People are fond of the extreme – the oldest person, the highest peak, the longest lake, the biggest stone – and the list can go on and on. In some ways, Antarctica’s appeal comes from this thirst for the extreme. Situated at the “end of the world” is reason enough for many to want to travel here. Thought this spot is the coldest on the planet, it’s a sizzling hot destination for travelers who crave excitement and adventure.
Antarctica is like a giant, beautiful ice sculpture. Be prepared for ice everywhere – icebergs, glaciers, and jagged peaks. It is also home to beautiful landscapes and exotic wildlife. A major highlight here are several thousand penguins, colonies of which can be found chattering away and nesting throughout the area. Bird-watchers will also have a great time as they can spend hours studying rare seabirds, albatrosses and petrels. Also often spotted nosing out of the frigid water are orcas, humpbacks, and minke whales.
Contrary to the splendor of this continent is the intrigue that surrounds its discovery. Its history and exploration are littered with tall tales, claims, counter claims, and suffering. Although Captain James Cook discovered the South Georgia and South Sandwich islands in 1773, he never actually spotted the Antarctic continent. It was only 90 years later when The South Pole was reached by Norwegian Roald Admudsen and his five-man team. Though their completion of this remarkable expedition was widely admired, the tragic end of an expedition team led by his rival, British Captain Robert Scott eclipsed it. When Scott’s team arrived at the pole 33 days later,
The South Pole was not reached until 90 years later, on December 4, 1911, by Norwegian Roald Admudsen and his well-prepared five-man team. Though Amundsen’s arrival at the pole accounted for one of the most remarkable expeditions ever to be completed by man, his feat at the time was eclipsed by the tragic finale of an expedition led by his rival, the British captain Robert Scott. Scott arrived at the pole 33 days later, only to find Amundsen’s tent and a note. Scott and his party, already suffering from scurvy and exposure, finally froze to death on their return trip, just 18km (11 miles) from their ship.
No other destination has held such an adventurous cachet for explorers. One of the greatest adventures ever recorded was in 1915, led by the Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton, who pronounced Antarctica “the last great journey left to man.” Shackleton attempted to cross the Antarctic continent but never achieved his goal: Pack ice trapped and sank his boat. The entire party miraculously survived for 1 year on a diet of penguin and seal before Shackleton sailed to South Georgia Island in a lifeboat to get help.
These days, Antarctica plays host to 42 stations that operate year-round. A total of 27 nations send personnel to Antarctica for seasonal as well as year-round research. These stations study climactic changes. In fact, researchers at the British Halley Station in Antarctica discovered the growing hole in the ozone layer in the year 1985.
To see the mystique and beauty of Antarctica comes with a hefty price tag. Since this continent literally sits at the end of the world, trips going to that destination cost a little more than average. When traveling by sea, prices vary depending on three factors: the company you choose, the length of travel and your required sleeping arrangements. At $3,000 per person, don’t expect first class amenities. It will only get you a 9-day journey in a room with two other occupants and a shared bathroom. A 21-day journey on a luxurious corner-window suite goes for a whopping $12,000 per person. The good news is that these prices already include of course the passage, meals, guides, and all excursions. However, extra activities like kayaking, alpine trekking, over flights, and scuba diving are offered at extra cost. Airline prices also follow the same principle – depending on the company and destination. All-inclusive trips range anywhere from $11,000 to $30,000 per person. Those who plan on getting logistical support for expedition extensions better be prepared to shell out more as the cost can easily run to over $40,000.
Those who do not have the money to spare get their shot of visiting Antarctica by working at Research Stations on a seasonal basis. Most research stations are a community in itself. The people are interesting and a variety of jobs and activities are available. The US Research Stations for example, is constantly in need of personnel for engineering, operations, maintenance, logistics, medical support, station services coordinators, information technology specialists, human resources, fleet operations, vehicle operations, and many more including writing and the arts!
The Antarctica is not all about employment opportunities, glaciers, and expeditions. There are several beautiful places worthy of visit that seasoned travelers often say that 8 days is not enough. Usually, a 10-day trip is required. Popular stops include the South Shetland Islands with popular sites like King Island, Livingston Island, and a collapsed but active volcanic crater called Deception Cove. Also worth the visit is the Polar Circle. Guests can be transported past the Antarctic Circle into the 24-hour sunlight zone by ships with ice-breaking capabilities. The top site here is the Marguerite Bay with its many orca, minke, and humpback whales. Research Stations are common stops for cruises – be it the ultramodern or the abandoned ones.
For the finale, a visit to Antarctica would not be complete without seeing South Georgia Island – considered by many to be one of the most magnificently breathtaking places on earth. South Georgia Island houses dramatic landscapes with rugged peaks, fiords, and beaches. It is also home to a wide array of wildlife. One drawback is its unpredictable weather and so trips here are often cancelled.
Antarctica offers travelers the chance to step foot on a faraway continent very few people have seen. Unlike in the early 1800’s, the chance to venture into this pristine region has been made a lot easier. Though visitors may have to put up with long, tedious traveling hours, high cost, and sometimes-uncomfortable conditions, those who have had the chance to see this continent say that it is worth every discomfort.