Antarctica is the most difficult continent to visit, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
In this guide, we’ll look at the 6 main ways you can visit Antarctica, from sightseeing-only cruises to in-depth exploration, and even how you can live there at one of the research bases.
Can You Visit Antarctica?
Yes, you can visit Antarctica as a tourist by cruise ship, on expeditions, or by flying to one of the private airports. Most visitors to the continent will sleep onboard the ship, however, there are also a growing number of hotels and camps in Antarctica if you want to explore deeper into the continent.
At the moment, you will need to book a full package for visiting Antarctica, this will include your transport, accommodation, and activities whilst you’re there. Packages vary from those that don’t leave the ship to in-depth expeditions.
According to the IAATO, 73,991 tourists visited Antarctica in the 2019-2020 season, this is up more than 100% over the past five years.
Cruise vs Fly-Cruise
There are two main modes of transport for reaching Antarctica; plane and ship. Traveling by plane is much faster, taking just two hours from South America to Antarctica compared to two full days of travel on a ship. However, it’s far more expensive since there are only private flights and airports to Antarctica. We’ll share more information on these below.
How to Visit Antarctica
The 6 main ways to visit Antarctica are:
- Antarctic Cruise-Only
- Antarctic Cruise Expedition (Most Popular)
- Deep Expedition
- Charter a Yacht
- Work in Antarctica
Below, we’ll take a look at each of these methods in more detail and provide some helpful links for viewing and booking tours.
1. Antarctic Cruise-Only
If you want to get a taste of the beautiful Antarctic landscape but you aren’t too worried about setting foot on the continent, several traditional cruise operators pass through Antarctica as part of a broader South America package.
The great thing about this option is that you can continue to enjoy the luxuries of your cruise ship whilst still sightseeing in the region. They are also generally the cheapest option per person, although this will vary by operator. If you’ve never been on a cruise before, be sure to do your research so you know what to expect.
The destinations you’ll visit will depend upon the operator and the length of the trip, however, the most typical routes will begin in Argentina and end in Chile, passing by the Antarctica peninsular on the way around the southern tip of South America (or vice versa).
Here are some of the cruise operators that include the Antarctic region as part of their routes (without shore landings):
2. Antarctic Cruise Expedition
For most people visiting Antarctica, simply passing by the continent isn’t enough, you’ll want to spend some time on the continent itself. This is where a cruise expedition comes in which is the most popular way to visit Antarctica. These are run by dedicated expedition teams on dedicated ships that sail to the Antarctic many times per year.
By taking a cruise expedition, you’ll get a taste of the many different things to do in Antarctica such as taking a zodiac boat, kayaking, hiking, and more.
The exact route of the cruise will vary depending upon the length of time and price. Whilst all of them will usually visit the Antarctic peninsular, some will take you further south past the Antarctic circle and others will include nearby Antarctica islands such as South Georgia or the South Shetland Islands.
if you’re a fan of penguins, you may also get the chance to see King, Chinstrap, Adélie, or Gentoo penguins on an expedition. However, those hoping to see Emperor penguins will probably need to take a deeper expedition (see below).
With a cruise expedition, you will sleep on board the ship every night so you still get to enjoy many of the comforts that they offer. However, this does limit how far you can explore in a single day as you will need to be back at the coast before dark. Remember, Antarctica is really far from other continents so it will take 2 full days on the ship to reach and 2 days for the return journey too.
We’ve put together a full guide where we compare the main operators to help you choose between the best Antarctica cruise expeditions.
The next option is aimed at those who want to see as much as possible on their trip or people who don’t enjoy spending too much time on ships.
With the previous option of expedition cruises, you’ll spend a total of 4 full days traveling across the Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic and return again. This eats into your sightseeing time and can be unpleasant for those that get seasick.
With a fly-cruise, you’ll take a flight to one of the private airports on the continent of Antarctica and then transfer to a cruise ship. The rest of the trip is identical to a cruise expedition with daily activities then returning to the ship to sleep and move around. You’ll then fly back to the mainland again at the end of the trip.
This option is obviously more expensive than taking the ship for the entire duration but may be perfect for certain travelers.
There are only a few operators offering fly-cruise packages, check these out:
4. Deep Expedition
If you want to explore the continent more deeply than a typical Antarctic tourist, then you’ll need to consider an option that involves staying overnight on the continent itself.
These deep expedition packages will involve flights to one of the private airports and accommodation at one of the hotels in Antarctica. This is perfect for people who want to climb some of the mountains such as Mount Sidley, go skiing, or visit the South Pole.
A deep expedition is also the best way to see Emperor penguins which are the most famous penguin species in Antarctica. They tend to live very far south compared to the other species so you’ll only be able to visit these on a deep expedition.
These packages are far more expensive than your typical cruise expedition, however, you’ll also get much more customization of your itinerary to make it a personal experience.
As well as staying at the permanent hotels (more like campsites), some expeditions will also include stays at field camps which your guide will set up as you trek across the continent.
Check out our guide to hotels in Antarctica to learn more about this type of adventure.
5. Charter a Yacht
For those with a really big budget, the 5th way you can visit Antarctica is by chartering a yacht. When we say a big budget, we really do mean big. A yacht charter to visit Antarctica can cost anything from $200,000 per week up to $1 million or more.
Not only will you live in luxury, but you’ll get plenty of input into the itinerary providing the weather is on your side.
Similar to the cruise expeditions, you’ll get to take a zodiac boat to the shoreline and try out activities such as snowmobiles and kayaking (depending upon the yacht facilities and crew). However, you won’t trek deeper into the continent as you’ll return to the yacht for evening luxuries.
We’re not experts when it comes to private yacht charters so instead, we recommend taking a look at this article over on boats international for more information.
6. Work in Antarctica
Our final option is a bit of a curveball and is perfect for those that are really keen to visit Antarctica but don’t want to fork out for one of the tour packages. It can end up being really expensive with an average trip to Antarctica costing between $7,000 and $40,000, including pre and post-trip costs.
Instead, it’s possible to get an immersive experience of the continent by working there, plus you’ll get paid for your time. However, getting staff to Antarctica is expensive and time-consuming so you’ll need to commit to a season of around 3-6 months.
You might think that working in Antarctica is only for researchers and scientists, but this is far from the truth. The scientists require a lot of support staff to keep things going at the research bases, this includes cooks, cleaners, electricians, firefighters, and more.
But keep in mind that there are lots of people who would like this opportunity so competition for roles is high, especially for non-specialist jobs.
We’re not going to go into too much detail here since this isn’t suitable for most tourists, but we can recommend this excellent guide about working in Antarctica for more information or you can check out the job portals for the respective countries below:
- Australian Antarctic Program
- British Antarctic Survey
- Polar Knowledge Canada
- Antarctica New Zealand
- United States Antarctic Program
When is the Best Time to Visit Antarctica?
The best time to visit Antarctica is between December and February, although some operators continue to offer tours into March. If you’re really keen to see penguins, consider visiting in January or February, whereas for those looking to see whales, February and March are better.
See our full guide on when to visit Antarctica for a month-by-month breakdown.
What Are the Best Things to Do in Antarctica?
Antarctica is fast becoming a hot spot for tourists so there is no shortage of activities to keep you busy. Some of our favorites include:
- Scuba diving with penguins
- Visit a research station
See our dedicated article for a full list of 19 things to do in Antarctica.