Curious about visiting Antarctica? Here’s everything you need to know.
Stepping foot on our last continent was a dream come true. Thank you, Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours, for hosting such a memorable trip!
Before we embarked on our journey, we thought Antarctica was a one-and-done destination, but even during our trip, I started to look up ways I could become a researcher and live there. Penguin counter? Pick me!
Epic doesn’t even begin to describe this frozen wonderland, and if you saw any of my photos and stories, you already know, I couldn’t help but exclaim in ALL CAPS! It was a trip of a lifetime, and I hope it isn’t our last.
Curious about visiting the White Continent? Read our tips to help you plan a trip to the most epic place on earth.
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Last Updated: January 27, 2024
17 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Antarctica Travel Tips
1. How Long Does it Take to Get to Antarctica?
When visiting Antarctica, most people start their cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina, or Punta Arenas, Chile. Since we live in Las Vegas, we’ll share our travel times from here (no direct flights from LAS to EZE).
Vegas to Dallas – 2 h 40 mins
Dallas to Buenos Aires – 10 h 30 mins
Buenos Aires to Ushuaia – 3 h 20 mins (left 926 am, arrived 1245)
Ushuaia Port to Antarctica on the Scenic Eclipse II – approximately two days through Drake Passage. It can sometimes take longer, depending on wind and swells.
2. Best times to Visit Antarctica? What are High and Low Seasons? When Do I Need to Book?
The best time to visit Antarctica is from November to March, their summer.
October – some cruises start at the end of the month. It’s colder, and the days are short, but you get lower fares, enormous icebergs, and pristine landscapes. If you’re on an icebreaker ship, you can even visit remote emperor penguin colonies, the most elusive penguins.
November – most cruise lines start their season in November. Adélie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins start mating and laying eggs. You’ll also see breeding elephant and fur seals with aggressive mating rituals. The snow is still pristine, icebergs are massive, and you can see the rare emperor penguins. Photographers also benefit from the sun being low.
December – the weather warms, and you get 22 hours of daylight. In late December, you’ll see penguin chicks, baleen whales, toothed whales, and humpback whales on the peninsula. Keep in mind that the holidays are the most expensive time to visit.
January is peak season with 22+ hours of daylight for maximum wildlife watching. The weather is warmest and most predictable, though never guaranteed, and the ice breaks up for ships to cross the Antarctic Circle. You can visit historic huts during land expeditions. Penguin chicks are hatching, and orcas and humpback sightings are common.
February – Temperatures are still decent, and it is the best time for whale watching with more humpback and minke whale sightings. Sea ice retreats to open the Ross Sea and East Antarctica for visits. Adult penguins are molting, and chicks are learning to swim, so leopard seals and orcas are on the hunt.
March – the season starts to wind down with colder and more unpredictable weather, but you’ll get better value fares. It’s too late to see penguin chicks, but it’s an excellent time to see young fur seals and whales. It’s another popular time for photographers as the sun dips lower in the sky.
3. How much does it cost to go to Antarctica?
Most cruises are, on average, $8000 and can go up from there, and pricing depends on your cruise, time of year, how many days, and activities. The cheapest cruises start at $5000 and are sail-by cruises, where you don’t land.
The Scenic Eclipse II is one of the most luxurious vessels traveling to Antarctica and beyond the Antarctic Circle. We did a 16-day cruise that starts at $21,335 (the 13-day starts at $19,225). This pricing includes a chartered flight between Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, excursions (besides helicopter and submarine), 24/7 butler service, nine dining options (three of them prix fixe), gratuities, room service, alcoholic beverages with a great selection of wine and top-shelf whiskeys, enrichment lectures, fitness classes, spa facilities. Many other cruises start with a lower base price and offer these additional services a la carte.
We’ll share a breakdown of these costs across different cruise lines later.
4. How Can I Get to Antarctica? Can you fly to Antarctica? Are There hotels in Antarctica?
Antarctica is inhospitable, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous, making independent travel challenging. Most people visit through guided tours and cruises. If you want to land in Antarctica, only smaller expedition ships can land since IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) rules limit the number of people on land at a given time. On a large cruise ship, you can only sail by.
There are no commercial flights to Antarctica, but certain cruises offer chartered flights from Punta Arenas, Chile, to King George Island in Antarctica, where you start your cruise.
No hotels exist in Antarctica. Your options are expedition cruise ships, research stations, and luxury campsites that start at $62,500.
5. How bad is the Drake Passage? Will I Experience Seasickness?
This was the question people asked us most. Antarctic waters are generally calm, but getting there is the challenge. The Drake Passage is known as one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water. I was worried because I get seasick even on the calmest waters, but the patch combined with Dramamine and the bands did the trick.
We were also fortunate to be on the Scenic Eclipse II, one of the first discovery yachts specifically made for Antarctica. We had up to 23 ft (7 m) swells, and because the stabilizers are 50% larger than any other ship this size, the captain told us we were only feeling 10% of the Drake Shake. Meanwhile, we saw footage of other ship guests being tossed around. I’m not sure I would visit any other way.
The worst Scenic has ever seen was 26.2 ft (8 m) with 72 knots (82.9 mph) winds. We saw a plate or two falling off tables, but for the most part, everything felt stable.
6. Meds to bring?
Always check with your PCP before taking medication.
If you’re prone to motion sickness, pack Dramamine, Scopapoline patch, motion sickness bands, and/or motion sickness glasses. I used everything except the glasses. I’m unsure which remedy worked best, but I didn’t want to take the chance.
We packed Dramamine and bands, but Scenic Medical also provided motion-sickness meds and patches in limited supply. They ran out on the way back through the Drake Passage, so we had to get some patches from a friend.
We also always pack Imodium and Lactaid for all our travels, which we didn’t need.
7. What Should I Pack For Antarctica? How Should I Dress? Are Life Jackets Provided?
Besides the motion sickness remedies mentioned above, you will need good winter gear, and layering is key (packing list coming soon!). Scenic provided a waterproof winter jacket, muck boots, and life jackets that worked well for all our excursions. All you need to pack are base layers, mid-layers, and a waterproof pant layer. I brought a couple of dresses for dinners, but it wasn’t necessary for this expedition-style trip. If you want to wear cute clothes for the ship, that’s entirely up to you.
Also, pack strong enough sunscreen since Antarctica’s ozone layer is thinner, and fresh snow can reflect up to 90% UV radiation.
Pro Tip: Suitcases larger than 30x21x11 in (76x53x28 cms) or weighing more than 50 lbs (23kg) will have an additional excess baggage fee.
8. How Cold is Antarctica? What Will the Weather Be Like in Antarctica? What is a Discovery Cruise?
Antarctica is the highest, driest, windiest, and coldest continent, with a record low of -128.6°F (-89.2 °C). Ice covers approximately 98% of the continent.
You will experience much milder temps since you’re visiting Antarctica in the summer and will be along the peninsula instead of interior Antarctica. During the tourist season, November-March, the temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula are around 34°F (0 °C) and can even be up to 50°F (10 °C). Our friends in Canada and the Midwest had colder temps than we did on our trip.
Antarctica has a very dynamic environment, so it’s essential to be flexible and roll with the punches. Discovery cruises have no set itinerary, and plans may change each day depending on the weather.
Luckily, our discovery leader and captain on the Scenic Eclipse II were great at pivoting to find suitable microclimates to give us the best experience possible each day. I don’t know if we had a unicorn of a trip, but each day, we thought it could not get any more epic, and then the following day exceeded our expectations.
9. What is the Best Antarctica Cruise? How to Choose an Antarctic Cruise
There is a lot to consider when choosing an Antarctic Cruise. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What is your budget?
Is time off a limitation? When do you want to go? The time of year will dictate what you see and your destinations.
What type of vessel do you want to be on? What amenities, comforts, and services do you look for? Is environmental responsibility a priority?
Do you want to step foot in Antarctica or sail by? Is a continental landing important to you vs Antarctic islands?
Where do you want to go? Do you want to cross the Antarctic Circle? Do you want to include a visit to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands?
Are you looking for specific wildlife encounters? Do you want to see penguin chicks or seal pups? Do you want to catch them during their mating rituals?
What about milder temperatures and longer days?
Are you a photographer looking for pristine landscapes and a lower sun angle?
We loved our Douro river cruise in Portugal several years ago and were excited to travel to Antarctica with Scenic again. Not only is it the most luxurious cruise, but the Scenic Eclipse II has massive stabilizers compared to other ships that make going through the Drake Passage bearable.
We were also impressed with their commitment to sustainability. The Scenic Eclipse II was built with state-of-the-art technology and exceeds all current environmental standards. They already reduced sulfur emissions by up to 95% and are going carbon neutral by 2025 (that’s next year!).
Besides the reusable bottles, water stations, and refillable toiletries, they have a sustainability officer on board to help further reduce waste. The “smoke” you see is water vapor, food waste gets composted or dehydrated to use as dyes, and gray water is triple-filtered to turn back into clean water. The ship also doesn’t drop an anchor to preserve coral reefs. Whenever possible, they source from local markets and even have an onboard herb garden, which we saw growing microgreens.
10. What is the Currency Used Onboard? Do you need to exchange money? What about tipping?
Antarctica is not a country and doesn’t have its own currency. The currency on board the Scenic Eclipse II was US Dollars. Most Antarctic cruises take US Dollars or Euros.
If you spend extra days in Buenos Aires, it may be worth exchanging your money for pesos to get a better rate, but our guide told us the locals prefer US dollars to pesos right now because of the unstable economy. We only stayed overnight, and the cafe we ate at took credit cards.
11. Do I need a visa When visiting antarctica?
You don’t need a visa for Antarctica, but you must have a valid passport for six months beyond your trip.
12. Vaccines? Is it Dangerous in Antarctica?
During our time in Antarctica, Avian Flu was spreading in the Antarctic Peninsula, mostly among elephant seals. Scenic avoided any areas with known outbreaks, so we didn’t need to worry about it.
When we travel, we like to use Passport Health for vaccines. They have travel clinics in the US, Canada, and UK, and are perfect for what we need.
13. Do I need converters?
We always carry this power converter and adapter since we have two laptops, two phones, and various other electronics that need charging.
Scenic Eclipse II suites had international power sockets (multi-sockets), USB Type-A sockets, and one 110v 60 Hz United States type power socket with a shaver socket. The onboard electricity is 220 volts and 60 Hz.
For your overnight in Argentina, the standard voltage is 220V. Primary sockets require a Type I or Type C plug.
14. What souvenirs to buy when visiting antarctica?
The best souvenirs you’ll bring home when visiting Antarctica are your memories and photos. On our trip, Scenic brought the Point Lockroy team from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust onboard to share more about their work. They also set up a pop-up post office and gift shop where you can buy souvenirs, with proceeds supporting their research.
We typically only buy consumable souvenirs for friends and family, but since this was such a unique opportunity, we sent postcards from Antarctica.
15. What activities do you do in Antarctica? What is a zodiac?
On our Scenic Eclipse II cruise, they had two daily excursions when the weather allowed. These are the activities on our trip.
Landings – sometimes included a hike or visits to historic huts.
Zodiac cruises – you see glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife.
Kayaking was all tandem. It requires calmer conditions.
Stand-up paddling – required the calmest conditions. You SUP solo, which can be a quieter, more reflective experience.
Polar plunge – they made it fun with hot chocolate or alcohol of choice waiting for you when you got out of the water.
Submarine – this was still being constructed when we were on our trip.
A zodiac is a brand that people now use to refer to a genre of boats. They are durable, inflatable boats we used during our trip to get from ship to land or to view wildlife.
If photographing wildlife is a priority, do a zodiac cruise. It’s easier to get around, and you don’t have to worry about your camera gear as much if you don’t have underwater housing. We preferred to kayak and SUP on days when there wasn’t as much wildlife.
16. What animals live in Antarctica? Do Polar Bears Live in Antarctica?
Wildlife sightings vary depending on the month and location, but this is what we saw in January.
Common: Adelie penguins, Chinstrap penguins, Gentoo penguins, Crabeater seals, Weddell seals, Snow petrels, Skuas, Humpback whales.
Less common: Leopard seals, Antarctic fur seals, Minke whales, Albatross
Rare: Emperor penguins, Blue whales, South Polar skua, Antarctic petrel, Antarctic fulmar, whole Snow petrel colonies, Ross Sea Killer Whales.
They told us it was rare to see orcas this time of year, but we saw several pods. Polar bears only live in the Arctic.
17. Is there wifi in Antarctica? How is the wifi or cell signal?
We did not have any cell signal, but on the Scenic Eclipse II, we had complimentary wifi, and we were surprised at how good it was throughout the cruise. They don’t guarantee wifi quality because it’s affected by weather and location, but we could access everything we needed.
One of the days we were on the navigation bridge, we saw staff making phone calls, which is crazy to think about because, just over 50 years ago, people were risking their lives to explore the continent. Some guests were streaming Netflix, but others had trouble opening Outlook, which may be because of cyber security protection.
Now, who’s ready for a trip of a lifetime? Do you have any other questions about visiting Antarctica? Any other travel tips you can think of if you’ve been?
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.