Antarctica, the seventh continent, had been on my list as soon as I realized I could go there as a lay person. I always knew scientists and support staff spent months at the South Pole. For a long time, I thought the only way for me to get to Antarctica was to join a research team there.
Then one day, I happened to find an ad for a cruise to Antarctica. Suddenly, it was within my grasp! Further research showed me that there are 3 ways to get to Antarctica.
The starting point is usually from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Alternatively, one can depart from Punta Arenas in Chile.
When I looked at the prices for all 3 methods, I was distraught once again. The cheapest cruises ran for 8 days and cost around US $10,000. I saw cruises as long as 22 days, and they cost around US $25,000. I seriously considered that Antarctica might be out of my reach once again. The flights also started around US $10,000.
Luckily, I came across a blog where a fellow traveler shared how he had mad wit to to the seventh continent. He suggested traveling to Ushuaia, then buying a cruise ticket directly from a travel agency in Ushuaia. The cruise company was Quark Expeditions.
Fortunately for me, I had leeway in my schedule when I finally decided to travel to Antarctica. I took the blogger’s advice. As soon I checked into my hotel in Ushuaia, I hit the streets looking for a travel agency. I found one within a few blocks from my hotel. I was able to get a cruise that left in 2 days. And I got the cruise for half price, around US $4,000. It was a 10-day cruise.
Caution: I lucked out because I was flexible. The ship could take 199 passengers but only had around 160 when it sailed. It was better for them to sell the tickets cheaply than have even more empty slots. I lucked out and even had a cabin to myself. If there were no ships leaving soon, my plan was to travel around Patagonia then return to Ushuaia in time to catch the next ship sailing. It wouldn’t hurt to get a list of ship sailing dates before you leave for Ushuaia. That way, you can arrive close to the sail dates and benefit from the last minute discounts.
The cruise itself was magnificent. Excellent food and service, wonderful expeditions to the Antarctic peninsula, great company from other passengers. The penguins and other wildlife, the icebergs and the snowy landscapes were incredible to behold. There was a slight snafu where the ship struck an iceberg. But the damage was above the waterline. Repairs were made and no one was harmed. Still, it added to the adventure of it all.
Of course, I happily participated in the polar plunge, i.e. jumping into the Southern Ocean. I remember my time in Antarctica fondly and highly recommend it.
Keep in mind that cruises to Antarctica start in early November (start of summer) and end around March.