Thinking about visiting Antarctica?
If you are (and honestly, why wouldn’t you be?) then there are a few things that you should know about before you go. Penguin highways, biosecurity and whale alerts are just the beginning! So here are 12 things that you need to know before visiting the seventh continent.
1. Yes, it is expensive
When it comes to visiting Antarctica, there is pretty much no chance of avoiding the hefty cost that comes with such an expedition. Cruises booked at the last minute can go for as little as $4,000 and luxury cruises can go for as much as $50,000, but the average Antarctic Peninsula cruise will go for at least ten grand.
No matter how you do it, it is gonna cost you a fair few dollarydoos.
However, despite the ‘holy mother, how the hell will I pay for this?’ factor – a standard priced Antarctic cruise is honestly not that unreasonably priced. When you factor in the generally smaller number of passengers per ship, the expertise required of the captain and crew, and just generally the amazingness that comes with going to a land visited by extremely few people each year, the asking cost really isn’t that outrageous.
If you are looking to haemmorhage money in the most amazing way – this is it.
2. It is cold, but it is much warmer than you imagine
When people have asked my about how cold it was in Antarctica, I have to stop myself from obnoxiously saying ‘pfft, I’ve had colder’ – but really, I have!
It very rarely got below freezing, and on the non windy days, you could easily get around the ship in no more than a t-shirt. Wind chill was much more of a factor than the temperature itself, so as long as your gear is windproof, the cold really shouldn’t give you any trouble at all.
3. Your mere presence is a biohazard
The preservation of Antarctica is of utmost importance, and cruise companies lucky enough to make these voyages are well aware of the delicate nature of the Antarctic ecosystem, so there are a few precautionary measures required of anyone who visits the Antarctic Peninsula.
Before we could get our butts off the ship, we were introduced to the IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators – which is an organisation that runs alongside the Antarctic Treaty and basically serves to ensure that all travel to Antarctica is done as responsibly as possible.
IAATO requires visitors to sign a mandatory biosecurity declaration, which is an agreement to stay appropriate distances from wildlife, to act responsibly around historical sites and to take care of the environment itself.
Taking care of the environment involves vacuuming pretty much everything you own. Boots, shoes, pants, jackets, pockets, tripods, cameras, backpacks and more. You name it, it gets vacuumed, and seeds and particles from all over the globe are sealed in bags and prevented from making it ashore. Also, before and after each landing, we were required to give our boots a good wash in cleaning solution, to minimise the particles transferred between sites.
4. Getting in and out of zodiacs is an art form…
…and not exactly an easy one to master if you are on the more uncoordinated side of life. Not even joking, I once just threw myself over the side and legitimately rolled back into the zodiac! If you envision yourself gracefully jumping off the side and onto shore, be prepared to have expectations not quite match up with reality.
5. Your stewards definitely worked as acrobats in a past life
Watching our stewards gracefully carry multiple bowls of soup, jugs of juice and pots of coffee without so much as a misstep whilst travelling through the Drake Passage was unbelievably impressive.
Our stewards did not falter once, and I never saw so much as a crumb get dropped, even when the waves were so big that dishes were flying off tables! Stewards working on Antarctica-bound vessels are masterfully graceful, endlessly balanced and they work incredibly hard to make sure that your meals are the best they can be – they are simply amazing humans!
6. You need to respect the penguin highways
Yes, a penguin highway is exactly what it sounds like!
The pinguinos follow similar paths up and down hills, resulting in discernible tracks in the snow that have been affectionately dubbed ‘penguin highways’. These highways are the penguins favoured way of getting around, so it is important not to walk on or over them, and not to get too close. When observing wildlife, the animals should never be fearful, so allowing them to hang out in their territory without being disturbed is of utmost importance.
7. No trip to Antarctica comes with guarantees
Unlike more structured cruises, the weather in Antarctica is completely unpredictable and there is no such thing as an itinerary set in stone. Wildlife sightings, landings, activities and polar plunges can never be guaranteed. Antarctica is in control of what you experience, and your cruise ship is just their to help make the most of whatever cards you are dealt.
8. Penguin soap opera is real
Watching the penguins bond, argue, steal from each other and communicate is something that really never gets old. These penguins are hilarious to watch, and their interactions with each other are sure to keep you more entertained than any daytime soap ever would.
9. Whale alerts will be announced when you least expect them
A whale alert is exactly what you’d expect it to be.
When any whales (or any really noteworthy wildlife) are spotted from the vessel, the captain or expedition manager will announce it over the loudspeaker to give anyone who wants to see the wildlife half a chance. Whale alerts can come at any hour of the day or night, and I got caught unprepared multiple times – so in order to be prepared for one, there are a few things that you should always be doing.
Make sure you always have a battery and memory card (with enough storage) in your camera. Sure, charging all your batteries at one time might be more convenient, but fumbling around to try and get your camera ready bleary eyed at 5am is a lot harder than you’d think! Furthermore, always keep your camera with you. Running from the lounge back to your cabin to collect it can take a lot of precious time, and there is a good chance that those whales will be long gone by the time you actually get out on deck.
Also, it pays to have some clothes handy by your bedside, so that if you do get woken up you can just throw them on and run.
10. Taking a shower becomes an art form
When travelling through the Drake, the entire ship can be rocked by the most enormous waves… which leads to some pretty serious rocking around.
Trying to shower in such conditions is no mean feat and requires quite a bit of balance.
Or for the uncoordinated, you can do as I did and simply kneel on the floor!
11. You will meet some truly wonderful people
The ships that voyage to Antarctica tend to be smaller than most, meaning that with less passengers, you are far more likely to get to know those on your ship. I met some absolute gems on my voyage, and being with such great humans made the trip even better.
12. It will be one of the most incredible experiences of your entire life
My time in Antarctica was truly special, and it will go down as one of the most exciting, engaging and fulfilling adventures that I’ve ever been on.
If you make the decision to visit Antarctica, I can personally guarantee that you’ll be forever grateful that you did.