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  • Antarctica-Gentoo-Penguin-Closeup - A closeup of a gentoo penguin in Antarctica during a G Adventures expedition.
  • Crystal-Symphony_Antarctica - Crystal Symphony takes you past sweeping icebergs in Antarctica.
  • Antarctica-South-Georgia-King-Penguins - Two king penguins — the second largest species of penguin — are photographed during a G Adventures expedition of South Georgia, Antarctica.
  • Hurtigruten-Fram-in-Antarctica - An adventure of a lifetime awaits you aboard Hurtigruten's flagshp Fram as it explores the icy waters of Antarctica.
  • Antarctica-Mountain-Landscape-Penguin-Crew-Shot - A large group of penguins encountered by participants in a G Adventures expedition.
  • Hurtigruten-Fram-penguins-Antarctica-2 - Race ya! Explore the breeding site of Gentoo penguins as you travel on Hurtigruten's ship ms Fram to remote Danco Island, just off Antarctica.
  • Hurtigruten-Fram-Petermann-Island-Antarctica - Discover the awe-inspiring landscape of Petermann Island during your voyage to Antarctica aboard Hurtigruten's flagship the ms Fram.
  • Hurtigruten-Fram-penguins-Antarctica - Penguins near the Almirante Brown station in Antarctica seem to bid farewell to Hurtigruten's flagship the Fram.
  • Hurtigruten-Fram-kayaking-Antarctica - Go kayaking for an exhilarating exploration of Antarctica during your cruise aboard the Hurtigruten ship Fram.
  • Antarctica-Expedition-Ice-Penguins - A large group of penguins spotted in Antarctica, photographed during a G Adventures expedition.
  • Antarctica-kayaking-Hurtigruten-Fram - Paddle between ice floes in the waters of Antarctica during your cruise aboard Fram, Hurtigruten's flagship.
  • Antarctica-Expedition-Salisbury-Plains-Penguins - Two emperor penguins in Salisbury Plains, Antarctica, during a G Adventures expedition.
  • Hurtigruten-Fram-Lemaire-Channel-Antarctica - The Hurigruten flagship Fram disappears into the mists of the dramatic Lemaire Channel on its voyage to Antarctica.
  • Antarctica-Neko-Inlet-Gentoo-Penguin - A gentoo penguin seems a tad downcast during a G Adventures expedition of Neko, Antarctica.
  • Antarctica-Iceberg-Landscape - See the otherwordly cool blue ice of Antarctica during a G Adventures expedition aboard the Expedition.
  • Antarctica-Chinstrap-Penguin - A chinstrap penguin in Antarctica, photographed during a G Adventures expedition.
  • Holland-America-Ryndam-Antarctica - Holland America's Ryndam sails through the Lemaire Channel of Antarctica.
  • Antarctica-Leopard-Seal - A leopard seal in Antarctica encountered during a G Adventures expedition.
  • Hurtigruten-Fram-penguin-Antarctica - Get up close and personal with penguins when you explore Antarctica during an expedition cruise on Hurtigruten's flagship the Fram.
  • Ponant-Antarctica2.png - Experience the raw beauty of Antarctica on a Ponant expedition cruise.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Adelie-penguin-iceberg.jpg - An adult Adelie penguin trundles along on an iceberg in Antarctica during a Lindblad expedition.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Adelie-penguins.jpg - Adult Adelie penguins plunge into Antarctica's frigid waters during a Lindblad expedition.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Explorer-at-sea.jpg - Take an adventure of a lifetime to Antarctica aboard National Geographic Explorer with a Lindblad expedition.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Explorer-bow.jpg - Experience the breathtaking sights of Antarctica from the bow of National Geographic Explorer during a Lindblad expedition.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Explorer-Gentoo-Penguins.jpg - Watch gentoo penguins close up during a Lindblad expedition to Antarctica.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Explorer-icebergs.jpg -  Get breathtaking views of icebergs while sailing through Lindblad Cove on a Lindblad expedition.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Explorer-Lemaire-Channel.jpg -  Get incredible views of ice floes in the Lemaire Channel of Antarctica during a Lindblad expedition on National Geographic Explorer.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Explorer-Shore.jpg - National Geographic Explorer can sometimes take you right up to the edge of the ice in Antarctica.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Gentoo-Penguin.jpg -  A gentoo penguin looks skyward while standing on an iceberg during a Lindblad expedition in Antarctica.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-gentoo-penguins-2.jpg -  Young gentoo penguins trundle across a snow field in Antarctica during a Lindblad expedition.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-gentoo-penguins-chicks-parent.jpg -  A gentoo penguin parent with two chicks on Pleneau Island near the Antarctic Peninsula during a Lindblad Expeditions tour.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-gentoo-penguins.jpg - Kayakers in Antarctica take photos of gentoo penguins during a Lindblad Expeditions trip.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Hiking-Adelie Penguin.jpg -  While hiking in Antarctica on a Lindblad expedition, have an up-close encounter with an Adelie penguin.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-hiking.jpg -  Go on an action-packed hike of Neko Harbor, Antarctica, during a Lindblad expedition.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-humpback-whale-tour.jpg - Adventure travelers on a Lindblad Expeditions trip see a humpback whale breach the surface near the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-humpback-whale.jpg - Travelers on a Lindblad Expeditions tour get a closeup look at a humpback whale near the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-iceberg-Adelie-penguin.jpg - A lone Adelie penguin shows off the size of a massive iceberg during a Lindblad expedition to Antarctica.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-kayaking-seal.jpg -  While kayaking on a Lindblad Expeditions trip to Antarctica, enjoy an up-close encounter with a crabeater seal.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-minke-whale.jpg - Guests on a Lindblad Expeditions tour spot a minke whale in Paradise Bay, Antarctica.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-Penguins.jpg - Penguins line up, single file, along the edge of the ice in Antarctica to watch travelers on a Lindblad Expeditions tour.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-sunset.jpg - A tabular iceberg in Antarctica at sunset, seen during a Lindblad Expeditions tour.
  • Lindblad-Expeditions-Antarctica-sunset-1.jpg - A tabular iceberg in Antarctica at sunset, seen during a Lindblad Expeditions tour.
  • antarctica-ice-floes.jpg - Experience the breathtaking sights of Antarctica from the bow of National Geographic Explorer during a Lindblad expedition.
  • Ponant-Antarctica-penguin.jpg - Cruise Ponant to Antarctica. Formal night optional.
  • Ponant-Antarctica-Bongrain-Pt.jpg - See the wonders of Antarctica on Ponant's Le Lyrial. Here's Bongrain Point on Pourquoi Pas Island.
  • Ponant-Antarctica-penguins.jpg - Cruise Ponant to Antarctica and get up close and personal with some king penguins.
  • Ponant-Antarctica-Salisbury-penguin.jpg - The Salisbury Plain in the far south Pacific in the breeding ground for 60,000 king penguins.
  • Ponant-Antarctica-whale.jpg - See whales close up on your Ponant cruise to Antarctica.
  • Ponant-Antarctica.jpg - Sail on a Ponant luxury expedition ship from Ushuaia, Argentina, to  Antarctica.
  • antarctica-blue-iceberg.jpg - A blue iceberg spotted during a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-chinstrap-penguin.jpg - A chinstrap penguin seen on a shore excursion to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-expedition.jpg - Members of a Lindblad expedition atop a rock outcropping on Antarctica.
  • antarctica-iceberg-and-reflection.jpg - Turquoise waters lap against an iceberg on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-iceberg.jpg - An iceberg disguised as a Phantom of the Opera mask seen during a sailing to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-penguins-waters-edge.jpg - Penguins at the water's edge seen during an expedition cruise to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-penguins.jpg - Penguins, penguins everywhere: a gathering seen during a cruise to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-seal.jpg - A seal encountered on an expedition cruise to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-wildlife2.jpg - Marine life seen on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-wildlife.jpg - Marine life seen on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica.
  • antarctica-ship-bow.jpg - Icebergs in Antarctica seen from the bow of the National Geographic Explorer.
  • National-Geographic-Explorer-in-antarctica.jpg -  The National Geographic Explorer during a sailing to Antarctica.
  • richard-and-ellen-miller.jpg - Richard and Ellen Miller during a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica.
  • whale-fin-in-antarctica.jpg - Whale sightings are a common occurrence during sailings to Antarctica.
  • richard-and-ellen-miller2.jpg - Richard and Ellen Miller during a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica.
  • richard-and-ellen-miller2 copy.jpg - Richard and Ellen Miller during a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica.
  • le-boreal-in-antarctica.jpg - The Ponant luxury expedition ship Le Boreal in Antarctica.
  • Ponant-Antarctica1.png - Join a Ponant cruise expedition to Antarctica for an otherworldly experience.

Antarctica travel guide & photo tour

our guide

The vibe

First of two parts. Also see:

Some 40 ships carrying six to 500 passengers conduct pleasure cruises in Antarctica each year, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, which sets tourism guidelines. Ships are limited to bringing a maximum of 500 passengers ashore.

Why go? Many passengers choose an Antarctic cruise for the most Everest of reasons: because it’s there. Still others are seduced by a relatively painless (although not inexpensive) way of adding an elusive seventh continent to their travel résumés. Virtually all succumb to astonishment once they get to the bottom of the world. I've cruised there, and it was one of the most memorable, mesmerizing experiences of my life.

Practically none of the considerations that normally apply to tourism apply to Antarctica. There are no hotels or restaurants. There is no nightlife. In fact, during the tourist season, there is no night at all. There are no cities. There isn’t even soil.

Sound perfect? You have a pretty wide range of options, but keep in mind that nearly all cruises take place during Antarctica's summer months of December to February — and they often sell out a year or more in advance.

Cruise ships that sail to Antarctica

Top reasons to go

  • Once-in-a-lifetime experience encountering penguins and other wildlife.
  • Highly educational voyage that will impart a renewed respect for the planet.
  • Sights so sublime that even the most jaded traveler will be hushed to silence.

Antarctica: What to see & do

Describing the appeal of the world’s highest, driest, coldest, windiest, emptiest, most isolated continent is like trying to put a verbal finger on something beyond comprehension. It’s not just the elemental beauty that makes an impression, it’s the overwhelming vastness, the fragile purity, the sense of privilege that comes with beholding one of the last pristine places on the planet, a frozen Eden.

OK, are you ready to cross this off your bucket list? In the second part of this series I lay out the logistics: how to get there, getting situated in Ushuaia, Argentina, wi-fi down there, shore excursions to Tierra del Fuego, what to expect when navigating the Drake Passage and what to bring on your journey.

Crystal Symphony takes you past sweeping icebergs in Antarctica.
Courtesy of Crystal CruisesCrystal Symphony takes you past sweeping icebergs in Antarctica.

Best time to go

The cruise season is the Southern Hemisphere's summer, December through February. The weather in the peninsular “banana belt” where most cruise ships sail is not as cold as you might guess, so long as the wind is not blowing.  Blue-sky “bikini weather” —temperatures in the 40s, even low 50s — happens, too. 

When you arrive

Docking information

In Ushuaia, Argentina, ships dock at a long pier on the edge of town. Larger ships on longer cruises often depart for Antarctica from Valparaiso, Chile, or Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Passengers are brought ashore in inflatable expedition boats that make either “wet” (waterproof boots needed) or “dry” landings.

Getting around in Ushuaia

Ushuaia – the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and the southernmost city in the world – is highly walkable, and taxis are abundant.

Eco considerations

A chinstrap penguin in Antarctica, photographed during a G Adventures expedition.
Daniel Sendecki / Courtesy of G AdventuresA chinstrap penguin in Antarctica, photographed during a G Adventures expedition.

The cruise lines are good about making sure visitors don't disrupt Antarctica's fragile ecosystem (if only Washington's politicians would be so conscientious!). We like Hurtigruten's motto: "Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints."

Need to know

Language: English on your cruise ship, Spanish in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Currency: In Ushuaia, credit cards or the Argentine peso. Change money at kiosks on the pier, at banks or at ATM machines in town.

Your take

Have you been to Antarctica? Please share your story, tip or discovery. What was the highlight for you? How did you fair across the Drake? Photos, too, are welcome, I'd love to see them!

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

miles to go!

click map for travelers' photos

Janet Fullwood
Janet Fullwood is an editor, writer and photographer-at-large specializing in travel and hospitality topics.

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Overheard

 “Once the ship passed the storm and reached the islands off the peninsula, the 122 passengers understood what Dorothy felt as she opened the farmhouse door in Oz: brilliant blue sky in a majestic land, its horizons defined by mountains and perennial winter.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“A handful of the top luxury and expedition cruise ships have a one- or two-year wait list, say Lorenzo Urra of Global Noman.  If you'd like to go in 2016, you'll have to put down a deposit this month.”

Condé Nast Traveler magazine

“No place on earth compares to this vast white wilderness distilled to an elemental haiku: snow, ice, water, rock. Antarctica is simply stunning.”

Lonely Planet

“I don't know how your remember the rumble of thunder on a sunny afternoon, the signal that somewhere a glacier is cracking. I don't know that anyone can fully remember the phosphorescent blue of an iceberg, or the motion of a ship in 30-foot swells, or the fading sound of 20,000 penguins as you sail away from them... It was all too much to grasp. ”

Travel + Leisure magazine

“Antarctica is probably the most accessible inaccessible place in the world. … Accessibility, though, doesn't take anything away from Antarctica's big drawing cards, which include endless stretches of ice, huge icebergs, an abundance of whales and other marine life, and penguins by the thousands.”

Frommer’s

Your take: share your experience


Shore excursions

 
 
 
 

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