Can you vacation in Antarctica?

Antarctic Vacations

The first step to vacationing in Antarctica is getting there. It's not a likely place for a commercial airport or highways in and out. Most travel to Antarctica happens by sea or, less frequently, by small plane. Tourist ships typically begin the journey to Antarctica through southern Argentina or Chile, countries with easy ocean access to the continent.

The first commercial cruise ship visited Antarctica in 1969. Tourism to the region has steadily climbed since then. In the early 1990s, the continent had about 9,000 visitors per year. In the 2007 to 2008 time period, that number blossomed to more than 46,000 [source: British Antarctic Survey]. These numbers include people visiting by air, land or sea.

To deal with the concerns of the growing tourist industry, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) formed in 1991. Its mission is to promote ethical and safe travel to the Antarctic area. IAATO's roster includes 102 tour company members.

Tourism in the Antarctic unfolds mostly in the months between November and March. Temperatures are warmer then, resulting in a smaller ice sheet. Thus, ships can get through the area more easily. Most trips center around the Antarctic Peninsula region. Expedition ships may visit some sub-Antarctic islands and other more out-of-the-way places. Some tour operators even offer private trips to the geographic South Pole.

The most popular Antarctic vacations are sightseeing cruises. Some cruises do allow visitors to make landings -- meaning leave the boat and explore the Antarctic landscape. But these visits are usually short, due to the harsh temperatures. Bigger ships will drop anchor out at sea, and groups of passengers will take smaller boats to land. Some tour operators use helicopters to transfer passengers as well.

The Atlantic Treaty asks visitors to the continent to abide by the following guidelines:

  • Protect Antarctic wildlife
  • Respect protected areas
  • Respect scientific research
  • Be safe
  • Keep Antarctica pristine

So, now that you've arrived in Antarctica, what kinds of activities are available to you? Read on to find out.