Not as cold as you think
While it’s true that Antarctica is the coldest place on earth (the average temperature at the south pole during winter months is −76 °F), most visitors keep to the coast. During the warmest month of the year (January), the average temperature along the Antarctic Peninsula is 32 °F, with up to 20 hours of daily sunlight. Remember to pack your sunscreen! The typical touring season in Antarctica is from late October to March.
Not as barren as you think
Although Antarctica itself is not an ideal place for living things to exist, the surrounding ocean is a very different story.
Antarctica is home to roughly 12 million penguins, with species including the adélie, chinstrap, emperor and gentoo penguin, along with a number of other sub-Antarctic species. The average size of an emperor penguin colony across Antarctica is estimated at 13,500 members.
Six species of seal, including Ross, crabeater, Weddell, fur, leopard and elephant seals live in Antarctic waters. It is interesting some of the names relate them to African species as the nearby island of South Georgia is commonly referred to as the “Serengeti of the South” due to its prolific wildlife. For half the year, the island has the greatest concentration of sea birds in the world, most arriving in the spring. This includes 5 million pairs of macaroni penguins. By the time the elephant seals arrive, the beach contains a greater mass of animals than anywhere in the world.
A perfect destination for whale watchers, Antarctic waters welcome their mostly seasonal visitors such as the humpback, sperm, killer whale (although technically not a whale – it is actually the largest member of the dolphin family), the blue whale (the largest animal on earth), and more. The best time for whale watching is from mid-February to March.
Remember to keep a distance of at least five meters between you and any Antarctic wildlife you encounter to avoid any undue stress on the animals and to allow them to continue their wild way of life.
Not as far as you think
Did you know that in 4.5 short hours, you can fly from the city of Punta Arenas, Chile and land on a naturally occurring blue-ice runway at Union Glacier in Antarctica? From there, you can take another flight all the way to the south pole in as little as 4 hours. As I read the story of Shackleton’s epic adventure in the Endurance, I can only imagine his face if he learned how easy exploring the white continent has become.
Not as hard as you think
Certain local operators include the bulk of your gear such as a windproof and waterproof jacket and bib pants, insulated rubber boots, water resistant binoculars, waterproof backpacks and trekking poles. This can save you a lot of money on expensive items you may never use again. Not to mention the space it saves in your bag!
Not as expensive as you think
While a trip to the south pole is certainly expensive, cruises along the coast of Antarctica are not as out of reach as you might think. Prices generally start around $1,000 per person per day sharing, for rooms with shared facilities.
Maximize your investment by choosing an operator with expert staff on board such as marine biologists, naturalists, historians, adventure guides and photographers who will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the continent as you experience it first-hand.