How to visit
Any expedition to Antarctica, commercial or private, should be permitted by one of the Antarctic Treaty parties (countries). More details on the UK permitting regime can be found on Requirements for visiting.
Antarctic tourism started on a small scale in the 1950s with occasional commercial voyages for intrepid travellers. By the late 1960s the first specially designed, ice-strengthened cruise ship, the MS Lindblad Explorer, and a few private yachts were visiting the continent. Tourism has grown over the years, reaching a peak of 51,707 (figures from IAATO) in the 2017-18 season. The vast majority of this tourism takes place within the British Antarctic Territory with voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Means of travel
Most visitors travel to Antarctica by sea, cruising aboard small specially designed cruise ships. Generally, visitors depart to the Peninsula from the ‘Antarctic Gateways’ of Southern Chile, Argentina or the Falkland Islands, travelling South across the Drake Passage. Seasoned Antarctic cruisers will hope for a “Drake Lake” rather than “Drake Shake” crossing as conditions are notoriously rough. However, the crossing can provide a good opportunity for sightings of whales, dolphins and seabirds, including albatrosses. Travel to the White continent can also be made via charter flights and by ship from other ‘Antarctic Gateways’ such as Christchurch in New Zealand, Hobart in Australia and Cape Town, South Africa.
Vessels visit a variety of sites in Antarctica where landings and small-boat cruising are undertaken with the supervision of experienced expedition leaders and field guides. A key factor of all voyages is the belief that first-hand experience will educate visitors in the ecological sensitivity of the Antarctic environment and promote a greater understanding of the important role of Antarctica in the global environment and climate.
International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) was formed in 1991 by seven tour operators who were active in Antarctica to advocate, promote and practice environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean. Currently, there are more than 100 members, organisations and companies representing the vast majority of private sector Antarctic operators. IAATO provides a forum for their members to collaboratively develop the highest standards and best practices to better protect the Antarctic environment. IAATO works closely with Antarctic Treaty parties to develop rigorous guidelines for Antarctic tour operations. Along with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we encourage visitors to travel with a company affiliated to IAATO. Details of IAATO members running expeditions can be found at the IAATO website.
A number of private expeditions are also undertaken each year in sailing or motor yachts. To assist those considering and planning such an expedition, we have developed a set of yachting guidelines, which cover the key points that should be addressed.