If you're thinking of planning a trip to Antarctica, but aren't sure where to start or how to go about, I have the answers! I was lucky enough to make my own Antarctic expedition a few years ago, and I'm passionate about making sure other people get to experience our southernmost ice cap on one of these once-in-a-lifetime trips.

So here's how to plan a trip to Antarctica – the top 10 questions answered!

1. When to go to Antarctica?

The Antarctic season stretches from November to February, outside of which you simply cannot get there by ship. Within this period the weather patterns change, the ice will alter and the wildlife will be in different stages of reproduction.

At the beginning of the season, the conditions are likely to be colder and ice is still breaking up adding to the adventure. At this time the landing grounds are the most untouched and the icescapes perhaps at their most pristine. The wildlife may be less plentiful but this is the time to see penguins mating and building nests for their young.

December to January has the most daylight (up to 20 hours) and is the time where many penguin chicks will be hatching making it a highly popular time to travel. By February, the sea has warmed attracting legions of krill making it a prime time for the feeding Humpbacks, Minkies and Orca whales. You may have better access for travelling further South at this time though some of the other wildlife may have left the shores.

Emperor penguins, Antarctica

2. How to get to Antarctica?

Most expedition ships depart Ushuaia – the southernmost tip of Argentina.

For people who are short of time or wish to avoid the infamous Drake Passage crossing, it is possible to fly either one or both ways to the South Shetland Islands and meet your ship there.

These small, ice-strengthened ships will give you the opportunity to take in the dramatic scenery, but once in this pristine wilderness you will take zodiac (motorised dingy) cruises and make landings ashore to get up close and involved in all that this magical land has to offer.

Flights to Ushuaia will route via Buenos Aires so perhaps combine your trip with a few days in this vibrant city or some time exploring in Patagonia. We can organise flights, accommodation and day tours to suit as well as create a more complex overall itinerary.

Icebergs, Antarctica

3. What is the difference between the available trips?

There are 3 main routes to Antarctica from South America, with trips available spanning 10-23 days. In addition, there are many variations on these itineraries, as well as specialist departures appealing to specific interests.

The Classic 10-11 day trip takes you on an awe-inspiring journey down to the Antarctic Peninsula giving you around 6 days exploring the peninsula and surrounding Islands.

To reach the Antarctic Circle you need a little longer, and you can expect even more dramatic ice scenery. Passing through the Lemaire Channel with glacial walls towering high on both sides, leading to islands that are home to huge penguin rookeries, Elephant seals and countless seabirds.

The 21-day trips will take you via the Falklands and South Georgia for extended wildlife viewing opportunities. This is where you may find nesting albatrosses and beaches filled with king penguins and their chicks, plus beached elephant and fur seals.

Aside from the spectacular wildlife and scenery, South Georgia also has a long and fascinating history, since Cook’s first landing, through the years of whaling and sealing. You can follow in Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps of exploration and survival during the Endurance expedition, to his final resting place in this magnificent land.

4. How much do trips cost?

Trips start at £3000 per person but you can expect to pay significantly more if you opt for twin share cabins, or choose the most popular dates and the longer trips. Contact me for the most up to date information on special offers and we can help you find the right trip at the best price to suit your style and budget. Although Antarctic cruises do not come cheap, I’m yet to hear anyone say it wasn’t worth every penny!

Ice breaker ship, Antarctica

5. What level of accommodation can I expect from my expedition ship?

Small ship expedition cruising is what these trips are about. There are choices to be made about levels of comfort, the ships’ icebreaking capabilities (how far south it can take you), the viewing possibilities and extra activities offered to enhance your journey.

Not all of the expedition ships were built for comfort, and many weren’t actually built for tourists at all, being former research vessels. Each ship will have been converted to a comfortable level, usually with en-suite facilities to each cabin. You will be very well looked after onboard, and the meals will be wonderful and plentiful. There are bar and relaxation facilities and most importantly, excellent viewing opportunities, which of course are paramount.

There are more luxurious expedition options too. Still offering the excitement and adventure of the converted research vessels, these ships are furnished to a higher standard and you’ll experience upgraded dining facilities.

For advice on selecting the best ship/trip to suit you please get in touch so I can recommend something to suit you from my experience. Don’t worry, whatever style or budget, I guarantee you will leave your ship feeling overwhelmed and utterly spoilt.

Small ship cruise, Antarctica

6. What will I see in Antarctica?

Antarctic cruises offer an inspiring insight into the most pristine wilderness on Earth. Towering icebergs, glaciers and huge fields of ice set the backdrop for a host of outstanding wildlife.

Antarctica is the land of the penguin and on its shores, you will find all shapes, sizes and colours, from the magnificent King Penguins to pebble-collecting Adelies. Mix them up on a beach with some oversized elephant seals and some more boisterous fur seals and you truly are in a nature lover’s paradise!

Within Antarctica’s waters you will also encounter whales including great humpbacks, Southern Right and Orca whales, to name but a few.

Wildlife and scenery will differ between itineraries and individual trips, with your travel dates and the weather conditions all playing their part. Trips focusing on the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands take you far south encountering colossal icebergs, brash ice, Chinstrap and Gentoo penguin colonies, whales and seals.

Weddell seal, Antarctica

The longer trips taking in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands open up the World of the colourful King penguin, the crazy Rockhoppers and the nesting grounds of the Black-Browed Albatross. South Georgia’s magical beaches of Salisbury Plain and Gold Harbour are so remote that they have evolved into astonishing wildlife havens boasting several thousands of King Penguins and their chicks together with huge populations of Elephant and Fur seals.

7. What will the weather be like?

Unpredictable of course! The weather in Antarctica is about as variable as you could ever imagine. It’s fair to expect periods of turquoise skies, reflective still waters and an air of magnificent calm. You should also anticipate wind, rain and fog, together with some great big waves. The Drake Passage may or may not live up to its rocky reputation. Being well dressed and prepared for changing climates make it ever more enjoyable.

Zodiac boat, Antarctica

8. What do you do whilst at sea?

Unless you’re flying into Antarctica itself, you will spend several days at sea. As well as eating, sleeping and socialising, there are many lectures you can attend. On board the ships you will have an amazing crew each with their own speciality. A historian on board will tell you all about the great explorers including Shackleton and Scott. The naturalists will lecture on the amazing wildlife. You may get a talk on how to get the best photos from whatever camera you chose to bring along. You won’t need a lens the size of a small dog or a degree in photography to come home with photos of a standard and intensity you will want to adorn your walls forever!

9. What is included and what isn't?

On board, you’ll be able to listen to lectures and get first-hand information and guidance from the crew, which is all part of your package. Additionally, all guided zodiac cruising (smaller boat trips) and landings are included.

The ships operate on a full board basis and you will be fed well and often! Additional activities cost extra and usually need to be pre-booked, but you can expect to be able to try kayaking excursions and camping on the ice.

On board, you will pay for alcohol, though in my experience the prices are reasonable and happy hour at the bar is common. If you like a glass of wine at dinner, they will keep the bottle for you and bring it out each day until you are ready for your next!

10. What do I need to take?

There are a few items you need to remember to pack – so make sure you don't forget your:

  • Camera & spare memory cards/ batteries
  • Wellies (though often supplied on board)
  • Thermals
  • Layers
  • Waterproofs
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses (essential as it is very white out there)
  • Gloves – a thick and thin pair
  • A sense of adventure!

Interested in a trip to Antarctica?

For more information on how to get to Antarctica or to book an Antarctic adventure please contact Andrea. I can offer first-hand experience and advise on the right Antarctica trip to suit you, and perhaps persuade you to see the Arctic afterwards, like I did!

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