Antarctica is the coldest, highest, driest (Antarctica is a desert!) and most remote continent on earth. Hidden beneath an enormous ice sheet, it was the last continent on earth to be discovered by humans, so it’s no surprise that it can feel impossibly distant. The good news is that Antarctica may be more accessible than you think. In fact, it’s never been easier for adventurous travellers to experience its unforgettable ice and wonderful wildlife.
How do you get to Antarctica?
No matter where you call home, the easiest way to get to Antarctica is from the southern tip of South America. There are two common departure points for Antarctica: Ushuaia, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile, both located in the Patagonian region and among the most southern towns on the planet.
Expeditions beginning in Ushuaia will usually involve sailing across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula or sailing to the Subantarctic Islands of the Falklands or South Georgia, before continuing to Antarctica.
From Punta Arenas, passengers can have the unique experience of flying to Antarctica – or more specifically to King George Island – on a charter flight arranged specifically for their expedition.
Getting to Ushuaia, Argentina
The most common route to Ushuaia is via Buenos Aries, the capital of Argentina. International flights will arrive at Ezeiza International Airport (EZE), also known as Ministro Pistarini International Airport. It is Argentina’s main international gateway and is located 22 km or 14 mi from the city centre of Buenos Aires. The airport is open 24 hours for late night travellers or those hoping to catch some shuteye in a quiet corner before boarding their next flight.
If this is your initial arrival into Argentina, be ready to go through customs before connecting to an onward flight or leaving the terminal for adventures in the city.
Catching an immediate domestic flight to Ushuaia (USH)? You’ll want to check screens throughout the terminal for the departure gate and make your way to the Domestic Sector. Flights to Ushuaia take around 3 hours and 40 minutes and are available on a few different carriers, Areolinas Argentinas being the most common.
If you’ve decided to enjoy a stopover in Buenos Aries you’ll be able to catch a local bus from Terminal B in front of parking lot E1, or find a taxi at an official taxi stand.
Pro Tip: Buenos Aires has a second major airport, Aeroparque Internacional Jorge Newbery (AEP), located close to downtown Buenos Aires and about 30 km or 19 mi away from EZE. It is a hub for domestic flights and some South American routes. If you’re planning a stopover in Buenos Aires, you may find it more convenient to fly to/from Ushuaia via AEP. If you’re catching an international connection at EZE, give yourself plenty of time for a taxi or bus ride between airports.
3 things not to miss in Buenos Aires
- Stroll through El Caminito in the La Boca neighbourhood, one of the city’s most colourful and iconic areas with cobblestone streets and brightly painted buildings.
- Tour La Bombonera football stadium, one of the most emblematic stadiums in the world, with its unique shape and history of legendary players.
- Visit Plaza De Mayo and Casa Rosada. The recognisable ‘pink house’ is the Presidential Palace and Office of the President of Argentina. It has been central in Argentina’s history and made famous in the movie and play ‘Evita’.
Ushuaia to Antarctica by Ship
Upon arrival in Ushuaia, make your way to your joining hotel. If confirmed in advance, an airport transfer may be included in your itinerary. You’ll have time to relax, go for a walk and meet up with other excited expeditioners at the pre-departure briefing.
At the briefing you’ll be given instructions about embarkation the next day as you’ll be meeting the ship at the port in Ushuaia.
Finally, when the day arrives to step aboard your ship bound for Antarctica, you’ll be given directions to your stateroom where you can settle in before an onboard briefing and mandatory safety drill, before setting sail.
From the Beagle Channel you will strike out across the famed Drake Passage, a 1,000 km (600 mi) ocean crossing between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. You’ll usually spend between a day and a half to two days at sea, depending on conditions, which is a great opportunity to spot majestic seabirds soaring around the ship. Little by little, you’ll start to recognise sea ice, icebergs and snow-covered mountains in the distance. You have arrived and the adventure has just begun.
Getting to Punta Arenas, Chile
The main international gateway to Chile is the capital of Santiago, a cosmopolitan city surrounded by the snow-capped Andes and the Chilean Coast Range. With a population of over 5.5 million, Santiago is worth a stop over.
Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) is the third busiest airport in South America. It’s comprised of two large terminals for international and domestic flights separated by a long outdoor walkway. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to go through customs and walk to the domestic terminal for onward travel.
Domestic flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas (PUQ) will typically take about 3 hours and 30 minutes. LATAM is the main carrier throughout Chile.
For travellers interested in spending a day or two in Santiago, you can catch an airport bus from international terminal at exit 5. If a private taxi or shared shuttle is more your style, look for official counters once your leave the customs area.
Did you know? There is an airport hotel located outside SCL, between the international and domestic terminals. Simply exit the terminal and walk to the centrally located building. This is a convenient option to get some sleep, enjoy a quick visit to the city and even a dip in the pool before your connecting flight.
3 Must-do activities in Santiago
- Ride the funicular at Metropolitan Park to the top of San Cristobal Hill for one of the best views in the city.
- Stroll through Plaza de Armas in the city centre for a taste of history and some people watching. Built in 1541, the Plaza has been the centre of politics and religion for centuries.
- Check out Santiago’s Museo Chileno de Arts Precolombino for some of the region’s best sculptures, jewellery and artefacts. A great option to escape rain or high temperatures.
Punta Arenas to Antarctica by Air
Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, make your way to your joining hotel. A small and very walkable town, it’s possible to complete a self-guided walking tour in a few hours. Check out the waterfront for seabirds, or head uphill to get a view over the town and the Strait of Magellan. Meet up with other passengers in the evening for your important pre-departure briefing.
The charter flights to Antarctica are very dependent on good weather. We’ll be landing on a basic gravel runway, so pilots require a clear view to navigate. The threat of bad weather in the region can in some rare cases delay flights to the frozen continent. Please read our contingency plans for Fly/Sail, Sail/Fly and Fly/Fly expeditions.
At the pre-departure briefing, you’ll get some very specific details about the flights, airport transfers and the potential for any schedule changes as we seek the best weather window. The next day, follow instructions from the team to navigate to the airport on a charter shuttle. Once there, you’ll check in for the charter flight with your fellow expeditioners. Next stop King George Island (KGI)! After a short 1 hour, 45 minute flight and a hearty array of snacks, our skilled pilots will make a landing on the lunar landscape that is King George Island. A quick shuttle to the shore and a fleet of Zodiacs will whisk you off to your small expedition ship. You’re now just a short cruise away from visiting your first penguin colony and perhaps setting foot on the long-anticipated 7th continent.
Can you sail to Antarctica from Australia other locations?
There are five cities known as Antarctic gateways, with Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina being the most popular for tourism purposes. Other locations like Cape Town in South Africa, Hobart in Australia and Christchurch in New Zealand are mostly used to support Antarctic research and national Antarctic programs, with less emphasis on tourism, and with good reason! An expedition from Hobart or Christchurch, for example, will take 10-14 days to cross the Southern Ocean to the white continent, compared 1.5 days from Ushuaia. When planning a vacation and considering their comfort and interests, most visitors prefer the faster South American route.
Now that you’ve learned about where your Antarctic adventure will start, take a look at the different expeditions available from Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. Or, for those wanting to try it all, fly in one direction and sail the opposite with itineraries labelled Fly/Sail and Sail/Fly.