“Great God, this is an
- Robert Falcon Scott
(Which apparently is the best slogan the Ushuaia Tourism Board could come up with.)
In the book I left out most of the boring, practical travel details, although that kind of information may be of great interest to those of you who are planning a trip to Antarctica and Patagonia. Here I'll try to be of more use. This is also where you can find the colour photographs that I had to leave out of the book.
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Please go here to learn how to get my book for free (ebook) or buy the paperback.
Please see the updates section for the entire book for a list of reported spelling mistakes and factual errors.
I have put up photos with captions here.
How much you want to spend on an Antarctic expedition all depends on how much Antarctica you need around you to feel that you've been there. Just like Norway can feel like the North Pole some places, southern Argentina and Chile offers many places that are distinctly Antarctic to visit. They have glaciers, penguins, good skiing and whales, and it can all be experienced at a fairly low cost.
However, if you want to set your feet on the actual Antarctica, it will probably be expensive.
It's possible to sail to Antarctica from both Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but that's both a very long trip and it's certainly not cheap. A better option is to head for the southern tip of South America. You can fly to Punta Arenas in Chile via Santiago de Chile, or better, fly to Ushuaia in Argentina via Buenos Aires.
Any travel agent can arrange this for you, or you can do it yourself on the Internet.
Going via Argentina may be your best option. Mainly because most of the cruises to Antarctica leave from Ushuaia, but also because travelling in Argentina has become very good value for money since the peso stopped following the US Dollar exchange rate. Huge steaks at restaurants and accommodation of a high standard are available at good prices everywhere.
The distances in Argentina are vast, so often you will find that flying from one place to another actually works out cheaper than taking the bus, and it saves you a lot of time, too. Still, travelling long-distance by bus in Argentina is a pleasant experience, with good seats, good roads and a nice view outside(although it may get a bit boring in the long run).
The costs of travelling in Chile are about the same as in Argentina, but you may feel that the standards are slightly lower. Unless you fly, travelling from the centre of Chile to the south means you have to go via Argentina, as there are no (good) roads going south through the mountains of Southern Chile.
Now, this is where you'll have to dig out the big money. Even the cheapest cruise tickets out of Ushuaia will set you back two or three thousand US dollars, and most passengers pay even more than that. Travel agencies in Europe and North America sell packages consisting of flights to Patagonia or Fireland (Tierra del Fuego) via Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires and a cabin on a cruise ship to Antarctica. If you have the time, you will get a much better deal if you just get down to Ushuaia on your own in late December or early January, and then look around for last minute tickets on the boats that leave from there.
For saving money I recommend this option, but if you have to go to Antarctica, you should book ahead. Just showing up in Ushuaia means you risk that there are no last minute tickets available during the time you want to or can go!
A major factor deciding how good your experience will be is the weather. Noone can guarantee you good weather, but most of the time the captain will look closely at the weather forecast and move the ship towards the best possible experience. For that reason, sometimes the trip will be very different from the schedule. This is for your benefit, so please don't complain about it!
You will probably have the best trip if you go on a ship that takes a hundred passengers or less. This is because no cruise operator is allowed to have more than a hundred passengers on land at any one time. So if you're on a boat with two hundred passengers, you'll probably have just half as much time on land than you would on a smaller boat. And the best experiences are definitely to be had on land! Then again, going on a large ship is usually cheaper than going on a small ship...
Below is a list of companies that may be running cruises to Antarctica. The cruise season is generally from November to early March, but you really should try to go in January or February. Go too early and it will be very cold and there's not much life to see. Go too late and most of the penguins you see will be the young that are left behind to die when winter arrives... Icebergs, glaciers and that Antarctic light is available at all times, though!
Whichever company you choose to go with, please make sure it is a member of IAATO, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, so that you know they will conduct a safe and environmentally responsible expedition!
Nowadays even Antarctica is well wired, or at least wireless connected to the rest of the world.
Your time in Antarctica is best spent exploring, so do your reading before you go! Many books have been written by explorers, and most of them are full of tales that may scare you off going there yourself. There's no reason to be worried, the tour operators taking people to Antarctica look well after their guests. Still, it's good to be prepared for what you're going to see!
The selection of travel guides to Antarctica is fairly limited. Try to find books that have been published as recently as possible, as the valid facts in the region can change rapidly!
Here's some literature that at least touches the adventure of Patagonia and Antarctica: