Frequently Asked Questions
- What is IAATO?
- What is IAATO's mission?
- Are "all" Antarctic tour operators members of IAATO?
- How can I find out if the tour operator I'm considering is a member of IAATO?
- What do the different types of membership mean?
- Why should I travel with a company who is a member?
- Are the large cruise ships allowed to go to Antarctica? If so, are these operators members of IAATO?
- What are some of the standards that IAATO ship operators subscribe to?
- Can the IAATO logo be used by a non-member of IAATO?
- Can a company be removed from IAATO membership?
- Where is IAATO located?
- What is the best way to experience Antarctica safely and responsibly?
- What is the benefit of antarctic tourism?
- Is it dangerous to visit Antarctica?
- How does one actually get to Antarctica?
- Do I need a visa to travel to Antarctica?
- Where do cruises depart from?
- What are the sizes (passenger capacity) of ships traveling to Antarctica?
- What is the season and when is the best time to visit?
- What penguin species can one expect to see?
- How short are the cruises, and how long, depending on time availability?
- What are the costs for a cruise?
- How difficult is it to cruise across the drake passage, and how long does it take?
- I'm handicapped. Are there cruising opportunities for me?
- Are the guides certified?
- Do all of the cruises offer an educational program, for example a lecture team to educate me about Antarctica?
- Can i travel with my children?
- What are the medical facilities on ships, and the prospects of evacuation in case of a medical emergency?
- In relation to potential injuries or sickness while on a cruise or in Antarctica, what is advisable to ensure insurance coverage for medical emergencies?
- Are there facilities such as lodging in Antarctica?
- Are there scientific stations in Antarctica, and is it possible to visit them?
- What kind of clothing is advisable? How cold will it get?
- I am an experienced birder looking for unusual species. Am i likely to see all species listed for Antarctica?
- What marine mammals, such as whales and seals, will i see in antarctic waters?
- Can I fly my UAV/drone in Antarctica?
- Will i see the southern lights and the southern cross in Antarctica?
- How many ships are expected to visit Antarctica this year?
- Why do tourists want to visit Antarctica? What makes Antarctica so unique?
- What types of people go there?
- What do travelers do when they are there?
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators is a member trade association founded in 1991 that represents Antarctic tour operators and others organizing and conducting travel to Antarctica to the Antarctic Treaty Parties, the international conservation community and the public at large. Originally founded by seven private tour operators who wished to join together to practice and promote safe and environmentally responsible travel in this remote, wild and delicate region of the world, IAATO's membership is today comprised of more than 100 respected companies from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, People's Republic of China, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States and the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas).
Members are to have established extensive procedures and guidelines that facilitate appropriate, safe and environmentally-sound private-sector travel to the Antarctic, including regulations and restrictions on numbers of people ashore and minimum staff-to-passenger ratios; development of site-specific, activity and wildlife watching guidelines; and requirements for pre- and post-visit activity reporting; passenger, crew and staff briefings; previous Antarctic experience for tour staff, ship's command and Bridge officers; contingency planning; emergency medical evacuation plans; and more.
IAATO is an industry group that has resolved to promote safe and environmentally responsible practices in its effort to protect Antarctica. This effort is unique, and the challenge to maintain environmentally responsible tourism exists to this extent in no other region of the world.
IAATO works within the Antarctic Treaty System to promote safe and environmentally responsible travel in this extraordinary region — a "natural reserve dedicated to peace and science" Through this work, IAATO has demonstrated that environmentally responsible tourism is possible in remote and fragile wilderness areas. But more than "just possible," tourism is and should continue to be a driving force in Antarctic conservation. Firsthand travel experiences foster a better understanding of a destination where no indigenous population exists to speak for itself. Visitors return home as ambassadors of goodwill, guardianship and peace. IAATO's focus on protection, management and education promotes a greater worldwide understanding and protection of the Antarctic with the goal of leaving it as pristine and majestic for future generations as it is today.
IAATO's mission is to:
- Advocate, promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica;
- Operate within the parameters of the Antarctic Treaty System along with IMO Conventions and similar international and national laws and agreements;
- Have no more than a minor or transitory impact on the Antarctic environment;
- Foster continued cooperation among its members;
- Provide a forum for the international, private-sector travel industry to share their expertise, opinions, and best practices;
- Create a corps of ambassadors for the continued protection of Antarctica by offering the opportunity to experience the continent first-hand;
- Support science in Antarctica through cooperation with National Antarctic Programs, including logistical support and research and to foster cooperation between private-sector travel and the international science community in the Antarctic; and
- Facilitate employment by the Membership of the best qualified staff and field personnel are employed by the Membership through continued training and education; and to encourage and develop international acceptance of evaluation, certification and accreditation programs for Antarctic personnel.
No, however the overwhelming majority are. At the present time, all tours aboard commercial passenger vessels to Antarctica are operated by IAATO members.
IAATO's Membership Directory can be found on our website under 'Who is IAATO'. Our types of membership include Operators and Associate members. Please click on the type of membership you are inquiring about to find a list of members in that category of membership. "Any" will give you a list of all members in alphabetical order or you can select the different types of membership if you prefer searching that way. To retain membership in the association, members must be in "good standing" which means complying with IAATO Objectives and Bylaws.
As mentioned above, there are two Types of membership in IAATO: Operators and Associate members. The category of membership depends upon the commercial interest that the company has.
- Operators are experienced organizers that operate travel programs to the Antarctic, have been Associate Members for at least one year, and have fulfilled certain membership and operational requirements.
- Provisional Operator Members are organizers that operate travel programs to Antarctica but are new to IAATO and have not yet met all of the membership and operational requirements. Once they do, and have had their operation assessed by an observer, these companies can apply for full Operator status.
- Associate Members are tour operators, travel agents or organizers that do not operate tour programs themselves, but book into other members' programs. Associates are also companies or individuals with an interest in supporting Antarctic tourism and IAATO Objectives and includes port agents/ship agencies, government tourism bureaus/tourist boards, expedition management service providers, conservation organizations and product/service providers.
There are a number of advantages of traveling with an IAATO member. In 2011 IAATO celebrated its 20th year of advocating and promoting safe and environmentally responsible private sector travel to Antarctica. IAATO's operational guidelines, which are based on the Antarctic Treaty System, including the Antarctic Treaty and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, along with IMO Conventions and similar international and national laws and agreements, are designed to promote travel to the region that is not only safe but also that all of the necessary precautions are taken to minimize impact on the environment and wildlife. IAATO's members share this commitment to the region. This commitment is combined with the authority of the Antarctic Treaty Parties to regulate tourism in their official capacity. As a result, there has been virtually no discernable impact on the environment in the 40+ years that tourism has been taking place to the region.
ARE THE LARGE CRUISE SHIPS ALLOWED TO GO TO ANTARCTICA? IF SO, ARE THESE OPERATORS MEMBERS OF IAATO?
The answer is yes to both questions. Rigorous standards apply to all commercial tourist operators who intend to conduct travel to Antarctica. Tourism operators must notify their National Authority in advance of their plans in order for the government agency (in the U.S. this is the Department of State) to verify they have jurisdiction over the operation and then file a detailed environmental impact assessment (in the U.S. this is to the Environmental Protection Agency) to verify that their planned activity will have less than a minor or transitory impact on the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems — a requirement by the governments involved in managing Antarctica (these are the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties). Again, these regulations apply to all tourism operators — not just the larger cruise ship operators.
Additionally, all ships must comply with applicable international marine legislation that applies to virtually all ships at sea, including compliance with fuel oil standards adopted within the International Maritime Organisation that require ships to burn lighter-grade fuels while in the Antarctic Treaty Area (the sea south of 60 South latitude). This requirement came into effect in mid-August 2011 and has required a number of the larger ships (cruise-only vessels, icebreakers, and expedition ships alike) to switch from burning heavy fuel oil to lighter-grade fuels, such as marine gas oil.
An additional regulation placed on the large cruise ships by IAATO and more recently the Antarctic Treaty Parties is that if the vessel is carrying more than 500 passengers on board, it is not allowed to land any passengers while in Antarctic waters. This means these operators are then cruise-only.
Otherwise, the same rigorous standards apply to these cruise-only operators as they do to all other ship operators.
All IAATO members are to meet all of the association's standard operating procedures and established procedures and guidelines designed to promote safe and responsible operations in Antarctica. Examples of this include:
- The coordination of itineraries in advance among vessel operators, through careful advance pre-season planning;
- Participating in the IAATO vessel tracking system, designed to enhance contingency response;
- Having adequate insurance and contingency plans in place; and
- Hiring Bridge officers with appropriate experience.
Use of the IAATO logo in brochures, advertisements or other promotional materials is reserved for Members, Associate Members and Affiliate Members in good standing as set forth in IAATO's Bylaws. However, Members and Associate Members may allow their sales/marketing partners to use the IAATO logo provided that use is strictly limited to those tour programs whereby the members' product is advertised and wording accompanying the logo must disclose the member that is the organizer of the particular tour program, as also set forth in IAATO's Bylaws.
Yes. The IAATO Bylaws allow for reprimand or change in membership status, for example probation or expulsion, after review by the Compliance and Dispute Resolution and Executive Committees and a vote by the Members in good standing. This is exceedingly rare as the Membership is comprised of outstanding companies in all levels of membership who believe in IAATO's mission and work hard to ensure excellence in their operations.
IAATO's Administrative Officer and Office Manager work from the Secretariat office located in Newport, Rhode Island at 320 Thames Street. IAATO's Executive Director works from Scotland, UK, the Operations Manager works from New York State, USA, and the Communications and Environmental Officer works from Cumbria, UK. Contact us at: /contact-us.
The best way to visit the region is to book through one of our member tour operators as they have demonstrated a commitment to follow the precautions and protocols necessary to visit the area safely. This includes the proper staffing and necessary experience of staff and crew as well as everything from how to approach and keep a safe distance from wildlife to the proper disposal of waste materials. In addition, our members have demonstrated they have the experience needed and contingency plans in place to anticipate and respond to emergency situations, should they arise.
Tourism is and should continue to be a driving force in Antarctic conservation. First-hand travel experiences foster education and a better understanding of the destination and the need for responsible tourism. Visitors to Antarctica — representing more than 100 different nationalities on average per season — return home as ambassadors of goodwill, guardianship and peace.
No. The remote location, frozen landscape and unpredictable weather can make tourism operations in Antarctica a logistical challenge but that's precisely why it is important to use an IAATO member as they have demonstrated experience at operating in these conditions, are to be knowledgeable of best practices and must periodically show compliance with IAATO guidelines to remain a member of the association. Members are to have the knowledge and expertise to make a visit to Antarctica the trip of a lifetime, while also promoting safe and environmentally responsible travel to the region.
There are a number of ways to travel to Antarctica. Most travelers visit Antarctica by means of a cruise ship or traveling on one of the small sailing or motor vessels (carrying less than 12 passengers).
If you are interested in traveling aboard a cruise ship, there are many options. The majority of passenger travel on an expedition cruise ship. These vessels carry between 13 - 500 passengers and utilize small, motorized landing craft, in groups of not more than 100 at a time, to land passengers ashore to view the scenery and wildlife first-hand. Some expedition ships offer specialty activities such as digital photography workshops (with workshops offered on board and assistance provided when in the field), kayaking, SCUBA diving, overnight camping, mountain climbing, snowboarding, running events and the use of an underwater Remotely-Operated Vehicle. Occasionally icebreakers are operated that carry helicopters to facilitate inland exploration to remote areas, for example to emperor penguin colonies. There are also options to do what is called a "fly/cruise" program where you fly by small aircraft to the South Shetland Islands, just off the Antarctic Peninsula and then join up with your expedition cruise ship there.
You can also "cruise" aboard one of the larger cruise ships and view the scenery and wildlife from the decks of the ship; however ships carrying more than 500 passengers are not allowed to land their passengers ashore in Antarctica.
For those who wish to experience a land program, options exist to fly inland by small specialty aircraft to one of the temporary camps for adventure activities in the heart of Antarctica (for example, visiting the Geographic South Pole, or doing tented camping, mountaineering, skiing, or visits to emperor penguin colonies).
The options are varied and all of these activities are covered by our member operators.
You don't need a visa to travel to Antarctica itself, but you might need a visa for the country you intend to travel to Antarctica from. This is usually Argentina or Chile, although some operators depart from South Africa or New Zealand (see below). It depends on the country that issued your passport. Please check with relevant consulates and embassies before you travel and also check that you have adequate medical and travel insurance for your entire journey. Your operator will be able to offer advice.
WHERE DO CRUISES DEPART FROM?
Most cruises depart from one of the gateway ports in southern South America, such as Ushuaia (Argentina), Punta Arenas (Chile) or Montevideo (Uruguay), to the scenic and wildlife rich northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. These cruises often include visits to the nearby Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and South Georgia. A limited number of cruises are operated to the Ross Sea side of the continent departing from Hobart, Australia or Lyttelton or Bluff, New Zealand. Occasionally a trip to the Peninsula will be offered that begins or ends in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth (South Africa), either at the start or end of the season as the ships are being repositioned for the Antarctic season.
- Small sailing or motor vessels (carrying less than 12 passengers and making landings);
- Expedition vessels carrying 13 - 500 passengers and making landings. Expedition vessels can be either Category 1 (13-200 passengers) or Category 2 (201-500), with the main difference being the number of sites available for landing. Category 1 vessels have a broader range of possible landing sites.
- Cruise-only vessels carrying more than 500 passengers and which are not making landings. The Membership Directory lists the member companies, describes their programs and provides contact details.
WHAT IS THE SEASON AND WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?
The tourist season is during the austral summer, usually from late October or early November through late March or early April of each year. There are no tourism activities the rest of the year. The "best time" depends upon what one is expecting to experience.
Antarctica's austral summer season offers a myriad of highlights to ship borne travelers no matter what month one travels. Each trip is unique. The stunning Antarctic landscape is overlain with a myriad of ever-changing ice conditions, unique flora and abundant fauna. Seasonal highlights, which can vary somewhat from season to season, include the following:
- Late October and November: The early part of the season showcases a number of highlights. Sea ice is prevalent, especially on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Late October to early November sees Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo adult penguins and Antarctic-breeding seabirds starting to come ashore to their breeding sites where they commence courtship rituals and nest building. Shortly thereafter eggs are laid and incubated. Landing sites are at their most pristine. The possibility of seeing sea ice is present early on, before it breaks up later on in the season. Emperor penguins can be seen on the frozen Weddell Sea (visited occasionally by icebreakers or ice-strengthened expedition ships on special itineraries).
Spring flowers begin blooming in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and elephant seals are actively courting in South Georgia. South Georgia's female king penguins lay their eggs in November and the parents can be seen "carrying" eggs on their feet so that the parent can shuffle around the colony while the other adult goes out to sea to feed. "Oakum Boys" — king penguin chicks from the previous season — can also be seen in the rookeries. Fur seals liter the beaches in South Georgia with the males aggressive and ready to mate. The first flights into the interior begin once the blue ice landing strips have been groomed and cleared of the winter snow accumulation, allowing access for the mountain climbers and inland traverse expeditions and small fixed wing aircraft flights to coastal emperor penguin colonies.
- December and January: The increased number of daylight hours brings exceptional opportunities for photographers and non-photographers alike. Research activity in the Peninsula at the scientific bases is at its peak. Penguin chicks begin hatching in the Falklands (Islas Malvinas); followed by hatchings in mid- to late-December at sites in the Antarctic Peninsula. Some 30 days after hatching, penguin chicks can be found in "crèches," resembling a nursery of sorts, which leaves both adults free to replenish their food supply. An exciting time of this part of the season is when the parent returns with food and the hungry chicks are persistent in being fed, running after the parent (or any adult penguin with food) in a "feeding chase." Whale sightings of baleen and toothed whales escalate in the Peninsula area. Seal pups can be seen on the beaches in South Georgia. In the Ross Sea, the sea ice is beginning to break up starting to allow access to the rarely visited sites of the East Antarctic and the historic huts of Shackleton and Scott. On the continent, expeditions make the most of the summer weather and continuous hours of daylight.
- February and March: Sightings of whales are at their peak in the Peninsula. An increasing number of fur seals can be found along the Peninsula and offshore islands; young fur seals are also quite playful in South Georgia. Penguin colonies are very active. The penguin chicks begin their molt, losing their fuzzy down and developing their adult plumage. By now, the parents have abandoned their chicks, and have gone out to sea to feed and fatten up for their own molting stage. Most colonies (Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo) are nearly vacated by the end of February to early March. Blooming snow algae is prevalent. Receding pack ice allows for easier exploration.
WHAT PENGUIN SPECIES CAN ONE EXPECT TO SEE?
In the Antarctic Peninsula area, south of the South American continent, the most commonly visited area for tourism, are the native penguins (those that breed there), including Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo, with the occasional macaroni species at a few sites. The other area of Antarctica commonly visited by tour vessels is the Ross Sea, south of New Zealand and Australia, where Adélie and emperor penguins can be viewed, depending upon the time of the season (again with emperors being viewed via access from a helicopter). Air/Land expeditions also offer the possibility to visit emperor penguin colonies by fixed wing aircraft from the inland sites early season.
HOW SHORT ARE THE CRUISES, AND HOW LONG, DEPENDING ON TIME AVAILABILITY?
The shortest cruises aboard expedition ships to the Antarctic Peninsula are about 10-12 days; the longest being about three weeks. The longer trips usually include visits to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and South Georgia, or are cruises to the Ross Sea area from Australia or New Zealand or trips operating to or from South Africa. Aboard yachts, trips are generally 20-30 days due to slower speeds while underway and an emphasis on individual exploration and more time at the Peninsula. For cruise-only trips aboard larger (500-plus passenger) ships, you may spend just two or three days cruising along the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, since these visits are usually just part of a more encompassing cruise experience; e.g. around South America, World Cruise, etc.). Land programs to the interior, which include flights and typically camping or more expeditionary type experiences (trekking, skiing, climbing, etc.), range from just a few days to several weeks.
WHAT ARE THE COSTS FOR A CRUISE?
There are a range of prices, depending upon the company, time of the season, length of a cruise, amenities on the vessel, location and size of the cabin selected, use of helicopters and other factors. Some operators include airfare into their cruise price; others may include things such as charter flights, gratuities to the ship's crew and alcoholic beverages on board the vessel. Be certain when comparing prices that you know what is included and what isn't to be sure you're making an accurate comparison from one operator to another. Contact information for IAATO operators can be found in the Membership Directory.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO CRUISE ACROSS THE DRAKE PASSAGE, AND HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
The time it takes to cross the Drake Passage varies on weather conditions at the time as well as the speed of the ship. The passage is a crossing of 550-650 miles, depending on how one measures it. The larger cruise ships can make this crossing in 24 hours whereas the smaller cruise ships may require 36-48 hours. The degree of difficulty of the passage depends on conditions on a particular day or days, when the sea might be unusually calm, but it can also be stormy, with pitching or rolling of the ship. Once in Antarctica, sheltered waters are normally encountered with little problem for rough seas.
I'M HANDICAPPED. ARE THERE CRUISING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ME?
Yes, however not all ships are handicapped-equipped and not all may be able to provide for passengers using wheelchairs or those who have severe walking difficulties. Many of the ships have elevators, but not all do. We encourage you to check with the operator(s) you are considering to see if your individual needs can be accommodated. Every effort will be made to provide for travelers with conditions requiring special attention.
ARE THE IAATO MEMBER GUIDES CERTIFIED?
IAATO Members' guides or expedition staff play a key role in the stewardship of the Antarctic. The role includes introducing, educating and informing visitors about the unique Antarctic environment and its role in the global system — and all this with the robust best practices identified to help keep everyone safe and treading softly with minimal or no disturbance to the environment. IAATO views training and experience as lynchpins of its mission: facilitating safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica. As such, IAATO has established an online field staff assessment and certification program for field staff. The online assessment is designed to augment the training and test the knowledge of staff as to the contents of the IAATO Field Operations Manual.
DO ALL OF THE CRUISES OFFER AN EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM, FOR EXAMPLE A LECTURE TEAM TO EDUCATE ME ABOUT ANTARCTICA?
All operators are encouraged by IAATO and the governments who manage commercial tourism activities in Antarctica (the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties) to provide a focus on the enrichment and education of visitors about the environment and its protection. In line with this, IAATO operators all offer educational programs. However, if you wish to have specific information, check with the individual companies you are considering to find out what topics will be covered and how many lecturers and naturalists will accompany you. Depending on their clientele, some operators offer lectures in languages other than English, for example French, German, Japanese, Spanish, etc. Lecturers and naturalists present presentations on topics that relate to the area traveled as well as on topics such as geology, glaciology, biology (seabirds and sea mammals), the history of Antarctic exploration, geopolitics, the Antarctic Treaty, and selected other topics. IAATO expects its members to hire an expedition team comprised of individuals of whom have at least 75% have previous Antarctic experience.
Lectures are scheduled on the basis of time available when not making shore landings or during time at sea. Recaps, highlighting the day's events, are held most evenings in one of the lounges prior to dinner, when a question and answer session is held to talk about the events of the day. At this time, the Expedition Leader normally also briefs everyone on the plans for the following day. When ashore, lecturers and naturalists guide and interpret on what is seen and answer questions.
Many of our members have won awards for the excellence of their educational programs. Some also offer children's educational programs (usually offered on the holiday cruises around Christmas/New Year's), with a children's activity coordinator, where there are specialty programs and educational activities designed around the interests of younger travelers.
CAN I TRAVEL WITH MY CHILDREN?
Yes, although some operators have a minimum age requirement. Check with the operator to see if they have any restrictions. As mentioned above, some operators have programs designed for young travelers around the Christmas/New Year's holidays.
WHAT ARE THE MEDICAL FACILITIES ON SHIPS, AND THE PROSPECTS OF EVACUATION IN CASE OF A MEDICAL EMERGENCY?
All cruise ships traveling to Antarctica have a medical doctor on board for the treatment of passenger issues, and larger ships have several, including nurses. Most are English-speaking. The smaller cruise ships have a single doctor to accommodate both crew and passenger issues. Seasickness can be experienced on Antarctic cruises when inclement weather is encountered, and complimentary medication is often provided for passengers. Regardless of the ship you travel on be certain to bring an ample supply of any medications you require while traveling and keep these in your hand luggage while traveling to and from the ship.
Basic medical facilities are available to handle most problems, but in the event of a life-threatening medical situation, IAATO members can arrange air evacuation service at a supplemental cost, which can involve transport to an airstrip on King George Island, and onward to a shore side hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile. Flights to or from Antarctica are operated on a weather-dependent basis.
The cost of medical evacuation transport is high and the responsibility of the traveler. Your operator can provide advice in this regard and make a recommendation as to insurance coverage. Some operators require proof of emergency medical and evacuation/repatriotization coverage.
IN RELATION TO POTENTIAL INJURIES OR SICKNESS WHILE ON A CRUISE OR IN ANTARCTICA, WHAT IS ADVISABLE TO ENSURE INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR MEDICAL EMERGENCIES?
It is advisable to consider several types of insurance. One pertains to travel insurance in general, in case a cruise is booked, but must be cancelled shortly before departure for a variety of reasons. As noted above, another type is often supplementary to existing insurance, to cover the high costs of emergency medical evacuations involving charter flights, special care at hospitals, and other factors. As mentioned above, your operator can provide advice in this regard. Emergency medical and evacuation/repatriotization insurance is highly recommended and again may be required by your operator.
ARE THERE FACILITIES SUCH AS LODGING IN ANTARCTICA?
No permanent shore-based infrastructure exists for tourism lodging in Antarctica, but it is possible to be accommodated ashore rather than aboard a ship. Two IAATO Members (Adventure Network International/Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, and The Antarctic Company) offer flights by specialty aircraft to inland temporary summer camps. A third IAATO member (White Desert) also offers inland luxury tented accommodation expeditions. From these camps a variety of activities are available, including visits by small aircraft to the Geographical South Pole, visits to remote emperor penguin colonies, mountaineering in the highest peaks in Antarctica, skiing and other adventure activities, to name just a few. Details on these Members can be found in the Membership Directory.
ARE THERE SCIENTIFIC STATIONS IN ANTARCTICA, AND IS IT POSSIBLE TO VISIT THEM?
There are many research stations in Antarctica, with most being located along the coastline or on the offshore islands, with some of them operating year-round. Many have visitor arrangements by prior request of the tour operator. Some of those visited in the past have included stations in the Antarctic Peninsula area including Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, the People's Republic of China, Germany, Poland, the Russian Federation, the Republic of (South) Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay, and a few in the Ross Sea area (Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States). Visits include an opportunity to see and learn about the research being undertaken as well as life on an Antarctic base. Not all operators include visits to research stations, nor are they visited on every cruise. Check with the operator if this is of interest to you.
WHAT KIND OF CLOTHING IS ADVISABLE? HOW COLD WILL IT GET?
Antarctic tourism is conducted only in the austral summer, but temperatures can still be somewhat brisk, at or below freezing, depending on the time of summer and the latitude reached. Expect temperatures at about the freezing point, but with wind velocities added, the wind chill can make it uncomfortable.
Your basic wardrobe should consist of an outer waterproof and wind-resistant layer (consisting of rain pants, parka with a hood and mid-calf to knee high waterproof boots with a rugged sole), a mid-insulation layer (consisting of a fleece or down vest to wear under your parka and warm pants to wear under your rain pants), a base core layer (consisting of long underwear top and bottoms made of thermal or lightweight polartec or other technical fabrics) and accessories for your extremities (consisting of waterproof/windproof gloves or mittens, a pair of glove liners, a hat, a neck gaiter or scarf and waterproof, preferably insulated, boots).
Shore landings involve stepping in shallow water at the beach, so waterproof rubber boots with a rugged sole are vital, to a height around mid-calf (14 inches or so). Some operators provide boots aboard ship that can be borrowed for the duration of the cruise. Others have arrangements with one of the outfitting companies to rent boots. Some require that you bring your own.
A backpack that is waterproof — or at the very least water-resistant — is highly recommended, especially if you are traveling on a cruise utilizing the small, inflatable boats to ferry you to and from shore. (Your hands must be free while getting into and out of the boats). Some operators provide a complimentary parka and backpack for their clients. You are encouraged to check with your operator. A waterproof backpack is recommended if you will be taking camera gear ashore as you can get wet from salt spray when riding in the inflatable boats while traveling between the ship and shore. Another option is to purchase a leak-proof/seal-proof bag to place your camera and accessories in before placing the bag into your backpack.
Dressing in layers when going ashore is advisable, because if it gets warm on shore, an outer or inner garment can be removed and stowed in your backpack. Sunglasses are an absolute necessity, as is sunscreen with a relatively high blocking ability — e.g. SPF 30 — because of the potential of ultraviolet radiation.
Your operator will provide you with a recommended clothing list and be able to answer questions in this regard.
I AM AN EXPERIENCED BIRDER LOOKING FOR UNUSUAL SPECIES. AM I LIKELY TO SEE ALL SPECIES LISTED FOR ANTARCTICA?
The basic seabirds will be seen and, depending on itinerary and latitude, three to four species of penguin may also be seen including Adélie, chinstrap, gentoo, and possibly macaroni (the latter uncommon, breeding only in certain areas). The fifth — the emperor penguin — may be seen if you are traveling on an icebreaker (with a helicopter), or on an ice-strengthened ship at the start of the season to the Weddell Sea area or if you are participating on an inland land-based expedition intending to visit emperor penguin colonies. In addition, albatrosses can be seen while cruising in the Drake Passage and occasionally south of 60°S latitude, including wandering, royal, black-browed, and grey-headed. Albatrosses, however, do not breed in the Antarctic Treaty area. Other species commonly seen in Antarctica include blue-eyed shag/cormorant, pintado petrel, snowy sheathbill, kelp gull, Antarctic tern, Arctic tern, southern giant petrel, snow petrel, Antarctic petrel, and Wilson's storm-petrel.
Cruise itineraries that include the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia, the Ross Sea and/or the sub-Antarctic islands of Australia, New Zealand or the Indian Ocean present opportunities for additional species.
WHAT MARINE MAMMALS, SUCH AS WHALES AND SEALS, WILL I SEE IN ANTARCTIC WATERS?
Common species of whales seen include humpback, minke, and killer (Orca). Sightings of blue, fin, sei, southern right and sperm whales are not as common. Seals commonly seen include Weddell, crabeater, leopard, southern elephant, Antarctic fur, and (very, very rarely) Ross. Whale watching is a popular activity on every cruise but sightings can never be guaranteed. Sightings are usually more common later in the season than at the start. However, every trip is different and naturalists and bridge officers are always on the lookout for whales and seals alike.
IAATO is cautioning all Antarctic travellers intending to fly a drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), for any purpose in Antarctica to check with their tour operator or travel agent as far in advance of travel as possible. Note that IAATO Members have agreed that they will not allow the recreational use of UAVs in the unique, and often wildlife rich, coastal areas of Antarctica until more is known about their responsible use. The ban will be reviewed annually in May to allow for potential technological advances and further developments within the regulatory community. IAATO members allow the recreational use of authorized* UAVs in the interior of Antarctica under strict and carefully controlled conditions.
Non-IAATO members and private expeditions should contact their relevant Competent Authority or government agency if they intend to operate a UAV anywhere in or around the continent.
Through the unique global partnership that is the Antarctic Treaty system, the entire continent is formally designated as a 'natural reserve, devoted to peace and science'. Antarctica is regarded as the last great wilderness on our planet, still pristine with wildlife and landscapes that show little evidence of direct human activity. To visit, and operate in, an environment like this comes with a responsibility to do so carefully and with minimal impact.
*Ultimately, this means that all human activities, whether for science or tourism, have to go through an Environmental Impact Assessment by a relevant Competent Authority/government agency. Critically, IAATO Member operators have agreed that their activities must have less than a minor or transitory impact on the environment. They submit permit applications annually to their Competent Authority/government agency and, if their planned activities meet all criteria, they are authorized and a permit granted.
IAATO member operators must include an application to fly UAVs within their overall permit application. The difficulty for prospective UAV pilots is that Treaty Parties, and IAATO members, are concerned about their use in Antarctica; flying drones is a relatively new activity and while there are situations when they may be of value (e.g. science, ice reconnaissance for vessel navigation, education, including documentary film making), there are many questions still to be answered in terms of their potential impact on the environment. The use of UAVs is therefore in a state of development and, until more information is available, both the Competent Authorities and IAATO Member Operators are taking a precautionary approach when it comes to their operation. The intention is to devise a pragmatic policy framework that will allow safe and environmentally responsible use under controlled circumstances.
If you wish to use a UAV in Antarctica for any purpose, please discuss this with the operator you intend to travel with before departure, as far in advance as possible.
(Revised Dec 2017)
WILL I SEE THE SOUTHERN LIGHTS AND THE SOUTHERN CROSS IN ANTARCTICA?
The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, are only visible in Antarctica, primarily at the South Pole, from March to September; they are not often seen in areas visited by cruise ships since insufficient darkness occurs during the tourist season. The Southern Cross is easily visible from the southern hemisphere at practically any time of the year but, as with the Southern Lights, there needs to be enough darkness to see the constellation which isn't the case during the height of the tourist season.
HOW MANY SHIPS ARE EXPECTED TO VISIT ANTARCTICA THIS YEAR?
The number of ships varies from year to year. Preliminary estimates from our member operators can be found in two sections of our website. In the IAATO and The Antarctic Treaty section you can find papers submitted to the Antarctic Treaty Meetings (since 1998). At each meeting, IAATO submits an overview paper that details the scope of Antarctic tourism that took place during the past season and provides an estimate for what is being planned for the upcoming season. Information can also be found on the Tourism Overview page of the website which provides information on the scope of Antarctic tourism, an overview of IAATO, Antarctic destinations by ship, tourism statistics and information on land tourism. If additional information is required, please contact the IAATO Secretariat.
Many receive encouragement from travel agents or friends who have been there that it is a place not to be missed. Antarctica contains abundant wildlife, scenery, and solitude found nowhere else on the globe. Antarctica is one of the most remote places on Earth and unique in that it is the only continent to never have had an indigenous human population. The attractions here are jaw-dropping scenery and amazing wildlife. It is a destination that literally "wows" you at every turn and for most travelers becomes the favorite destination they have ever visited.
Antarctica attracts every type of traveler and people of all ages and from all walks of life — all united by an interest in experiencing at first hand, the last great wilderness. Today there are opportunities like never before — small sailing and motor yachts for those who enjoy small group or yacht travel; expedition ships for those who wish to enjoy the amenities that cruise ships offer while affording opportunities to maximize time ashore at the landing sites; cruise-only opportunities for those who enjoy the larger cruise ship experience; and land adventures for those who wish to travel to the interior of the continent or carry out adventurous activities or visit the Geographic South Pole. A wide range of trips also exists to suit all budgets and lengths of trips.
Antarctica is a destination that is a magical place and it is an unforgettable trip of a lifetime. Travelers cruise to enjoy the scenic beauty of Antarctica; board small rubber-inflatable boats to visit shore sites mostly for wildlife watching of penguins, seals, nesting birds; wildlife-watching from the deck of your ship scanning the horizon for whales, seals and seabirds or to participate in specialty activities such as overnight camping, mountaineering, skiing, snowboard, SCUBA diving, kayaking, and running events. The more adventurous travelers venture inland to enjoy rigorous activities such as camping, mountaineering, skiing and visiting emperor penguin colonies, some of which are located hundreds of miles from the sea.