When I hear the word ‘Antarctica’, lots of images are conjured up in my mind, but those that stand out most are icebergs, penguins, whiteness and standing in the middle of nowhere in complete silence. But Antarctica means different things to different people. Many think of its explorers and adventurers, from Shackleton and Scott’s failed mission to reach the South Pole, to the Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s triumphant voyage to reach both the North and South Poles first.
Many people visit Antarctica to see its haven of maritime animals and capture them in action. You won’t see any polar bears here, but you will see an abundance of seabirds, seals, whales & penguins that gather here in their thousands to breed and rear their young. Antarctica is also one of the planet’s last places of pristine natural beauty and it’s the largest single mass of ice in the world, stretching some 14 million square kilometres, making it 1.4 times greater than the United States.
Although top of a lot of peoples’ ‘Must Do Before I Die’ list, many find that this trip doesn’t come cheap. The cost of ensuring people’s safety in such an extreme and remote environment means that many ships charge a standard fee of around £10,000+ and what’s more, the season is relatively short for the operators with Antarctica shrouded in 24 hour darkness, and its frozen waters impenetrable from mid May to October. In order to avoid spending 4 days at sea, some operators have created an antarctica fly and cruise, which allows you to fly direct from Punta Arenas in Southern Chile to King George Island, in Antarctica. Although more expensive than other options, it’s often a good way of making the most of your precious time and particularly important for those prone to sea sickness across the Drake Passage.
It is possible, however, to do Antarctica ‘on the cheap’. A once in a lifetime experience shouldn’t have to cost the earth. If you’re looking to visit on the cheap, we would recommend that you take the following steps:
- Make sure you find a cruise that departs from the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, as Patagonia is just a short distance from Antarctica in comparison to many other ports across the world.
- If you’re travelling alone, the cost of an Antarctic cruise will be greater for you as most operators whack on a single supplement. If you can find someone to travel with either through Swoop Patagonia, social networking sites such as Trav Buddy or request that the operator itself pair you up with another solo traveller, the reduction in price will be mutually beneficial. Some Antarctic cruise operators let you share with another solo traveller, to avoid paying a single supplement.
- People pay premium prices to witness 24 hours of sunlight in December and January, but you can check to see if the cruise you’re interested in offers shoulder season departures. These are trips during the 4 months of the year between summer and winter that experience both light & darkness in Oct, Nov, Apr & early May.
It’s during the “low season” that some Antarctic cruise companies offer trips for a reduced price. For example in November, as the ice is beginning to melt, there may be fewer penguins in the rookeries but there are some fantastic discounts available. You can enjoy an 11 day cruise with Antarctic Dream taking in all the highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands for all little as £3350, excluding flights.
If you can afford to stretch your budget a little further, you could cruise for 11-days at £3,900 on the MV Ushuaia which sails through, amongst other beautiful spots, the Gerlache strait where you’ll see towering icy peaks. On both these cruises you’ll stay in comfortable cabins, some of which have several large windows, but even the smallest cabins on offer have a porthole.
If you’re thinking of visiting Antarctica or you’d just like to know more about the Great White Continent, see http://www.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/antarctica/cruises/