The Best Ways to Get to Antarctica

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  21 June 2018

Thanks to a flurry of news outlets recently covering the precarious future of Antarctica, the defrosting White Continent at the southern end of our planet is receiving a tourism boost. It seems that given dire environmental warnings, everyone wants to become an Antarctica ambassador.

A mesmerizing and adventure-filled destination, Antarctica expeditions suit avid explorers looking for the ultimate thrill, one that is out-of-this-world unforgettable. Yet whether or not you’ve already been and plan on returning or are plotting a way to turn your Antarctica dream into reality, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover the best ways to get to Antarctica cover an impressive array of options, to suit all budgets, desires and even holiday durations.

The options for visiting Antarctica are as nearly endless as the continent’s mesmerizing white horizons.

A cruise in Antarctica is always a good idea

A cruise in Antarctica is always a good idea

Where is the Antarctic Peninsula? 

The Antarctic Peninsula is that snow-covered finger that just out northwards from the continent. It is, technically speaking, a continuation of South America’s Andes Mountains and that’s why its contours are so enticing. This isn’t a flat, white land you’re visiting but a sensationally diverse and varied landscape. Take a look at the map below to better understand its location.

From the above map you can see that the Antarctic Peninsula – the destination where the greatest number of tourists go – is closest to the southern tip of South America. Argentina’s Ushuaia – the southernmost city on earth – is approximately 5,400 nautical miles (about 1000km) from the Antarctic Peninsula and it is from here that most expedition cruises depart. Given the proximity to South America, there are a number of travel options beside expedition cruises from Ushuaia.

As you can see, Antarctica is also accessible from New Zealand and Australia, on more intense exploratory expeditions which cover the distance (three times as much as from Ushuaia) in almost three times the amount of time. These exceptional voyages visit the eastern portion of Antarctica, which is not accessible to South American cruise passengers. As such, they offer a chance to go way off the beaten path.

A colony of King penguins

A colony of King penguins

What kind of Antarctic trips can one take? 

Cruises and flights, and a combination of both, offer guests a vast array of options for getting to Antarctica.

Cruises to Antarctica from South America 

Experience the beauty of Antarctica with our cruise tours.

Ushuaia, being the most popular choice, offers the greatest range of cruise duration, ships and budgets. Cruises range from exhilarating 11-day jaunts which make a stellar stop in the South Shetland Islands to comprehensive 21-day mammoth adventures which also include visits to the Falklands and glorious South Georgia, the King Emperor capital of Antarctica. The latter two boast Puerto Madryn as their return port which facilitates further travels through Patagonia. Cruises from South America offer the added bonus of crossing the infamous Drake Passage, long considered the roughest sea on earth.

The Drake Passage

Cruise journeys, The Drake Passage


Cruise & flights to Antarctica from South America

Choose the best way of traveling for you with Viva here.

Combining cruising with short flights is a very popular option, especially for those who do not wish to cross the Drake Passage by ship or who are simply short on time.

The excellent convenience of southern South America’s major ports means these options are very popular. Fly/sail options operate out of Ushuaia (Argentina), Punta Arenas (Chile) and Santiago (Chile) and King George Island, which is part of the South Shetland Islands. King Island is the place to keep in mind here as this is the furthest place south into which you can fly.

The wonderful array of itineraries means you can find your personal compromise on almost all aspects of a visit to Antarctica. You can completely skip a crossing of the Drake Passage by flying into King George Island, joining an expedition ship from there for a few days and then flying out again. Check out our 7-day Antarctica Express for an idea of how this works. Or, if you want the thrill of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can simply choose to fly one way, and cruise the other.

In our humble opinion, the Drake Passage is one of the hidden delights of an Antarctica expedition cruise and experiencing it – at least once – is an absolute must! Some options for fly one-way & sail back, include: 12-day Ultimate Antarctica, 6-day Antarctica Express and 11-day Antarctic Explorer, amongst many more.

Embark on a scenic flight

Embark on a scenic flight

Cruises from New Zealand/Australia 

Feel the majesty of nature during our tours to Antarctica.

Those looking for a truly epic southern adventure will get their kicks from taking a cruise directly from our shores. Cruises to Antarctica depart from Bluff (near Invercargill, New Zealand) and Hobart (Australia) and only operate a handful of times during each tourist season, between November and March.

These tours are not as numerous as those departing from Ushuaia, arguably due to the relatively higher price tag and trip duration – options are 26 and 32-day cruises. Irrespective of price and time, however, you’ll be surprised to hear that these, in actual, fact, are among the most coveted Antarctica experiences of all.

Offering a totally different kind of adventure, cruises from New Zealand and Australia explore the most historic corner of Antarctica, retracing the steps of such illustrious explorers as Mawson and Shackleton and visiting remote sites not many human beings will have ever seen. From New Zealand, you can cross the marine-life enriched Ross Sea, pass a flurry of sub-Antarctic islands brimming with wildlife, visit remote research stations and have a much more grandiose expedition, overall.

On the eastern side of Antarctica, you’ll encounter bigger icebergs and will likely have the place all to yourself. All of these aspects ensure that these exclusive cruises sell out months, and sometimes years, in advance. Spots are limited and interest is huge.

Antarctica is a breathtaking place

Antarctica is a breathtaking place

Visit Viva Expeditions Antarctica Experiences page to see all our cruise and fly/sail tours on offer.

Are there scenic flights to Antarctica? 

Funny you should ask! Yes, there are scenic flights to Antarctica!

Operating just a few times every year from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, in Australia, chartered Antarctica scenic flights take lucky guests on what would have to be the world’s most astonishing day trip. These Antarctica overflights are really something special.

Day-long jaunts across the Ross Sea and magnificent landscape viewing from the comfort (and luxury) of a specially-serviced 747, complete with champagne, seat rotation (so everyone gets the window) and expert talks on the geography, wildlife and history of Antarctica.

This experience is ideal as a priceless gift or experience by anyone with mobility issues who dreams of at least seeing the great white land but isn’t able to take a long cruise.

Flat landscape of Antarctica

Flat landscape of Antarctica

What kind of Antarctica cruise ships are there? 

Antarctica expedition ships are some of the most powerful and safest vessels in existence. They’re specially equipped to deal with the harsh conditions of the south and boast stabilisers to add comfort during the at-times rough Drake Passage crossing. When it comes to comfort and luxury, they are on a separate league from the run-of-the-mill cruise liners you find cruising  the Caribbean, with only a few exceptional options being super luxurious. By and large, however, they are all immensely comfortable and cosy, they offer all the comforts and services you need whilst keeping the focus strictly on the job at hand. That is, exploring Antarctica.

On an Antarctica cruise ship, you’ll spend evenings learning more about your chosen destination, afternoons swapping wildlife encounter stories with your fellow cruise mates and mornings preparing for Zodiac outings and on-shore landings. Don’t expect cabaret shows, is what we’re saying, but we promise nothing will be further from your mind, anyhow!

Embark on a cruise of a lifetime

Embark on a cruise of a lifetime

Vessels range in size, luxury and price, as well as itinerary and inclusions

Choose the most attractive cruise trip for you here.

To choose the right ship for you, it is always best (and fastest) to tell us what kind of travel style you like, how much time you have available and what your budget range is. Here at Viva Expeditions, our combined experience and knowledge of the Antarctic tourist sector means it will take us far less time to find you a suitable vessel.

Antarctica cruise ship Passenger count 

Visit our Cruising Page and select Antarctica, scrolling to the bottom of the page for a comprehensive list of Antarctica expedition ships.

One of the most important aspects of an Antarctica cruise is passenger capacity. The vessels we represent range between 50 pax (like the Akademik Shokalsiy, the true adventurer’s vessel) and 260 (like the stunning L’Austral, A French beauty that’s among the most luxurious choices).

Is crossing the Drake Passage always a rough ride? 

The crossing of the Drake Passage is one of the most hotly-contested topics among those who are planning a visit to Antarctica for the very first time. Why only first-timers, you ask? Well, because those who have been and come back know that although fun and, yes, at times, quite rough, there’s actually nothing ‘dangerous’ or extraordinarily scary about the Drake Passage.  Sure, some guests will feel a bit green under the gills but that’s usually nothing that a sea-sickness pill and a sleep won’t fix. Moreover, the Drake Passage is not always rough. Sometimes, it is eerily still, and that’s why the first question most return passengers pose themselves is whether they will experience the Drake Shake or the Drake Lake.

Visiting Antarctica from Argentina and Chile

A trip to Antarctica from Argentina and Chile isn’t just a great way to have the widest choice of travel option, it also offers the chance for further travels through Latin America. Santiago and Buenos Aires are very well connected to New Zealand. In fact, Santiago, the Chilean capital, is the best entry point when coming from our shores.

Found the best way for you to get to Antarctica? Need more help? Give us a shout!

Similar Stories