Barren, cold and unwelcoming – this is how the continent of Antarctica may appear to the wary traveller. But beyond its icy exterior lies a fascinating part of the planet that remains virtually unseen by most people; welcoming only 30,000 visitors a year. Its landscape is dominated by imposing icebergs carved into different shapes, glaciers that overflow into the sea and miles of remote icy fields. And although the severity of its climate isn’t made for humans, some exotic animals call it home. Among them are colonies of penguins, fur seals and humpback whales.

This vast continent was once described by Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton as “the last great journey left to man”, and flights to Antarctica are virtually non-existent  so determined travellers will have to arrange to take a flight to Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile and then  embark on a two-day voyage aboard a private yacht. Alternatively, flightseeing provides a good option for those who want to see the continent from high above without having to get down and brave the cold.

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Antarctica climate

Summer (late November to March) is the only time when tourists can visit Antarctica and even then temperatures are close to freezing along the coastal regions. The interior plateau is much colder due to its higher elevation and distance from the sea. The Antarctic Peninsula has the most moderate climate, with temperatures averaging from 5-15 degree Celsius to 16 degrees Celsius). December and January are the warmest months and can have up to 20 hours of sunshine a day, while in winter it is dark almost 24 hours a day with temperatures falling well below -60 degrees Celsius), and the surrounding ice pack makes access by ship out of the question. To view mating rituals among the seabirds and penguins, November is the best month, while December and January are the height of the tourist season and when penguin colonies are feeding their newborn chicks. The best time to see whales is during February and March.

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When to fly to Antarctica

Peak season:
One of the great wildernesses, Antarctica does not have a “peak season”, however, it is only possible to take a flight to Antarctica between November and March due to the temperature.

Off season:
April to October.

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Getting around Antarctica

The only means of transportation in Antarctica are Zodiacs, large rubber inflatable boats. Wearing waterproof shoes is a must – feet almost always get wet when disembarking. Each boat holds about 12 people. Wrap up warm as you are exposed to the cold.

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Antarctica insider information

  • The most popular way to see the vast white continent is on a cruise. This provides some luxury and also means that tourists can see all of the main sights with ease on one trip. Experts on board the ships can provide all the information you need on anything you’ve seen – from penguins to polar exploration.
  • Deception Island is in the South Shetland island group and is created from a collapsed volcanic cone. The island is a horseshoe shape and ships can enter through one small break in the walls. There are hot springs, as well as an abandoned whaling station and a colony of chinstrap penguins.
  • Nearby is Petermann Island, home to blue-eyed shags, a member of the cormorant family, and Adelie and Gentoo penguins.
  • Cruises to the Ross Sea tend to be more expensive – and colder – than cruises round the South Shetland islands. The starting point will be New Zealand or Australia. The Ross Ice Shelf is, as its name suggests, a giant floating shelf of ice. The largest ice shelf in Antarctica, it covers an area the size of France, and is 1,000 metres (3,281 feet) deep at its thickest. Cape Evans Hut on Ross Island is the most famous of the huts used by Scott and his team.
  • Deciding what to pack for an Antarctic excursion can be tricky. It is always better to wear lots of small layers than one big jumper. If your outside layer gets too wet, then you can simply swap it for another one. Waterproof jackets and over-trousers are essential, as are waterproof gloves and a warm hat.

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Passport/Visa

As no one owns the Antarctic continent, no visitors require a visa or passport, however a valid passport will be required for any stops en route, and visas and passports may be needed for points of departure. Most Western countries are signatories of the Antarctica Treaty and those wishing to visit Antarctica independently must obtain a permit.

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Oonagh Shiel
Content Manager at Cheapflights whose travel life can be best summed up as BC (before children) and PC (post children). We only travel during the school holidays so short-haul trips and staycations are our specialities!
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    In-flight reading

    Antarctica

    Kim Stanley RobinsonSci-fi adventure set in the Antarctica of 2010.

    Antarctica: Both Heaven and Hell

    Reinhold MessnerAccount of the explorer’s 92-day trek through the continent in 1990, accompanied by some stunning photographs.

    Antarctica Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide

    Tony SoperAn illustrated guide to the wildlife of the continent.

    End of the Earth: Voyaging to Antarctica

    Peter MatthiessenFascinating travelogue about the author’s trip to the continent, and a consideration of the effects of global warming.

    Antarctica: The Blue Continent

    Lynn Woodworth and David McGonigalExcellent book that explores Antarctica’s wildlife, geography, environment and nature.

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