Why and how should you set sail for Antarctica?
Adventurous souls who one day decide to discover the mysteries and wonders of the Antarctic Peninsula are embarking on so much more than just a journey. They are about to set off on a unique and unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are so many good reasons to go to Antarctica and lots of things to know before you set sail. Here’s your logbook for a successful journey.
1. An Antarctic expedition: a waking dream
Going to Antarctica means heading off into the unknown, setting sail for a long journey to the very end of the ends of the earth. It means testing your limits by going beyond the Tierra del Fuego, beyond Ushuaia, the southernmost inhabited place on the planet. It means leaving humanity behind to visit an incredible destination whose expressive power alone is enough to amaze you and fill you with wonder before you even get there… before you even set off.
2. To retrace the steps of great explorers…
Those of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the British explorer buried in Grytviken, a former whaling station in South Georgia. Those of Captain Jean-Baptiste Charcot, another pioneer of polar exploration: from Port Lockroy to Marguerite Bay via Pléneau Island and Port Charcot, where the remains of the French explorer’s first winter base can be found. Or those of Belgian Adrien de Gerlache, in Neko Harbour. Not forgetting crossing Drake Passage, so named in honour of the English privateer and adventurer, Sir Francis Drake.
3. To feel like the only person in the world…
Setting foot on the remote frozen lands of the Antarctic Peninsula is like landing on another planet. No doubt you may initially be thrown off balance, braving the polar cold and suddenly being confronted with the vast emptiness. But, gradually, the pure and mysterious, almost supernatural, atmosphere of this “intact” world which long remained inaccessible becomes intoxicating. Some people would argue it’s a mystical or spiritual experience. A one-on-one with the elements. With yourself. “He who has successfully infiltrated these parts, feels his soul soar”, wrote Jean-Baptiste Charcot.
4. … and incredibly small
Past the meadows of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, make way for the spectacular and all-powerful nature of the “white continent”. In front of you, no plants or trees, but white islands with outcropping rocks. All against a backdrop of the imposing Antarctandes mountain range. From the deck of the ship or during Zodiac® outings, the spectacle is breath-taking: between the vast drifting masses of ice in Wilhelmina Bay, the black sand of the volcanic beaches of Deception Island, a former whaler base, the tabular icebergs of the Weddell Sea and crossing Lemaire Channel, surrounded by glaciers. A humbling experience!
5. To get close to incredible wild fauna…
The secret to the fauna in Antarctica? The krill. The waters surrounding the peninsula are teeming with them. More than enough to satisfy the fauna which includes humpback whales, minke whales, elephant seals, fur seals and penguins, the icons of these polar regions. Supervised by a team of naturalist guides, you’ll encounter various species of penguin: Adélie, King, Chinstrap and Gentoo. And, because in Antarctica the present is often precious, it’ll be a question of not missing a herd of leopard seals basking on the sea ice, a gift from nature which is as unpredictable as it is priceless.
An incredible trip to the other side of the world, to discover the vast frozen continent in all its grandeur… are you ready?
6. Reaching the far south
We first head to Chile, or Argentina where, after spending the night in the hustle and bustle of Santiago or Buenos Aires, we travel to Ushuaia on land. Ushuaia… It is from this far flung corner of the planet, often described as the end of the world and the capital of the ”Tierra del Fuego”, that our intrepid expedition begins. We leave civilisation behind us. You can then choose to adventure straight to the Antarctic Peninsula or take a breathtaking southern loop that passes through the Falkland Islands or South Georgia Island to discover exceptional wildlife, or, for true explorers, an extraordinary expedition beyond the Arctic Circle, aboard the Commandant-Charcot. We’ll cross the legendary Drake Passage, named after English privateer Sir Francis Drake, a rite of passage for any Antarctic adventurer!
7. Timing is everything
There are only five months in the year where you can become one of the lucky few to explore the wonders of the Antarctic: between November and March, when the Antarctic summer season makes nature milder and temperatures more bearable. During this time, sea ice allows easier access and you can also observe penguins and birds during mating season. Although this window of opportunity is small, the landscape it offers is immense.
8. Travel safely
Travelling in Antarctica requires the utmost caution and respect, and PONANT, like all tour operators offering Antarctic expeditions, is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). This ensures the complete safety of our passengers and respect for the surrounding environment. The aim of this association is to coordinate Antarctic tourism activities. Its members are required to adhere to all treaties and regulations, including the Antarctic Treaty, relating to safety and respect for the environment (limit on the number of people in landing areas, waste treatment, accompaniment of passengers, protocol on technical safety, natural risks, etc.).
9. Pack carefully
Travelling to Antarctica requires some essential equipment. Nothing complex, but you can’t go without it. On a voyage of this nature, which consists mainly of travelling and admiring nature as closely as possible, hiking and observation equipment is a priority. First and foremost, a pair of waterproof rubber boots that come up to at least the mid-calf with non-slip soles are a must. Why? For walks and excursions on untrodden, sometimes unstable land, and to be able to walk in 20 centimetres of icy water without getting wet. On this volatile terrain, a trekking pole will definitely come in handy.
With your feet stable and dry, you can focus on contemplating the landscape and its many treasures. Hikers should wear a pair of high-protection UVA and UVB sunglasses, and those who want to enjoy the landscape more closely should make sure to pack a pair of high-magnification binoculars. For photography enthusiasts, a 200 mm lens is perfect for capturing wildlife shots. And because conditions are humid, be sure to bring along a small waterproof backpack to protect your devices.
When it comes to clothing, you should bear in mind the extreme weather conditions in this part of the world when making your choices. For more information, consult the “Clothing tips” section in your cruise file.