How to get to Antarctica
Traveling to the bottom of the world
Getting to Antarctica once involved treacherous crossings, battling across storm-whipped seas on wooden ships, transporting all your supplies on husky-hauled sleds across sea ice, driving a roofless tractor (Sir Edmund Hillary’s preferred method) – or, for extra explorer points, dragging the sleds across the snowy landscape yourself (à la Sir Ranulph Fiennes).
While the modern journey to Antarctica is somewhat shorter, safer, and rather less likely to result in a knighthood, reaching it is still quite an undertaking by modern travel standards. The two leaping off points are the southern tip of South America, or New Zealand – which both involve some serious flying hours, before you’ve even glimpsed an iceberg.
The Antarctic Peninsula reaches its icy finger some 300km above the Antarctic Circle, making it the most northerly point of the continent, ending just 1,000km from Tierra del Fuego. This makes it by far the most accessible part of Antarctica, and the most popular destination for expedition cruises, which depart throughout the austral summer, from November to early April.
Avoiding the Drake Passage by Flying
In recent years, a small airport has opened on King George Island in the South Shetlands, meaning it is now possible to cross the Drake Passage in two hours, rather than two days. This is appealing for anyone who is worried about seasickness, as well as anyone who wants to cut two or four days’ traveling time off their vacation, depending on whether you fly one or both ways.
There are several things to consider though before you book your ticket. Antarctica vacations don’t come cheap – and flying will add extra expense. And many travelers still feel that although Antarctica is now such a safe and easy destination to reach, crossing the Drake Passage by ship is the final connection to the explorers of old – your chance to experience how they might have felt on their way to Antarctica, battered by 30ft waves, and peering out the portholes for the first glimpses of whales, seals and land after days at sea. Additionally, if you want to explore islands such as the Falklands or South Georgia – you’ll need to go by boat.
We also recommend speaking to your vacation company about what will happen if the flight is cancelled. This has happened on on rare occasions due to poor weather. Replacement flights are usually offered once conditions improve - but ships can't miss their scheduled departure time.