One of my favorite travel experiences (and definitely most memorable) has been Antarctica. If you’re considering this unique adventure, be advised that there are only three ways to do it: by cruise ship, icebreaker expedition, or sightseeing by air. Departures take place from either Argentina, Australia, Chile, or New Zealand. A cruise ship allows only a cursory experience as the ship is not built like an icebreaker vessel. Aerial day trips can be achieved but again this is a limited encounter and is quite expensive. Travel can only take place during their summer, which is late December – late February. Some like to extend their Antarctica trip with a jaunt to the Falkland Islands.
Antarctica is the 5th largest continent.
It covers 5.4 million square miles.
It is the coldest, driest, windiest, and highest place in the world (both in latitude and altitude). This is considered a desert, despite all the ice. Plant life is almost non-existent.
It has the most days of total sun and the most days of total darkness. During their summer, there is 24 hours of sunlight. During their winter, there is 24 hours of darkness.
There are no paved runways. Planes can land during the day in the summer only. There are 28 airport landing facilities with the major ones being Scott Base and McMurdo Station. Thirty-seven Antarctic stations have helipads.
It has the least amount of soil and the most freshwater (in ice). It contains 90% of the world’s freshwater (in ice), yet it only receives six inches of precipitation (which makes it technically the driest desert on earth).
There is no formal government or legal system. No one country owns or governs this continent. Instead, most major countries have a ‘stake’ in it because of its significance.
The year round population at the research stations is around 1,000, which swells to 3,000+ during the summer months.
It has the stormiest oceans (I can personally attest to this fact!). The greatest danger is storms at sea. Many aboard our ship suffered injuries resulting from being thrown from their bed or a door slamming on a hand or being knocked down or dehydration from seasickness. Most people suffer seasickness as they cross the dreaded Drake Passage, the roughest waters in the world.
Average mean temperature is 55 degrees C. It holds the world’s record for coldest at -89.6 degrees C.
Winter temps (-8 to 20 C); Spring temps (-3 to -11 C); Summer (+1 to -2 C); and Fall (-2 to -14 C).
Many countries have research bases here, such as Russia, Chile, China, Uruguay, Poland, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Korea, Ecuador, and the United States.
Once on the continent, transport can be achieved by zodiacs, ponies, dog sleds, skis, tractors, snow cats, and aircraft.
Wildlife highlights: Gentoo Penguin, Macaroni Penguin, Emperor Penguin, Adelie Penguin, Chinstrap Penguin, Magellanic Penguin, Royal Albatross, Blue Petrel, Antarctic Tern, Kelp Goose, Southern Fur Seal, Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal, Crabeater Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, Fin Whale, Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, Gray’s Beaked Whale, South Atlantic Right Whale, Southern Bottlenose Whale, Hourglass Dolphin, and Commerson’s Dolphin.