The continent known as Antarctica is also known as the South Pole, due to the fact that the geographical southernmost part of the planet is located within its borders. Antarctica is geographically unique in that it has no permanent borders or constant size. Although it is the fifth largest continent overall, its exact size in square miles varies according to the season. The change can be quite dramatic. In the summer, the continent is roughly half of the size of the United States. However, in the winter when the useable area expands due to snow and ice, the continent can more than double in size. 98% of the continent is covered in ice, and about 70% of the world’s total supply of fresh water is frozen in Antarctica. No other continent is colder, drier or windier than Antarctica, which goes a long way towards explaining another unique feature, its low population. The highest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica is a mere 7 degrees Fahrenheit, but the coldest ever recorded is an incredible -128 degrees Fahrenheit. The most common professions of visitors to the Antarctic are meteorologists, glaciologists, astronomers, physicists, oceanographers, geologists and biologists. While Antarctica has no permanent human residents, it is home to a surprising variety of wild animals. Penguins and other birds such as the albatross can be found in Antarctica, as well as six types of seals and nine varieties of whales. Almost all the wildlife in Antarctica can be found near the shore, as the high winds and severe cold makes inland areas of the continent too inhospitable. There are over a thousand forms of fungi and lichen type plant life, but only two types of flowering plants on the whole continent. There are also 700 species of plankton.
Travel Tips for Antarctica
#1: Become a Villager: The least expensive (and longest-term) way to reach Antarctica is to work for one of the Antarctic research stations. The United States National Science Foundation (NSF) operates three bases on the continent: Palmer, Amundsen-Scott South Pole, and McMurdo. But you don’t have to have to be a scientist to land a gig. They need operational support such as cooks,
plumbers, snow shovelers, pilots, and forklift drivers. Lockheed Martin is the private contractor that operates the U.S. Antarctic research facilities. Check its website for available positions.
#2: Be an Artist or a Writer:
According to the NSF website, working on an artistic project that will “increase understanding of the Antarctic and help document America’s Antarctic heritage” could land you free round-trip airfare and accommodation in Antarctica. They want people focused on long-term projects (sorry, journalists) and have hosted writers, filmmakers, and even instillation artists.
#3: Scientists Wanted:
The government will also pay for scientists able to prove that their research will benefit from traveling to Antarctica. Check the NSF website to see a complete list of funding opportunities.
#4: Sail In:
Most people get to Antarctica via tour operators who assist with logistics. They tend to use boats, which are the most economical way to make the journey, though trips still cost from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. Ushuaia in Southern Argentina is the preferred port of disembarkation (and a worthwhile destination in and of itself). You’ll travel past penguins, icebergs, and through the notoriously choppy Drake Passage before you get to Antarctica. Any operator worth his salt is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which promotes environmentally responsible travel to the continent.
#5: Fly the Icy Skies:
If you want to ski the South Pole, climb Vinson Massif (the highest peak in Antarctica), or visit the continent’s vast interior, you have to fly. Because no commercial flights exist, you’ll have to go through a private logistic operator. Antarctic Logistics Centre International is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and flies to a Russian base called Novolazareskaya (Novo for short). Adventure Network International flies from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Union Glacier, a small base where they kick-off guided expeditions. But you won’t find a ticket for less than $20,000 for a spot on their freakishly powerful Russian jet, the Ilyushin II-76, that lands on a three-mile-long, blue-ice runway.
There’s actually a lot of amazing things to do in Antarctica that make it the pinnacle of travel destinations.
1. Kayaking: It was an extraordinary way to quietly explore the Antarctic Peninsula.
2. Polar Plunge: It’s the extreme spectrum of adventure travel and not many people will be able to top you once you’ve told them you survived the polar plunge.
3. Camping: Not many people have actually camped in a bivy sac, in the middle of the snow beside snoring leopard seals. Yes, it’s cold, it’s uncomfortable, and you can’t eat, drink, or pea on Antarctica, but once you are back on board your ship after surviving a night as the early explorers did, you’ll be filled with pride and gratitude that you never have to do that again.
4. Zodiac Tours: Seeing whales, seals, and calving glaciers from a zodiac is a moment you won’t soon forget. Getting off the ship to see things in an intimate manner is a must.
5. Mail a Letter at Port Lockroy: Stopping at Port Lockroy is a fun stop on an Antarctica itinerary. It’s a spot where you’ll run into other expeditions and get the chance to talk with the staff of the English research station. There you can browse the museum, play with the penguins and buy some souvenirs and even post cards that can be mailed from the bottom of the world to your loved ones at home.
6. Visiting Penguins: Watching them go about their daily lives will bring joy to anyone’s heart. But the most memorable of all penguin encounters are when you sit quietly and let the curious creatures approach so close that they end up walking on your legs or picking at your coat.
7. Deception Island: Deception Island is one of the safest harbors in Antarctica that just so happens to be an active volcano.
8. Cruising the Lemaire Channel: The Lemaire Channel is one of the top things to do in Antarctica for photographers.
9. Photograph Icebergs: In Antarctica, the ice is massive, colorful, and it creates some of the most interesting formations.
10. Whale Watching: Here whales have no fear of man and they are the top of the food chain. Therefore, they have no reason to hide. When they see a kayak, zodiac or ship, they don’t run the other way, they come in for a closer look.
11. Cross the Drake Passage: It’s not in Antarctica, but to get there you have to cross one of the most treacherous bodies of water on the planet. Crossing the Drake Passage is truly a badge of honor. If the weather is calm, it’s uneventful and easy, if the seas are rough, the Drake Passage will set you on a rumble and tumble two day journey that will turn even the most seasoned sailor into a ball of mush.
Don’t stop traveling!