Antarctica, a remote, precious and pristine continent. A place untouched by humans, pure to the core and like no other I’ve witnessed on this planet.
Antarctica was the experience of a lifetime which I will never ever forget it. I jumped onboard a ship operated by Albatross Expeditions and in this blog post, I am going to share my experience of Antarctica with you. I will share the best things to do in Antarctica along with my top tips and honest review of this adventure.
Honestly, it was ‘Am I actually here?’ moments over and over again. As I hiked across the thick compacted snow on the Antarctic Peninsula, I continued this surreal conversation with myself, rhetorical questions; ‘Am I here? Yes, Is this really Antarctica? Yes’.
‘Am I actually in one of the remote places on the planet? Are those real whale blows in the horizon amidst the 100 or so icebergs?’
An epic adventure; each day greeted by iceberg castles outside the porthole window, each evening dinner accompanied by tail flukes from humpbacks and each beautiful day filled with zodiac cruising and treks amongst Earth’s precious wildlife.
So, if you’re a nature or wildlife enthusiast, you’re in for a treat. My name is Kate from Catch Cait and I’m here to share with you some of the most beautiful moments as well as key tips and tricks for your journey down south to the phenomenal wonder that is Antarctica.
A complete guide to Antarctica
Getting to Antartica
The best / easiest way depends really on your budget and your exact location. I had been travelling from Texas, United States for literally a year before I even arrived at ‘fin del Mundo’, quite literally, end of the world. I had been backpacking and hitchhiking for a really long time, so below is an insight into how I did it.
The town I bought my ticket in was Ushuaia, Argentina and while I sat for days looking at departing ships, wondering how would I get there without spending thousands, I eventually came to the conclusion, it’s either now or never. I was banking on a possible marriage with a captain, however that never came to fruition so I just bit the bullet and bought the ticket.
I spent a few days shopping around at different operators in the small town of Ushuaia. I eventually found a great deal, for a 17-day trip, which would stop at South Georgia, also known as The Galapagos of the Polar region. Your choice of itinerary really depends on your desires. I choose this one as I am super passionate about wildlife, therefore South Georgia was the place to go. However, you can choose other voyages like crossing the circle, that one is really if you are an iceberg fanatic.
Budgeting for Antarctica
Ok, so yes, you must have savings to get to Antarctica. This is a must. Most voyages set you back thousands, anywhere from 6000-20000 and above. This is influenced by expedition type, operator, and how far in advance you buy your ticket. The best thing is, once onboard, food is inclusive and the company I took even included boots, a stunning Antarctica jacket and a memoir book for capturing all those amazing moments.
Just be sure to read the small print beforehand.
The expedition included stops at the Great Wall Chinese Base Station, 3-4 days in the Antarctic Peninsula and a final 3-4 days in South Georgia & the Sandwich Islands. The ship was the Ocean Atlantic, an ice-class rating of 1B, operated by Albatross Expeditions.
An amazing crew, a stylish ship, huge buffets; deserts, sushi, homemade cakes each day and would you believe, a champagne celebration on entering the Antarctic circle. I couldn’t quite get the swing of this luxurious style. I had been staying in hostels for so long and then landed on this sort of titanic feel of an atmosphere; lounges, dining rooms, piano bars, beautiful clear windows where one could watch the diversity of wildlife from their dining table. It was all a bit surreal, to be honest.
We had a sauna, gym and teatime with delicious scones each day at 4 pm, oh and not to forget the surprise chocolates on the bed at night. It felt super cosy to be wrapped up in white robes in the midst of Antarctica eating handmade chocolates.
As I think back, I am smiling, it was full of those moments, you know, where you have to pinch yourself over and over again.
Accommodation on board:
Before you choose your accommodation, consider what your priorities are if you are prone to seasickness.
The travel agencies will normally offer different types of berths and cabins, however, be assured that the more choosy you get, the more you pay. I wanted the most economic option so I took a two-berth cabin on the lower end of the ship. Please also remember you spend very little time in the berth, so I didn’t see a point in forking out loads of money when all I would do is sleep there. Another side note, they may pop you in with a random stranger, so again, make sure you are comfortable sharing. Ask all these questions beforehand.
Regarding bedding and comfort, I loved my cabin; had a view of icebergs and whale blows at the base of the ship, it was epic. The days were long and exploring/adventuring was the highlight each day. One day, we did get real bad weather and had to abort a mission. The weather is quite temperamental on that side of the world. See the photos below. We had to make it back to the ship real quick. Hot showers and warm blankets made the frozen continent’s weather doable and comfortable.
The berth was super luxurious, plenty of comforts; robes, slippers, nice lighting and tv which played beautiful wildlife documentaries. There was also a speaker in each cabin,
Where our expedition leader would wake us each morning with our itinerary for the day. I always remember that, the morning call, the daily temperatures, the lectures, the crossing distance overnight and the fun adventures of the day. I smile remembering this.
Getting around Antarctica
This is an interesting topic, as you pretty much are ship bound for the most part of the journey. However, depending on your expedition, you will more than likely have 1-2 outings each day, along with lectures and fun events. There is so much to do onboard, you most certainly will not be bored. There is even a library, plenty of books 🙂
The transport for the adventure outings was done by zodiacs, small powerboats, ideal for navigating the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. If we were travelling long distances on particular days, there was plenty of wildlife lectures organised, including games nights, karaoke and you could even pop to the sauna, gym or yoga sessions.
The Zodiacs are very comfortable boats. You would depart the ship on the lowest level, boots on, and down the stairs into the polar paradise. There was a structured system for leaving the ship to ensure full safety of all passengers. We also had ship ‘identity’ cards whereby we would scan on each departure and entry. This ensures we don’t leave anyone on the white continent. Although I quite liked the idea of staying amongst the cute penguin colonies.
Eating and drinking whilst in Antarctica:
If you’re anything like my mum, who had no idea about Antarctica, and her first reaction was ‘What are you going to eat ?’, then not to worry, there is so much food on board, you might even have trouble coming off the ship. I can honestly tell you, the majority of us were on diets by the end of it. We had huge buffets, endless choices, and the most diverse array of flavorful desserts. We also had an a la carte menu to celebrate the journey at the end as well as an outdoor bbq, (yes it was pretty cold) and a cooking class. It really was amazing and the food was top quality. You could also bring snacks if you wanted but there were strict regulations about what you could and couldn’t bring onto the Antarctic Continent.
We attended mandatory briefings several times throughout the expedition to ensure no flora or fauna would be disturbed. After all, it is the only continent worldwide where indigenous humans have never inhabited. There are scientists who live there during the summer months. Fortunately, we did have the opportunity to visit the Chinese base station and it was super cool to view their housing, land vehicles and artefacts. I even got my passport stamped. That was amazing!
Top things to do in Antarctica…
1. Swim. Do the Polar Plunge.
Jump from the maiden ship into the iceberg rich waters. An unforgettable moment and a shot of vodka once back on board.
2. Get a picture with the most epic, vibrant coloured King Penguin.
Tip: Don’t ever approach wildlife, just bend down, stay still and allow them to come to you.
3. Do some yoga on the top deck.
Whilst you may think being on a ship for three weeks is lovely and relaxing, I also craved movement. Gym and Yoga sessions set me up for the day. Also it’s pretty cold down there, so you have to find ways to heat up.
4. Make friends with the people around you.
This journey is once in a lifetime. I was a solo backpacker, so it was really nice to spend some precious moments with like-minded folk. The crazier the company, the more fun, I believe.
5. Slide down the Antarctic Peninsula.
The location we docked had some beautiful mountainous terrain and a perfectly laid out snow slide. It was epic, give a little scream and it’s that much more fun.
6. Attend a church service in South Georgia, Grytviken.
This was an unplanned event. We landed when the local navy was docked in the harbour. I went straight to the old Norwegian church to hear the male choir songs. It was a rather unusual experience, although I did enjoy it, I just didn’t expect to be in a Sub-Antarctic Island listening to the navy sing such beautiful melodies.
7. Visit the captain’s deck, if permitted, to whale watch.
Luckily on our trip, the captain was super kind and invited passengers to observe the oncoming whale flukes, blows and many birdlife, including albatrosses.
8. Have a drink/cocktail in the piano bar and listen to some harmonious melodies.
The rocking motion, iceberg views and feels within your soul will not be beaten.
9. Visit the whaling station, old ruins and take a guided tour of Grytviken.
So much history lies here and it is vitally important that we, as humans, dependant on the ocean, understand the implications the whaling years had upon our marine life. It is quite eerie to visit a place where thousands of whales were slaughtered, however super extraordinary to experience it and learn from it.
10. Attend a cooking class, or whatever is on schedule on the ship’s itinerary.
Not every day will you have the opportunity for an outdoor adventure, so take up the other ones on offer. This one I try to make dumplings, the ladies just laugh. They said it didn’t appear to be a dumpling, although I’m still quite proud and you know, the movement of the ship definitely had an influence.
11. Get a seal Selfie.
Millions of seals line the coasts of South Georgia, so it’s a must to get a selfie with one. Be aware though, these seals are not as friendly as they look. They do chase you, don’t worry though, we had some pre-training on how to defend ourselves should one approach us in a non-friendly manner.
12. Make friends with the dining staff on your boat
Imagine, these guys are working season round, so maybe 6 months plus away from their families at sea. It’s such a nice gesture to be amicable and it made the journey more enjoyable for them too. This was Alvin, he used to sing songs at dinner, and this one was dedicated to me. Oh my, I was a bit shy, if I’m honest.
13. Pretend you’re a penguin.
These memories will last for a lifetime so why not smile and be a bit playful. Here is me, pretending to be a real-life penguin. Can you tell the difference?
14. Whale watching is a MUST.
To be honest, I didn’t sleep a whole lot of hours on board. I really was too excited. I wanted to capture as many moments as I could. When the sun was rising, I was making my way to the upper deck and boy did I get some good glimpse of wildlife. Sometimes, there was not a soul to be seen, just the captain’s crew. Oh my, lots of snoring below, hehe.
15. Be present.
This expedition flew by and like time, it does not stop. It’s so important to practice mindfulness, especially when experiencing such life-changing experiences. I took some moments once docked on the islands to fully appreciate what was in front of me; eyes, ears, nose, all senses engaged. I still can feel the presence and power behind each one of these photos. I hope that you can too 🙂
16. Record, write, document as much as you can.
This is essential, otherwise, where would memories go. So much of life gets buried within the busyness of our minds. I made it a priority of mine to write in my diary each night; experiences, wildlife encounters, feelings and of course, gratitude. We also had no access to the internet, however, sometimes there was a WhatsApp connection, so a very odd time, I would update my status there.
“If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.” ― Andrew Denton
Have you ever been to Antarctica?
What questions do you have? Any tips? We’d love to hear from you.
Love Kate from Catch Cait
You can see more of Kate’s adventures on her Instagram here.
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