Ultimate Guide on How to Visit Antarctica

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Whether you are drawn to crossing off your 7th continent or seeing wildlife in their natural habitat or you just want to sail in the footsteps of historic adventurers, Antarctica promises to provide you an adventure of a lifetime. Here we provide a guide on how to visit Antarctica with answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Ever since returning from my trip to Antarctica with my 13 year old son I can only think about how to return! The White Continent really is a mind-blowing destination where you can never get enough. You might show up like me just hoping to see penguins, but leave with a lifetime of knowledge about whales, Antarctic history, ice science and so much more! Antarctica truly changes you for the better.

Want to read more about Antarctica? Check out our other articles:

Why Should You Visit Antarctica

They say you come to Antarctica for the penguins, but you return to see the ice!

Antarctica offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore one of the most pristine and untouched wilderness areas on earth. Being on the “7th Continent” as it is often dubbed in travel circles, provides the chance to witness breathtaking landscapes like towering glaciers, floating iceberg “gardens’ and of course a diverse array of wildlife. 

While in Antarctica, travelers can’t help but gain a deeper understanding of climate change and the role of Antarctica in keeping our planet cool. Seeing first hand the effects of melting ice and shifting ecosystems offers a new view on the importance of saving our planet. 

You may not know exactly what to expect for your visit to Antarctica, but the unique sense of adventure and exploration you get here will leave you wishing for it to never end. 

Whether you are looking for zodiac boat cruises among icebergs and growlers, kayaking or even the polar plunge, you will get that and so much more. 

For us personally, Antarctica had been a long held dream that we didn’t think we would ever achieve. As my last continent and 53rd country (if we add it to my country count), I can say confidently it is unlike any place I have ever visited. There is a quietness and peacefulness in Antarctica that is hard to match.  From watching majestic humpback whales sleeping on still waterways to adorable penguins porpoising in and out of the water at lightning speed, you will be changed. You will see the world in a whole new light. It truly is a once in a lifetime gift that you will never want to end.

How Far in Advance to Start Planning a Visit to Antarctica?

One question that we are often asked if how long in advance should I start planning my trip. Some people start planning 2 years in advance to ensure they can save the money, but also to get the often hard to get kayaking spots on boats. In order to have your choice of ship, excursions, dates, etc I highly recommend planning earlier than later. In general prices for Antarctica cruises do not fluctuate much, so you will not lose out by booking well in advance.

That said, if you are flexible on dates and can manage missing out on excursions like ice camping or kayaking, you can often book last minute and save some money. Cruises to Antarctica are expected to be up 40% this year, so I anticipate more sold out boats earlier, leaving less for last minute deal seekers.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to book, reach out to me about my travel advisor services or you can also book through Adventure Life Travel, which is who I went with. 

What is the Best Time of Year to Go?

The tourist season in Antarctica is typically November to March. Each month offers something unique and in my opinion you can’t go wrong with any time period. No two cruises will create the same experience, so you will be wow’ed with wonder no matter how many times you visit.

November is the coldest, but has the most picturesque snowy landscapes that are still untouched. You may not see many whales or many penguins during this time however as this is the start of the season.

In December, you will find penguins arriving and busy preparing their nests for the egg.

January brings the arrival of baby chicks. This is a fun time for many visitors to see the little fluffy babies around their parents feet.

February however, is the ideal time in my opinion as there are many penguins with their babies, but also the whales have begun arriving.

Lastly March offers whales everywhere you turn with penguin chicks, who no longer look like chicks, curiously looking around as they try to figure out how to begin feeding themselves now that their parents have stopped.

The most coveted time to visit Antarctica is often December and early January. The days are at their longest, it is a bit warmer and like I mentioned, penguin babies!

We went in March and we were nervous as we hadn’t seen many people go late in the season. It was absolutely magical. It snowed every day, offering picturesque views, penguins were still all over and we were surprised by seeing so many humpback whales every day.

How Many Days Do You Need?

Most classic Antarctica cruises are around 9-11 days and focus on just the Antarctic Peninsula. For the few companies that offer fly-sail cruises, their trips could be as short as 8 days. On the longer end, some cruises offer comprehensive tours taking in the South Georgia Islands, the Falklands and perhaps crossing the Antarctic Circle and can last as long as 23 days.

I recommend spending as much time as you can, but you will need at least 2 days before your trip for travel and a day or so after to get back home. For our 10 day cruise, we were away for 14 days.

Where Do You Stay in Antarctica?

For the most part, you don’t actually *stay* in Antarctica. There are no hotels or places to stay in Antarctica. Whether you fly or sail over the Drake Passage, you will sleep onboard a cruise ship for your time in Antarctica.

That said, some cruises do offer a night of camping on Antarctica as an add-on excursion for your trip, so if spending a night on the 7th Continent is on your bucket list – you may just be able to make this dream a reality!

How Do You Get There?

As mentioned above you can get to Antarctica in two main ways – flying over the Drake Passage and then cruising from there or embarking on a cruise from Argentina, most often Ushuaia, but occasionally Buenos Aires. Crossing the Drake Passage can take anywhere from 1 1/2 days to 2 full days each way.

Do I Need Any Special Gear?

Depending on which boat you chose, you may not need anything other than your base layers and mid layers and clothes for on the ship. All cruise companies offer specialized boots for use on the cruise and many companies also provide winter parkas for use on the trip but also to take home.

If you are curious what to bring to Antarctica, we have shared an Antarctica packing list all the things we took with us and what we wished we had brought!

How to Decide Which Company?

Regardless of what your preference is – an intimate expedition ship or a luxurious large ship, there is something for everyone here. That said, there are a few factors we find are important to consider when choosing a company.

  • Size of the ship and the number of the passengers. This is important to consider as only 100 people can go on shore at a time in Antarctica. Ships with more than 500 people cannot step off their boat and can only cruise through Antarctica. If your goal is getting off the boat and spending the maximum time exploring the White Continent, it is best to choose boats with 200 or less passengers.
  • Type of activities you want to do. Most ships, large or small offer kayaking and snowshoeing, but only a few boats offer more unique excursions likes camping on ice, helicopter rides, paddle boarding and even snorkeling.
  • Educational Components. Look for cruises that offer onboard lectures, Citizen Science and guided tours by experts in relevant fields. These can greatly enhance your understanding and appreciation of Antarctica’s unique ecosystem and history.
  • Fly or Sail the Drake Passage. And lastly, you will need to decide if you will sail or fly the Drake Passage. Only a few companies fly passengers over, but this does reduce the amount of time you are in rough water as the waters in Antarctica are quite calm once you are in the peninsula area.

Companies Sailing to Antarctica

There are a myriad of companies both sailing and flying to Antarctica these days. With more companies comes more competition and a bit lower prices for you. I don’t know them all, but am researching as many as I can to provide my clients the best services I can. Right now, these are some of the companies that offer various services in Antarctica. 


Antarctica21 is a Chilean owned company that operates both out of Puntas Arenas and Ushuaia Argentina.  Antarctica21 is mostly known as offering fly-sail cruises, but does run a few Drake Passage sailings every year.

The Magellan Explorer, one of two ships used by Antarctica 21 is a sleek state of the art vessel built specifically for the rugged conditions of the Antarctic. It offers a model of innovative design with environmental considerations. This ship has capacity for only 93 passengers, which provides the opportunity for maximum time off the ship while in the Antarctic Peninsula.  The boutique boat offers one dining area, a small gym and sauna with the main focus on the expedition itself. You can read more about this ship and our experience on it here.

Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions is a leader in both Arctic and Antarctic sailings. Their boats, the World Explorer, Ocean Explorer and Ultramarine are all fantastic luxury liners. All of their ships are less than 200 passengers, with the World Explorer an all balcony, all suite ship. This ship offers a lecture hall, wrap around balcony and so much more. 

A smaller, more intimate vessel, the Ocean Explorer is known for its excellent expeditionary capabilities and sustainability efforts, using biofuel to reduce its carbon footprint. It’s well-suited for adventurous travelers who prefer a smaller group setting. The ship provides spacious cabins, a well-stocked library, and expert-led educational programs.

G Adventures

G Adventures is a group travel company operating trips around the world. Their Galapagos and Antarctic expeditions are popular as they provide a budget option in a market filled with luxury.

The Expedition Antarctica is another small ship expedition which was renovated in 2009 and can hold up to 134 passengers. There are 6 categories of cabins on board to suit various budgets, ranging from quad share cabins to suites. However, it must be noted that none of the rooms have balconies. G Adventures offers a more budget friendly option to Antarctica than some of the other brands mentioned, however they still provide options like kayaking, camping and several excursions per day. 

Aurora Expeditions

Aurora is another company that offers fly-sail options as well as traditional Antarctica Peninsula cruises. They have options to fly both directions or fly one way and sail back through the Drake Passage. The boat used in this trip is the Sylvia Earle which is small expedition ship that has the capacity for 132 guests.

Their classic Antarctica trip is on the Greg Mortimer ship, which was built in 2019 and has the capacity for 132 guests in 79 cabins. We particularly like that the hotel, airport transfers and a day trip around Ushuaia are included in the classic itinerary package making your travel planning that much easier. 

We also love that Aurora is a B Corp company, conducts Citizen Science on board the ships as well as an eco friendly approach to sailing. 

Atlas Ocean Voyages

Atlas Ocean Voyages offers top of the line luxury sailing on their three ships – World Voyager World Traveller  and World Navigator. All of these ships are polar class ships, built for the rugged nature of sailing the Antarctic. These luxury small expedition yachts offer exquisite dining, surrounds and views. The most common offerings for Antarctica are 9 or 11 night Ushuaia return trip that includes a chartered flight from Buenos Aires. The 11 night trip crosses the Antarctic Circle, whereas the 9 night does not go down as far south. 

Lindblad Expeditions (The National Geographic Explorer)

A top choice for educational and exploration-focused cruises, the National Geographic Explorer is equipped with tools for scientific research and offers a unique learning experience. Guests can attend lectures from experts in various fields and participate in citizen science programs. The ship is well-suited for those who want an immersive and educational journey. Lindblad also offers fly-sail options. The National Geographic Explorer is one of the only ships I’ve seen that offer an exclusive family program for kids and teens. Both the Resolution and the Endurance have capacity for 138 passengers on board. 

Silversea Expeditions

For those seeking the pinnacle of luxury in the most remote place on earth, the Silver Explorer is an excellent choice. This vessel offers all-suite accommodations, gourmet dining, and personalized butler service. The ship is equipped with Zodiacs for close-up exploration and provides an ultra-luxury experience in the wild landscapes of Antarctica. Silversea is one of the few companies departing from Chile. A flight from Santiago to Port Williams is included in your itinerary. These luxury cruises offer 6 day passages with a fly in option and trips as long as 18 days diving deep below the Antarctic Circle.

Chinstrap penguin

Oceanwide Expeditions – MV Hondius & MV Plancius

Oceanwide Expeditions has two main vessels used for Antarctica expeditions. The MV Hondius and the MV Plancius. THe MV Hondius has room for 170 passengers. This is a Polar Class 6 vessel and one of the most environmentally friendly ships on the polar seas. Hondius uses LED lighting, steam heating, biodegradable paints and lubricants, and state-of-the-art power management systems. There are only 6 suites with have balconies on this ship, which means you need to book early if this is something you really require. It offers options for camping, kayaking, snowshoeing, hiking and more. 

The M/V Plancius was built in 1976 as an oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Dutch Navy but was completely rebuilt as a passenger vessel in 2009.  The Plancius does not offer any rooms with balconies, but does provide quad, triple and twin cabins which are great for solo travelers. The itineraries for this ship also provide options for camping, kayaking and more.   

Ortelius is another ship also used for Antarctica trips with around 100 passenger capacity. None of the cabins have balconies. 

Albatross Expeditions (Ocean Victory & Ocean Albatross)

With a total of 93 comfortable staterooms for our guests, all with a view of the ocean, (and 90% with their own balcony), several restaurants, a wellness area, an Albatros Nordic Bar, an open deck dining facility, a modern lecture lounge, and other amenities, the vessel is also environmentally-friendly onboard, with an implementation of the Green Initiative Program, ensuring both absolute comfort and sustainability for our guests.

Scenic USA

Scenic Tours offers a variety of options in the Polar regions. The Scenic Eclipse vessel has been designed to be the ultimate 6-star ultra-luxury cruise experience for up to 200 guests. Scenic Eclipse offers voyages to even further off the beaten path destinations in Antarctica like the east side of the peninsula and the Ross Sea. 

Polar Latitudes

Polar Latitudes has the ship Sea Venture, which has space for 164 passengers. Polar Latitudes itineraries offer 13 night trips, which include airport pick up and 2 nights accommodation in Ushuaia before boarding the ship for 10 days. These small expedition cruises allow guests to really get in the small areas of Antarctica to explore. On board you can expect a sauna, a fitness center, and a custom-built citizen science lab. All voyages include alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages and a complimentary expedition parka. 

Ponant (Le Lyrial / Le Soleal)

Ponant has a variety of boats operating in Antarctica, all with a French elegance and sense of luxury. These boats are less than 200 passengers, offering an intimate experience with refined tastes, design and excellent French cuisine.

Hurtigruten (MS Roald Amundsen)

Hurtigruten operates 2 boats in the Antarctic region. Even though these ships do have the capacity for 530 passengers, they do still offer landings including camping, snowshoeing and zodiac cruises. The expedition cruises are on the larger end and my least recommended for those who want to truly experience Antarctica. Even though you will make landings and do zodiac cruises, you will not have the same amount of time to experience the area as you would on other ships. 

These state-of-the-art hybrid vessels are some of the most environmentally friendly ships exploring Antarctica. The MS Roald Amundsen combines comfort with adventure, offering science centers, observation decks, infinity pools, and luxurious cabins. It’s a great choice for those who want a sustainable and comfortable journey without compromising on the exploration aspect. 

Poseidon Expeditions

The Sea Spirit operated by Poseidon Expeditions offers an intimate experience with only 114 passengers on their ship. These expeditions include the option for camping, kayaking, snowshoeing and more. All itineraries also include airport pickup and one night of accommodation prior to embarking. 

Confused on all the options? Let me help you plan and book your dream trip to Antarctica. 

Large Cruise Ships (that do not make landings)

Celebrity Cruises – Celebrity Eclipse 

For guests who are not interested in getting off into the Antarctic Peninsula, the Celebrity Eclipse is a larger, luxury cruise ship known for its upscale amenities and comfort. It has capacity for 2,800 and resembles a more traditional cruise with scenic cruising around the Antarctic landscapes while offering the comforts of a large ship. There are a variety of dining options, a large theater, a spa, and multiple pools. 

Holland America Line -MS Zaandam

A mid-sized ship with a capacity of around 1,400 passengers, MS Zaandam is known for its elegant décor and impressive art collection. It provides a comfortable and refined experience with various dining options, music venues, and enrichment programs. The ship’s size strikes a balance between the amenities of a larger vessel and the ability to navigate closer to Antarctic shores.

Norwegian Cruise Line

This ship caters to those looking for a lively and casual atmosphere. With a capacity of over 2,300 passengers, Norwegian Star boasts an array of dining options, bars, entertainment shows, a spa, and sports facilities. Its Antarctic itineraries provide scenic cruising with educational talks and activities related to the region.

Viking Ocean Cruises

The Viking Orion is known for its modern Scandinavian design, offering a serene and upscale experience. With a capacity of just under 1,000 passengers, it provides an array of amenities including multiple dining venues, a spa, and a fitness center. The ship focuses on cultural enrichment and learning, with expert-led lectures and thoughtfully crafted itineraries.

What Do You Do When You Are in Antarctica?

zodiac boat getting ready to load for a cruise in AntarcticaThis depends a bit on the boat that you choose, but in general a classic Antarctica cruise will look like this:

Day 1: Board your boat, security briefings and set sail

Day 2-3: Sail the Drake Passage

Day 4-7: Cruise Antarctica

Day 8-9: Sail the Drake Passage

Day 10: Disembark

When you are in Antarctica, depending on the size of your boat, you will often have 2 excursions per day. These could be landings or zodiac cruises to see icebergs, wildlife, historical sites and more. You can also expect an opportunity for a polar plunge, educational lectures on the history, wildlife and science of Antarctica as well as great dining options and panoramic views from the ship.

For cruises that are longer, or have a fly option, you may get more days in the Antarctic Peninsula to cruise around and experience it more in depth. 

What Camera Gear Do you Need for Antarctica?

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica
Gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Contrary to what many may think, you actually do not need specialized camera gear for Antarctica. Is is helpful to have zoom lenses? Yes, for sure. However I will say that many of my favorite videos and photos were actually taken with my phone. I am well versed in my camera and used to lugging it around, but still I often found my iPhone 14 to be the best option.

If you do want to focus on photography, I would suggest getting the longest focal lens you can with the lowest aperture setting.  I took a Sony Ar7IV with both a 24-70 (f2.8) and a 70-200 (f2.8) and still couldn’t get as close up shots as I would have liked. My 13 year old took his Canon Rebel with a 75-300 zoom lens and got some great shots. He did use a tripod as well to keep his shots steadier. 

Health Considerations & Insurance

How to Visit Antarctica to see penguins and icebergs!One of the most important things to consider when booking a cruise to Antarctica is your health situation. While overall, these are not strenuous trips, I will say that you will be busy!  I was surprised how exhausted we were at the end of each day. 

In general you need to be able to go up and down stairs for the boats that don’t have elevators and be able to step into and out of zodiac boats on potentially uneven ground. That said, most boats have excellent expedition staff who will help guests as needed and modify programs for those who cannot get out of the zodiac boats. For those interested in kayaking and camping, you will need to have higher physical fitness. 


One of the most important parts of booking a trip to Antarctica is getting insurance that will cover you for any emergency medical and evacuation costs. Most ships have a minimum necessary required for sailing.  My ship had a minimum of 100,000 repatriation and medical insurance. We purchased our insurance through SquareMouth, but I also highly recommend FAYE for my clients. 


Embarking on an Antarctic cruise is a journey like no other, offering a rare opportunity to explore one of the most remote and mesmerizing landscapes on Earth. Whether you’re drawn by the allure of pristine icy wilderness, the thrill of witnessing an array of wildlife in their natural habitat, or the desire to step into the shoes of legendary explorers, an Antarctic cruise promises an adventure filled with awe-inspiring sights and educational experiences.

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