Antarctic Cruises

So you've made the decision to go to Antarctica, the next important step is to decide which cruise is best suited to you. There's an extensive choice of different cruises open to you - from 5 to 30 days in length, flying or sailing to Antarctica, whether to cross the Antarctic Circle or include South Georgia. We've teamed up with 17 different Antarctic ships giving you the choice from over 70 cruise itineraries to suit your dates, budget and appetite for adventure.

Planning your trip is an exciting but sometimes overwhelming task, particularly when faced by such a myriad of options. Swoop Antarctica, with our many years of experience, can help guide you.

Six Ways to Discover Antarctica

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Cruises to Antarctica: Your Questions Answered

When can I go to Antarctica?

The prime time to visit Antarctica is during the Austral summer months, starting in November and finishing in March. This leaves quite a short travel-window in terms of when you can visit Antarctica.

Departures towards the very start or end of the season are sometimes offered at a lower rate because there is potentially a little less wildlife to see and the days won't be as long. There are about four months of 24-hour daylight (that's "summer"), four months of 24-hour night ("winter"), and two months on either end where the sun is either coming or going. This makes departure dates during December and January at the height of summer popular and dates around Christmas and New Year are two of the most special times to visit. To find out more about visiting at the right time of year, see our month by month guide or find Antarctic Cruises 2016 and Antarctic Cruises 2017.

How far in advance do I need to book?

Operators tend to release dates about a year and a half in advance and we start receiving enquiries and bookings up to a year in advance for specific dates. We certainly recommend booking in advance, particularly if you plan to go during high season (November, December, January) or over Christmas or New Year.

The earlier you enquire the greater the likelihood of availability, choice and more economical cabins but some cruises will allow you to book up to two weeks in advance if you really have left it 'til the last minute. Booking in advance is particularly important for solo travellers, because we can start looking for your room-mate so that you don't have to pay a single supplement which is usually around 1.7 times the cost based on two passengers sharing.

Although a very lucky few are are able to find late deals, with such fixed capacity on the boats and such huge demand, not least of all because of the Frozen Planet series, this sadly isn't a reliable option. Along with your cruise comes flights and it's best to get these booked as soon as possible because the cost of internal flights can soar in the months leading up to a departure date.

Where do trips leave from?

Most cruises to Antarctica leave from Ushuaia, at the very tip of Patagonia. To get there you should fly direct from London to Buenos Aires with BA and from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia with either LAN or Aerolineas Argentinas. 

Some trips start in Punta Arenas in Chile and fly you out to King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands. To get to Punta Arenas you should fly from London to Santiago via Madrid (or Sao Paolo) and continue south with LAN before arriving in Punta Arenas.

If your cruise starts in the Falklands rather than Patagonia, you'll need to fly to Punta Arenas and from there fly to Port Stanley in the Falklands with LAN. Flights depart once a week on a Saturday, which means you'll need to judge how far in advance you need to arrive in the Falkland Islands in order to meet the cruise.

To see these points of departure along with Antarctica's top landmarks on a map, please see the map at the bottom of this page.

I've heard of the Drake Passage, what is it?

This huge body of water, found at the southern tip of Patagonia between Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica, is named after Sir Frances Drake. It's here that the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans collide, causing the 'Antarctic Circumpolar Current' which is about 600 times greater than that of the Amazon River. Crossing the Drake is unavoidable for cruises setting out from Ushuaia and it means spending 36-48 hours at sea depending on the speed of your ship.

However, there is an alternative, if you join a Fly & Cruise trip, you can fly direct from Patagonia over the Drake Passage to Antarctica and cut out the boat trip all together.

Advantages: Fly & Cruise trips take around 4 days of travel in the open seas off your journey and allow you to spend as much of your precious time as possible in the Antarctic.

Disadvantages: Fly & Cruise trips are more expensive and flying would mean missing out on crossing the notorious Drake Passage, which for some is an adventure in itself.

Can I fly to Antarctica?

You can fly direct to Antarctica on a Fly & Cruise trip which takes you from southern Chile straight to the South Shetland Islands. This way you'll cut out the 2-day crossing of the Drake Passage (which is good if you're prone to sea sickness). From there you board the awaiting ship and spend between 6-8 days cruising along the Antarctic Peninsula before flying back.

How much does it cost?

The cost of a cruise can vary dramatically depending on the type of trip you're looking for as per the chart below. The most economical option tends to cost around £4,000 with the more luxury or active options costing between £7,000 and £8,000. The majority of trips, however, cost in the region of £6,800.

Antarctic Cruises - How much does it cost?

How long are trips?

By and large you'd spend between 10 and 20 days cruising in Antarctica, including sailing time to and from Patagonia. However, on Fly & Cruise trips, you'll spend between 6-7 days in the Antarctic, as these trips are designed for those with limited time.

What’s the weather like?

Antarctica's seasons are the opposite to ours, so whilst we're in the middle of winter, Antarctica is celebrating summer. During the summer months from November to March, the temperatures in Antarctica can range from -6 to 4° during the day. This means coming fully prepared with the right clothing is very important. December and January are the warmest months, when the temperature will reach about 0 degrees. Winter starts in May and goes through to October, and the harshest months are August and September.

What about visiting Patagonia?

Given that you'll be travelling thousands of miles to get to Antarctica, if you have the time you may want to explore the breathtaking landscape in Patagonia. With such mountains, lakes, forests and glaciers in the south and pampas, whale watching and the arid Steppe towards the north, Patagonia is a haven for hiking, kayaking, wildlife spotting and mountaineering. 

Just five hours to the north of Punta Arenas you can visit the Torres del Paine National Park, which is arguably Patagonia's top trekking destination. The park is home to the famous granite 'Torres' and can be trekked in 4/5 days on the W Circuit or in 8-9 on the Full Circuit. There are also some wonderful opportunities for kayaking and mountain biking and you needn't be an expert.

In Ushuaia you can expect a wintery, touristy place, popular with Argentinian visitors on holiday wanting to see the 'Fin del Mundo' or 'End of the World'. Ushuaia was originally a penal colony and there are lots of museums about the work of the prisoners in building the nearby railway and information about the native peoples that used to populate Tierra del Fuego. The best attractions near Ushuaia are Estancia Harberton (the first estancia in the region) and Martillo Island famous for its penguins. It's also worthwhile taking a boat out to the Isla de los Lobos in the Beagle Channel to see a big sea lion colony.

For the hikers amongst you, the beautiful mountain range behind Ushuaia is a fantastic place to explore, and there are 1, 3 and 5 day hikes to see glaciers, forests and views out over the Beagle Channel.

What gear do I need to bring?

Expeditions to Antarctica take place during the Austral summer from November to February. Generally, temperatures in the Antarctic are around -6 to 5 degrees celcius. Although it can be quite sunny the entire time, you should expect rain, snow, fog and a high wind-chill factor.

In terms of gear, you should look at skiing gear; warm gloves and jacket are perhaps the most important items and layers of warm clothing that you can remove if need be. All cruise operators will provide you with a kit list before your departure but if you'd like to look at the kit list beforehand, get in touch. Good shops for buying your gear include North Face and Snow and Rock.

Which camera should I get?

Choosing the right camera for your trip can be overwhelming, with different operators recommending a whole host of  brands. What is clear is that they all recommend bringing SLRs (Single Lense Reflex) as they tend to produce better quality photos. For zooming, lenses of around 20-35mm, 35-70mm and 80-200m are recommended and it's also a good idea to bring a wide angle lense so that you can capture the real expanse and vastness of the Antarctic.

One thing to remember is that the conditions in the Antarctic do have an effect on your camera, and digital cameras in particular are prone to malfunctioning due to the cold. To protect from spray, snow and rain, we recommend that you bring a sealable case and dry bags but no plastic bags.

What type of insurance do I need?

For Antarctic cruises you need to take out insurance that will cover cancellation, evacuation and medical expenses. 

Do I need a visa?

For UK citizens, there is currently no visa required for people visiting the Antarctic continent or its offshore islands. Nor is there a visa required for citizens from and living in UK, US or Canada visiting Chile for fewer than 90 days.  As of 2009, however, Australian citizens living in Australia are required to obtain a visa for entry into Argentina. In addition, citizens of the US must pay a reciprocity fee on entry to Chile or Argentina of $140 USD whilst Canadian citizens must pay a reciprocity fee of $75 USD on entry to Argentina. Please be aware that each visitor must hold a passport valid for 6 months after they depart.

What about tipping?

We suggest you allow the equivalent of $10 USD a day for gratuities for the crew and expedition staff. This is usually collected just prior to the end of the cruise and can be paid on credit card.

Our 3 Best Selling Trips

Major Landmarks of Antarctic Cruises

Ready to plan your Antarctic adventure?

Start planning your Antarctic adventure with Alex, who's been specialising in Antarctica for over ten years.

He understands how crucial it is to choose exactly the right trip and is experienced at guiding polar travellers through the maze of options to the perfect voyage.

Get in touch today and start your journey