Antarctica travel advice

Antarctica travel advice


Tips from our friends in Antarctica

Advice on choosing your boat


Charlotte Caffrey, co-founder of our supplier Aqua-Firma, shares her Antarctica travel advice: “Speak to an operator who’s been on all of the ships and they’ll tell you the differences between them. Some might have bunk beds; others have bigger cabins with their own flat screen TV. But on all of them the focus is outward looking – really being exposed and enveloped by the environment that you’re in, rather than inward looking. We do offer luxury boats with a Jacuzzi on board, three course meals, a wine list – things like that. But it still holds that you’re out twice a day, being guided by experts in their field, and that’s the main priority. The experience that you get of going out twice a day every day with polar experts – that will remain the same. The frills of the ship are just an added bonus if you want that sort of thing.”
Andrew Appleyard, from our supplier Exodus, shares his top Antarctica travel advice: “My top tip would be that you need to get on a smaller vessel, because in the Antarctic you are not allowed to land more than 100 people on the islands at one time. So if you have 250 people on board, not everyone is going to get off every day – the passengers are on rotation. A smaller ship can offload in under 25 minutes – boarding the zodiacs and you’re off. But 250 people can’t get off that quickly, and not everyone gets off.”

Activity advice


Mary Curry, from our supplier Adventure Life, shares Antarctica travel advice for those who want to be more active: “The kayaking is underrated. You get a private guide, because you get a guide just for the kayaking group; you go out typically before the rest of the ship; and you go in your private zodiac.
You kayak along the coastline that a lot of travellers never get to see, because you’re not allowed to land there. I don’t usually like being in a kayak, but I it really added a lot to my Antarctic experience. But remember – it is an optional activity and it’s only available on certain trips. Many people don’t even think to add it on and then when they get there and see others doing it, they go “That’s really cool – I wish I’d done that!"

Advice on life at sea


Sarah Wightman, from our supplier Pura Aventura, offers Antarctica travel advice: “I don’t think the Drake Passage should be feared in the way it is. It should be seen as part of the journey. I got very sick for half a day, but I still quite enjoyed it! The lectures during the crossing are really interesting. On the way out they set the scene – you learn about the history and geography and gear yourself up for it. There’s lots of birdlife following the ship and you see whales. Going on deck is my top tip – the fresh air and seeing the horizon help a lot. Once your ears and get used to it and your balance centralises then you’re fine. Don’t go to your cabin if you’re feeling ill, that’s the worst thing you can do.”
Cassia Jackson, from our supplier Heritage Expeditions, shares Antarctica travel advice for those departing from New Zealand: “Ross Sea voyages are well suited to adventurous travellers, interested in history and the natural world. The ship travels a considerable distance, the expeditions are a 30-day round trip from New Zealand, including a number of sea days, so it pays to prepare yourself for this; we recommend that our expeditioners equip themselves with seasickness remedies prior. Travelling by ship to the Ross Sea, even with today's modern maritime advances and on board a comfortable vessel, helps give a greater understanding of the courage and tenacity of the early explorers who travelled this route over one hundred years ago with limited equipment and facilities.”

Health & safety


Travel safely in Antarctica

Health


  • No vaccinations are required for Antarctica. Ensure your travel insurance covers all activities you may be participating in (kayaking, diving, ice-climbing) as well as emergency evacuation. Ships have basic medical care and a doctor or nurse, but any serious treatment will require evacuation to the nearest country – which will cost thousands.
  • Bring good quality, protective sunglasses and sunscreen. There is still a hole in the ozone layer above the southern hemisphere, so the sun’s rays are harsh – made fiercer by reflecting off ice, snow and water.
  • Anyone with underlying health problems should consult a doctor before booking a trip to Antarctica. The nearest hospital is thousands of miles away, and the cold and rough conditions can cause small problems to become very large ones in no time.
  • The rolling waves of the Drake Passage and the lurching progress through ice-filled seas mean boats dip and duck unexpectedly. Be extremely careful and always “keep one hand free for the ship”. Every year, passengers suffer injuries from crashing into furniture, doors and hard surfaces. Heavy, steel, swinging doors can also cause nasty accidents if you hold on to the door frame – so don’t.
  • The Drake Passage is rough with 30ft waves tipping ships over 40 degrees. You will get seasick. Look into remedies before you depart – there are patches, wristbands, tablets and of course, good old ginger. Some ship doctors can provide injection which can treat the worst affected passengers. Fortunately, once you do make it to Antarctica, the lake-like waters allow you to enjoy every bit of the trip.
  • While there are no upper age limits on Antarctica tours and excursions are not obligatory, being in shape is highly recommended. The boats have lots of steep stairs, and the choppy crossing may result in passengers not being able to sleep or eat much, sapping strength. Boarding zodiacs down a steep gangway is physically challenging, and other activities such as kayaking, sledging and trekking on the snow and ice are much better enjoyed if you are fitter – so prepare your body before you go!

Safety


Drills are performed at the beginning of each expedition – pay attention!

Tour operators will provide detailed trip notes and packing lists. Follow them. There are no outdoor clothing shops in Antarctica, and renting gear once you get to Ushuaia is not advised as what you need may not be available, or the wrong size.

Antarctica is surprisingly dry – it’s a polar desert. This means it is easy to get dehydrated fast, so drink plenty of water, and cut down on coffee and alcohol.

Weather can change in minutes, and if you are onshore you may be called back to the boat unexpectedly. However, supplies, first aid kits and shelter are always brought ashore in case of a (rare) stranding.

A fall overboard is extremely rare – but almost always fatal.

Children are permitted on many Antarctic cruises – though there will be age limits. Children under ten are unlikely to get much out of the trip, and are less likely to understand the strict safety warnings and procedures. If you do decide to travel with children, be aware that there may not be other children onboard for them to play with, no activities designed specifically for kids – and make sure they are safe at all times.
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Antarctica advice from our travellers


Recommendations from those who have been there

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Antarctica travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
First: TAKE THE TRIP TO ANTARCTICA. It is unforgettable. Spend as much time on the bridge of the ship as possible. Go to all of the lectures. Meet new people. Seeing a place free of pollution, garbage, and hunters was fantastic and helped shape my opinions on environmentalism. – Stephen Kohn

If possible, take your laptop and blank DVDs. Not only can you view and back up your own images, but many an hour was spent on our voyage sharing images with others on board. Be prepared for changes in the proposed itinerary, it's only given as an example, really. - Judith Bewell

Certainly take time out to see some of the places en-route, whether it is Buenos Aires, Ushuaia and the surrounding areas. It takes a long time to get there so make the most of it. – Mike McCormack

Summer in Antarctica is not nearly as cold as one might expect. We often were too hot with gloves and hats on. Conditions were like a cold, windy day in the mountains. Due to the low humidity, one should always take a water bottle to stay hydrated. - Barbara Wilson

Don't take your climbing/hiking boots unless you are doing something serious. The snow is soft and wellies/gumboots are fine even for moderate hill climbs. You need the latter for getting ashore anyway. - David Oates

Set your expectations high and you still won't be disappointed because nothing prepares you for a trip to the Antarctic, South Georgia and The Falklands. The latter 2 are well worth taking in. Do not skimp on this holiday, of all the holidays you will ever take. - James Keaney
Photo credits: [small boat tip : liam quinn] [kayaking: Barry Thomas] [Small boat 2: Ben Tullis] [Zodiac: Gilad Rom] [SD cards: Daniel Sancho]
Written by Vicki Brown
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