* Guest post by Sarah Gallo
Are you ready to journey to the “Deep South”? No, not Alabama, nor South America – Antarctica! Considered by many to be the Last Frontier, Antarctica entices travelers to go farther and explore the most untouched place on Earth. Despite being the coldest, highest, and driest continent, 98% of which is covered by ice, the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, and South Georgia are well-worth the visit. From the glaciers to the snow capped mountains to the penguin colonies and beyond, Antarctica is bound to astound you.
At first I was a bit concerned about making the journey on my own. I was not sure if it would be appropriate for someone so young to spend the money to go solo, rather than wait it out and possibly go later in life. Due to the effects of climate change, however, who can really know how much the continent could potentially change in the next 50+ years? I called my great-grandpa, the only other person I knew who had visited Antarctica, and asked if it was actually worth the money. His response? “I have been to 96 different countries, nothing has been more unique than Antarctica. You must go.” Well, if that wouldn’t sell someone, I don’t know what would. I booked my trip of a lifetime immediately after hanging up the phone and seven months later I was on my way…
5 Best Things to Do in Antarctica
- Hiking through Snowy Mountains: After two days at sea the long-awaited White Continent will finally emerge. You will get to touch the untouched and adventure into the unknown for your first Antarctic landing! Trudge through the snow-laden grounds and up the mountains for the endless awe-inspiring views that Antarctica has to offer. For those adrenaline seekers, you will even have the chance to sled down some of the hills on your booty (which is the far more enjoyable than trudging downhill).
- Polar Plunging: Not for the faint of heart! Polar plunging is exactly what it sounds like – completely submerging your body into the icy Antarctic waters! A once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who think they can bear it. There is no feeling quite like stripping off six layers of clothing as snowflakes drift down around you, despite the inner conflict between your body and mind: your heart urges you on, and your brain says, “Are you crazy?!”
- Baby Penguins & Penguin Colonies: No matter what, you will bear witness to many penguin colonies – Gentoos, Chinstraps, Adélies, Magellanics, and even King penguins. Sit down, look around, and revel in watching the curious ones waddle over to you. Enjoy seeing them trip and fall, slide on their bellies, and shuffle along ever-popular penguin highways. If you are lucky enough, you may just get to witness a penguin egg hatching, revealing an adorable, fluffy baby penguin.
- Zodiac Cruising: All aboard the zodiac for a relaxing, jaw-dropping experience. As you weave in and out between icebergs, you will begin to grasp the sheer grandiosity that is Antarctica. Be sure to be on the look out for penguins jumping in and out the water, Leopard seals gliding by, birds flying above, and even whales whose wake will rock your zodiac!
- Sea Kayaking: This option must be booked prior to departure if you are interested in doing this activity during your expedition. If you so choose, you will be sea kayaking to and from the landings (zodiacs still bring kayakers ashore, but they often spend little time there and paddle instead). Work your arm muscles as you undertake this unique way of experiencing Antarctica!
- Antarctic Camping: If conditions allow, you will be offered the opportunity to physically camp on Antarctica! Your tour company will provide all required gear; you just have to bring yourself and your sense of adventure. Get ready for one of the greatest, sleep-deprived nights of your life.
- South Georgia & the Falklands: Many people decide to visit both South Georgia and the Falklands on their journey to the White Continent. A pit-stop in the Falklands allows you to absorb nature – from penguin rookeries to bird-watching to sheep pastures – all while having the opportunity to stroll the cutesy streets. Soak it in because this will be the last bit of “civilization” that you will see for a while. As you continue to approach South Georgia, you will witness the rugged, mountainous terrain, all while exploring glacier-carved coves and rugged shores. What is most impressive about South Georgia though are the colonies of King penguins, as well as fur and elephant seals.
Getting to Antarctica
As a budget-conscious traveler, I was worried that Antarctica would be too pricey for me to afford at such a young age. After days of researching the voyage, I stumbled upon OneOcean, through the Expedition Trips website. OneOcean is perfect if you are looking for a smaller, more affordable trip. Their stabilized expedition ships provide comfortable accommodations, varied amenities, and round the clock activities.
Naturally, not everyone needs to visit Antarctica on a budget. For those a little more financially stable, you have a few options:
- Linblad Expeditions-National Geographic: Who doesn’t want National Geographic photographers documenting his journey to Antarctica? The Explorer, deemed the best luxury ship, not only offers a fantastic expedition team, but an underwater specialist as well that will shoot high-definition underwater photos of the deep sea.
- Quark Expeditions: Worried about seasickness while crossing to Antarctica? Not to worry! Quark offers the ability to fly to Antarctica and avoid the Drake Passage all together!
- Silversea: If elegance is what you are looking for, this high-class cruise is the one for you. With nearly one crew member per guest and butler service, Silversea knows how to go above and beyond.
- Oceanwide: On the search for Emperor Penguins? Well, they are only available via helicopter. Luckily, Oceanwide offers helicopter landings, giving you the ability to see the much-anticipated Emperor Penguins!
- The Antarctic tour season is from the first of November until mid-March. It is too unsafe for everyday tourists to travel to Antarctica outside of these months.
- All ships headed toward West Antarctica depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. It is typical to have a layover in Buenos Aires and transfer to Ushuaia via Aerolineas Argentina or LAN airlines. Ships headed toward East Antarctica typically embark from Dunedin, New Zealand.
- Layers are key! You will not be as cold as you would think, as long as you dress properly.
- Remember, from mid-December to mid-January there are 24 hours of daylight; the nights become shorter as we approach the solstice and farther as we move away from the solstice. If you are traveling outside of these dates, there will still be only a few short hours of darkness at night.
- Anyone can venture to Antarctica. Young, old, families, couples, professionals, photographers, and adrenaline-junkies alike are bound to have a fantastic journey.
- Ever heard of the “Drake Shake?” It is a term used to describe the Drake Passage, as it is known to be some of the roughest waters in the world. If you have a weak stomach and/or are not keen on taking seasickness pills, you may want to consider flying to Antarctica to avoid the notorious “Drake Shake!”
Sarah recently graduated early from New York University with honors in Media, Culture, and Communications (and a minor in the Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology). She has been to over thirty countries spanning six continents and lives life to the fullest with utmost zest. Her travel highlights include paragliding through the Swiss Alps, ringing in the New Year on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, eating her way through Italy, trekking through Patagonia, seeing sea lions bathe their newborn pups in the Galápagos Islands, hiking from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, and polar plunging on Christmas Day in Antarctica. To read more about her adventures you can follow her at www.thefivefoottraveler.com, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
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