Thinking of taking a trip to the chilly continent? Before you start planning, check out these handy tips.
There are SO many types of trip to Antarctica, so many different routes and durations that it can be really hard to choose. I would recommend looking well in advance of when you plan to go to get an idea of what sort of thing interests you and then look at ships/companies/agencies offer it and then ask to go on their mailing list to be kept up to date with any special offers or new offerings (and, let’s face it, the anticipation is always nice!).
Some things you may want to consider (not exhaustive!)
- How active do you want to be? Do you want to get out and do stuff on the ice or do you prefer to sit back and relax and photograph from the comfort of a zodiac or a ship? And if you want activities are the included in the price or extra? (NB included activities will save you money if you want to do them BUT be aware most people will want to do them if included so you will likely only get to try each activity once).
- How many other people are you happy to share your trip with? There are ships that take 12 people, 100 people up to several hundred people.
- What wildlife do you want to see? For instance, King Penguins can only be seen on the islands and not on the Antarctic mainland, so if you are set on seeing Kings your trip should take in the islands.
- What do you want to see the wildlife doing? And how do you want the continent to look? Snowy and white or colourfully rocky? These factors will determine what time of year to go. For instance penguins are mating in November, there are babies around Christmas and there is one very special week in March when parents abandoned the fledglings and the babies are now up for a cuddle. Lay down on the ground and wait for the magic to happen!!
- Price will be a consideration for most people too – the best advice I can give you here is that whatever you spend it will be worth it. My 12 days cost me $6,600USD and I can honestly say it is some of the best money I have ever spent and for me was worth twice that much. Being on the mailing list of target organisations can save you money if they have a special offer (for instance I got a twin share for the price of a quad share by doing this). You can also look for trips that include activities instead of charging extra or vice versa if you are not keen to do those. If you are alone you have the option of sharing a double, triple, quad cabin and they will pair you with someone of the same gender. My roomie was wonderful!!
- Can I save money by going last minute? Yes you can and Ushuaia, especially the hostel noticeboards, are full of cheap last minute offers. Be aware though that it will severely limit your choice of all of the above factors and the best trips are unlikely to be available as they are usually booked out well in advance. Personally I would narrow down the options for a few target trips and then monitor how they are selling. I would suggest one or two months out is going to be the optimal time for the best price for best trips. But if you are ONLY coming to do Antarctica and need to book a flight this may be false economy as what you win on the cruise you may lose on the flight!!
The Drake Passage is one of the roughest pieces of ocean in the world. Even if you don’t think you suffer from motion sickness, it is advisable to take a seasickness tablet 30 minutes before boarding- or at least 1 hour before hitting rough seas…but as this can be difficult to determine and as you may forget in all the excitement, it is safer to do it prior to boarding. There are non-drowsy meds available now that shouldn’t interfere with your journey and it is a LOT harder (almost impossible) to STOP seasickness once it has started and you are in the Drake Passage. Don’t bother with ginger, pressure bracelets or any other sort of natural remedy..they didn’t work for anyone on my ship and are not really intended for something as heavy duty as the Drake. To give you an idea, out of about 100 passengers, only about 10 of us appeared for breakfast the first morning of my journey. The other 90 were sick. On the trip before ours EVERYONE was sick, even the crew. This can be a merciless stretch so make it easy on yourself. If you can, try the tablets out before hand to see if they have any side effects.
– Book a cheaper room lower in the ship. The lower the deck the less movement and therefore less motion sickness. There is often no difference between the rooms except those on higher floors have bigger/picture windows rather than a porthole. And a porthole is sufficient!
– Ask to get your cabin allocated in advance. Try to get one with the beds facing across the ship (i.e. head-feet port-starbord rather than bow to stern). Most of the movement in the ship is side to side so if your bed is facing bow to stern that motion will make you feel like you are going to be thrown out of bed all night. Unpleasant and not good for a restful night.
– If you do end up with a bed facing bow to stern there is a trick to make it more stable. Take the life jacket you have been assigned (or any other pillowy object) and shove it under your mattress on the open side of the bed. This will at least stop you from rolling out of bed onto the floor!
What to take
Take plenty of warm clothes. Being warm will increase your enjoyment of the landings immeasurably. I would recommend a thick ski/boarding jacket, insulated pants, thermal underwear, 2 pairs of gloves (thin type for operating cameras and thick ski type for when not operating camera), a wool beanie (hat), several pairs of warm socks (they will get wet so good to have a few pairs so you can change them at lunch time while others dry). Under your thick jacket you should have thermals and then layers that can be removed if too warm. You can hire all this gear in Ushuaia so if doing as part of a longer trip, or if you don’t already own it, hiring it at the departure point is an option. I bargained and got a ski boarder’s jacket, pants and gloves for $80USD for 12 days.
Take a pair of thongs/flip-flops/jandals to wear in the shower. Not necessarily for protection against foot fungus but because they give you extra grip when the boat is rocking around during the drake. Some people on my ship just stopped showering because it was so slippery!
Binoculars are very useful for whale and bird spotting
A spare camera battery is a good idea as batteries go flat very quickly in that level of cold. Keeping your spare close to your body for warmth is a good idea and may help recharge a ‘dead’ battery for at least a few more precious shots. You will take a LOT of photos and videos. I took 1200 in 12 days so make sure you have enough capacity. Laptops are sometimes available on board so a pendrive may also be useful.
You could also think about taking a small game to play in the evenings. And maybe a hanky with a bit of elastic on the end to go around your wrist. Your nose will constantly be running from the cold and you can’t leave ANY rubbish behind…and it is very difficult to negotiate tissues out of packets and back into pockets when wearing gloves!
And one final bit of advice…if you go camping and you happen to go while there is a blizzard DON’T camp on sea ice…unless you want to end up as Orca bait!!
Now…what have I forgotten? If you have questions or tips for other travellers please comment below!!
I travelled on Oceanic Expeditions’ M/V Plancius on a “Basecamp” adventure in November 2013 and cannot speak highly enough of the ship, crew and expedition. From the incredible food, to the crew’s depth of knowledge and experience to the amazing activities offered, the whole experience went far beyond expectations. Highly recommended! When I win the lottery I will be back in a heartbeat!!