How to Travel to Antarctica

Andrew Mandemaker/Wikimedia Commons

The southernmost continent is the world’s most elusive. While explorers, navigators, and geographers had long theorized that there might be a continent at the bottom of the earth, humans only landed on Antarctica for the first time in 1821. And over the past 200 years, the destination has become a bucket-list items for many intrepid travelers. The first major era of Antarctic fever was the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which lasted from the late 19th century through roughly the end of World War I. Thousands of men applied for spots on expedition teams, with those selected sailing to Antarctica on wooden ships, braving some of the roughest seas in the world -- Drake’s Passage. The voyage proved deadly for some (Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole resulted in his death and four others) and near deadly for others (on Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, his ship was crushed by ice and sank, resulting in a grueling survival mission in which he sailed 900 miles of open sea in a lifeboat -- Shackleton saved his entire crew, and they all returned home three years after they set out). Luckily, voyages to Antarctica today aren’t nearly as grueling, though the continent is still by far the most inaccessible. If wanderlust has seized your soul and you dream of white shores, here are the ways you can make it to Antarctica.

1. Become a scientist/firefighter/chef/artist/etc.

Hannes Grobe/Wikimedia Commons

Depending on the season, there are some 70 research stations in Antarctica. The largest is the United States’ McMurdo Station, run by the United States Antarctic Program (part of the National Science Foundation), and its scientists are typically flown in on a military transport plane. And now, more than ever, their research is essential -- Antarctica's ice sheet might have reached the point of "unstoppable disintegration," according to the New York Times. Not a scientist? You can still work at the research stations, which require staff to run daily operations outside of research. Some roles include firefighter, pastry chef, clerk, hairstylist, plumber, -- the list goes on and on. The National Science Foundation also runs the Antarctic Artists & Writers Program, which brings scholars in the humanities to Antarctica to pursue a project that focuses on Antarctic science. Participants are flown in with the rest of the USAP staff.

2. Become a marathoner or an extreme skier.

Hassan Baraka/Wikimedia Commons

Yes, marathons and ultra-marathons are run in Antarctica. The registration fee for the Antarctic Ice Marathon and Half-Marathon is €15,000, and it includes chartered flights to the continent from Punta Arenas, Chile. There are also ski expeditions to Antarctica run through Ski Antarctica -- most participants must sail across the turbulent Drake Passage to reach Antarctica. There is a fly and cruise option, in which skiers fly to King George Island (the southernmost of the South Shetland Islands), therefore skipping the Drake Passage crossing, and sailing a calmer 75-mile stretch of South Ocean seas to the continent.

3. Take a cruise.

Roderick Eime/Flickr

For the non-scientist, non-research station employee, and non-extreme athlete, a cruise is more or less the only way to reach Antarctica, as there aren’t any commercial flights. Dozens of ships sail south -- typically from Ushuaia, Argentina -- on days-long journeys to the continent that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. While these ships are much more advanced than the ones used during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, they are not necessarily the luxury ocean liners you’d find in the Caribbean. Often, cruises are much smaller, as large ships can’t dock in Antarctica, and they have more limited amenities. (Two exceptions are the Seabourn Quest and Silversea’s Silver Explorer, which provide a luxury experience.) Most cruises need to sail the Drake Passage. There are two types of seas on this crossing: the “Drake Shake” and the “Drake Lake,” with the former being more common than the latter. If you’re looking to avoid this gamble, consider a fly and cruise itinerary, which follows the same procedure as the fly and cruise ski expeditions. In order to start your Antarctic journey, reach out to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which oversees all tourism to the continent. Bon voyage!

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