Antarctica is the coldest (temperatures drop lower than -50ºC), driest (it’s technically a desert), highest (average elevation: 2500m) and most remote continent on earth – and also its most beautiful.
The globe’s last great wilderness is waiting.
Here’s everything you need to know about exploring this frozen wonder—from when to go, how to get there and how to do it in style.
When is the best time to go to Antarctica?
Antarctic expeditions run from October to mid-March and offer different windows on the frozen continent.
“It’s up to what emphasis you want to put on your journey. For instance, do you want to see cute, fluffy penguin chicks at the height of summer? Or, marvel at their full regalia of waterproof feathers towards the end of the season?” says Hurtigruten VP Expedition, Karin Strand.
“Spring sailings in October and November show Antarctica when it’s waking up after its long slumber,” says Strand. Summertime sailings offer the continent at its warmest and are illuminated by the ever-present glow of the midnight sun, while late-season sailings take advantage of the ice melt to offer the thrill of heading far south to the Polar Circle — a destination few travellers get to see.
How do I get there?
Your trip to Antarctica begins at the Argentinitan port of Ushuaia, which Hurtigruten offers return flights to from Australia and New Zealand (plus additional accommodation before and after your expedition cruise).
You’ll set sail from Ushuaia for around 36 to 48 hours across the famed Drake Passage — and contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always a stormy crossing. “It’s more often the Drake Lake,” says Strand. “Sometimes people are disappointed when it isn’t rough and choppy!”
However, once you’re immersed in the frozen landscape, the adventure factor well and truly turns up a notch as icebergs begin dotting the horizon.
One of the things Strand enjoys most is watching guests’ faces when they first enter the Antarctic waters. “Seeing the first iceberg is always a moment of celebration.”
Once you’re immersed in the frozen landscape, Hurtigruten’s inclusive packages offer countless unforgettable experiences including zodiac cruises, kayaking and shore landings, as well as optional extras such as snowshoeing, camping on the ice and even taking a bracing polar plunge.
What's the best way to travel around Antarctica?
Amid this beautifully hostile wilderness, you’ll be living in comfort onboard one of Hurtigruten’s three premium Antarctic expedition cruise ships. “We see the ship as base camp, only an extremely comfortable base camp!” says Strand. Chic minimalist interiors and an array of international cuisine, from burgers made with prime Argentinian beef to raw food vegan smoothies, all based on high-end produce sourced from port, make onboard living easy indeed.
What animals will I see? Is there a best time to go to see certain wildlife?
There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing colonies of penguins, lolling seals and majestic whales in this pristine environment. Depending on the season, you might see fluffy penguin chicks cared for by their doting parents, whales feeding on krill, or leopard seals hunting. “By January to February the penguin chicks grow in all their cute stages, from fluff to losing fluff, to being curious about how to swim — you see them putting their heads in but not taking a dip,” says Strand. Late season is the best time to see whales including orca, fin whales and humpbacks, which are rebounding from near extinction in great numbers.
What are the highlights on shore?
Your experience of Antarctica with Hurtigruten Expeditions involves a series of unforgettable shore landings — perhaps at a scenic harbour or a lively penguin rookery. “When conditions are right, we also do ice landings,” says Strand. “Typically, at the start of the season we land on floating pieces of ice or fast ice, which is still attached to the shore. It’s very special.” Once ashore, you’re free to explore on your own, guided by the expertise of the Expedition Team, who will take you closer than you’ve ever been to cathedral-esque glaciers or Arctic penguin hatchlings (depending on the time of year).
“It’s easy to find a private place to appreciate the landscape in your own time,” says Strand. “There’s nothing like feeling immersed in the landscape, far from the rest of the world.”
Is travelling to Antarctica bad for the environment?
One of the harsher realities of travel is that everything we do as humans has an impact. However, many cruise companies are investing in greener technology with the aim to deliver the most sustainable expedition experience possible.
After launching the world’s first-ever hybrid battery ships, Hurtigruten Expeditions has placed an emphasis on finding new ways to further lighten its footprint, including pursuing cutting-edge hull design, an innovative engine-heated water system, and banning most single-use plastics.
“Antarctic tourism is a niche industry, however the outreach we have in terms of being a force for raising consciousness is incredible,” says Strand. “When it comes to preserving this beautiful place, seeing is believing. People come back from Antarctica changed; it’s such a powerful experience.”
What will I see and do when I'm in Antarctica?
Curious minds are drawn to the great southern continent. Hurtigruten Expeditions’ expert lectures interpret and explain what you have witnessed on the ice while the Citizen Science Program offers the chance to become actively involved in Antarctic protection.
Guided by the onboard team of marine biologists, ornithologists, geologists and environmental scientists, you can take part in collecting water samples, tracking penguins and seabirds and recording cloud cover. “Projects vary from season to season because collaborations with universities change,” says Strand. “But they’re always fascinating. Come play with us!”