Sitting over the South Pole at the bottom of the Earth, Antarctica is the world’s coldest and driest continent with just a few thousand permanent rostered scientists as residents. Antarctica is one of breathtaking scenery and wildlife but is tough to get to, being generally only accessible to tourists by large ice-breaker ships that must traverse rough seas.
No-one owns Antarctica and there are no cities to speak of, with the continent being populated by research stations only as opposed to any sort of tourist accommodation. Antarctica is at its most hospitable and accessible during the Southern Hemisphere summer, or austral summer, from November to March. Ice melts enough during this time to allow ships to come in and there is also daylight. Temperatures at the coast at this time of year can reach above 50ºF, but are far less inland.
The Antarctic Peninsula is the main destination on Antarctica as it is closest to Tierra del Fuego of South America, has great scenery, and many research stations. The Ross Sea is served by cruise ships from Australia and New Zealand and features the Transantarctic Mountain Chain and Ross Island.
The South Pole is served by a research station and features the pole and is a destination only for the hardiest of trekkers. West and East Antarctica are huge icy deserts that are all but devoid of places to stay. The west contains the Antarctic Peninsula, however, while the east features the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility and Mawson’s Huts.
The Antarctic Peninsula and Ross Sea areas are the primary destinations for visitors to Antarctica and although other areas are accessible at the right time, you will generally need lots of capital and even more motivation to see them. Of these, the South Pole is the one to see. Mount Erebus is another popular Antarctica destination; the world’s southernmost active volcano.
Most tourists visit Antarctica on a sea voyage from Tierra del Fuego, which will generally include transport, food and accommodation. Once there, some companies offer land expeditions and others sightseeing by air. Around 25,000 tourists visit Antarctica annually.