Sailing from Argentina to Antarctica

Sailing from Argentina to Antarctica

The Cold Rush
Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica

The distant, icy, uninhabited expanse of Antarctica has tempted intrepid explorers since the 19th century. In the 1820s, two sealers first stepped foot on “the White Continent,” but it wasn’t until 1911 that anyone reached the South Pole. Roald Amundsen was the first to get there, although he and his team tragically froze to death on their return trip. They were discovered when Robert Falcon Scott and his team reached the same point 33 days later. In 1915, Ernest Shackleton deemed Antarctica “the last great journey left to man” and attempted to cross the continent. Ice ultimately trapped and sank his boat, but he and his team miraculously survived. His daring voyage highlighted the enormous danger of trying to reach the bottom of the earth, but also the area’s alluring mystique. Less than 100 years later, this freezing cold continent has become one of the world’s hottest adventure destinations. It’s the purest stretch of wilderness in the world.

Of course, sailing to Antarctica isn’t a typical cruise. It isn’t cheap or easy, but that’s part of the adventure. And it’s sure to be one of the most incredible experiences of your life. This is not the time to pack light, though. You’ll want to pile in the polar fleeces, thermal underwear, hand and feet warmers, a giant down-filled waterproof parka, anti–motion sickness medication, and sunblock. The sun typically shines for 18 to 24 hours each day.

Choose a relatively small vessel that takes no more than 100 passengers, and plan to book a trip that lasts at least 10 or 12 days. Also, try to find an active itinerary that includes options to get off the main boat, such as kayaking, camping, mountaineering, and cross-country skiing.

Almost all ships going to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth. But the routes they take from there differ, and smaller vessels can explore more off-the-beaten path areas. After your departure from Argentina, it takes about 2 days to cross the arduous Drake Passage (and another 2 days on the return). There’s not much to do during this leg of the trip besides hang out, relax, and attend some educational lectures. Once you reach the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll have a chance to get out and start exploring the icy kingdom. Almost all tours stop at the South Shetland Islands, home to research base stations, colonies of elephant seals, and a variety of nesting penguins and sea birds. From here, you’ll probably continue to the eastern side of the peninsula, pausing to gaze at wildlife like lounging seals and gasp at the giant icebergs floating by.

To get a closer look, you can hop in a kayak or a Zodiac (inflatable boat) and float right beside these jagged glacial sculptures. It’s like entering another world. Snowy mountains sparkle beneath pink light and ice extends as far as the eye can see. You’ll feel dwarfed by the endless white and blue panorama surrounding you.

After getting back on the main ship and traveling through the narrow, sheer-walled ice canals of Lemaire Channel, you might stop at Paradise Bay, where blue icebergs crash from the harbor’s main glacier. The penguin havens on Cuverville Islands are well worth visiting with your camera. You’ll ooh and aw at the penguins’ endearing interactions with each other. Wherever you venture next, perhaps even into the Polar Circle, this pristine wonderland remains as powerful today as it must have been to its first explorers. —JS

International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators ( 401/272-2152;

Tours: Quark Expeditions, Norwalk, CT ( 203/803-2888; Geographic Expeditions, San Francisco, CA ( 800/777-8183;

When to Go: Nov–Mar.

International Airport Malvinas Argentinas.

$$ Los Acebos, Av. Luis Fernando Martial 1911, Ushuaia ( 54/29-01-430-710;

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