Trips to Antarctica

A little zodiac brings Antarctica tourists in touching distance of a whale

Travelling to the White Continent has been called the ultimate dream adventure. For many people, the dream has – or will – come true by way of trips to Antarctica that various tour operators provide.

The weather plays a vital role in maximizing the South Pole travel experience, so tours are normally carried out between the months of November and March when the temperatures are warmer than usual and daylight lasts almost 24 hours for a couple of months. Various activities both onshore and offshore are available to travellers during this time.

Viewing wild animals in their natural habitat is one of the more popular activities. Leopard seals, whales, orcas, and various birds like albatrosses and penguins are some of the attractions. Camping and visits to historic sites and scientific research stations are also on the agenda of some tours. For the more adventurous traveller, cruise expedition packages may include activities such as mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, kayaking, and diving.

It is estimated that around 33,368 tourists will make trips to Antarctica during the 2010-2011 season, travelling to and in the region via sea or air. Certain ships called icebreakers carry helicopters, which travellers can ride in and view certain parts of the Antarctic from up above. However, oceangoing vessels remain the most popular choice for tourists.

Ms Veendam from Holland America Line with iceberg in background

Some large ships such as Holland America Line’s Amsterdam and Veendam, which can carry more than 1,000 passengers, conduct only sightseeing cruises – meaning guests aren’t allowed to set foot on land.

MS Fram icebreaker cruising through Antarctica's ice bergs (Hurtigruten Line)

On the other hand, smaller cruise ships like Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Explorer and Hurtigruten’s Fram usually offer land expeditions and tours. Yachts are also popular options, though concerns are being raised about how a number of private yachts are operating without proper authorization, their lack of emergency preparedness, and the harm that their operation may inflict on the environment and historic sites.

An environmentally responsible and safe way to go on trips to Antarctica would be to use a tour provider that is a member of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). The organization promotes environment-friendly tourism and counts more than 100 tour companies among its members, which include operators such as Lindblad Expeditions, Princess Cruises, and Travel Dynamics International.