Remoteness, cost, and logistical challenges has kept Antarctica firmly on the fantasy list for most travelers. But lately, Antarctica tourism has become increasingly popular, with companies offering unique experiences like snorkeling and camping.
Considering a trip? Steve Wellmeir, former executive director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) recommends that you start looking now if you’re planning to go during the 2019-2020 season, as the best trips sell out early.
Here are 12 of the most amazing ways to explore the great white continent.
Solar Eclipse Voyage, Adventure Life
Remember the hype of the last solar eclipse? Now imagine witnessing one while sailing to Antarctica. On December 4, 2021, Adventure Life’s Solar Eclipse cruise will position itself in the drift ice of the Scotia Sea between South Georgia and the South Orkney Islands, where passengers will be treated to an once-in-a-lifetime eclipse viewing. The rest of the voyage will be pretty fun too, with stops in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Antarctica Marathon, Marathon Tours
Marathon runners are known for their casual brags about race times and courses. If you want to win every conversation, though, you should run a marathon on Antarctica. You read that right—you can actually run a marathon on Antarctica, and so many people are crazy enough to do it that the event sells out three years in advance. Thom Gilligan started the Antarctica Marathon & Half-Marathon in 1995, then went on to found the Seven Continents Club to celebrate the first four runners who completed a marathon on every continent.
You can leave your crampons behind—the course is entirely made of dirt roads, and it starts and finishes outside the Russian base on Antarctica. Runners must be hardy—they will have to be self-sufficient and “cannot expect any access to indoor facilities.” (So no Gatorade rest stations then?)
Visit Antarctica with a Former Astronaut, Hurtigruten
Why travel to Antarctica with a civilian when you can join a trip featuring former NASA Astronaut Dr. Norm Thagard? Luxury cruise line Hurtigruten is offering the Highlights of the Frozen Continent Trip with Dr. Thagard, who has participated in five space flights and spent 115 days in a space station. Together, you’ll explore the Antarctic Peninsula by kayaking, hiking, walking, and cruising.
Snorkeling, Southern Explorations
True: the Antarctic water is extremely cold (it’s between 28 and 32 degrees). False: Nothing lives in it. Sign up for polar snorkeling on a Southern Explorations cruise and you’ll be sharing the crystal-clear water with penguins, seals, and plenty of other sea life. Southern Explorations will outfit you with specially designed waterproof snorkel drysuits, hoods, and gloves to keep you warm and dry while you float through the clear blue water enjoying visibility you won’t find in any other body of water.
Sailing Antarctica: The Ultimate Polar Nature Expedition, Natural Habitat Adventures
Most ships that visit Antarctica are hefty cruise liners designed to carry plenty of people and break a lot of ice. Now imagine a more romantic way to get there—by a sailboat, and you have Natural Habitat Adventures’ trip. Its boat, a 75-foot, ice-strengthened moto sailboat, can take just seven tourists, making this trip possibly the most exclusive way to visit the continent. The company has a special permit from the National Science Foundation that allows passengers to camp on Antarctica for up to three nights. Thanks to the small group size, you’ll also get 10 days of small-group shore excursions, which includes kayaking and hiking.
Stand-up Paddleboarding, Quark Expeditions
How’s your balance? Hopefully made better by the threat of Artic waters underneath you. Take one of Quark Expeditions’ selected Antarctica Cruises and you’ll have to opportunity to book a stand-up paddleboarding adventure. Small groups of 10 travelers will float over calm bays and harbors, and don’t worry—you’ll be outfitted in good gear in case you do take an inadvertent dip.
Ross Sea Explorer, World Expeditions
If you have $23,000 and 30 days to spare, you can follow in the footsteps of famed polar explorers Sir James Clark Ross and Ernest Shackleton on World Expeditions’ Ross Sea Explorer trip. You’ll visit historic huts that the early explorers occupied, as well as research station that current-day scientists and researchers use. You’ll see plenty of penguins as well, as the trip passes through the breeding grounds of Adelie and Emperor penguins.
Luxury Camp, Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions
Sip Champagne from the private patio of your heated suite while you gaze at the mountains and glaciers of Antarctica. Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions Three Glaciers Camp is the height of luxury at the bottom of the world, with eight tented suites that are all equipped with heat and power. After a day of exploring in the cold, you’ll return to comfort—think white oak and walnut bed frames topped with plush mattresses, sateen sheets, and down duvets, plus gourmet meals prepared by a private chef with fresh ingredients flown in from Chile.
Cruise on a Brand New Luxury Ship, Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises
Antarctica cruise ships are generally more about comfort than luxury, but Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises is trying to change that. In 2020, they will be launching the inaugural season of the Crystal Endeavor, a luxury expedition yacht that will have all-suite, butler-serviced accommodations. The Endeavor might be built to PC6 Polar Class specifications to take you to the furthest reaches of the Earth, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have fine dining—like Nobu Matshuisa’s only floating restaurant.
ClimateForce, The Explorer’s Passage
More concerned with the environment than luxury? Apply for a spot on The Explorer’s Passage ClimateForce journey, which takes groups to Antarctica to educate them on climate change and renewable energy, with the hope that they will become advocates for the environment.
According to The Explorer’s Passage Founder Jeff Bonaldi, they will be conducting a new project in Antarctica “towards the end of the year and another ship to Antarctica in 2020”.
Fly/Cruise Antarctica, Cox & Kings
Catch a flight from Chile to King George Island and skip over the notoriously rough Drake Passage with Cox & Kings’ Fly/Cruise Antarctica tour. You’ll fly on a BAE-146 aircraft that’s designed for super short runways and can take off in land in tough conditions. Opting to arrive by plane means that you’ll have more time to explore Antarctica without having to sacrifice precious vacation days at sea.
Visit the South Pole, Ker & Downey
The first explorers to the South Pole had to complete an arduous and life-threating trek to get there. Today, you can book a trip with Ker & Downey on which you’ll take a private jet from Cape Town into Antarctica. Once there, you’ll stay in a luxury tented camp before journeying to the southernmost point on earth. White Desert Camp even has six state-of-the-art sleeping pods with private shower pods, so you’ll look fresh and clean when you roll up at the South Pole.
More from SmarterTravel:
- How Not to Get Sick on a Cruise
- The Best Cruise Ships for Every Taste and Budget
- The Ultimate Cruise Packing List: What to Pack for a Cruise
Antarctica is at the top of Caroline Morse Teel’s bucket list. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from the other six continents she’s visited.