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What the heck is there to do in Antarctica?

If you’ve ever wondered about what to do in Antarctica, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most frequent questions I get about my experience there. Traveling to Antarctica is unlike anywhere else in the world. 

There are not (many) hotels or even towns to visit. There are no docks to disembark from or roads to travel. Unless, of course, you count the tiny roads penguins create to travel between colonies. It’s remote, pristine, and wild in the best way possible.

Here’s a peek into what to do in Antarctica!

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Weather in Antarctica: What to Expect

If you are imagining a frigid and unrelenting landscape, you’re not entirely wrong but what you’re picturing is the winter months in Antarctica. Antarctica tourism takes place in the summer months, which in the southern hemisphere is from November through March.

During this time, daytime temperatures are actually very reasonable – similar to a warm winter day in Minnesota. Expect temperatures to range between 20-30F during the day time and single digits at nighttime. Obviously weather will vary and actually can change quite quickly in Antarctica.

So, my point is that weather in Antarctica can be quite pleasant which makes the things to do in Antarctica that much more enjoyable!

The Prepared Girl’s Guide to Packing for Antarctica

Make packing for Antarctica easy with this downloadable and printable packing list.

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    What to do in Antarctica?

    Travel to Antarctica is almost exclusively done by ship. Those with significant financial resources can fly there, though that is a less reliable option as it relies heavily on the weather. There are three main categories of what to do in Antarctica.

    By Land

    Hiking on Deception Island in Antarctica
    Hiking the caldera of an active volcano on Deception Island in Antarctica.

    Ships carrying no more than 500 guests are permitted to make landings in Antarctica, allowing guests to get up close and personal with the wildlife and landscape (read more about the IAATO Visitor Guidelines here). Because there are no docks for the ships to use, small zodiac boats are used for the landings. Each zodiac carries around 10 passengers at a time. No more than 100 guests are allowed to land in Antarctica at one time, so it’s common to have groups that go throughout the day.

    Pro Tip: If you want to set foot on Antarctica it is very important that you check how many passengers are allowed on the ship you book with. Ships with over 500 passengers cannot allow land excursions even in small groups. Note that this is not the capacity of the ship, but the number of passengers the expedition company will book on the ship.

    Everything in Antarctica relies on the weather and conditions, but in general expedition cruises in Antarctica attempt to make a landing every day they are in Antarctic waters. They will not make the landing if the conditions do not allow for it.

    Once on land, there are a lot of options and each landing is different. Landings can include hiking to overlooks, closeup views of penguin colonies, Antarctic research facilities, birding, snowshoeing, and more. Many expedition companies have an option to go camping in Antarctica for a night!

    Pro Tip: Some expedition cruises will include a stop at Port Lockroy where you can mail postcards from the post office. If your ship does not or cannot stop there, most ships will mail them for you the next time they are at the port.

    By Water

    Zodiac boat cruises through icy water in a bay in Antarctica
    Zodiac boats are used to cruise the area surrounding the ship in Antarctica in search of wildlife, icebergs, and glaciers calving.

    In addition to landings on most days, Antarctic expeditions have opportunities to explore the area on zodiac boats and kayaks. While one group is doing their landing, other groups will be out cruising on the zodiac boats. From the boats you can view icebergs, seals, whales, dolphins, and penguins!

    Kayaking is sometimes included with the expedition cruise, but more often is an optional add-on excursion. If you have never kayaked before, a quick lesson is provided as is the necessary gear for paddling in icy water.

    Pro Tip: Most ships offer a polar plunge! Be sure to bring your bathing suit for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    On the Ship

    An Antarctic expedition cruise is quite different than a typical cruise. On board you will find things like a classroom, science lab, and lecture hall where you can learn about Antarctic wildlife, climate change, and more. On Hurtigruten’s MS Fridtjof Nansen, I enjoyed lectures on the history of Antarctic exploration, Antarctic fish, and even workshops on tying knots and photography. 

    In addition to the educational components, the ships have amenities such as lounges, saunas, a gym, spa, hot tubs, pool, library and restaurants. While this will vary from ship to ship, the food onboard the MS Fridtjof Nansen was fantastic. There were options for all types of dietary needs and preferences.

    Lounging on a chair next to the pool on the deck of a ship in Antarctica
    Relaxing in the sun on the deck of the MS Fridtjof Nansen after a sauna session in Antarctica.

    One of my favorite places to relax was in the sauna. It has a wall of windows with a spectacular view and easy access to a deck to cool off between sauna sessions. 

    So many things to do in Antarctica!

    Honestly, when it comes to what to do in Antarctica there was than I had time for each day. Between landings and cruises, I was hopping from lectures to the sauna to the deck to enjoy the views. In short, you won’t be bored!

    Related content to read next:

    How to Survive the Drake Passage without Getting Seasick

    Where to Start with Planning a Trip to Antarctica

    Check out my Antarctica travel page for even more inspiration and tips!

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    hiking in Antarctica, cruising in Antarctica, sauna in Antarctica

    2 thoughts on “What the heck is there to do in Antarctica?

    1. This Big Wild World says:

      I could’ve stared at the penguins for days! Absolutely incredible to see them in their natural environment. And, yes, the sauna was necessary after all the outdoor fun!

    2. Alisha says:

      I am surprised at how many cool things there are to do in Antarctica! I would love to put on some snowshoes and travel the same road as a penguin. It would be neat to see a penguin colony in the wild! I think kayaking in the icy water would be an amazing Antarctica adventure too. I would definitely need to hit up the sauna afterward!

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