Imagine miles of ice deserts that stretch far beyond the shore, transforming into giant icebergs as high as mountains – that’s the beauty of the country-less continent Antarctica.
But that’s not all. Antarctica offers discreet mountainous islands, active and dormant volcanoes, resilient flora and fauna, and seasonal wildlife residents.
When the Antarctic calls, you listen. So, have your pen and paper ready. This blog covers everything you need to know about when to go to Antarctica and the best travels to pack inside your adventure.
Why You Should Visit Antarctica
If you’re like most daydreamers and travelers, visiting Antarctica is at the top of the bucket list for adventures because you want to discover the wild uninhabited 7th continent.
The best reason to visit Antarctica is to discover the unique wildlife you see on TV or the polar exhibit at the zoo — penguins, seals, and whales.
However, you will also be surprised to discover a plethora of krill, invertebrates, and arctic birds with Antarctic adaptations that can survive the harsh winter seasons. The second best reason to visit Antarctica is the remote “other-world” experience.
Unlike northern arctic regions where humans and animals coexist year round, Antarctica is southern and frigid, and the continent was uninhabitable for generations before the Ice Age.
So inhabitable, the continent is alien-like without a tree or plant life in sight. And if you embrace the cold rather than fear it, let the frigid temperatures be the best third reason to visit Antarctica.
Although the below 0ºF temperatures can feel comfortable with a down-filled parka, the freezing temperatures will also offer you opportunities to capture incredible professional-level photographs, even if you’re an amateur.
However, the best part of visiting Antarctica is the journey, not just the destination. Your expedition vessel or traditional cruise ship with depart from:
- Ushuaia, Argentina
- Punta Arenas, Chile
- Invercargill, New Zealand
- Hobart, Australia
Visiting Departure City Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia, Argentina, is the most popular departure port that takes tourists to Antarctica in two days.
Not only does Ushuaia’s capital Tierra del Fuego, mark the very end of the world, located at the southern tip of South America, but the city also offers a scenic landscape of glaciers, delicious Argentinian wine tastings, and boasting subantarctic wildlife.
Before you begin your journey to Antarctica from Ushuaia, you can catch popular flights from Bueno Aires, Rio Gallegos, Cordoba, and El Calafate. However, if you’re traveling the nomadic route, hopping on the Pan-American highway will take you straight to the Chilean territory ferry into Ushuaia.
Punta Arenas, Chile
Although Seafair is the most common mode of transportation that will take you to Antarctica through the Chilean Fjords, it is more common to take a charter flight from Punta to the Antarctic research base.
There you will discover the most celebrated three-bay South Shetland Island — King George Island, after floating through the famous yet often treacherous waters of Drake Passage.
While you’re there, you can discover the history of how 13 countries, including the US, Argentina, and Chile, coexist on the island as members of the Antarctic Treaty.
King George Island, also known as Antarctica’s unofficial capital, will be the last opportunity to purchase a souvenir at the lighthouse at Poland’s Arctowski Station and others.
Invercargill, New Zealand
Invercargill is Southland’s southernmost city in New Zealand and starting point for voyages to Antarctica. The capital of Southland favors New Zealand’s scenic coastal highways, the largest wetland ecosystem in New Zealand, and boardwalks backdropped by 1920s architecture and beautiful boardwalks.
And suppose you’re tough enough to brave the rough arctic converging subtropical seas to tour New Zealand’s southeast five Sub-Antarctic Islands along the way. In that case, you can experience the wonders of Auckland, Bounty, Campbells, Marquaries, and Snare Islands.
When starting your Antarctic voyage from Hobart, Australia, rest assured that the largest, most southern city in Tasmania is riddled with an adventure through Mount Wellington, local markets and boutiques, rich 19th-century historic cobblestoned waterfront, and the Cascades Female Factory.
However, if you’re departing from Hobart is known as a unique expedition whose travels usually take well over 12 days traveling the less visited eastern Antarctic seas alongside the remote islands. Including the southernmost active volcano Mt. Erebus and giant eastern Antarctica icebergs.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town in South Africa is the last departure option headed towards Antarticas final frontier. And it only takes 24 hours.
But while you’re in Cape Town, you can tour the famous landmark Table Mountain, south African wine from 300-year-old Constantia Winelands, and exceptional multicultural cuisine.
And if traveling to Antarctica is more important than spending money, you can fly to the white desert on a private jet that lands on Wolf’s Fang exclusive jet runway and private camp. From there, passengers can follow expert mountain guides to Wolf’s Fang range and enjoy a luxury experience of Antarctica.
Overall Best Time to Visit Antarctica
The best months to visit Antarctica are November, December, January, February, and March, which are the summer months.
When the wild of the Antarctic is calling, planning is the most important of any polar expedition — at least 20 months in advance. Since 1820, aggressive frigid temperatures and rigid sea ice landscapes proved enjoyable in the Antarctic summer months when the sun doesn’t set, and the animals prepare for winter.
November is the best month to visit Antarctica when you want to be the first to snow-shoe the angelic Peninsula before other late summer visitors.
And photographers seeking award-winning photographs of walkable sea ice, bright blue skies, wildlife nestling, romantic courtship, competitive competition, and waves of migration.
However, November is the end of the spring season, so you’ll want to pack your 600-fill-down parka for darker, cold, and unpredictable weather. December is the best time to visit Antarctica when you want to treat an adventurous spirit to an unforgettable holiday trip.
The December days are bright for 24 hours warmer (yet, obviously cold) days, and new life — baby penguins hatch and humpback whales arrive from the tropical waters.
January is the best month to venture into the Antarctic Polar Circle so that you can say that you have been to the southern part of the hemisphere of the planet.
If you’re lucky, you may see the center of the sun at midnight or access early Antarctic expedition huts at the historical Shackleton hut on Ross Island and the fluffy baby Adelie penguin colony in residence.
February is the best month to capture action-filled wildlife photography — Penguins chase their chicks around and teach them to swim in shallow waters.
And leopard seals, humpback whales, and orca pods are gorging vast amounts of krill before winter approaches. And March is the best month to have the Antarctica experience without all the foot traffic.
March marks the end of the Antarctic summer season and means fewer ships traveling, fewer visitors, and more whale watching under breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.
However, blooming green and pink algae overwhelm melting ice caps, and beautiful black sand makes for an excellent and cozy seal bed.
Cheapest Time to Visit Antarctica
Traveling to Antarctica on a budget is the easiest in November and March. However, the cheapest time to visit Antarctica is at the end of the summer season in March on a large cruise ship.
Cruise ships tend to be the cheapest way to travel to Antarctica for up to three weeks. In addition to being the best economical transportation choice, cruise ships have a lower carbon footprint than flights that go directly to Antarctica.
Although the travel prices are the lowest in March, so are the temperatures, sea ice, and the sun’s position. In March, the temperature returns to 0 below freezing temperatures before the autumn equinox arrives.
So, when you book your travels for March, remember to pack your down-filled coat to watch the sunsets and sunrises with a cup of cocoa. And if you need a different time than the end of the March tour season, build your itinerary around the beginning of the Antarctic tour season in November.
Although you won’t get the perks of whale watching as you would in March, you will see penguin nestling together on the pristine, untouched heavy-packed ground. However, the weather is unpleasantly cold and dark.
Least Busy Time to Visit Antarctica
The best time to visit Antarctica on a small expedition vessel is at the onset of the summer season in early November and the end of March.
If you don’t want to visit Antarctica without all the passengers that come along with big cruise ships. Small polar expedition ships usually carry between 100 and 200 passengers at a time for an intimate polar arctic experience that the often 2,000-passenger mega cruises cannot.
And because the number of people on the boat is small, passengers have access to more activities such as walking alongside wildlife on the Antarctic Peninsula, camping, and even sea kayaking.
In addition, expedition-style vessels navigate through channels and bays that allow passengers that want to experience off-ship adventures that appear spontaneous and almost personalized – such as sauna, educational theatre, and library amenities.
On the contrary, the traditional cruise may be the perfect match if you’re seeking less spontaneity and less busy yet entertaining views.
Cruise liners generally feature live entertainment and relaxing options to try new foods or enjoy indoor shopping with unforgettable arctic views of the landscape right outside your window.
Worst Time to Visit Antarctica
The worst time to visit Antarctica is anytime outside of the summer season due to the harsh weather and unpredictable weather conditions that pose a severe threat to anyone who dares to try to enter.
Antarctica has a summer and winter season — summer begins in October and ends in February. The summer brings in daylight that remains in the sky without setting, even at midnight.
As a result, the temperature is relatively warm but rarely reaches over 0ºF. The rest of the year is a cold and dark winter that closes expeditions and traditional cruise ship travel.
However, researchers, astronomers, and climatologists with polar fever can usually brave Antarctica’s almost pitch-black winter darkness. Katabatic winds and death-defying temperatures can reach below -71ºF. That’s why they maintain full-time residency.
In addition, the horror stories of the unpredictable and hungry mythology of the Drake Passage are most trustworthy in the winter season — stirring up boat crashing waves and high winds that are notorious for inducing severe sea sickness and fantasies of your worst nightmares.
Things to Consider
And although you may not plan to visit Antarctica in the winter season, there are still precautions that you should take with you before booking your trip for the summer season.
Find your itinerary, a pen, and paper, and add them to your Antarctic must-haves before stepping foot on your departure vessel:
- Grab your winter gear: coat, base layers, waterproof overtrousers, boots, wool socks, and insulated gloves.
- Remember a pair of UV filter sunglasses and binoculars.
- Consider carrying a waterproof day pack filled with a refillable water bottle, sunscreen, and lip balm.
- Bring a notebook, camera, extra SD memory cards, and a battery for daily journaling.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re still itching to board your ship to Antarctica but still have a few unanswered questions, check out these frequently asked questions to help you feel prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.
How many days is enough for Antarctica?
When you travel to Antarctica, your expedition should last a minimum of eight to ten days. Your expedition may include the time of sea travel and land exploration. However, the price will vary depending on if you book an experience on a smaller expedition vessel or a mega cruise ship to Antarctica.
Do you need money in Antarctica?
You need money in Antarctica to fit your itinerary that you plan and budget for at least a year to 18 months in advance. Your budget should include the cost of your winter gear, flight to reach your departure location, gear, and adventures that you should add to your itinerary last minute.
Can you drink the water in Antarctica?
No, you cannot drink the water in Antarctica. The water in Antarctica is dense with sea salt. However, your ship should allow you ample access to drinkable water.
Do cell phones work in Antarctica?
No, your cell phone will not work in Antarctica – it is wild, remote, and far away from Wi-Fi. However, booking a trip to Antarctica is a genuinely rewarding way to disconnect from the world temporarily.
The best way to access the internet is on your ship’s Wi-Fi or connect to satellite internet at select research stations to send texts or emails to close loved ones. However, communication may still be limited depending on your chosen ship and can be expensive.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Antarctica
Finding the right time to visit Antarctica is the perfect next step to getting to your favorite bucket-list destination.
And with the help of choosing the right gear to pack, arriving at your stress-free departure station, and navigating the best expedition-style or traditional cruise travel option, you have memories to share with your family and friends in no time. Happy travels!