on land. However, one thing you won’t be seeing is polar bears. This surprises many people, but polar bears live in the Arctic. 

Two species of penguins in Antarctica

7. Be respectful of the wildlife and the environment

Speaking of the wildlife, it’s incredibly important that all visitors respect the land as much as possible. Antarctica is a heavily protected and researched region and visitors are expected to have a minimal impact on the ecosystem. 

Some of the general rules to follow are:

  • Do not walk on the plants (mostly grass, moss, and lichen). Some of these plants took months to grow and are an invaluable part of Antarctica’s ecosystem
  • If a penguin hops onto your boat, don’t “help” it off. It will manage on its own
  • Don’t direct a boat into a group of dolphins or whales
  • No firearms or explosives are allowed in Antarctica, as its a demilitarized zone
  • You are not allowed to take natural souvenirs, such as bones, rocks, feathers, eggs, etc.
  • Don’t leave behind trash or throw anything into the water
  • If you’re a smoker, you’ll have to collect your trash

These are just some of the many rules and suggested etiquette for visiting this natural region. Your tour guide will walk you through any additional rules you should know. 

A seal in Antarctica with a cruise ship in the background

8. You can step on the continent (with the right excursion)

For most travelers, getting to step onto Antarctica land is a crucial part of their trip. As we’ve mentioned, only ships with less than 500 passengers can allow travelers to stop and embark on ground. To be clear, this doesn’t mean larger ship vessels aren’t passing through. There are plenty of cruise ships that simply offer to sail close to the coastline without ever stopping.

If stepping on land is important to you, make sure you book a cruise that explicitly promises to allow that. 

Tourists sitting int he snow

9. Pack sunscreen

You’re going to a place of snow and ice, so you might be focused entirely on staying warm. But, one mistake many people make is forgetting to pack sunscreen. Antarctica gets a lot of sunlight and those rays can bounce right off the white snow. Additionally, during the summer months when you’re visiting, Antarctica gets 24 hours of daylight! So, the sun is there and it’s constant. Even if it seems like a cloudy day, it’s essential to wear sunscreen every day of your trip. 

A large iceberg in the water

10. Bring extra batteries, memory cards, and dry bags

There’s no doubt you’ll want to take endless pictures while you’re on this trip. Make sure you’re prepared and can capture every moment by packing extra batteries, memory cards, and dry bags. Batteries tend to run down quickly in the extreme cold, so you need a few spares. And, you’ll want to bring multiple memory cards and back everything up so you never have to stop taking pictures and videos. Lastly, dry bags are essential to store your electronic equipment, so it doesn’t accidentally get water-damaged. 

A backpack and camera equipment on the floor

With these tips, you should feel pretty confident about what to expect on a trip to Antarctica. So, get planning and make this once-in-a-lifetime trip happen!