Antarctica, specifically the Antarctic Peninsula, is the 800 mile long arm of the white continent that stretches to within 620 miles of Tierra del Fuego in Southern Argentina/Chile. Ushuaia, the principal town in Tierra del Fuego, is the southernmost city in the world and the jumping off point for most excursions to Antarctica. See how to explore Antartica on a budget.
Getting to Antartica on a Budget
Antarctica can only be accessed by backpackers through booking passage on one of the large tourist vessels. These tickets can be purchased well in advance and from the comfort of your couch at home, but here in lies the trick that makes this trip of a lifetime a real possibility for backpackers: arrive in Ushuaia at the beginning of the Antarctic spring season and purchase passage for half the price!
Where to stay
Golden ticket in hand, you will inevitably have a few days to relax and explore Ushuaia. As a popular destination for both backpackers and higher budget travelers there are accommodations to suit all types. The town is surrounded by snow-covered peaks and neighbored by Tierra del Fuego National Park, all easily explored as you await departure.
Once on board the trip is very nearly all inclusive. Great for Antartica on a budget. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style and dinner is a 5-course meal! You quickly will put back on all that weight you lost backpacking your way down there.
Argentine pesos, US dollars, and all major credit cards are accepted when purchasing your ticket. I cannot recommend Freestyle Adventure Travel enough! Sarah and Gabriel take care of everything and went above and beyond; providing us with last minute warm weather gear, coffee, beers, pizza and a handy penguin costume.
The regular price for a 10 day trip to Antarctica is about $8,400+. However, by buying last minute and in person we were able to purchase ours for $4,100 and while this is pricey for a usual backpacker budget; you will never get to the 7th Continent any cheaper. There were a dozen or so fellow backpackers on our trip. Antartica on a budget will be on around $4,100.
In addition to room and board the cost of your ticket includes all taxes and fees as well as a high quality, fleece lined, polar jacket that is yours to keep.
How much time will you need there
The shortest excursion is 10 days. There are trips that range up to 20 days or more that incorporate wonderful locations such as South Georgia Island.
On the 10 day excursion, 2 days are spent in transit each way crossing the Drake Passage, leaving 4 mesmerizing days making landfall on the continent and its surrounding islands.
When is the best time to go
Antarctica can only be visited from November through March as this is late Austral spring and Austral summer when the weather is more accommodating. For those hoping to capture those last minute deals arriving 5-7 days before the first trip of the season is your best bet. The number of cheap berths decrease and prices increase as the season progresses.
Early season is a beautiful time to visit as the snow has not yet melted and you quite literally are in a winter wonderland, surrounded by courting penguins. As the season progresses and the snow melts the beauty of the land is slightly diminished. The seas, however, increase in their vitality at this time as whale numbers rise and sightings are far more numerous and dramatic. The addition of fluffy little penguin chicks to the late-season menagerie is a charming perk.
What to do
I highly recommend a Quark Expedition for your trip to Antarctica. The Expedition Team is comprised of seasoned biologists of all relevant disciplines who lead the landfall excursions and give informative lectures in the evenings. Kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and even camping on the continent can be arranged for an extra cost. Besides absorbing the incredible scenery and laughing and the antics of the thousands of penguins, the absolute can’t miss opportunity is the Polar Plunge. With a rope tied around your waist, you fling yourself into the Antarctic Ocean for 30 seconds of heart-stopping adrenaline before the giggling crew drags you, frozen and exhilarated, back on board.
What not to do
The trip is all inclusive except for one important backpacking essential: alcohol. Plenty o’backpacker on board rang up a hefty bill at the bar. This can easily be avoided by bringing one’s own stores on board in your pack. Wine is particularly cheap in Argentina with a 1.5L bottle of Malbec costing little more than US $3!
Another healthy tip is to be sure to wear your sunglasses when on land or ice. The white surface is highly reflective and several unsuspecting travelers were felled for a day or two with severely sunburnt eyes.
Why should Antartica be on my bucket list?
In all likelihood, after your travels throughout the world, there will be one continent remaining. In addition to checking that box, Antarctica is truly a unique environment and one of the last untouched ecosystems on the planet. For wildlife enthusiasts the sheer abundance of penguins, seals and whales will keep you dreaming and reliving the adventure for a lifetime.