Visas for Antarctica

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Visas for Antarctica

No visas or passport are required for travel to Antarctica as no one owns the Antarctic continent however a valid passport will be required for any stops en route and visas and passports may be needed for points of departure. Due to the Antarctic Treaty regulation those visiting Antarctica independently must obtain a permit. Cruise ship passengers are covered by the ship's permit however all visitors should check with their government or tour operator that their permit is in order to visit the continent.

Getting to Antarctica

By Plane

Aircraft and pilots need to be capable of landing on ice, snow, or gravel runways, as there are no paved runways.There are 28 airport landing facilities in Antarctica and all 37 Antarctic stations have helipads. Landings are generally restricted to the daylight season (Summer months from October to March). Winter landings have been performed at Williams Field but low temperatures mean that aircraft cannot stay on the ice longer than an hour or so as their skis may freeze to the ice runway. Travel is often by military aircraft, as part of the cargo. In this situation passengers should anticipate carrying all their own luggage and may need to assist with freight as well. Commercial flights to Antarctica are rare, but available. Aerovías DAP and Adventure Network International offer commercial flights to Frei Station on King George Island and the ANI Union Glacier Camp, respectively. If taking the Aerovías DAP flight as part of a tour with Antarctica XXI, the tour company transfers all checked luggage to your lodging.

Major landing fields include:

  • Teniente Rodolfo Marsh Martin Aerodrome - Serves Frei Base, Bellingshausen Station, Great Wall Base, General Artigas Station, King Sejong Station, Jubany Base, Commandante Ferraz Base, Henryk Arctowski Base, and Machu Picchu Base
  • Williams Field - Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
  • Pegasus Blue-Ice Runway - Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
  • Annual Sea-Ice Runway - Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
  • Union Glacier Blue-Ice Runway - Operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions LLC

Commercial overflights to Antarctica are limited - a handful of operators offer flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Punta Arenas. These flights typically visit Antarctica and spend several hours flying over the ice. Passengers in most seating classes rotate their position in the row halfway into the flight, to give everyone a window or one-over-from-window seat for half of the time. Rates range from $5199 for first class, to $1399 for partially-obstructed-view economy class, or $899 for non-rotating center-section seats with window access depending on the courtesy of better-seated travelers.

By Cruise Ship

Boat is the most common method of visiting the Antarctic. In the Antarctic summer, several companies offer excursions on ice strengthened vessels to Antarctica. Ice strengthened (not quite as tough as icebreakers) boats are preferred since icebreakers are round on the bottom -- a configuration that amplifies the already massive wave action in the Drake passage. The ships typically offer a couple of excursions to the continent (usually the Antarctic peninsula) or Antarctic islands (e.g., Deception Island, Aitcho Island) each day over the course of a week. The views are phenomenal, the penguins are friendly (well, some of them are), and the experience is one that is unparalleled!

When traveling by boat, be aware that smaller ships (typically carrying 50-100 passengers) can go where the big ships can't, getting you up closer to Antarctica's nature and wildlife. Larger vessels (carrying as many as 1200 people) are less prone to rough seas but have more limited landing options. Many vessels include naturalist guided hikes, zodiac excursions and sea kayaking right from the ship, perfect for active, casual travelers.

You'll need warm clothing: boots, hoods, glove, water repellent pants, parka and warm underwear. Most of these items can be bought or hired in Ushuaia, but sometimes - in the high season - it is not always easy to get the right sizes. So bring whatever you can from your own stock.

It must also be remembered that cruise operators typically only allow 100 people on land at any one time in order to comply with IAATO agreements. Consequently if you are in a boat with more than 200 people the chances are you will only spend a couple of hours at most per day off ship. Generally the smaller ships will try to ensure 2 different locations per day around Antarctica, although this is of course dependent on the weather and you may expect a 60% success rate on landing people for any given visit.

Many shipping companies are now offering Fly/Cruise options, which entails a one-way or round-trip flight from either Santiago or Punta Arenas to King George Island. These are often pricier than typically cruises that cross the Drake Passage both ways, but cut 1-3 days off the total travel time.

Companies offering cruises to Antarctica include:

  • Abercrombie & Kent, USA - Full member of International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) with 20 years of Antarctica operating experience, providing enrichment and educational programs.
  • Adventure Life - Affiliate member of International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Wholesaler offering all small ship cruise options in the region.
  • Antarctic Shipping - Full member of International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), Antarctic Shipping operates the 78 passenger M/V Antarctic Dream, an expedition vessel with ice strengthened hull built specifically for Antarctica exploration and totally refurbished to add the comfort of a small cruise ship. The size of the vessel allows for several landings in Antarctica and opportunities to do camping and kayaking.
  • Antarctic Unbound - Traveling aboard Ocean Nova, full member of International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), Antarctic Unbound offers 11 and 22 day itineraries. These trips do get off on the continent and offer opportunities to hike, walk and kayak.
  • Antarpply Expeditions - Members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), Antarpply Expeditions is a leading operator of small ship expedition cruises to Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. Antarpply is based in Ushuaia and specializes in taking small groups and individual passengers to some of the most spectacular, remote and pristine parts of the world on board the USHUAIA.
  • Aurora Expeditions - Aurora Expeditions are the pioneers of ship-based adventures, and are committed to small, low-impact groups keen to experience the Antarctica. We take a maximum of 54 passengers, departing Australia, New Zealand and South America and also offer a range of activities including sea kayaking, camping, photography, climbing and scuba diving.
  • Bark Europa - A square rigged sailing ship offering 22 day trips to Antarctica and other Sub Antarctic destinations like South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha.
  • Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris - Offers in-depth itineraries that stress maximum time ashore and Zodiac cruising with a large staff of Antarctic veterans. They offer various itineraries on different years, including The Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and Falkland Islands; Extended South Georgia and Falkland Islands only; and Extended Antarctic Peninsula and Continent only. They charter the entire ship that is the best fit for the expedition and always take less than 100 people so all can land at once to provide more time ashore.
  • Compagnie du Ponant - Offers multiple itineraries on luxury vessels, as well French and German speaking departures.
  • G Adventures - Operates trips on their ship: the 'M/S Expedition' The maximum number of passengers is 120 and the there are by lectures by staff and naturalists on board.
  • Hapag-Lloyd Cruises - Members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), their small expedition ships have the highest ice class ranking for cruise ships, and each vessel offers 4-5 cruises to Antarctica between December and March every year, including Antarctic peninsula, South Shetland Islands, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Weddell Sea.
  • Heritage Expeditions - New Zealand's award winning expedition travel company. They specialise in worldwide natural history small group expeditions and their expertise and experience of the Subantarctic Islands, the Ross Sea and East Antarctica is unsurpassed. They operate their own ice-strengthened polar research vessel the 'Spirit of Enderby' with trips to the Ross Sea and Commonwealth Bay (famous for Sir Douglas Mawson's historic hut) several times a year.
  • Intrepid Travel - Their ship is a tough icebreaker allowing for freedom of movement even in polar regions. Their ship’s small size (max. 100 persons) gives you the opportunity to go where many others can’t. To get you even closer, they have a fleet of 10 sturdy inflatable motorized boats (Zodiacs) to provide access to small or shallow areas and landings.
  • Lindblad Expeditions - Lindblad pioneered travel to Antarctica in 1966 and offers multiple trips to the Antarctic Peninsula, and longer trips which also include the Falklands and South Georgia aboard the new 148-guest National Geographic Explorer.
  • Oceanwide Expeditions - Oceanwide Expeditions, for many years elected the "World's Leading Polar Expedition Operator" at the World Travel Market in London has been organizing expedition cruises for almost two decades. Areas of operation include Antarctica, South Georgia, Spitsbergen and Greenland. The fleet consists of several comfortable ice-strenghtened ships including Plancius, Ortelius, Rembrandt van Rijn and Noorderlicht. Because of its long tradition of pioneering the polar regions the expedition staff has gained indepth knowledge of Antarctica and the Arctic.
  • One Ocean Expeditions - One Ocean Expeditions proudly operates the Akademik Ioffe and the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, true ice strengthened ships to explore Antarctica and the high Arctic. One Ocean Expeditions' focus on customer service, wildlife, photography, and exploration can be experienced in the Antarctic via Ushuaia, Argentina, or in the high Arctic via pre-arranged charter flights. Itineraries range from 10 to 18 night expedition cruises.
  • Orion Expedition Cruises - The 'Orion' is a purpose built vessel designed to access remote locations in 5-star luxury. Orion Expedition Cruises operate a number of summer-time cruises to Antarctica, departing from Australia and New Zealand.
  • Quark Expeditions - The leader in Polar adventures since 1991, operates multiple vessels and itineraries each season to various parts of the Antarctic peninsula.
  • Rockjumper Birding tours - Operates out of South Africa and is aimed at those interested in birding.
  • Steppes Travel - Steppes have forged long-standing partnerships with all the leading Antarctic small ship boat operators. Steppes' in-depth knowledge allows them to help you objectively narrow down the options based on your brief, to exactly the right holiday, boat and cabin for you.

Most cruise ships depart from the following ports:

  • Ushuaia in Argentina.
  • Punta Arenas in Chile.
  • Bluff in New Zealand.
  • Hobart in Australia.

By Sailboat

About a dozen charter sailboats, many of them members of IAATO, offer three to six week voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula from South America. Most offer "expedition style" trips where guests are invited to help out, although usually no prior sailing experience is required. Yachts take individuals on a "by the bunk" basis and also support private expeditions such as scientific research, mountaineering, kayaking, and film-making. Compared to the more popular cruise ships, a small yacht can be more work and significantly less comfortable, but typically allows more freedom and flexibility. For the right people this can be a far more rewarding experience.

  • Ocean Expeditions - Expedition support yacht ‘Australis’ purpose-built for high latitudes. Specialising in private or commercial expeditions involving film making, scientific research, adventure activities, wildlife enthusiasts or just an intimate experience of the Antarctic.
  • Expedition Sail - Sailing yacht ‘SEAL’ is a purpose-built expedition sailboat offering private expeditions, support for research, filming, or climbing projects, and also offers "by the bunk" trips for individuals.
  • Spirit of Sydney - Australians, Darrel and Cath, own and operate Spirit of Sydney, an expedition support yacht perfectly suited to meet and exceed the requirements of Film Crews, Mountaineers, Skiers and Snowboarders, Sea Kayakers, Dry suit Divers, Scientists, Sailors of all experience levels, Whale Watchers and Adventurers of all kinds. They typically carry kayaks on board, and offer both private charters and group trips for individuals.

Antarctic Stations

Coastal stations include:

  • McMurdo (77 51 S, 166 40 E) (USA)
  • Palmer (64 42 S, 64 00 W) (USA)
  • Arctowski (Poland)
  • St. Kliment Ohridski, (Livingston Island) (62 38 29 S, 60 21 53 W) (Bulgaria)
  • Port Lockroy (UK)
  • Baia Terranova (Italy)
  • Mawson (67 36 S, 62 52 E) (Australia)
  • Davis (68 35 S, 77 58 E) (Australia)
  • Casey (66 16.94 S, 110 31.5 E) (Australia)
  • Aboa (73°03'S, 13°25'W) (Finland)

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