,, We lived in the containers of the Russian research station. The cook was a pope, and we ate in their canteen (stolovaya). In other matters, the staff members of the Chilean station took care of us. We were there in January, and as Antarctica has six months of daylight in its summer, it was never dark." (Karcsi from Hungary, 2017)
“Visiting Antarctica isn’t as complicated as many people think, though it costs a lot (ten to fifteen thousand dollars) and you’ll need to set aside three to five weeks for the trip. We flew from Punta Arenas, Chile, to a peninsula, and from there we were taken to various types of terrain aboard a small-capacity military motorboat called a zodiac.
We were afraid that weather conditions would make it impossible to land on Antarctica – a trip we’d invested so much time and money in – but it was reassuring that the travel agency did everything humanly possible to ensure that we reached our destination.
On the advice we read on online forums, we chose a travel agency called Freestyle Adventure. We were travelling towards the end of the season, which meant that the range of options was more limited. The cheapest option, a five-day tour, included a visit to the continent of Antarctica and also South Georgia, of which at the time we knew nothing. We chose the sixteen-day Albatross Expedition, which cost $6600 per person, including a two-person cabin and all meals.
On the first day we entered the Drake Passage, which is one of the most dangerous bodies of water on earth. We were lucky: the sea was calm for us. The first dock was at Great Wall Station – chiefly for the Chinese travelers who made up half the passengers on board. Great Wall Station is the Chinese research base, and here we were able to use our mobile phones. This still isn’t technically Antarctica, however, which would only be reached on the fourth day, with our arrival at Portal Point.
Around Antarctica you can see whales, penguins, seals, and blue, glowing ice surfaces. Even just the fact of being able to get so close to the southernmost point on our planet was a great feeling in itself. Like our travelling companions, we were blown away by the unique character of this voyage. It was totally unlike any travel experience we’ve ever had, before or since. The landscape is breathtaking, and so unfamiliar that we barely noticed the wind, the cold, and other adverse conditions.
On the third day we reached South Georgia. Even before we boarded the ship, many people told us that this island is something totally unique in the whole Antarctic region. We were extremely fortunate that our sixteen-day tour included a stop at this island, which is home to 20-30 people and approximately five million (!) king penguins. The island is green in summer, and extremely beautiful. This is a British overseas territory, and our passports were stamped on arrival.
There are five places around the island where boats can dock – one of them is the place where whalers used to come ashore. Now the people who work here are scientific researchers. We saw the world’s most populous penguin colony – 140,000 birds!
Eight of the sixteen days of our tour were spent entirely on the ship, and this affected many travelers. Some had terrible seasickness, but more generally, most of us couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than an hour. I tried to keep a diary, but I didn’t have the patience. Fortunately the crew made a big effort to keep us all occupied – there were all kinds of popular science lectures, and even Scottish dancing lessons and Chinese karaoke. Sometimes they even organize activities were people can jump into the water, but the wind in these parts has a habit of interfering with that sort of thing.
From the ninth or tenth day I started to get my sea legs, and to enjoy the ocean travel. They gave us pills for the seasickness, and we slept really well.
This was the most memorable travel experience of my life, and really changed the way I look at and think about the world.” (Sergei, 2019)
Many travelers want a very tight schedule, spending as little time as possible on Antarctica and merely ticking off this unique destination. If this is your goal, the best way is to start from the Chilean city of Punta Arenas. Most people book a tour online with a local tour operator, paying in advance, or at least making a significant down-payment. This does not mean that we will know in advance the exact date of our tour’s departure. The company can only supply a timeframe, because departure depends on favorable weather conditions, and forecasts. On the day of our departure we depart from Punta Arenas, and within a few hours we’ve touched down on a peninsula known as Upper Path. For those who want to reach the South Pole itself, the program is different.
You can pay for a flight which will take you over Antarctica from above, and let you see it without actually setting foot on it. It seems that this option isn’t particularly popular.
Some important things to consider:
1. If you’re taking a cruise, how many stops does it make?
2. Is it important to set foot on the continent of Antarctica?
3. How many other travelers are on the ship? If it’s more than 100, they divide you into two groups every time you dock (this is mandated by international seafaring rules)
4. It’s worth asking for quote from various tour operators, because you could save as much as $1000 per person
5. If you’re not dead set on reaching the South Pole, you don’t need any special preparation.