Antarctica is untouched, majestic, and magical. While you might not think there is much to do there being that no one lives there permanently, you’ll be surprised at this list. While there are many things you need to know before visiting Antarctica the number one thing to remember is this will be a trip of a lifetime. The price tag on a trip to the most southern continent is high, so make sure you make the most of your time there and try several of the amazing activities I’ve listed here.
Things to do in Antarctica
Go Camping in Antarctica
You read that right, get out and go camping in Antarctica. Many groups that do trips to Antarctica will provide (weather pending) opportunities to go camping. Depending on the outfitter you could be in tents. Or like I was, in a hole, we dug into the snow.
Sleeping outside in Antarctica might seem crazy, but it was THE highlight of my trip. Plus it’s one of my 40 things I want to do before I turn 40. Depending on where your trip to the 7th continent is, camping might happen on one of the many islands or on the continent itself. Be prepared to listen to carving glaciers and potential visits from penguins throughout the night. To be honest, I didn’t get a great nights sleep. But it was one of the best nights of my life!
Things to do in Antarctica: Run a Marathon
If you’re an avid runner, you can now run a marathon on all 7 continents with this epic marathon. Called the Ice Marathon and organized by Global Running Adventures, this race, usually run in December each year when the weather in Antarctica is at it’s best, actually begins in Chile. From Punta Arenas, participants fly to Union Glacier, Antarctica for the race the following day. This race is a once in a lifetime event as it costs around $19,000. That includes (list taken from race website.):
- Entry to your race of choice
- Transfers to and from Punta Arenas airport, Chile for Antarctic flight
- Briefing in Punta Arenas one day prior to departure
- Round trip flights from Punta Arenas to Antarctica
- Meals and tented accommodation while in Antarctica
- A Baggage allowance of up to 55lbs (25kg) on Punta Arenas-Union Glacier flight
- Medal, t-shirts, patches and other souvenirs of the race
- Professional photos for personal use (and local publication)
To find out more about the Ice Marathon click here.
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Whale Watching in Antarctica
Whale watching in Antarctica is a real treat. You’ll have opportunities to see 8 different species of whales including: Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Orcas, Minke Whales, Right Whales, Sei Whales, and Sperm Whales.
To see these amazing animals, spend some time, if you’re on an Antarctic cruise, up in the bridge. There will be times each day, in good weather, where the Captain will open the bridge. It makes for amazing viewing for potential whale sightings. If the bridge isn’t open, bundle up and head outside on deck. To help you in spotting whales bring a pair of binoculars with you on your trip.
Things to do in Antarctica: See Penguins
When visiting Antarctica, you have no idea how many penguins you’ll see until you’re sitting in the snow and completely surrounded by hundreds of penguins. And no, that is not an exaggeration.
Visitors to Antarctica will mostly see Gentoo penguins. They are everywhere, and live where most ships from Argentina visit the continent. At our first stop upon arrival to Antarctica I went mountaineering. I was able to get up close and personal with some Chinstrap penguins.
Other penguins that live in Antarctica are Adélie, Emperor, King, Macaroni, and Rockhoppers. Some of these penguins are location and seasonally specific. If you want to see a certain species of penguin during your time in Antarctica, do some research as to where they might be and the season they’re around.
Photograph the Lemaire Channel
The Lemaire Channel is only 6.8 miles long, but is still considered one of the highlights of any trip to Antarctica. This gateway to the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula spans between Booth Island and the actual Peninsula. At it’s most narrow point (2,296 feet) you’ll feel close to this majestic landscape.
Photographing this area from a ship cruising through the channel will result in picturesque landscapes and reflections of the nearby now and ice in the mirror still water.
Things to do in Antarctica: Do a Polar Plunge
If you’re going to do a Polar Plunge I can’t think of a more epic place to do it than in the icy cold waters of Antarctica. Since my ship was filled with 50 adventurous women, the majority of us ended up braving the icy water. Bring a pair of water shoes and a swimsuit, and take the plunge for yourself. Sure the water is going to be unbelievably cold, but you’ll get numb pretty quickly and forget all about it. What have you got to loose?
Sip vodka at the most southern bar in the world
Located at the Vernadsky Base, a Ukrainian research station, the southernmost bar in the world is called the Faraday Bar. While not many scheduled trips to Antarctica make it to this research station those who do can get a shot of the vodka distilled right at the research station. If you don’t like vodka you’re out of luck because it’s all they serve.
For those who don’t feel like doing the Polar Plunge can get close to the water by going kayaking.
This was one of the included in my Base Camp trip with Oceanwide Expeditions. The expedition staff provided wet suits, splash jackets, personal flotation devices, and a spray skirt to help keep you dry and warm.
Kayaking, like all activities on an Antarctica expedition are subject to the weather. During my trip in November, several kayaking trips were canceled and mine was cut short due to high winds.
However, in the hour we were out on the water we paddle close to glaciers, had penguins swim under the kayak and spotted some seals sunning themselves on an ice float.
Cruise in a Zodiac Boat
Zodiac boats are the main mode of transportation for people visiting Antarctica as though cruising are transported to and from land in Zodiacs. Cruising around and exploring in the Zodiacs gives you a different perspective and gives the opportunity to see glaciers up close.
At one point during a Zodiac cruise some penguins swam by us jumping in and out of the water. While I had seen this happen a few days beforehand the boat helped me get closer to the action and it made all the difference. Other boats on my cruise were on the water when a couple of whales came up for air!
Things to do in Antarctica: Scuba Diving
Believe it or not scuba diving is a thing in Antarctica. During the time of my visit I didn’t have my PADI certification, and didn’t even realize that scuba diving under the ice or in the freezing cold water was a thing.
Before you go you’ll need to get a few special PADI certifications (like Ice Diver and Dry suit) so you can stay safe and enjoy your time in the water. There are only a few companies that organize trips to scuba dive in Antarctica, so you’ll need to do a little research.
Cross the Drake Passage
The Drake Passage is the straight between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It is known for it’s harsh weather and rough seas.
Those who cross the passage know that the Drake Shake is no joke. During my trip the depiction staff rates the trip on the way to Antarctica a 4 out of 10 and people were getting sick. Luckily, I was fine. However, on the way back they rated it as a 7 out of 10. I didn’t get sick, but I was on the verge for 2 days. It was pretty awful, but traveling and exploring isn’t always glamorous.
Visit a science research station
In Antarctica, there are 70 permanent research stations on the continent of Antarctica. These 70 bases represent 29 countries from around the world and vary in size and what research is being done there. Some of the larger stations, during the peak of summer, can house up to 1,200 people.
A few of these stations, especially the ones that are located in coastal areas, welcome visitors. Some of the space the stations occupy are off-limits to those visitors when research is being conducted.
I loved visiting the research stations. However, early in the season, there are ships that arrive before the researchers do. For several of the stations, my ship visited we got there before anyone, except the penguins!
Learn about whaling history at Deception Island
Deception Island, located in the South Shetland Islands archipelago, was originally claimed by the British in the early 1800s. However, the island is the caldera of an active volcano and forced the British to abandon it in 1842 due to volcanic eruptions. After they left the Norwegians set up a whaling station there. Currently, Chile, Argentina, and Spain all have small seasonal research station on the island.
Visitors can walk among the ruins of the old buildings, spot whales in the protected harbor, and hike up the mountains for amazing views.
I love climbing mountains, climbing mountains is my favorite! I was lucky enough to go mountaineering twice while in Antarctica because so many of the people on my ship opted out. The first time I summited a peak and the second we were forced to turn around because of harsh winds – it was epic!
Getting roped up and taught how to self arrest and use an ice axe was a blast. From both locations we reached I could see penguins – the first time they were up close and the only chip strap penguins we saw – and snowy views as far as the eye could see. But please don’t take this lightheartedly, it was definitely a challenge, and should not be taken on by those who easily give up and don’t like to suffer a little bit.
See Trinity Church on King George Island
Trinity Church is he southernmost Russian Orthodox church in the world. The church was built in the 1990s close to Bellingshausen Station, Russia’s permanent research station in Antarctica. The building was designed in created in Russia and shopped to Antarctica where is proudly stands just over 49 feet tall.
The 2 monks that volunteer to live on site are always looking for something to do, so if you’re looking to do a destination wedding I’m sure they’d be up for the challenge!
Ya’ll know how much I love hiking and snowshoeing is the winter version of that, so it’s not surprise that snowshoeing is on this list. My trip to Antarctica was in November, so most of the places we visited had snow that had gone untouched since the previous season. It was amazing to touch ground that had gone undisturbed for so long.
Snowshoeing is an Antarctic activity for people of all ages and it can get your to some places with gorgeous overlooks, like the one in the photo below.
Try Ice Climbing
If you’re into rock climbing, or just enjoy learning new skills and want to climb up a sheet of ice that’s been frozen for who knows how long, give ice climbing a try while you’re in Antarctica. You’ll get harnessed and roped up, and with ice axe in hand scale higher and higher. Depending on the size of the group you’re with be warned that you might have to do some waiting so everyone gets a chance to give it a try which is the only downside as waiting means not moving to much and you can get cold quick.
Send a Post Card from Port Lockory
Port Lockory is one of the most visited places in Antarctica and has been the home base for British explorers, researchers, and whalers for over 100 years. Within the walls of the station is a museum all about whaling history in the area which includes a vast collection of artifacts that have been used at the research station.
When visiting you can purchase post cards and stamps to send your loved ones at home a note from the most southern post office in the world. The best part? By spending money at Port Lockroy you’ll be assisting the UK Antarctica Heritage Trust continue their work to help preserve the history of Antarctica.