Antarctica remains one of the most unique destinations on earth, and for many travellers it’s a once in a lifetime trip. As the most remote continent in the world, 100 years ago no more than a handful of people had made the journey, though today it is slowly becoming a popular destination for tourism, and around 30,000 travellers visit every year.
You may think you know what there is to do – see giant ice-bergs, sail past ice shelves, and perhaps jump in a kayak to find yourself dwarfed by phenomenally sheer cliffs. You might also expect to encounter penguins on your trip.
Though the list of things to do in Antarctica is surprisingly diverse, the following activities are adventures that anyone can take while on an expedition cruise.
One of the biggest goals of an Antarctica journey is to step foot on the continent itself. Hiking is something that everyone can enjoy, no matter your level of physical fitness.
Imagine standing on a hill, overlooking an ice-filled bay filled with brilliant blue and white icebergs. Views that were reserved for only the bravest of explorers in the ninetieth and twentieth centuries can now be enjoyed by anyone in good health.
Hiking programs vary depending on what each individual wants to do. There are always options for shorter walks, mid range hikes, or those which may last from 2-3 hours and involve more challenging terrain. Shorter walks may involve walking along a beach, or up to an excellent viewpoint, though all hiking is non-technical and easy to manage in rubber boots (provided for you).
Around 30 countries have research stations across the Southern Continent employing around 4,000 people in the summer and 1,000 in the winter. Most cruises include the opportunity to visit a base.
Research stations vary in size, some resembling a small city, others a cluster of buildings on a hillside. Visiting travellers have the chance to walk around, tour the facilities, and interact with the researchers and staff which is a terrific opportunity to gain insight into life on an Antarctic base.
Many stations also have gift shops and a bar where you can send postcards, or warm your frozen insides! Most cruise ships only drop by for a short tour, though some allow you to book an overnight stay.
Kayaking is one of the most popular activities for travellers to Antarctica, allowing you to explore the smaller inlets that cruise ships can’t get through. It’s an intimate experience among the grandeur of the frozen continent, and you’ll come face to face with penguins, seals and possibly whales as they swim around your kayak.
Paddling between brash ice and enormous icebergs is an incredible way to take in the beauty of Antarctica. An expensive activity which averages $900 on top of your cruise, kayaking is well worth the expense for such a unique experience. The peacefulness and serenity as you drift through Antarctica’s majestic landscape is something for which you can’t place a value.
Zodiacs are small inflated boats, powered by a motor, which are used to transport passengers from the cruise ship to each landing site. While you’ll use them each day for shore landings, you may also have the opportunity to take a joy ride / cruise.
Zodiac trips are similar to kayaking in the sense that they can reach the smaller inlets and channels which the cruise ship can’t. But the advantage of having a motorized vessel over a kayak is that you can move fairly quickly if, for instance, you spot impressive wildlife in the distance.
One of Antarctica’s biggest draws is its incredible wildlife, and much like the Galapagos Islands, animals here roam free and have no fear of close contact with humans.
Penguins will stare straight into your camera lens, and whales will swim within 100 meters of your boat. You can sit next to a colony of seals without disturbing them, and it’s these kinds of close up encounters that makes Antarctica such an unrivalled destination for wildlife.
Though it’s important to keep in mind that you’re there to observe and not interact. As visitors to this pristine land, our job as travellers is to make sure our actions don’t interfere with the behavior of native species.
If you’re a bit bored of your comfortable room aboard the cruise, camping on the ice has become a popular way to capture the feeling that early Antarctic explorers faced before you.
All camping gear is provided, including your sleeping bags, mats and waterproof bivvy bag or tent. Sleeping under the midnight sun is a unique opportunity, and as you enjoy the complete silence you’ll see an ocean of stars come to light above.
When packing for Antarctica, it may not occur to you that you might want to go for a swim. Taking a dip in the near freezing waters of the Antarctic Ocean is probably not what you had in mind. Though it’s a rite of passage for adventurous travellers, and many strip down to their bathers for what they call they “polar plunge”.
Depending on your cruise, you’ll either jump from the ship, or sprint in from the bay at Deception Island; a large flooded caldera, inside an active volcano, and one of the safest naturally sheltered harbors in the world.
While the adrenalin rush coursing through your body will prevent you from truly experiencing the shock, you can’t take more than a couple of seconds for your swim; at -2°C most travellers are frantically looking for the exit as soon as their feet have hit! Don’t take your wetsuit.
Photography is a huge part of any Antarctic journey, and a great way to share and remember your trip. However the landscapes and scenery in Antarctica are some of the most majestic and pristine man has ever seen. And there’s a fine balance between being present in the moment, and experiencing it through a camera screen.
Take your photos, by all means. This land is a photographers dream. But after you’ve taken your shot, put the camera down and appreciate the view. Appreciate the view for you.
There are many gateways to Antarctica, however most cruises leave from Ushuaia in Argentina.
To experience the above activities you need to book a cruise which specifically includes land based excursions. International regulations limit the number of people allowed on land at any one time, so large cruise ships with 500 passengers will only offer a “sightseeing” experience. For expedition cruises which take you ashore, we recommend Chimu Adventures.
Due to the remoteness of the destination, travel insurance is a must for any Antarctica cruise. Cover-More offers coverage for land based activities as well as life onboard the cruise. Contact us for a quote today.
Megan Jerrard is an Australian Journalist and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan, an award-winning travel blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe. At 29 she has lived a life full of more adventure than most people dream of – having skydived over the Swiss Alps, walked among the mighty Elephants of Africa, and summited the highest free-standing mountain in the world (Kilimanjaro). Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.