Getting to Antarctica from the UK
Antarctica is 11,000 miles from the UK, and getting to somewhere as remote and mysterious as Antarctica isn't easy. For those coming from the UK, the simplest way is to fly to the very tip of Patagonia, in South America. It's right at this tip where you can either board a ship or fly to the Antarctic itself.
Here we'll help you:
- understand your options for getting to Antarctica via Chile and Argentina (the two countries that make up Patagonia)
- decide which airport in Patagonia is the right one for you - check out our map of airports in Patagonia & Antarctica
- making the most of your holiday by combining Antarctica with Patagonia
- tips for saving money on your flights
Fly London -> Argentina & cruise to Antarctica
The marjority of the Antarctic cruises we work with depart from the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, which is the closest point to Antarctica and found in Argentinian Patagonia.
London to Buenos Aires - Fly direct from London to Buenos Aires with BA, who recently launched this direct route from Heathrow with a flight time of around 14 hours. Great news for people trying to get down to Antarctica as it has made the overall journey time far quicker.
Buenos Aires to Ushuaia - Buenos Aires is a fantastic city and you may choose to break up your journey with a stop over there. However, if you're keen to get onto the ice, fly on to Ushuaia with Aerolineas Argentinas. There are two airports in the capital, Jorge Newbery and Ezeiza, the former usually serves domestic flights and the latter international flights, make sure you know which one you're flying out of. This flight takes approximately 3hours and 38 minutes, and cheaper flights often land in El Calafate on the way.
In Ushuaia, check into your hotel and head down to the port to board the cruise the next day. We usually recommend that you arrive at least 24hrs before the start of your cruise to allow for any flight delays.
Ushuaia to Antarctica - The last leg of your journey is a 2-day crossing of the notorious Drake Passage, where the Atlantic and Pacific converge. After approximately 48 hours at sea, you'll arrive at the South Shetland Islands, the first stop on the Antarctic Peninsula.
If crossing the Drake is all part of the adventure for you, find Antarctic cuises that depart from Ushuaia.
Fly London -> Chile -> Antarctica
Many people look to avoid the journey across the Drake, which is why a couple of our Antarctic cruise partners have designed 'Fly-and-cruise' trips, flying from Punta Arenas in Chile to the Chilean Eduardo Frei Antarctic base on King George Island. These trips provide more comfort for guests and help you to make the most of your precious time in Antarctica.
UK to Madrid to Santiago - To get to Punta Arenas you should fly from any UK airport to Madrid. From Madrid, Iberia flies direct to Santiago, with a journey time of around 13.5 hours. Although Santiago itself isn't as exciting as other Latin American cities, the nearby Colchagua Wine Valley or Valparaiso are places of note, so you may opt to spend a few days exploring the vineyards or wandering the streets of Valpo.
Santiago to Punta Arenas - From Santiago take a LAN flight to Punta Arenas (either direct or with 1 stop in the Chilean Lake District at Puerto Montt), with a flight time of 3.5 hours. On the way you'll fly over Mount Fitz Roy and Volcano Osorno.
Punta Arenas to Antarctica - It's here that you'll catch your chartered flight with the Antarctic cruise team and passengers to Antarctica, flying over the dreaded Drake Passage and arriving in Antarctic a lot quicker. Even though this is a big advantage, be aware that flights can be delayed or cancelled if the weather isn't looking favourable.
If you'd prefer to fly to Antarctica, find Antarctic cruises that depart from Chile
Returning to the UK
The return journey from Antarctica to the UK usually takes the same route as the outward journey. However, on some Antarctic cruise trips operators fly out to Antarctica from Chile and return by ship to Ushuaia or vice versa.
Combining Antarctica with Patagonia
Landscape - There is so much to do and see in Patagonia, that it would be a shame not to make the most of your time there whilst you're travelling all that way. There are some beautiful national parks to explore in both Chile and Argentina including Torres del Paine famous for Las Torres and Los Glaciares famed for Mount Fitz Roy and a huge variety of landscape to see, such as the lush green Lake District in the North and the dry Patagonian Steppe in the North East. Add this to Patagonia's native flora and fauna, which is bound to astound nature lovers.
Adventure - Thrill seekers are catered for too - there's from kayaking, hiking and mountain biking to glacier trekking, white water rafting and adventure cruising along Chile's fjords and horse riding on the endless pampas.
One way of combining Antarctica with Patagonia may be to spend a couple of weeks hiking at the national parks at the the start of your trip so you can rest your weary feet on board the Antarctic cruise, or save your Patagonia trip until aftewards to stretch your legs after 12 or so days on board.
Whichever you choose, we can help you understand the distances between Patagonia's top spots and give advice on how to piece together your holiday. To find out more, get in touch or see tours of Patagonia.
As with other parts of the world the cost of flights can vary enormously, so here are our suggestions for saving on your airfares:
Book in advance - we've noticed that internal flights in particular dramatically increase in price as you get 2-3 months closer to the departure date. This is especially the case if you're travelling in the peak months of December or January.
The stop-over - if you're not too fussed about a stop-over in Buenos Aires or Santiago then you may be able to save £200-£300 by flying straight on through to Patagonia. You can always take a day to recover from your flights down in Patagonia.
Keep your internal flights...internal - generally speaking it's cheaper and easier to fly within country. So, when we're helping clients organise their itineraries we tend to organise things so that any internal flights stay within Chile, or within Argentina.
Flights or overland? Patagonia is a big place and the distances are significant, but if you've got a bit of time on your hands then don't rule out bus travel or a ferry/cruise. The public buses are very comfortable, frequent and reliable and will take you through some incredible landscapes. For example, instead of flying from Ushuaia to El Calafate you might take a bus across Tierra del Fuego, a ferry across the Magellan Straits, and then a bus from Punta Arenas, through Puerto Natales and Calafate. It takes a day but will save some budget and is an interesting journey in itself. There are also buses from Buenos Aires all the way to Bariloche (allow 19 hours) - once again, fantastic views along the way.
Use a specialist Latin American travel agent. The flight search engines seem to pretty good at finding good fairs for long haul flights but we strongly recommending using a local agent for internal flights. This is because they work hard to keep you informed and rearrange things for you if changes are made to your flight details (which has happened to us on a few occasions). We work with a Latin American Flights Specialist with over 30 years' experience in the business who can quote for your longhaul and internal flights. To find out more get in touch.
Coupons and multi-flight discounts - Aerolineas Argentinas offer discounts on bookings of 3, 4 or 5 internal flights with their Visit Argentina Pass. A good option for saving money if you're doing an extended trip in the region.
Airports in Patagonia & Antarctica
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Antarctica offers visitors unparalleled opportunities to see glaciers, icebergs and wildlife; and remains one of the world's true wildernesses.
Summer is in full swing with penguin chicks hatching all fluffy and grey, you'll see them earlier in the South Shetland Islands and later in the month to the south of the Peninsula. In January watch out for:
- Fur and leopard seal pups getting bigger, sticking close to their mums on the beaches.
- Penguin colonies are a hive of activity, with parents finding as much food as possible for their young, fending off giant Skua birds that prey on baby penguins.
February is still summertime and the continuously receding ice means that ice breakers can explore further south, visiting the Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea. Expect to see:
- Young penguin chicks are starting to get strong and big and can be seen huddling in 'penguin creches'.
- The concentration of fur seals increases
- February is prime time for whale watching with a variety of breeds feeding in the Antarctic Peninsula
By March, Autumn is well and truly here. The days begin to get shorter and the temperature starts to drop as the sun sinks below the southern horizon. Extensive walks into the South Shetland Islands are possible as although you may experience some winter frost during the night, snow cover is at its minimum.
- Young penguins are now in a state of adolescence and are interested and inquisitive in visitors
- Adult penguins are molting, making them look strangely shabby! They spend a lot of their time teaching their young to go to sea
- Whale watching is still very good at this time of year and there's a high chance you'll get near to lots of them
November is springtime in Antarctica, and as the ice begins to break and melt thanks to the sun's energy, Antarctica gets a burst of life - with plankton blooming on the ice and krill swelling in abundance. After a long, dark winter, Antartica's creatures make the most of the spring to fatten up before darkness strikes again. In November you'll see:
- Crabeater seals (born between September and November)
- Penguin courting rituals, nest building and stone stealing
- Penguin, petrel and comorant eggs are laid in November
- Elephant alpha seals aggressively guarding their harems on the beach until December
- Seals lounging on many icebergs
- Minke, Southern right whales and humpbacks arriving to feed
We're in early summer now, and many animals are being born, parents are searching for food for their young, and the variety of wildlife that can be seen on the icebergs, ice cliffs and Antarctic beaches is extraordinary. You'll see:
- whales feeding in Antarctica's food rich waters
- Petrel and comorant eggs are still hatching
- Penguin eggs start to hatch at the end of December in South Shetland Islands
- Days are lengthening so you should be getting near to 24 hours of daylight