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Antarctica Short or Long? Which Trip Length is for You?

by Joy Martinello

You’ve heard how mind-blowing it is from your friends. You know you want to take the plunge and sign up for your chance to set foot on The White Continent. But there are so many Antarctica trip lengths and trip types. Which one is for you?

I started sending people to Antarctica in 2004 and I had the good fortune to travel there myself that year. At this point, I’ve sent over 1000 people to Antarctica and based on my own experience plus what my travelers tell me, the very best trip length, and indeed, the very best experience you can have in Antarctica would be to choose the 18-24 day programs that visit Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. If you have both the time and the resources to select this “gold standard” of trips to Antarctica, do it! You’ll be so happy you did.

A trip to Antarctica on an expedition ship will end up being one of the most important and extraordinary experiences of your life. Right up there with getting married and having your first child, the first time you catch a glimpse of towering cliffs and sparkling blue glaciers is a moment that burns itself into your brain. You, of all the people in the world, you are about to set foot on the Antarctica Peninsula. It will be a thrilling moment!

Then, when you add spectacular South Georgia into the mix, the quality of experience jumps forward exponentially. What makes South Georgia so special? It’s the wildlife. When you’re standing there on Salisbury Plain staring down 400,000 giant king penguins all calling out to each other, all waddling around their neighbors looking for their husbands and wives, the best way to describe the feeling you’ll have is: gobsmacked. This experience boggles the mind!

Then there are the harems of elephant seals: huge, 13-foot-long, 4,000 pound alpha males and their 40-50 massive, lumbering females. The yowling, wallowing females, and young scrappy males challenging the old alphas offer up drama you can’t even find on Netflix these days (unless you're watching a documentary about elephant seals on South Georgia.)

And don’t forget the fur seals! These scrambling little critters huddle together in groups and sometimes run after each other–or you! (Don’t worry; your expedition leader will keep you safe.) The other extraordinary sight on South Georgia are the wandering albatrosses. With up to 12-foot wingspans, these huge, graceful birds are both astonishing and unforgettable.

Some of our favorite trips that include South Georgia are on the National Geographic Endurance, the National Geographic Explorer, the Ultramarine, Le Lyrial and the Expedition.

Don’t have the time or the resources for such an epic trip? No worries. Many of us can only take 2-week vacations and if that’s the case, go with the 10-14 day trips that focus on the Antarctic Peninsula. Because the Peninsula is the closest point in Antarctica to South America, the shortest trips focus on the Peninsula so you will be able to secure bragging rights by stepping on the Continent. There are many channels and islands with breathtaking scenery just off the coast of the Peninsula and these shorter trips take advantage of these closer locations so you end up visiting a wide array of penguin colonies, stunning landscapes, and thrilling glaciers.

Most ships offer these 10-14-day programs including the National Geographic Resolution, the Expedition, Le Lyrial and the Silver Cloud. Trips that cross the Antarctic Circle like this one on the Ultramarine are usually 14-15 days. Circle trips offer 1-2 extra days of landings.

Is 10-14 days still too long? For people with a very tight schedule who still want to experience as much of this fabulous adventure as possible, you can take a fly/sail option that will have you departing from Punta Arenas, Chile and flying to the Antarctic Peninsula region in a mere 7-8 days. One ship that offers this program is the Ocean Adventurer.

If you’re trying to figure out what you might miss by skipping over the notorious Drake Passage on a fly/sail trip, keep in mind that in addition to missing out on Drake bragging rights, you also miss out on some of the extraordinary lectures and educational activities that prepare you for your Antarctic arrival. Fly/sail passengers get some preparatory lectures yet not all.

The Drake Passage is one of the roughest areas of sea in the world and we jokingly say you will either get the Drake Lake or the Drake Shake. If you’re just not up for that adventure, by all means fly the Drake. Yet if you are, you will be rewarded by spirited talks by amazing expedition staff and the opportunity to spot whales and dolphins on your way to Antarctica too.

If you are a true adventurer or if maybe you’ve been to Antarctica before and want to go again, you will want to consider extra long specialty trips like the 28-34 day programs that visit the Ross Sea. It takes 4 days to cross from Australia/New Zealand to the Antarctic Continent so be ready for extra ship time on these trips, yet also high-octane adventure as you’re heading where only a handful of scientists and their staff ever go! Check out the Heritage Adventurer and the Ortelius for examples of these over-the-top programs.

I hope I’ve helped you consider how long you should plan to be away for your once-in-a-lifetime Antarctica trip. Whether you still have questions or have selected a trip length, contact us and we’ll help you get ready to set sail on this otherworldly adventure!

Up for more Antarctica trip research? Here’s an article on How to Select the Perfect Antarctica Ship.


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