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Truly once-in-a-lifetime! They say you should only see Antarctica after you’ve seen everything else because nothing else will ever compare – that’s truly how beautiful it is!
But let me start by saying Antarctica is not just a trip that you plan like a honeymoon in Paris or even a road trip in Iceland. Firstly, visiting Antarctica is very expensive, which is why most people (including us!) plan this trip for years before finally taking the plunge and actually undertaking it. Secondly, you can expect extreme temperatures and the turbulent Drake Passage, which boasts of some of the choppiest waters in the world.
It takes approximately 2 days to cross Drake Passage and the turbulence can make even the most well-travelled people sea-sick or worse! So 4 days of this entire journey is spent in that state crossing Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica and back! These factors make Antarctica a location where a visit needs to be “earned” both literally and metaphorically.
Having said that, its remote location and incredible panoramas makes it a very SPECIAL place, unlike any other. Here we will tell you everything you need to know for planning a trip to Antarctica – The White Continent
Visa for Antarctica
You do not need a visa for Antarctica. However it is best to combine this visit with 1-2 countries in South America such as Chile or Argentina, for which you might need visas.
Currently Argentina issues evisas for Indian Passports holders with a valid US or Schengen visa (The eVisa costs $200 at the time of writing and is much more expensive than applying at the consulate, but definitely comes with a LOT of convenience) and Chile doesn’t need a visa if you have a valid US visa. However these rules keep changing, so it’s best to check for updates before booking anything.
Flights for Antarctica
Most polar expeditions and cruises for Antarctica start in Ushuaia, Argentina. For this, it is best to fly from your home town into Santiago (Chile) or Buenos Aires (Argentina). And then onto Ushuaia, Argentina
If you are flying from US or UK or Europe, you can opt for direct flights to Santiago (Chile). If you are flying from one of the bigger cities in India, the shortest option is to take a flight with a short stop over in Europe. We took an Air France flight (Delhi-Paris-Santiago) for our trip. It involved a long stopover in Paris but this was the most convenient connection for us.
If you’re flying from anywhere in Asia or Australia, we suggest keeping a few days to explore Santiago, before flying onto Ushuaia, Argentina. This will help you work off the jet lag and regulate your sleep cycle before you board your polar expedition. Because you don’t want to be constantly tired on your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica 🙂
Budgeting for your trip to Antarctica & tips on choosing the right expedition for you
It is easy to estimate an approximate budget for your trip to Antarctica as everything from accommodation to all meals are usually included in the cost of polar expeditions. This is one of the most expensive trips in the world as flights alone cost $3000 or more and most polar expeditions start at $15000+ per person.
However instead of going in for a cheaper expedition, I would personally suggest waiting a few years and saving for a better polar cruise. Not just us, but most people we met on this trip (ages ranging from 25-75) had opted for this option due to 2 reasons.
Firstly, larger ships might be slightly cheaper but they are more polluting and also unable to go to some of the most scenic places in Antarctica due to their size and make (more on this below). Secondly, when the temperatures are extreme outside, you will appreciate luxuries on board a more expensive polar expedition such as heated rooms, gyms, hot showers, relaxing spas, and plenty of fresh healthy food. For these reasons, we booked our Antarctica Odyssey on Ponant’s Le Commandent Charcot.
But no matter how your book your trip, make sure you have a clear list of ALL inclusions before you pay for your polar expedition. Try to get a package that includes everything from meals and accommodation to expeditions and even airport transfers as costs can really add up while paying separately.
Responsible travel in Antarctica
The cost factor and remoteness make Antarctica hard to get to. But that can be a good thing for its fragile ecosystem. Before we go onto the details of our trip, I wanted to share the sheer importance of responsible travel in Antarctica. Of course, travelling responsibly is important everywhere in the world, but it is especially important in remote Polar regions.
We had the fortune of being on a Polar Odyssey that had a lot of scientists, naturalists, and researchers amongst the passengers and crew. They told us that while tourism is the continent is often dismissed, the profits help fund a lot of important research work and preservation efforts in Antarctica.
And the right kind of travellers, focussed on responsible tourism & conservation management can truly make a difference. IAATO regulations are very strict in Antarctica and rightly so. They make sure wildlife is preserved and allow travellers to enjoy responsibly. This means only small groups of visitors can see penguin colonies etc at a time now. Make sure you follow these protocols when you are informed about them. Due to this & many other reasons many recent studies, including reports of Lynch and LaRue, found the global population of Adelie penguins has actually increased in the past few years.
So without further ado, here are a few things to keep in mind whenever you plan a trip to Antarctica, straight from the experts we spoke to
- Never keep anything (clothes, shoes, bags) on the ground when you’re outside in Antarctica. Leave nothing, take nothing
- Carry reusable water bottles when you go ashore for expeditions
- Boots have to be disinfected every time you leave and come back on board so you don’t carry traces to or from the continent
- Always check the carbon emissions of the vessel you choose before booking – there are many green options available these days. In fact the reason we had so many scientists and researchers on board is because we were on Le Commandent Charcot which is a hybrid electric vessel, the first of its kind in the world, which has been designed to minimise the environmental impact of travel to the furthest latitudes. It is also an ice-class vessel, meaning it has the capability to visit many remote polar regions, where most cannot go, making it important for researchers
- Make sure all your clothes are bio-decontaminated before going ashore for expeditions. Most packages these days have this facility but you should check ahead
- As all of you know, we’ve organised various anti-littering drives as I really hate tourists littering beautiful places. But be extra careful about stray masks, shoe laces, sanitizer bottles etc and never leave any waste behind on land in Antarctica
- Always listen to what the Naturalist guides have to say and don’t go near wildlife or disturb them in any way. This is their home & we are just visitors
- Every expert we spoke to mentioned how every traveller to Antarctica becomes more conscious in their daily life after witnessing its fragile beauty firsthand. And now that we’ve seen it for ourselves, we can see why they say that. Make sure you carry the lessons you learn in Antarctica back to your home country too 🙂
Our Polar Odyssey – inclusions, facilities, expeditions, and details
Now I wanted to touch upon all the details of the facilities and inclusions on our Polar Expedition so you have a clear idea of what to expect and what to check for before booking
Le Commandent Charcot is an extremely modern but intimate vessel. Every passenger is given personalised attention and I cannot say enough good things about the staff. Everyone from the housekeeping staff to the sommelier to the expedition guides to the Naturalists went above and beyond for every single guest on board.
Staterooms represent the understated French luxury Ponant is famous for! They are designed in neutral tones with comfortable beds and plush bathrooms, equipped with Diptyque toiletries as well as a Nespresso machine. But most of all they are truly well-equipped for a polar expedition – well heated, with large wardrobes, lots of strorage space for bulky woollens, and non-slip drawers for those choppy days at sea. Every stateroom has a private spacious balcony to enjoy the gorgeous vistas (believe us, you’ll be spending quite a lot of time here :)).
In terms of dining options, there are two restaurants on board with menus designed by the iconic Michelin Starred Chef Alain Ducasse. There is one casual buffet-style restaurant and one restaurant for sit-down dinners. There is also:
- An open air stall with international food options
- 1 detox bar with a huge selection of smoothies and cold pressed juices
- An observatory lounge with all-day drinks and snacks at tea time
- Bar with light nibbles and music for sundowners
- Complimentary 24 hour in-room dining
This diverse range of dining options ensures you will not be hungry at all, no matter what time of the day it is. Food is so fresh and cooked so well, that we truly enjoyed every meal – be it a simple pan-fried fish or a more elaborate truffle ravioli, the quality of the food will leave you impressed. There are lots of vegetarian and vegan options at every meal. And since this is a French ship, the desserts, breads, and cheeses truly steal the limelight.
Passing time indoors is easy. There is a scenic gym and a gorgeous spa which pampers guests with iconic Biologique Recharge facials and massages. There is an indoor pool and outdoor pool, which is heated using recycled energy from the ship. There are board games on board, live music, and also lots of lectures by naturalists, researchers, and scientists educating everyone about Antarctica and its wildlife. Upon reaching Antarctica, there are exciting expeditions each day, so time indoors is often limited to meals and entertainment.
Polar Expeditions & Excursions in Antarctica – what to expect
Antarctica is an unpredictable destination. This is why landings vary from day to day. The reason we had so many researchers and wildlife photographers on board with us is because Le Commandant Charcot is an ice-class vessel, meaning it can go to places most others can’t. This ensured we saw things we couldn’t even dream of, such as penguin colonies with more than 10,000 Emperor penguins, all under the supervision of experts of course.
Landings in Antarctica depend on the weather conditions and wind conditions, so it is hard to write down exactly what you will see on your trip to Antarctica here. But here are some things you can definitely expect:
- Witnessing glaciers, ice sculptures, and floating ice bergs
- Polar Hikes
- Adélie, Chinstrap, and Emperor penguins in their natural habitat. The exact number of course will depend from day to day, but November and December are the best months to spot them
- Seals in their natural habitat
- Polar Birds in their natural habitat
- Killer Whales in their natural habitat
Needless to say, each of these sights left us spellbound. All passengers get a super warm Parka and snug snow boots for excursions.
Packing for your trip to Antarctica
Packing for a polar expeditions to Antarctica or any extreme winter destination can be daunting. If you are planning a polar expedition, make sure you read this packing guide for Antarctica & extreme winter holidays so you go well-prepared for your Polar Odyssey. It has everything you will need – from winter wear and tech gear to medicines and toileteries – that you will need to pack for Antarctica.
And that’s it – everything you need to plan a trip to Antarctica, with tips on budgeting, visas, flights, and actual excursions. We hope you come away from this polar expedition, having learnt many lessons that you can implement in your daily lives – we definitely did! As mentioned above, stay responsible, follow the experts’ guidance and enjoy yourself as much as you can.