When most travelers think of adventure travel, destinations like New Zealand and activities like bungee jumping or skydiving are often the first to come to mind. However, the ultimate adventure travel destination is one that many may not ever consider – Antarctica.
With activities like sea kayaking, polar plunges, and skiing, Antarctica offers adrenaline pumping activities that cannot be had anywhere else in the world, many of which are not for the faint of heart. Visiting Antarctica is an adventure itself, but here are a few of the best (craziest) adventures offered by the unique region visited by only 30,000 people a year.
Sea kayaking offers one of the best ways to get up close and personal with the animals and breathtaking views in Antarctica as you paddle between icebergs and narrow fjords where no ship can go. Seal pups may try to climb aboard and penguins will leap out of the water next to you as they race you to your next stop. Many cruise operators offer sea kayaking tours and they can be set up through your booking agent or on board. However, this popular experience often sells out months in advance so early booking is highly recommended. While all equipment needed is provided, they usually require previous kayaking experience. The Antarctic Ocean and its freezing water is no place to learn to kayak, but it does provide an unforgettable experience you’ll be bragging about for years to come.
Antarctica has some of the most stunning alpine terrain in all of the world. The most popular area to ski is the Heritage Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, including Enterprise Hills, Pioneer Heights and Soholt Peaks. Many tours are available to this area, some that are only day trips from the nearby Union Glacier and others that require more serious trekking and basic camping conditions. Rest assured that either option won’t include a long wait in a queue, or dodging fallen rookies on your way down the most epic ride of your life.
Camping at the bottom of the world is probably the biggest camping adventure anyone could have, as only a few handfuls of people opt to do it each year. However, take all ordinary camping images out of your mind – with most Antarctica camping expeditions, there are no fancy tents to sleep in but rather special, extra insulated sleeping bags. While there may be plenty of laughing before bed, there will be no campfire and snacks, as snacks and all liquids except a bottle of water are strictly prohibited. It’s not a camping adventure for the faint of heart but it’s one you’ll never forget, with unabashedly clear views of more stars than you thought existed (on a clear night) intermingled with the constant chattering of penguins.
Glacier hikes are probably the most popular form of adventure travel in Antarctica as they are included, in some form, on most cruise trips that actually land on the continent. The hikes can range from basic, beginner level hikes that stay close to the shore and more intense, trail-free glacier hikes that can take several hours to complete. Be sure to sign up for the on-board educational seminars featuring crevasse rescue to get your blood pumping before venturing out.
Though many places, specifically in the northern United States, offer a version of the “polar plunge” in the winter, nothing quite compares to the original Polar Plunge of Antarctica – a jump into below freezing water from your cruise ship or a run in alongside penguins on a beach. It’s as crazy, cold, and potentially dangerous as it sounds, but a few seconds of freezing water brings a lifetime of bragging rights…and is usually followed-up with dibs on the first zodiac back to the ship along with a victory soak in the hot tub to balance it all out.
One of the best ways to get up close and personal with nature in Antarctica is to take a zodiac tour, which are often offered as cruise ship excursions or independent Antarctica travel. Zodiacs are strong, buoyant inflatable boats that, when manned by an experienced guide, can get you closer to nature and Antarctic wildlife than anything other than a kayak. Popular destinations for zodiac tours include Paradise Harbor where whales are frequently sighted; South Georgia, home to the elusive Macaroni penguin; and Enterprise Island where you can cruise around a wrecked whaling vessel. Since there are no docks in Antarctica, the only way to get ashore is via zodiac. Most ships offer up to three daily excursions, dependent on location and weather.
A word of advice: Take every opportunity you are offered to go ashore, every single one, as no two landings are ever the same and the one you decline will inevitably be the one a grey whale came up alongside and spouted on a group.
From the adventurous to the borderline insane adventurous, Antarctica is surely one of the best, and most unique, adventure travel destinations in the world.
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