In the wake of last week’s cruise-ship sinking off Antarctica, a common thread emerged in media stories: Is rapidly growing tourism to the remote land dangerous for both travelers and the continent itself?
IgoUgo writers who braved bone-chilling cold and beyond-choppy waters for their trips of a lifetime share these tips for safe and rewarding travels to the end of the earth:
Help out on a scientific or educational expedition: Pollution researcher and frequent Artic (and now Antarctic) traveler tony hansen is lucky that one of his research proposals landed him at the South Pole. But even if you’re not a scientist, you can choose an expedition that works to further environmental research and education; kwasiak recommends taking a trip with the acclaimed Students on Ice organization. In addition to education, they offer adventure to spare: on her expedition, she even watched as her vessel rescued another ship! Similarly, rodeime chose to travel with Adventure Associates, a cruise operator that offers in-depth education programs on board their ships.
Save money on a last-minute cruise: Creative thinker DeAnn saved $1,500 on a 10-day, peak-season cruise by booking her ticket through a travel agent in Ushuaia, Argentina, the day before the ship left port. She says that even her shared room was an “absolute luxury after traveling on a budget through South America!”
Work your way there with Antarctic employment: If you’ve got some time on your hands, take a cue from John Lamb and get a job at McMurdo Station. His tales of working there for 4 months as a janitor (or “custodial artist,” as he puts it) are incredible. For the seafarers out there, there’s the option of working on an expedition boat à la armchairadventures, who says that “for nature, wildlife, and photography, it will exceed your expectations in every way.”
Treat personal safety as your priority: Demand a pre-trip checklist from your cruise operator and follow it to a T, says jemery. He also recommends practicing walking in tall rubber boots beforehand, and once you’re there, to remember you’re in remote wilderness and should not stray from your leaders. Another thing to remember when stepping onto the ice, based on his experience: “There is no shame in refusing a landing, even if the driver needs to make a special trip back to the ship for you.”
Consider cruising the peri-Antarctic islands: Adventurer jorgejuan hopped on the Marion Dufresne research vessel to experience the French Southern and Antarctic Territories: the islands of Crozet, Kerguelen, Amsterdam, and Saint Paul. They’re even less populated than Antarctica itself and offer a similar beauty, including sightings of meteorites and stunning austral dawns.
Choose a small ship: IgoUgo members say the extra money is worth the experience of being on a vessel with fewer people. Because there are restrictions on how many people can disembark in Antarctica at a time, says DeAnn, you might spend your time on a larger ship waiting for your turn. And the zodiacs that cruise ships use to ferry passengers ashore only hold about 12 people at a time, so RSchoettger recommends choosing a ship with less than 100 passengers.
Prepare yourself for the Drake Passage: Resign yourself to the fact that you will feel seasick crossing the choppiest waters on the planet. Both PennyLisa and globalroamer did. This portion of the trip is a good time to remember kwasiak’s words of advice: “one hand on the ship at all times, and when it is rougher, both hands on the ship.”
Find books to enhance your experience: Another great piece of advice from kwasiak is to pick up books, and two in particular, to help you fully appreciate your experience. She recommends buying Endurance by Caroline Alexander and Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica by Sara Wheeler for the best tales and photos out there.
And for more of the best tales and photos, don’t forget to read extra tips for your Antarctica expedition (even if it’s an armchair one) from these and other IgoUgo travelers before you go.