top of page
  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

How To Get Yourself To Antarctica

In case it's one of your 2018 resolutions - just saying.

Cruising around Antarctica icebergs

Many people think of Antarctica as this far away, impossible-to-reach place, accessible only virtually via repeat viewings of Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2, but that's not true.

In a nutshell, there are 5 ways to get yourself to Antarctica:

1. Be a student taking a course on Antarctica that includes a study visit

A number of universities offer courses on Antarctica that includes a visit to the continent as part of the academic endeavor, including the University of San Francisco and Dartmouth University in the USA, as well as the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Cost: Most expensive option as it includes a semester of college. > USD 30,000

Pros: You will become an expert on Antarctica at the end of the course

Cons: May be too much of an investment of time and money if you’re only looking to have fun

2. Work as an Antarctic researcher or crew

A free and potentially money-making way is to work as a researcher on Antarctica. Plenty of research is being conducted on the continent, and if you happen to have the right background and the right skills, this could be a viable way to go. The National Science Foundation of America regularly funds expeditions to Antarctica.

Even if you are not scientifically-inclined, you can apply to work as a crew member – somebody needs to cook and clean, even in Antarctica.

Cost: Can range from being free (but you may have to pay for personal expenses) or profitable (depending on what job you end up taking)

Pros: These scientific expeditions tend to take months, which gives you plenty of time on Antarctica

Cons: Not a holiday because you’re essentially working. Also, you may not want to be freezing in Antarctica for that long...

3. Work as a crew on Antarctica-bound ships or planes

Similar to the above, you can also find employment as a crew on a ship or plane that make trips to Antarctica. There are a variety of roles, from specialized ones like lecturer, professional kayak instructor, professional mountain climbing instructor, doctor, pilot, or general ones like cook, housekeeping staff, dishwasher, etc.

Cost: Can range from being free (but you may have to pay for personal expenses) or profitable (depending on what job you end up taking)

Pros: You get to be on a comfortable tourist boat for next to nothing

Cons: Not a holiday because you’re essentially working. Depending on the role you take up, you may not get the chance to do preferred activities like going to shore as priority goes to the passengers.

4. Be an artist or a writer and produce an Antarctica-inspired piece of art

Grants are given out to qualified artists and writers who are producing a work of art or a novel about Antarctica – the most well-known programs are the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program by the National Science Foundation of America, and the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship by the Australian Government.

Cost: Can range from being free (but you may have to pay for personal expenses) or profitable (depending on how you use your grant!)

Pros: You’ll get to unleash your artistic creativity on a fascinating continent and get paid for it!

Cons: Not a holiday because you’re essentially working. If you are not a citizen of the countries in which the grants are offered, you are out of luck, no matter how artistic you are.

5. Be a regular tourist

Forget college courses, research work and grant applications - go to Antarctica the same way you would go to Thailand or the Bahamas: as a camera-totting, wide-eyed tourist.

Cost: Can range from USD4,000 to USD 20,000

Pros: You get to pick when and how you get to Antarctica and enjoy your holiday like a normal tourist

Cons: Will likely be the most expensive trip of your life


Most of the options above require specific skills or circumstances, and are out of reach for the average person – the most accessible option for the likes of regular people like me is to pony up the money and be a tourist.

For this reason, the rest of this post will go into the details of going to Antarctica as a tourist.


View from a kayak

Touristing in Antarctica

As a tourist, you can choose to either sail or fly to Antarctica from any of the common departure points (Ushuaia in Argentina, Cape Town in South Africa, New Zealand or Australia).

Side note: Ushuaia is the closest to Antarctica and tends to offer cheaper trips; however, the other departure points may be cheaper to get to depending on where you are from. It may not make sense to fly across the world to Argentina if you're in Malaysia, especially since Australia and New Zealand are more accessible.

There are a variety of options, depending on:

  1. how long you want to be there,

  2. where in Antarctica you want to go, and

  3. how much you are willing to pay.

Naturally, trips involving flights are a lot more expensive, but that means you get to skip the long days spent sailing and getting seasick.

Some trips are easy-going, mostly consisting of Zodiac cruises and some shore-landings. Some trips are adventure-focused, and offer additional options like kayaking, mountain-climbing and scuba diving. Some even offer helicopter rides to the interior of Antarctica (i.e. the South Pole), if you and your wallet are up for it.

Simply google 'Antarctica trips', and choose whichever trip suits your interest. Make sure the operator is registered with the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators.

If possible, choose a ship with the least number of passengers. Am not saying this just because I hate humans and crowds, but also because there is a limit on how many people can be ashore in Antarctica at a time, and the more people you are with, the longer you have to wait for your turn!

(If you want to know the operator I ended up going with, after hours of research and multiple excel sheets get in touch!)

How to go cheap

If you are:

  1. traveling in a small group (i.e. alone or with one partner),

  2. flexible with your travel dates, and

  3. not fussy with what you get...

... a cheaper way to gain passage on an Antarctic-bound ship is to simply arrive at one of the departure ports (like Ushuaia) and keep an eye out for last-minute deals.

As a ship gets closer to its departure date, they will get increasingly desperate to fill up the remaining vacant spots in the ship. The hotels, hostels and tour operators will be advertising these deals all over the place, and you can get a spot for as low as USD3,000.

There is no guarantee that there will be a last-minute vacant spot that is to your liking. However, the longer you stick around the port, and the less fussy you are, the higher your chances will be. The prospects are also better during the peak months (Jan-Feb) as there will be more ships departing each week.

When to go

The visiting season for Antarctica only opens in the southern summertime, namely November – March. The appropriate time to go largely depends on what you want to see or get out of the experience.

For a pristine, fresh and clean Antarctica… go in November or December, just when the season is starting. Being one of the first there means you get to see the continent in its undisturbed and unspoiled state. It will likely still be snowing, so you will see nothing but white for the entire duration of your trip. You will get moody and monochrome pictures, but it will be very peaceful.

However… being early means you will miss out on seeing some of the animals (like certain types of penguins and whales). The Emperor penguins, for example, are still waddling over from the interior and will not reach the shore until much later in the season. Some areas may also be blocked off by ice that have yet to melt, which may limit the places you get to visit.

For slightly warmer conditions and a chance to see almost all the penguin types and whales… go in February or March, when the penguins frolic close to shore and a sighting of whales is common. The sky will likely be blue and sunny, resulting in more cheerful pictures. You will also be able to access places that were previously difficult to reach due to the ice.

However… coming late in the season means you will be arriving to muddy shores that have been trampled by hundreds or thousands of people before you. The place will also be swarming with ships and humans, which means you may see more of your own species than any other.


Antarctica may not be a typical tourist or holiday destination for most people, but that's exactly why it's worth visiting. I had the time of my life, and so will you. Plus, it's getting easier and easier to reach the 'bottom' of the world, and what with all this climate change going on, it may not be around for very long...

What are you waiting for?

bottom of page