What’s the best time for Antarctica Travel?
Cruises operate to Antarctica between November and March, with the beginning and end of the season generally offering less expensive prices. Late December to mid-February is generally the peak season with the most expensive cruises. Each month offers something slightly different.
November to early December:
This is the time to see Antarctica at its most undisturbed. At this time of the year the landscape is abundant with pack ice and pristine icebergs. It is also generally colder and as the season goes on, the landing areas become impacted and muddy. Wildlife is not as plentiful, as whales have only just started to arrive, but it is a good time to see the penguins mating. By the end of November the nests are full of eggs and are beginning to hatch.
Mid December to January:
Late December and January offer around 20 hours of daylight and are usually Antarctica’s warmest months. Wildlife is at its most abundant as whales arrive in great numbers and penguin chicks are hatching. Receding pack ice may open new channels for exploration.
February to March:
At this time, beautiful Antarctica sunrises and sunsets create stunning photo opportunities. It is also the best time to spot whales. Penguin chicks become more active and predator activity is more common.
Choosing a cruise to Antarctica
There are several different lengths of cruises available and each offers a different experience. In general, types of cruises can be divided into the following categories:
Classic Antarctic Cruises
10-12 day cruises from Ushuaia, Argentina to the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Visit locations such as Deception Island, La Mar Channel and Paradise Bay which offer the perfect introduction to Antarctica. On the Antarctica Peninsula you will see plenty of Gentoo, Adellie and Chinstrap penguins. View our range of Antarctic Peninsula cruises here.
Antarctic Polar Circle Cruises
12-14 day cruises are an extension of the Classic Antarctic cruises, with the main advantage being a few extra days experiencing Antarctica and the satisfaction of crossing the Antarctic Circle. Wildlife seen will be similar to the Classic Antarctic cruises plus sightings of huge tabular icebergs. View our range of Polar Circle cruises here.
Weddell Sea Cruises
Similar to the Antarctic Circle cruises, these offer an extension of Classic Antarctic Circle cruises and are usually 12-14 days in length. On Weddell Sea cruises you will visit both the western and eastern side of the peninsula. The main attraction of the Weddell Sea is the enormous Gentoo penguin rookeries, which are much bigger than anything you see on the western side of the peninsula, as well as the chance of seeing an elusive Emperor penguin. You will also likely have excellent whale and seal encounters. Another main attraction here is the colossal icebergs, which are much larger than those found on the peninsula. On a Weddell Sea cruise, you will still get to see all the classic peninsula sights and could also make it down to the Lemaire Channel. View our range of Weddell Sea cruises here.
Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctic Peninsula Cruises
These 18-20 day itineraries are the pinnacle of Antarctica cruises departing from South America. They offer the advantage of covering parts of the Weddell Sea and the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, along with the Sub-Antarctic islands, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia.
On the Falklands Islands, you’ll visit the British town of Port Stanley where you’ll spend a day visiting historic sights, wandering around town and perhaps mingling with locals at a typical British pub. In terms of wildlife, the archipelago is home to a variety of penguin species, including Magellanic, Gentoo and Rockhopper penguins. You may spot King penguins as well. You can also expect to see Black-browed Albatross and many other bird species around the islands.
The beautiful island of South Georgia offers an opportunity to re-trace the steps of such explorers as Cook and Shackleton, whose grave you will visit. The main attractions here are the huge King Penguin rookeries and the thousands of sub-Antarctic fur seals, which provide a scenic wildlife experience perhaps unequalled on the face of this planet. Here, too, we expect to see the comical Macaroni penguin, and possibly the introduced reindeer. View our range of Antarctic cruises travelling to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands here.
A new development in recent years is the introduction of fly cruises, which offer you the opportunity to fly to King George Island or the Falkland Islands from Chile (Santiago or Punta Arenas), therefore avoiding a lengthy trip and possible sea sickness. Some operators offer flights in only one direction and others offer return flights as an option. Prices for these cruises are typically more expensive and once in Antarctica cruises they follow similar itineraries to the above mentioned cruises. View our range of Antarctica fly cruises here.
The Ross Sea & East Antarctica cruises from Australia and New Zealand
Cruises from Australia and New Zealand are much longer in duration (between 19-30 days) and can be very expensive. A cruise to the Ross Sea region is a true exploration to some of the most remote regions of the earth and only a few hundred people are able to visit each year. Wildlife is abundant and includes Adélie and Emperor penguins, South Polar Skuas, Snow Petrels, Southern Fulmars, Wandering albatross and many more species of bird. Whales, sea lions and seals abound here and can be found feeding in the rich waters around the ice’s edge.
The region is often referred to as the ‘Home of the Blizzard’ and it is in this region that the relics of the ‘heroic period’ of Antarctic exploration can be seen and experienced. There are five explorer huts and many other historic sites that bring this period of Antarctic history alive to the modern traveller. View our range of Antarctica cruises departing from from Australia and New Zealand here.
Flights to Antarctica
Most cruises to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina, however some fly cruises also offer options which start and end in Chile. To get to Ushuaia you must fly via Buenos Aires or El Calafate in Argentina, or travel overland or by sea from Chile.
Eclipse Travel can assist with all your flight arrangements, including international flights, round- the-world flights, internal South America flights and South America Air Passes. Additionally, we can customise any land arrangements around a cruise for you to combine your trip with a visit to some of the highlights of South America.
Which airlines fly to South America from Australia or NZ?
From the Australian east coast there are 3 options for flying into South America:
- LAN Airlines fly from Sydney to Santiago via Auckland 7 days per week. Qantas code share connections via Auckland can be arranged.
- Qantas Airlines fly direct from Sydney to Santiago 4 days per week.
- Air New Zealand fly direct from Auckland to Buenos Aires 3 days per week with good connections from Perth, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
There are also alternatives via the USA, although connections are not as good and will usually require an overnight stop.
From the Australian west coast you can fly via Sydney on one of the above alternatives or you may consider alternatives via South Africa or the Middle East.
Can South America be incorporated into round-the-world flights?
Yes, there are many alternatives, some of which can be good value. Or, if you are simply looking to combine South and North America with the one ticket, then there are other good alternatives we can discuss.
What is the baggage allowance for flights?
Baggage allowances depend on the airline, however, common international flight allowance is between 20-23kgs and 15-23kgs for domestic flights. All airlines allow international limits on domestic flights when issued on the same ticket.
Visas, Entrance Fees & Insurance required for Antarctica
What visas are required?
No visas are required for entering Antarctica, however you will be required to have a valid passport at all times. You may be required to obtain visas as you travel to the embarkation point of your cruise or if you plan to extend your trip and travel in South America. Please consult our South America page for more information.
What additional entrance fees or taxes can I expect?
Several domestic airports within South America also charge small departure taxes or airport fees usually between US$5-10 per person. El Calafate, Ushuaia and Lima are some of the main ones.
If you hold a passport from another country, such as Great Britain or New Zealand, then you may be able to avoid any requirement for visas or additional fees discussed above.
On all Antarctic voyages, you must have comprehensive travel insurance or you will be denied boarding. Your policy must provide coverage for your medical costs in case of hospitalisation, evacuation, repatriation and emergency travel.
Please check the terms of your policy carefully, particularly with regard to limits of cover, and ensure you are familiar with the procedure for making claims. Once you have paid your deposit or full payment, certain fees will apply if you have to cancel your holiday and for this reason it is strongly recommended you consider Trip Cancellation Insurance.
Health & Diet considerations when travelling to Antarctica
What health requirements are there for visiting Antarctica?
No vaccinations are required for visiting Antarctica; however there are several factors to consider when travelling to South America so please consult our South America page for more information.
You are required to complete a self-assessed medical form prior to leaving to ensure you are physically capable of performing normal on-board and onshore activities, which may require moderate exertion with a high degree of self-sufficiency. On some vessels you will have to get up and down steep gangways to board the zodiacs and the stairs between decks.
Food & Dietary Requirements
All meals are included on board and are typically buffet style; however this does depend on the vessel. Vegetarian options are available for all meals and if you have any additional special dietary requirements please advise us at the time of booking.
Medical Facilities on board
All Antarctic vessels have an infirmary and a fully qualified physician on board who can assist with any normal medical situation. In case of emergency, alternate arrangements will be made and for this reason all passengers are required to have adequate medical insurance that will provide coverage in the event of medical evacuation.
Sea sickness is a common problem for passengers of an Antarctic voyage, particularly when crossing open seas. The Drake Passage crossing typically takes 2-3 days each way between Ushuaia and the Antarctic Peninsula, however once you reach the Peninsula most cruising is through protected areas so you can expect calmer conditions. Taking motion sickness pills or patches with you is highly recommended and avoiding alcohol can help avoid any symptoms.
USD is accepted as currency on all Antarctic cruises and it is a good idea to bring along some cash. There are some on board expenses such as those incurred at the bar, in the gift shop, telecommunications, and any souvenir shopping, which is available at some of the research stations in the Antarctic Peninsula. Mail can sometimes be posted from these stations as well. Anything purchased on board can be settled in a bill by cash or credit card at the end of the cruise.
We suggest you allow the equivalent of US$10-15 per person per day for the crew and expedition staff. This is usually collected just prior to the end of the cruise and then distributed amongst the staff. If you wish, the amount can be paid by Visa or MasterCard.
Most vessels have a computer for passenger use in case you need to download your photos on board. However, we recommend taking enough memory cards in the likelihood of you taking more photos than you could have imagined.
On board telecommunication
Due to its isolation, it’s highly unlikely you will have mobile phone access anywhere in Antarctica, however most vessels offer satellite email (not internet). Connections can be slow, so guests will be charged for data used rather than time spent online which can become very expensive. Phone cards for satellite phones are also commonly available, however, if you would like to clarify this for a particular vessel then please contact one of our team.
Each ship has its own type of electrical outlets, depending upon the country where it was built. Many of the ships are originally from Russia and use 220 volt, 50 cycle electricity with two round prongs.
Weather & Clothing considerations when travelling to Antarctica
Generally in the Antarctic, temperatures during the day range between -6c to +4c although windchill factor can result in much colder conditions. You should expect and prepare for all conditions as it can be very sunny, rainy, snowy, foggy and in particular, windy.
All vessels offer complimentary Wellington boots for all guests, which are used for all landings. Some operators also include waterproof pants and jackets. Please contact us for more details.
Suggested Packing List
Although it can be quite sunny, expect rain, snow, fog and a high wind-chill factor. We suggest dressing in layers so you can easily adapt to the conditions and recommend the following;
- Cash for souvenirs. Credit card to settle your bill at the end.
- Valid passport.
- Warm wind and waterproof jacket
- Waterproof gloves
- Hat, beanie, scarf, or other face protection
- Woollen socks
- Waterproof warm pants
- Thermal underwear
- Light-weight shirts and T-shirts
- Camera with extra memory cards and extra batteries
- Comfortable clothing and shoes for on board
- Casual shoes (sneakers for example) for wearing on the vessel. All boats provide wellington boots which must be worn on shore excursions.
- Sunglasses (polarised, close fitting are best)
- Plastic bags – Plastic zip-lock bags will protect your camera and binoculars from wave splash and spray while in Zodiacs
- Bathing suit – for a polar plunge!
- Converters/adapters as needed
- Medications – bring a sufficient supply of any medications you regularly take; prescription and over-the-counter including your preferred motion sickness remedy, as well as copies of your prescriptions. Your necessities and favourites may not be available on the vessel or in Argentina.
- If you wear prescription glasses or contact lenses, be sure to pack an extra pair.Dress on board is casual and informal. Again, we suggest dressing in layers for your comfort and safety. Your base layer of thermal underclothes with a pair of jeans or trousers, and a lightweight shirt and fleece are ideal. Sturdy walking shoes or sneakers with a good grip sole for the slippery deck are all you need.
Most cruises offer daily laundry service on board at an additional cost.
Activities in Antarctica
Itineraries for Antarctic cruises are your guide and on an expedition cruise we suggest you expect the unexpected as weather conditions can force changes. A typical day will start around 7.30 am with breakfast followed by the morning’s excursion. Daily excursions vary depending on location and weather conditions. Most cruises aim for two Zodiac or shore excursions per day, if possible. In between destinations or whilst cruising at sea, you can relax in the bar or take in a lecture on a specific area of interest (ie history, flora or fauna). Later at night, there is often entertainment provided.
What additional activities are offered?
On some cruises adventure options are provided, typically at an additional cost to your cruise price. The most common ones on offer are camping for a night on the Antarctic Peninsula or kayaking. There are several other options like scuba diving, snowshoeing, mountaineering and photography workshops. For keen kayakers some experience is necessary, enough to manoeuvre easily and also to be able to enter the kayak successfully. Please contact us for more information on the options available.