There are many beautiful places in the world we travel in — beaches by the tropics, mountain vistas, hidden gems, wonders backed by the hospitality the visitor warmly receives from the host country. Each offers various activities such as camping, trail hiking, mountaineering, bungee jumping, beer tasting (better not mix the last two), as the bucket list goes on.
And then there is Antarctica.
What comes to mind when we picture the southernmost continent?
Starboard (Right side of the ship) viewing onboard M/V Ushuaia
A frozen inhospitable wasteland double the size of Australia, spanning 14,000,000 square kilometers, surrounded by iceberg-filled waters, high wind speeds (usually at 200 kph) that can be quite painful without proper thermal clothing. The saving grace is that it is the most pristine place on the planet, with no government, no people, and of course, cute penguins all over.
Gentoo Penguins on our first landing.
The most feasible way to get to Antarctica is through Ushuaia, a town in southern Argentina. Also known as the World’s End (El fin del mundo), Ushuaia is situated at the southernmost point in the mainland of Tierra del Fuego in South America. There, a strait was named after Ferdinand Magellan, marking the route that took him to the Pacific.
Dolphins catching up to say hola to us portside before we cross the Drake’s Passage.
The embarkation point.
To get to Antarctica, you must enter Argentina on a 90-day tourist visa, which costs around USD65 for single entry with a six-month validity on your passport. You will also need an international certificate of vaccination for yellow fever before entering Argentina. From the capital of Buenos Aires, you will take a three-hour flight southbound to Ushuaia, the route is mostly handled by the carriers Aerolineas or LATAM (Latin American Airlines).
The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has over 50 companies that take visitors into the continent mostly from Ushuaia. It’s the most affordable way to go as it’s closer towards the Antarctic Peninsula, and the trip is usually at a minimum of 10 days.
The ships leave only at the Austral summer months of November until March, and prices depend on the length of the trip which visits different landing zones. The cheapest accommodations are shared rooms. I booked my tour with Ashuana Viajes, operated by Antarpply Expeditions, when I got into the town with no reservations as I was backpacking South America for three months back in 2011.
Our ship the M/V Ushuaia (named after the town) anchored as we head out.
It takes two days to get to the continent. First, crossing through the infamous Drake’s passage where the warmer waters of the Pacific meet with the Atlantic — meaning, a wee bit of seasickness. All part of the exciting voyage, right?
But the rewards of the visual thrill though:
Icebergs everywhere you look.
A Weddell Sea Lion taking a siesta.
Look over there, is that a cave?
Abandoned ship since 1920-something according to the expedition leader.
Out and about aboard the Zodiac
Some extra helpful tips:
- Bring waterproof gear such as a rain jacket and trousers.
- Expect rain, snow and fog.
- Get extra woolen socks, por favor.
- And, expect to get cold and wet when you disembark the ship as you ride the Zodiac.
It’s a good idea to learn as much Spanish language skills before you go as the crew is usually manned by Argentinians and Chileans and many visitors that speak the same idioma. Some speak English as well, but a little more than saying the word “Gracias” can get you some extra pogi points from the crew and new amigos along the journey.
As the only Pinoy aboard, I learned a lot from them and has given me more motivation to travel Latin America, chugging some Quilmes or Fernet that they shared after a day of exploring and sharing each other’s experiences to the most beautiful place we may have ever been to.
Did I mention Antarctica’s the windiest place on the planet?
Adventurous amigos from all over the world!
Watching them cuties cross while admiring the view.
Watch out for Penguin Poo! (Pungent Ammonia scent) ick…
Who wants to appear on Facebook, Instagram or a travel blog guys? Don’t be shy.
Must maintain distance, but this guy wants to get too close. Sí Señor, cute penguins galore 🙂