Your comprehensive travel guide to Antarctica- All in one place!
The things to do in Antarctica are some of the most unique things to do in the world. There aren’t many places where you can sit at arm’s length from a penguin, see some of the largest icebergs in the world, and freeze your bum off at the same time. Although most cruise ships go during the summer months, it isn’t as cold as you would expect in Antarctica.
History and Government
Antarctica has no permanent residents, just the 1,000 to 5,000 scientists who staff its research centers, usually for a few months at a time. But more and more are coming to visit: more than 45,000 tourists visited Antarctica during its most recent summer and on average about 30,000 visitors flock to the frigid continent each year. Trips don't come cheap: a round-trip ticket — most likely by cruise ship — to the bottom of the earth can cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Nevertheless, at least five people have been born in Antarctica, the first being Argentinean Emilio Marcos Palma, whose mother, Silvia Morella de Palma, flew there to give birth in order to beat Chile in having the first Antarctica-born baby, on Jan. 7, 1978 — marking the southernmost birth in history. And despite not having much of a local economy, Antarctica still boasts a postal service, including branches of the U.S. Postal Service, to send and receive mail.
The ice sheet which covers 98 percent of Antarctica’s landmass began to form around 34 million years ago. Before this, Antarctica had a warmer climate in which flora flourished. In 2014, fossil discoveries suggested that, 37 to 40 million years ago, ‘colossal’ penguins, perhaps two meters tall, were among its inhabitants, dwarfing the emperor penguins which now inhabit the Antarctic coast.
Geography and Environment
The differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic are stark. The Arctic is a large ocean surrounded by land. Antarctica is a large continent surrounded by an even larger ocean. Antarctica is big. At 14,245,000 square kilometers it is the fifth largest continent and getting on to twice the size of Australia and 1½ times the area of the US. Antarctica is a roughly circular continent with a long finger of land reaching out to South America as if trying to stay connected to the rest of Gondawana as it drifted away. Two major indentations in the coast are ice-infested seas, studded with icebergs encased in the frozen sea. At the head of these bays are ice shelves and the glaciers that feed them, leading into the heart of a vast frozen land. “The Antarctic” encapsulates the continental land of Antarctica and the surrounding barrier of cold stormy ocean.
Area and Population
Antarctica's population is comprised mainly of the scientific research staff. The number of residents varies, from around 1100 in the harsh Antarctic winter to around 4,400 in the milder summer months of October to February, plus an additional staff of 1,000 in the nearby waters.
Antarctica has no indigenous inhabitants, the only permanent and summer-only staff at its many research stations. Along with the 1,100 to 4,400 research staff, there is usually an additional 1,000 personnel, including ship's crew and scientists performing on-board research in the waters of the treaty region of Antarctica.
With Antarctica lacking any permanent residents, there is no unique culture here, but visitors can learn more about the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration by visiting the former whaling station at South Georgia. The site features a museum and remarkably well-preserved, abandoned expedition huts of Scott on Ross Island to get an idea of the conditions experienced by early explorers.
Food and Drink
When you are in Antarctica, remember that the best Antarctica food options will keep you warm while providing energy. For example, Pemmican is a tasty mix of ground and dried meat mixed with a whole lot of fat. In addition to being economical, Pemmican provides an energy boost without caffeine. The dish doesn’t look particularly appetizing, but you’ll need to taste it to find out whether you like it or not.
Bannock is another Antarctica traditional food item that will keep you going despite the bitter cold. Although its origins are in the UK, this bread’s recipe has been adopted by travelers throughout the world including in Antarctica.
Due to geography, expect to eat less fresh fruit and vegetables in Antarctica than you would at home. Due to the importing of products from other parts of the world, supplies are often limited.
With winter residents to the continent few and far between and largely confined to their research stations, and temporary summer visitors numbering at just a few thousand, it is no surprise that Antarctica holidays and festivals are rare. Entertainment here is centered around the cruise ships, with passengers mixing and mingling with fellow shipmates.
One exception to this is the Antarctic Polar Plunge, commonly held in Deception Bay, but possible at just about any secure ice flow. This unusual event sees visitors brave the below-freezing Antarctic waters, which are among the coldest in the world. These quick dips usually last only a few seconds, with the best way to warm up a steamy onboard sauna.
Best Time to Visit Antarctica
As a tourist, the only time of year you can reach Antarctica is during the summer period. However, it very much depends on what you wish to get out of your Antarctica cruise adventure.
The Antarctica summer or tourist season is roughly 5 months long from late October to late March. Although people travel to Antarctica in winter, this is usually for a specific purpose, for instance filming Emperor penguins.
To state the obvious, Antarctica is cold. You’ll want to pack waterproof gear, including pants and a jacket, as well as warm gloves, warm underclothing and a set of sturdy boots.
Antarctica is an intense experience, and accidents do happen. Every year, tourists are injured or even killed visiting the continent, and it’s important to take charge of your own safety while you’re there. The greatest dangers come on the ship when the seas get rough. The odds of sinking are low, but the risk of bumping your head is high. Make sure you have a secure handhold on the ship and be particularly careful with open doors. Similarly, exercise extreme caution when transferring from the main ship onto the boats and vice versa. Remember that a hospital is usually days, not hours, away, so the stakes are inevitably higher.