When most of us think of traveling the world, we imagine hopping on a plane to South East Asia, taking a camper van around Australia, or Interrailing through Europe. The more adventurous among us will take to the wilds of Siberia or the remote Pacific Islands – but, up until recently, it was a true minority who would consider venturing as far south as Antarctica.
The ice-covered continent of Antarctica has never been inhabited by humans, and yet in recent years it has begun to attract more attention as a tourist destination. According to the latest figures, almost 40,000 tourists visit every year, and while that’s not a huge amount considering the global population, it marks a significant change in attitude.
As tourists grow more adventurous, previously untouched places like Antarctica open themselves up to new challenges – namely, alterations to the fragile ecosystem caused by human presence. The good news is, if you’re keen to visit the seventh continent, there is an eco-conscious, responsible way to do it.
The Antarctic Treaty
The first thing to know is that all visitors to the Antarctic must adhere to the environmental protocol outlined in the Antarctic Treaty. That means you must wear biosecure suits and disinfect your belongings, to ensure you aren’t bringing in non-native species. Tourists are also instructed to stay 15 feet away from all wildlife.
Other guidelines for visiting Antarctica include sticking to the established trails, avoiding walking on vegetation, and – most important of all – never littering.
Planning your Trip
Visiting the Antarctic typically involves taking a boat cruise, sometimes in combination with air travel; these cruises usually depart from Chile or Argentina. It’s possible to take a sightseeing tour of Antarctica entirely from the air (Antarctica Flights operates out of Australia), though this won’t give you the opportunity to physically set foot on the continent.
Types of Cruise
Antarctic cruises vary in terms of length, route and activities offered, so it’s a good idea to do your research and find out which trip will best suit your interests, timings and budget. Some will go by other landmasses, such as the Falkland or South Shetland Islands, and some will involve a mixture of sea and air travel. You may even get a chance to stop at Elephant Island, where 22 men from the Endurance expedition were stranded in 1915. More comprehensive cruises will offer extra activities such as sea kayaking and camping overnight. You can browse some of the cruises available at Adventure Life and Intrepid.
What to Take
No matter what style of cruise you choose, you’ll be spending time outdoors. Cruise operators will typically supply warm outerwear, but you should pack warm clothing of your own, including plenty of base layers. A camera is also a necessity – provided it can be packed in a waterproof case – and motion sickness tablets can come in handy for rough weather. Oh, and don’t forget to pack a pair of SPRESSO compression socks for that flight to Chile…
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