Looking for a real adventure? Are you seeking somewhere off the beaten path? How about Antarctica?
I thought it might be nice during these dog days of summer to talk about a cool destination. And if you’re interested in going you need to start planning now.
One of my favorite travel experiences (and definitely most memorable) has been Antarctica. If you’re considering traveling to this remote continent, there are some things you should know before you go.
First of all, there are only three ways to do it: cruise ship, icebreaker expedition, or sightseeing by air. Departures take place from either Argentina, Australia, Chile, or New Zealand. A cruise ship allows only a cursory experience as the ship is not built like an icebreaker vessel. Therefore, if you take a traditional cruise, you are NOT actually go to Antarctica Peninsula. Aerial day trips can be achieved but again this is a limited encounter and is quite expensive. The best way to experience Antarctica is on an icebreaker expedition.These cruises will not have as many amenities as a traditional cruise. This is a different kind of experience so it will be more adventurous than a Caribbean cruise!
You should also be advised that there is a limited window of opportunity to visit. Travel can only take place during their summer, which is late December – late February. Some like to extend their Antarctica trip with a jaunt to the Falkland Islands. Real Antarctic cruises vary greatly in cost from $5,000 – $25,000.
Antarctica is the 5th largest continent. It is larger than the United States and Mexico combined. It covers 5.4 million square miles. The Ross Ice Shelf is bigger than France.
It is the coldest, driest, windiest, and highest place in the world (both in latitude and altitude). This is considered a desert, despite all the ice. Plant life is almost non-existent.
It has the most days of total sun and the most days of total darkness. During their summer, there is 24 hours of sunlight. During their winter, there is 24 hours of darkness. Average mean temperature is 55 degrees C. It holds the world’s record for coldest at -89.6 degrees C. Winter temps (-8 to 20 C); Spring temps (-3 to -11 C); Summer (+1 to -2 C); and Fall (-2 to -14 C). Frostbite can occur here in less than one minute during the winter.
There are no paved runways. Planes can land during the day in the summer only. The last flight for the season is in late February. By June, it is mid-winter in Antarctica. There are forty-four permanent bases in Antarctica. Many countries have research bases here, such as Russia, Chile, China, Uruguay, Poland, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Korea, Ecuador, and the United States. There are 28 airport landing facilities with the major ones being Scott Base and McMurdo Station. Thirty-seven Antarctic stations have helipads.
Antarctica is one of the most important areas of the world. What happens here climate-wise impacts the entire world. It has the least amount of soil and the most fresh water (70% of the world’s fresh water). It contains 90% of the world’s ice, yet it only receives six inches of precipitation (which makes it technically the driest desert on earth).
There is no formal government or legal system. No one country owns or governs this continent. Instead, most major countries have a ‘stake’ in it because of its significance. The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959.
The year round population at the research stations is around 1,000, which swells to nearly 4,000 during the summer months. This includes scientists, researchers, support staff, and construction workers. Experiments that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world are conducted here. These include oceanography, biology, glaciology, astronomy, and atmospheric sciences.
It has the stormiest oceans (I can personally attest to this fact!). The greatest danger is storms at sea. Many aboard our ship suffered injuries resulting from being thrown from their bed or a door slamming on a hand or being knocked down or dehydration from seasickness. Most people suffer seasickness as they cross the dreaded Drake Passage, the roughest waters in the world.
Once on the continent, transport can be achieved by zodiacs, ponies, dog sleds, skis, tractors, snow cats, and aircraft. If you take an icebreaker expedition, you will explore by ship and zodiac. During this time, you will see glaciers, icebergs, wildlife (see below), and visit various research stations and other island sights. You will be able to get onto several islands to walk around and explore. These outings are typically led by a naturalist. While on board, you will hear relevant lectures and see presentations, as well as having a good opportunity to see scenic vistas and wildlife watching. There are a few trips that offer an opportunity to camp overnight on the Antarctic Peninsula! Some good options include Polar Cruises, Adventure Life, REI Adventures, and ChimuAdventures.
Wildlife highlights: Gentoo Penguin, Macaroni Penguin, Emperor Penguin, Adelie Penguin, Chinstrap Penguin, Magellanic Penguin, Royal Albatross, Blue Petrel, Antarctic Tern, Kelp Goose, Southern Fur Seal, Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal, Crabeater Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, Fin Whale, Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, Gray’s Beaked Whale, South Atlantic Right Whale, Southern Bottlenose Whale, Hourglass Dolphin, and Commerson’s Dolphin.