Best time to travel
Antarctica by the Seasons
Antarctica’s tourist season, the southern summer, is short: only five months long from November – March. During this time, daylight hours are long, wildlife are at their most active, temperatures remain above freezing and less snowfall allows ships to navigate through ice and travelers to explore by foot on land. Antarctic winters (April – October) bring with them the snow and the cold. Ice renders normally navigable passages impenetrable, temperatures drop down to -50°F and the continent is dark through the night and most of the day.
• Spring/Early Summer (November – December): Emerging from a long and harsh winter, spring in Antarctica brings with it an abundance of life (we call it spring fever!) There will still be quite a bit of snow in the springtime, but photographers seem to think this is perfect for photographing landscapes, since the white snowy scenery has not yet been marred by nests or droppings. The first large whales (Humpback, Minke and Southern Right) arrive at this time to fatten themselves on a profusion of zooplankton. We watch the penguins begin their courtship rituals and witness the first penguin chicks begin to hatch at the end of December. Elephant seal pups will be just a few weeks old and we’ll observe the males’ behavior in their aggressive protection of their harems of females.
• Summer (January – February): During the peak of the southern summer, when temperatures remain mostly above freezing (hovering in the 50°F range), we immerse ourselves in full wildlife watching mode as this is when the fauna are most active. Penguin colonies are busy, busy, busy feeding their hungry chicks. Fur Seal sightings are on the rise and Crabeater Seals can be seen traveling or resting on icebergs. February is the best month for watching whales as they continue to feed and give birth to their young.
• Fall (March): As darkness begins to return to Antarctica, we continue our travels in the bottom of the world during the month of March. At this time temperatures remain above zero while nightly frosts occur, adding a whole new exciting phenomenon to photograph: beautiful patterns of thin sea ice on the surface of the ocean. Snow cover is at its minimum allowing for further passage inland by ship and additional “bonus terrain” that opens up for trekkers. Penguin chicks have reached their stage of adolescence and are quite curious about visitors. Green and pink algae bloom on snow slopes and ice cliffs. The whale watching is still very good and oftentimes more fun: the whales are well-fed at this time and therefore become more curious about the passing ships.
How to Prepare
Wondering How to Prepare and What to Pack on Your Antarctica Vacation?
Travel to Antarctica is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we want you to be prepared. While your packing list in your pre-trip planner will provide more tips and tricks for your upcoming vacation, read below for a few guidelines we’ve found to be helpful in the packing department for your upcoming Antarctica Expedition.
1. Pack Your Warm Clothes!
Alright, this point may seem obvious, but Antarctica is going to be pretty cold no matter what time of year you travel. While the southern summer is warmer than the rest of the year (high’s get into the 50°F range), sunny conditions can rapidly change to storms with very cold winds and snow flurries. You’ll want to make sure you have an outer layer (both a jacket and pants) that is wind and waterproof, thermal underwear, fleece jackets, several pairs of warm hats and gloves, and a balaclava (face mask). Some sort of winter jacket (down or synthetic) is recommended that can be warm on cold days underneath your waterproof layer to keep you nice and toasty. Rubber boots are essential for any Antarctic expedition, but most ships will loan these out to you for free – check with your Adventure Consultant to ensure you do not need to bring your own.
2. Bring binoculars.
Some ships will have binoculars you can borrow and some won’t. One way or another, there probably won’t be enough binoculars for everyone on board the ship, so we recommend to bring your own pair. Binoculars range greatly in expense – anywhere from $50 to $1,000+, but with enough research, you’ll find a pair that works for you. You’ll be happy to have them when you’re scanning the shoreline for Elephant Seals or the open water for traveling Humpback Whales from afar!
3. Pack Your Photo Equipment and Know How to Use It.
We find that many of our Antarctica travelers have a great interest in photography. Whether you’re new or a veteran in the sport, we highly recommend you bring some sort of camera (even your iPhone) on this unbelievable experience. Before you go, research or take a class on how to use your camera for optimal outcomes in all of your pictures, purchase additional lenses if you want different types of photos (close-up, fisheye, wide-angle, etc.), bring your waterproof bags for protection, and even bring a tripod if you choose. We’ve found that some travelers will also bring along their GoPro cameras to get nice shots of the activities done on the trip or the wildlife in action.
4. Leave Your Precious Items Behind
Informality is a hallmark of an Antarctica Expedition. No need to bring along your fancy clothes or jewelry as most of the time, you’ll be all bundled up to protect yourself against the elements. Nightly dinners are fairly relaxed and the dress code is very casual – comfortable clothes for use on board the ship are what we recommend!
Travel Tips for Visiting Antarctica
A trip to Antarctica is truly a special experience and everyone who heads to our most southerly continent comes away with a different and unique outcome. There are many different items you’ll need to consider when planning your trip to Antarctica. Here are a few things to start thinking about when it comes to connecting the details of your future adventure.
1. Choose the Trip That’s Right for You.
Planning your trip of a lifetime down to Antarctica may seem like a daunting task – there’s so much to research, organize, and eventually book, you might not know where to start! Step number one is calling up a tour operator (as it’s pretty tough and unreasonable to get down there on your own). Your Travel Professional will help you narrow down what type of excursion is best for you by asking you a few of the following questions. Do you prefer wildlife (if so, what type) or landscapes? (Don’t worry, at any time of the five-month tourist season, you’ll see both – there are just “best times” for viewing one or the other). What type of excursion are you looking for, and if you’re looking to be active, what kind of activities are you looking to do? Snowshoeing, trekking, photography, mountaineering, camping, kayaking, diving, and a good ole’ fashioned polar plunge are all activities available in Antarctica. How many days would you like to (or would your budget like you to) travel for? 10 days? 30 days? 90 days? What’s the best time frame for you to travel in? November, January, March?…Obviously, there will be many more questions to answer to figure out the perfect trip for you, but this is a good place to start!
2. Flights, Visas and Fees – Oh My!
You may be wondering where a cruise even starts the journey down to Antarctica. Most cruises (including the ones we offer) leave from the southernmost tip of South America on Tierra del Fuego, from a town called Ushuaia, Argentina. Others depart from Punta Arenas, Chile and Montevideo, Uruguay. Regardless of where you depart from, you’ll want to check your local Consulate to see if you’ll need a visa to travel to your host city. Many visas you can apply for online ahead of time. You’ll also want to check to see if there are any “hidden fees” you’ll need to pay for, such as the Reciprocity tax in Argentina, port and tax fees or fuel surcharges on the cruise ship, or transfer fees (to/from your airport/hotel/port).
3. Understand the Health and Safety Issues
Currently no vaccinations are required to enter Antarctica but the Center for Disease Control recommends updating basic vaccinations, such as the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine. Check with your physician for other recommended vaccines based on your health history and itinerary. You should be fit and in good health for your journey south. Medical treatment on board the ship is basic and spread out among all passengers. Check with your insurance provider to make sure you’re covered for medical emergencies – if something were to happen, it would be a long, expensive trip to a medical facility in another country!