Antarctica

What’s the best way to get to Antarctica?

The most common way to get to Antarctica is by expedition ship, leaving from the southernmost port in Argentina - Ushuaia. Choosing a departure from Ushuaia will give you the most options. However if you wish to avoid crossing the infamous Drake Passage, there are also fly/cruise itineraries in which case you fly from Punta Arenas, Chile down to the Antarctic Peninsula and embark on your expedition ship in the calmer Antarctic waters. This is also a good option if you are short on time, however it does cost more to do a fly/cruise. For extremely intrepid adventurers, there are private yachts and sailboats for hire for slightly longer voyages to Antarctica.

When is the best time to go & how far in advance do I need to plan?

The best time to go depends on what you want to experience.

November to December is early season and a beautiful time in Antarctica - the continent is just waking up from its long winter and everything is covered in fresh white snow. The penguins have just arrived back to land and mating rituals are in full swing. You’ll see nest building, stone stealing, and all kinds of penguin drama as they prepare to become parents once again. The penguins lay their eggs, taking good care to keep them warm, and many chicks will hatch before the year’s end. We also witness the beginning of the whales returning to Antarctica to feed. Minkes, southern right whales, and humpbacks all frequent Antarctica’s waters. The longest days occur in December with up to 20 hours of proper sunlight, meaning you can take photos at midnight!

January to February is mid-season and the wildlife gets very busy with penguin chicks hatching, while their parents take turns going out to sea to bring krill back for feeding time. These are the warmest months in Antarctica and the snow melts back quite a bit, revealing some interesting historical relics, and predators like leopard seals grow bolder as penguin chicks enter the ocean for the first time as summer waxes on. Whale watching ramps up during these months as more of these massive beasts arrive at the peninsula to feed.

March is late season and we start to witness more sunsets and moody colours as the sun sinks further below the horizon. The snow cover is at its minimum after a long summer of relatively warm days and frenetic animal activity on land. This allows for longer walks and hikes during landings. The penguin chicks have quickly become adolescents and are both curious about tourists, and demanding as they’re still dependent on their parents for food. Receding ice allows for further exploration south along the Antarctic Peninsula and in some cases, access to scientific bases that were closed off earlier in the season. Whale watching continues to be a highlight and in certain areas that have been free from snow cover for a while, you may even see one or both of the two species of flowering plant found in Antarctica.

We advise planning a good year in advance, if possible, as you’ll have more options available to choose from and if you’re keen to do some adventure activities such as kayaking or camping, participation is limited and space sells out early.

Do I need a visa to go there?

You don’t need a visa for Antarctica but if your ship is departing from Ushuaia, you may need to pay a reciprocity fee to enter Argentina and this MUST be paid prior to your entry to Argentina. The reciprocity fee is only valid for Canadian and Australian citizens and can be paid here:

https://reciprocidad.provincianet.com.ar/

Fees are as follows (as of October 2017):

  • Australians - $100 USD valid for one year
  • Canadians - $75 USD valid for 3 months or $150 USD valid for 5 years

What should I wear/bring?

Here you can download our recommended packing list.

How long is a trip to Antarctica?

It depends on the itinerary. The standard “Antarctic Classic” or "Antarctic Peninsula” trips are usually between 9-11 days. "Crossing the Antarctic Circle" trips and "Weddell Sea" specials can sometimes be 10-13 days, and longer "Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Antarctica" voyages are between 18-21 days in length. There are even longer expeditions that take you to the Ross Sea in East Antarctica that can go as long as 30 days.

How do I choose the best itinerary?

Every ship that goes to the Antarctic peninsula plans for two excursions minimum per day, weather permitting. All expedition leaders work hard to get passengers off the ship as much as possible as we know that for most people this is a once in a lifetime trip.

The key here is weather permitting, and that’s why one should never assume that the exact itinerary that’s outlined in your pre-voyage materials will be followed. Antarctica is a remote and wild place where Mother Nature is boss.

The written itinerary you receive is Plan A, but all Expedition Leaders work closely with the ship’s captain surveying weather charts and prepare a Plan B, and Plan C in order to give guests the best experience. We ask passengers to be flexible and trust that the team is doing their best. Regardless of what is written in a given "Antarctic Classic" itinerary, this is the case across all ships and expedition companies.

Furthermore, the various expedition ships are in regular contact with each other while sailing down the peninsula so if another ship sees something noteworthy, the ship you are on may change course to go and take advantage of that. And finally, rest assured that every ship will aim for at least one continental landing and ice conditions permitting, a stop at Port Lockroy where there is a post office.

How do I find out about camping, kayaking, or other adventure activities?

Just ask! We can find out what’s available on any given trip and even more importantly, whether there’s still space for you to book your adventure activity.

What about money?

Once on board, you won’t need cash but you should have a credit card to register at reception for any on board purchases you make, (such as at the bar or in the gift shop, if there is one). However if you stop in places like Port Lockroy or if you’re on a longer trip including the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, it’s good to have some GBP or USD on you for souvenirs. Most remote Gift Shops have credit card capability but due to their remote location, the credit card machines don’t always work.

What if I get seasick?

Many people get seasick and the best advice is always to prepare ahead of time. If you have used a medication for motion sickness in the past that works well, bring a lot of it with you and take a dose as the ship leaves the pier so that as soon as you hit open water, the medicine is already working.

That said, if you don’t know if you suffer from seasickness and have never used this type of medication, all ships have a doctor on board who can provide counsel and seasickness medication if you’re not feeling well.

What if I’m traveling alone?

Not a problem. You have the option of being paired with a cabin mate of the same gender or of booking a single supplement which means you pay extra to have a cabin to yourself. Just let us know your preference and we will find the right space for you!

Arctic

When is the best time to visit the Arctic?

The Arctic season runs roughly from May to September and the best time to visit depends on what you hope to see. Polar bears are the most common draw to the Arctic and can be seen throughout the season.

However if you're a hobby photographer and hope to take advantage of good natural light variations, coming near the beginning or the end of the season is advisable.

If you’re interested in birds and headed to Svalbard, you’ll want to get there before August when the roughly 60,000 Brünnich’s guillemots found at the famous bird cliffs of Alkefjellet leave for the ocean after finishing their  breeding activities.

What’s the best way to get to the Arctic?

We believe the best way to experience the Arctic (for anyone who’s not a hardcore adventurer) is by expedition ship. You can of course go over land to Northern Canada to see the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, but we at Twin Tracks prefer the freedom and flexibility of small expedition ships to take you into the remote wilds.

Most frequently, expedition cruises depart from Longyearbyen, Svalbard. This requires you to fly via Oslo, Norway, up to Svalbard. However some voyages begin in Iceland, and yet others such as the Northwest Passage begin either in Northern Canada or Greenland.

How do I choose the best itinerary?

It truly depends on what you’d like to experience. If you want to maximize the likelihood of polar bear encounters, book a longer (10 day) Svalbard voyage. If you love landscapes, massive mountains and icebergs, look for an itinerary that includes Greenland. If you want a bit of everything the Arctic has to offer, let us help you find a Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland trip. And finally, if you’re a history buff...the Northwest Passage is a wonderful place to see and feel Franklin’s world, as well as experience the unique lives of the Inuit in remote northern villages.

What should I wear/bring?

Here you can download our recommended packing list.

Where’s the best place to see polar bears?

Of all of the Arctic expedition options, your best bet is Svalbard. It is the farthest north of all of the Arctic ship cruise options and the sea ice from which polar bears hunt extends down quite close to this Norwegian archipelago. There is no specific place IN Svalbard where the bears are more plentiful as they are lone animals and move fast both across land and ice. But on any expedition cruise it will be the main priority to look out for polar bears and get up as close as possible with the vessel without disturbing the bears or compromising passenger safety.

How long is a trip to the Arctic?

Expedition cruises in Svalbard range in length from 7 to 13 days. Voyages that include Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland can be 10-12 days, and Northwest Passage trips are usually about 12 days.

How do I find out about camping, kayaking, or other adventure activities?

Just ask! We can find out what’s available on any given trip and even more importantly, whether there’s still space for you to book your adventure activity.

What if I’m traveling alone?

Not a problem. You have the option of being paired with a cabin mate of the same gender or of booking a single supplement which means you pay extra to have a cabin to yourself. Just let us know your preference and we will find the right space for you!

When should I start planning my trip?

As with Antarctica, it’s always smart to try planning about 10-12 months in advance so you have the most options to choose from. But if you’ve decided to go last minute, let us know as there are almost always a few spaces available to get you on your trip of a lifetime.

What about money?

We recommend you bring a small amount of pocket money with you on your expedition. Depending on where in the Arctic you’re going, there may have an opportunity to purchase souvenirs. In larger towns like Longyearbyen in Svalbard, credit cards are accepted everywhere. However in small villages in Greenland or Northern Canada, cash will be required.

There's also the question of tipping the crew on your ship. On larger ships you can add any tip (entirely voluntary) to your on board account and pay by credit card at the end of the voyage, but on small ships (12-24 passengers) you’ll want to have cash if you decide to tip the crew. A good guideline is $10-12 USD per passenger per day. (For example, this means a 7 day cruise would equal a $70 to $84 tip at the end which will be distributed evenly to the crew by the Expedition Leader).

What if I get seasick?

Seasickness is not uncommon and the best advice is always to prepare ahead of time. If you have used a medication for motion sickness in the past that works well, bring it with you and take a dose as the ship leaves the pier so that as soon as you hit open water, the medicine is already working.

If you don’t know if you suffer from seasickness and have never used this type of medication, all large ships have a doctor on board who can provide counsel and seasickness medication if you’re not feeling well. If you’re traveling on a small ship (12 - 24 passengers) there will not be a doctor on board so be sure to consult with your own physician before leaving home and bring some medication with you.

What To Bring

Outdoor clothing

Layers! The polar regions are of course cold, so you’re best advised to bring layers made of wool, silk or synthetic fabrics, (rather than cotton) as well as a thin down jacket or fleece to use as insulators.

A roomy, lightweight parka or winter jacket that’s wind and water-resistant is a must, and the brighter the colour, the better for safety reasons as you’ll be in a mostly monochromatic polar environment. Winter waterproof pants that are roomy enough for you to layer long underwear and hiking pants underneath are key.

Why waterproof? Sea spray is common onboard the Zodiacs and sometimes in bad weather you’ll get properly drenched. Keeping your hands warm and dry can be a challenge, so we always recommend thin liner gloves (merino is a great material) to wear under warm outer water-resistant gloves. This will make things easier when you need to remove your outer gloves to operate your camera but still keep your hands warm. We also suggest bringing more than one pair of gloves in case your main pair gets soaked and you need to trade them out for the afternoon.

A warm hat that covers your ears, and a scarf or neck cowl that can provide neck and face protection in the event of inclement weather.

A requirement for Antarctic expeditions are high rubber boots, or Wellingtons, as you’ll be stepping into water up to 10” deep on wet landings around the peninsula. Be sure to check with us ahead of time as many ships provide complimentary boots. If you're required to provide your own, they must have non-skid rubber soles and come up to just below your knees. It’s also important that your boots are loose fitting so that you can wear 2-3 layers of socks in them for warmth on longer excursions.

Indoor clothing

On board the ship it’s comfy and cozy so you’ll want to bring comfortable and casual clothing. Ideal footwear are lightweight, comfortable rubber-soled shoes that can be easily worn indoors or on deck during wildlife or iceberg sightings.

Key miscellaneous items

  • A small day pack or camera bag with waterproof cover or plastic bag (protection from sea spray)
  • High SPF sunscreen and lip protection.
  • Camera, extra memory cards, and extra batteries. The cold temperatures will chew through your camera batteries in record time. Be sure to always have your extra battery in your room charging at all times.
  • Binoculars
  • Sunglasses (Polarized lenses highly recommended)
  • Toiletries
  • Water bottle
  • Seasickness pills or patches
  • An international electricity adaptor
  • Any essential medications you are taking

Important papers

  • Your passport (and photocopies). A passport with at least 6 months validity is required for entry to Argentina.
  • All travel vouchers, and pre-departure information
  • Travel insurance documentation
  • Airline tickets
  • A credit card

Flight luggage restrictions

Antarctic voyages

The domestic flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia is 15-23 kg (33 to 50 lbs) per person. Passengers who bought their international ticket with Aerolinas Argentinas are allowed the higher international luggage allowance. However be aware that the airline will charge for excess baggage. If you’re flying with LATAM, be sure to research their baggage restrictions ahead of time.

Arctic voyages

The airlines that fly from Oslo to Longyearbyen are Norwegian Airlines, SAS, and Wideroe. They all allow one checked bag (weight restriction is between 20-23 kg depending on airline) and one piece of hand luggage in their economy level seats. Please note that it is important to check with your airline exactly what the luggage restrictions are upon booking your flight. All airlines allow you to pay an extra fee for excess baggage.