Antarctica, the fifth largest continent, is 99.8% covered with perpetual ice. Although inaccessible, the number of tourists now exceeds the number of people on government research programmes. It is known for its extraordinary scenery, wildlife, scientific stations, and historic sites. The weather can be spectacularly severe, thus visits are confined to the brief summer. Presently 25 countries operate 60 scientific stations (45 remain open during winter). A winter population of about 1,200 lives in a continent larger than Europe. The Antarctic Heritage Trust which has headquarters in New Zealand and Britain, and some other organizations maintain several historic huts where organized groups are admitted. Many current research stations allow visitors a stay of a couple of hours on an organized tour. Of the historic huts, the one at
, established in 1944 and now a museum, has become the most-visited site. The historic huts used by Scott, Shackleton, Mawson, and Borchgrevink during the 'heroic age' of exploration are on the Australian and New Zealand side of Antarctica thus very distant from South America.
there are many of specialist and general books about Antarctica, but the current best single source of information remains
Antarctica: great stories from the frozen continent
by Reader's Digest (first published Sydney 1985, with several later editions). General information including links to other sites can be found at
Scott Polar Research Institute
site, www.spri.cam.ac.uk. Also useful is the website of
International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators
. Most national operators also have sites dedicated to their work but often with much more information. The
Committee of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes
, in Hobart, is the best source for these details: www.comnap.aq.
Governance of Antarctica is principally through the Antarctic Treaty (1959) signed by all countries operating there (47 countries were parties to the Treaty in 2009, these represent over 80% of the Earth's population). Most visitors will be affected by several provisions of the Treaty, in particular those of the Environmental Protocol of 1991. These provisions are aimed at the
protection of wildlife (do not remove or harmfully interfere with animals or plants), respecting protected areas and scientific research, alerting visitors to the need to be safe and prepared for severe changeable weather and keeping the environment pristine. Full details from www.iaato.org/docs/visitor_guidelines.pdf. Seven countries have claims over parts of Antarctica and three of
these overlap (Antártida Argentina, British Antarctic Territory, and Territorio Chileno Antártico); the Treaty has neutralized these with provision of free access to citizens of contracting states. Some display of sovereignty is legitimate and many stations operate a Post Office where philatelic items and various souvenirs are sold.
The region south of South America is the most accessible part of the Antarctic, therefore over half the scientific stations are there or on adjacent islands. Coincidentally it is one of the most spectacular areas with many mountains, glaciers and fjords closely approachable by sea. Three ports are used: Stanley, Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, the last is the major base for yachts. The South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula are most frequently visited, but ships also reach the South Orkney Islands and many call at South Georgia at the beginning or end of a voyage. Most vessels are booked well in advance by luxury class passengers sometimes late opportunistic
vacancies may be secured by local agencies. Ships carrying 45-280 tourists land passengers at several sites during about a fortnight's voyage. Some much larger vessels also visit; these generally do not land passengers but merely cruise around the coasts. During the 2008-2009 austral summer about
32,000 visitors arrived in Antarctica, of whom 24,000 landed on the continent.
Voyages from South America and the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas involve at least two days each way, crossing the Drake Passage where sea conditions may be very uncomfortable. No guarantee of landings, views or wildlife is possible and delays due to storms are not exceptional. Conversely, on a brilliant day, some of the most spectacular sights and wildlife anywhere can be seen. Visitors should be prepared for adverse conditions with warm clothing, windproofs and waterproofs, and boots for wet landings. Weather and state of the sea can change quickly without warning.
International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators
PO Box 2178, Basalt, Colorado, US, CO 81621; T+1-970-704 1047, www.iaato.org
, represents the majority of companies and can provide details of most offering Antarctic voyages. Many vessels have a principal contractor and a number of other companies bring smaller groups, thus it is advantageous to contact the principal.
Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions
4376 South 700 East, Suite 226, Salt Lake City, Utah 84107-3006, USA, T+1-801-266 4876, firstname.lastname@example.org
, provides flights to Antarctica from Punta Arenas where there is a
Arauco 935, Punta Arenas, Chile, T+56-61-247735, email@example.com, Oct-Jan
. Wheeled aircraft fly as far as a summer camp at Patriot Hills (80° 19S, 81° 20W), the only land-based tourist facility, whence ski-aircraft proceed to the South Pole, vicinity of Vinson Massif (4,892 m, Antarctica's highest peak), and elsewhere. Some flights also go from Punta Arenas and Cape Town. 'Flightseeing' is made by Qantas from Australia aboard aircraft which do not land but spend about 4 hours over the continent (and about the same getting there and back).
Some private yachts carry passengers; enquire at Ushuaia, or the other ports listed. Travelling with the Argentine, Chilean, French or Russian supply ships may sometimes be arranged at departure ports. These are much cheaper than cruise ships but have limited itineraries as their principal object is to supply stations.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF