You’re going where? Why? That’s how my friends responded when I told them I was going to Antarctica. Little did they know that the coldest place on earth is becoming one of the hottest travel destinations with more than 25,000 visitors a year. Antarctica is also one of the most difficult places on earth to reach – so travelers must visit during the southern hemisphere’s summer – the winter months for the U.S. – when the ice melts enough to allow access to the continent’s outer banks. So December is a great time to cruise to Antarctica!
I made the journey years ago. My cruise to the “bottom of the world” began with an 11-hour flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, Argentina. After a night on the town and an excellent steak dinner (Argentina is known for its beef), I was up early the next morning for a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Ushuaia, Argentina—the southern-most country in the world. This seaport and ski town is partly surrounded by the beautiful Andes Mountains. One of the jumping-off points for a cruise to the “bottom of the world” is Ushuaia, Argentina. I took the Clipper Adventurer, with about 100 other passengers. The cruise line has been cruising to Antarctica since 1998. (Photo: Kalin with a few of Antarctica’s most famous inhabitants)
After a few hours onboard, the joy and excitement about my adventure was soon exchanged for tension, as we started moving through the most turbulent waters in the world – the Drake Passage. For almost 48 hours, the ship rocked back and forth so harshly that passengers rolled out of their beds, got sick, and listened as dishes crashed to the floor. As a person who gets seasick easily, it made me wonder why in the world I’d taken this trip. Luckily the ship sold seasickness wristbands. They worked wonders, and I’ve been using them ever since.
But once I saw my first iceberg, it was all worth it. Antarctica is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen. There are miles and miles of icebergs with amazing shapes that look as if they’ve been sculpted by an artist. We passengers fell all over ourselves oohing, aahing and clicking our cameras. The pristine beauty is jaw-dropping. There were wildlife experts, naturalists and historians onboard to give us briefings on each area of the continent we visited, as well as its animals.
Various species of penguins make up the largest number of native life on the continent. They were funny little things, waddling by, doing their daily routines as if we weren’t there. Penguins have no land predators, so they’re fearless of humans. Still, travelers are asked not to touch them or disturb their environment in any way. I could sit and watch them all day. Also entertaining were roaring sea lions lying on top of each other, blued-eyed shags (birds) feeding their young, fur seals sunning on floating ice caps, and whales diving in and out of the water as giant gods of the sea.
I had fun with passengers sliding down snowy hills on “sleds” made out of garbage bags, taking inflatable “Zodiac” motorboats around the icebergs, and holding a small chunk of an iceberg in my hands. Four fifths of icebergs are under water. So what you see above water is literally the “tip of the iceberg.” One of the highlights of the trip was a place called Deception Island, where volcanic heat makes hot springs. Sitting in the warm water in my bathing suit, looking out at all the icebergs and snowy hills surrounding us was both awesome and surreal. After drying off and getting back onboard, the ship’s chef treated us to a wonderful barbeque on deck. Well, it was summer in Antarctica! The Clipper’s food is excellent, with three 5-star meals a day.
Know Before You Go:
- Try to book a year in advance — the cost of cruising the continent ranges from $7,000 to $11,000 (with a red parka included)
- You must have a passport to fly to Argentina for boarding.
- Take your Ipod – there’s not much music variety on the cabin radio.
- Pack lots of layers of clothing, and start with thermal underwear and socks.
- Take seasickness wristbands – they work better than pills and only cost about $10 at any drugstore.
- Read the book “Endurance” which tells the true account of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s trip to Antarctica on a ship which sank in 1915. He and his crew were rescued after almost two years of living in the harsh environment of Antarctica.
- For more information visit www.clippercruises.com, www.iaato.org or www.lonelyplanet.com.
My trip to Antarctica was a trip of a lifetime. It was a spiritual experience that made me feel like a small blip on the earth’s surface, giving me a new appreciation for the environment. So why not celebrate your 40th birthday at the bottom of the world? It’s a destination that gives you major bragging rights. I mean, how many people can say they’ve been to the seventh continent? And remember: Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness — Mark Twain.
Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.