Situated (quite literally) at the end of the world, hidden beneath an enormous ice sheet, Antarctica was the last continent on earth to be discovered. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that one of the most common questions from travellers when discussing the globe’s coldest and driest southernmost point is; “Can you travel to Antarctica?”. However, despite the White Continent’s seemingly impossible remoteness, travelling to the world’s 7th continent is far easier than you think. In fact, Antarctica has never been so accessible to adventurers, now offering an incredible range of luxury Antarctic tours.
While most approach Antarctica via the tip of South America, as this is the quickest and most accessible route, there are other ways to reach the White Continent. Let our expert team of Travel Specialists guide you in finding the right option for your Antarctic adventure.
Where is Antarctica?
Antarctica is the fifth largest of the globe’s seven continents, with two large indentations, the Ross Sea, and the Weddell Sea. The nearest continent is South America, situated approximately 1,000 km (621 mi) from Antarctica’s mainland, which sums up to a total surface area of around 14.2 million km2 (about 5.5 million mi2) in summer.
While the continent remains isolated from the rest of the world, with its wildlife and wild places operating as they have for millennia, its unforgettable, and somewhat ethereal, beauty is entirely reachable—and waiting for you to explore it.
When is the best time to travel to Antarctica?
The best time to visit most of Antarctica is between mid-November and March. During these months, temperatures are milder, with a greater chance of spotting penguins and whales. The first voyages of the season reach Antarctica around the end of October to early November when the sea ice opens just enough to allow ships into the pristine glacial landscapes.
Travellers can traverse Antarctica any time from November to April, but these are the only months of the year the White Continent is accessible as from May to September, it is physically impossible to reach.
How to get to Antarctica: Cruise or Fly-cruise
The easiest way to get to Antarctica is from the southern tip of South America. There are two common departure points: Ushuaia, Argentina, and Punta Arenas, Chile, both located in the Patagonian region.
Traditionally, sailing was the only way to reach Antarctica, and while it remains the most common route, but it is now also possible via a short two-hour flight. Most cruises leave from Ushuaia, Argentina, and usually involve sailing across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula or sailing to the Subantarctic Islands of the Falklands or South Georgia before continuing to Antarctica. Whereas fly-cruise trips leave from Punta Arenas, Chile providing explorers can have the unique experience of flying a private charter to Antarctica—or more specifically, to King George Island—arranged specifically for their expedition.
The two port cities of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas don’t offer international flights, so you’re likely to have to fly via Buenos Aires, Argentina or Santiago, Chile. Most trips depart and return to the same location, but occasionally you may fly out from Punta Arenas and sail back to Ushuaia, or vice versa. Luckily, flying into one country and out of the other is not only doable but also accessible.
The decision whether to cruise or fly-cruise to Antarctica ultimately depends on how much time you have, what you wish to see, and what your budget is.
Most Antarctic voyages depart from Ushuaia, a three-and-a-half-hour direct flight from Buenos Aires. Throughout the summer, the port of Ushuaia embarks and disembarks a multitude of expedition vessels bound for the southern wilderness, which take roughly 48 hours to reach Antarctica.
Voyages departing from Ushuaia access Antarctica by sea, and traverse the infamous Drake Passage, a 1,000 km (600 mi) notorious stretch of water that separates South America from the Antarctic Peninsula. Depending upon conditions, this crossing takes approximately a day and a half at sea and is a prime opportunity to view iconic wildlife such as the great wandering albatross.
A luxury cruise to Antarctic offers the widest choice of voyage types, ships, departure dates, and prices, and has the advantage of departures in November and March when flights to Antarctica don’t operate. This is the most economical and sustainable way of seeing the White Continent as it involves zero infrastructure being built on land.
Alternatively, travellers preferring to skip the Drake Passage can fly out of Punta Arenas, directly to an airstrip on King George Island, located adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula, in just two hours. From there, they’ll board their expedition ship, ready for their Antarctica adventure beyond. While more expensive than cruising, this travel option is becoming increasingly popular as not only does it save time, but it also means avoiding crossing the infamous Drake Passage, meaning you can spend more time experiencing rather than sailing.
Although most flights each season run on schedule, flying does carry a higher risk of delays due to the rapidly changing conditions that make accurate forecasting a challenge. However, delays are often no longer than a few hours, and for many, the modest risk in opting to fly is more than outweighed by the significant gains.