How to plan a budget trip to Antarctica

Lucky Penguins by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com

 

Many among you have asked me how I booked my trip to Antarctica. This post introduces the 5-step Optriplan way of booking a cheap Antarctica cruise if you are constrained by vacation time.

Before outlining my method, let me first answer a few common questions.

Is it worth visiting Antarctica?

I saved money for 3 years, making quite a few sacrifices to visit Antarctica. And it was worth every penny. This is despite the fact that I was down with fever for half of my trip. The wildlife, the landscapes make Antarctica intoxicating; I plan to visit again in the next 10 years. If you want inspiration, see some of my photos or Google Images.

Penguin and kayak by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com

 

How to get to Antarctica?

The easiest way to access Antarctica is by boarding a cruise ship from Ushuaia, the southern most town of Argentina. There are also cruises from Australia; but I have little knowledge about them.

Should I travel if I suffer from sea-sickness?

If you are prone to sea-sickness, you can also fly into Antarctica from Punta Arenas, Chile and then cruise around Antarctica. Apart from being costlier, the problem with the fly-cruise approach is that the flights are often cancelled due to bad weather and there might be 1-3 day delay in the trip. If you can, I would strong urge you to consider the cruise and enjoy the adventure of Drake’s passage.

Iceberg and zodiac by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com

 

How much does it cost?

Here comes the bombshell. Even a budget trip to Antarctica will dent you by USD 4000+ per person, excluding airfare. As far as I know, there are three ways to get to Antarctica for less money: (a) Find work in Antarctica or an Antarctica cruise ship; (b) Be one of the 30 tourists on the month-long cruise on a French resupply vessel that supplies the French station in sub Antarctic islands; (c) Camp out in Ushuaia towards the end of season(Feb-March) for crazy deals.

As far as I know, the cheapest cruises that I know of are run by G Adventures and Antarpply Expeditions. The cheapest dorm rooms are ~$5000 per person and these get sold out almost a year in advance. The cheapest twin rooms run from $5500 during the beginning(Nov) and end of the season(March) to ~$8000(peak season:Dec,Jan) and they too get sold out way in advance. The average price is ~$11000!

Colors imported into Antarctica by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com

 

How to snag a cheap $4000+ cruise from the comfort of your couch?

The bad news is that the cheaper $5000 cruises rarely go on sale. The good news is that the floating 5-star cabins, serving an abundance of upscale food priced at $11000+ go on sale (50-70% discount). These deals pop up in three forms:

a) ‘Last-minute’ cruise deals announced weeks if not months in advance. Many bloggers have written about it. See this link for example.
b) Quark Expedition’s sales which are announced like clockwork every year in end-September and end-November.
c) Rare cruise deals organized by bloggers.

March of the Penguins by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com

 

Still with me and find all this info confusing? Here’s the five step process I used to methodically book my trip.

The Optriplan way of booking budget Antarctica cruises like a champ

Step 1: Follow 4 Facebook/Twitter accounts for last minute deals

To prevent Google from caching this information and obviating this method, I am not spelling out the details here. However, you can easily figure it out with cursory google searches. If you subscribe to this blog/comment with your email address or contact me personally, I would send the details to you.

Step 2: Determine when to visit Antarctica

Read more about the pros and cons of different months here or here . My choice was December/January when the temperatures are highest and there is a chance of seeing penguin chicks hatch.

However, this decision is also dependent on when you can schedule at least 3+ weeks of vacation. For me, it was the period around Christmas and I am sure, that is the case for most among you.

Step 3: Find the 3 week period with maximum number of Antarctica cruise ship departures.

Let’s say you decide to visit Antarctica in December, which 3 week period do you choose? Since we are looking for last minute Antarctica cruise deals, it makes sense to choose the 3 week period with maximum number of cruise departures. You can see a detailed list of departures here

For example, if I had to choose a 3 week period based on my holiday schedule this year, I would choose Dec 16 2016-Jan 8,2017 which corresponds to 18 departures I can possibly get on. I should note that deals on the cruises around Christmas are hard to come by.

Why do you need to choose this period in advance? Because you might have to book your air tickets even without a confirmed cruise ticket.

Step 4: Book your tickets to Buenos Aires/Ushuaia end-September or end-November.

Last minute airfare to Argentina shoots through the roof. Wait until end-September(for Dec trips)/end-November(for Jan/Feb/Mar trips) for the Quark expedition sales to book your airfare. If you can jump in on Quark’s sales, congratulations, you don’t have to wait until the last minute and can book your confirmed air tickets to Ushuaia.

The rest of the steps are for those like me whose vacation schedule makes it difficult to jump in on Quark’s deals.

If you have interest in seeing South America too, take a leap of faith and book airfare to Buenos Aires/Iguazu Falls. You should be able to arrange the tickets to Ushuaia after booking your cruise.

Note: If you are booking the tickets with miles/points, book the tickets in April if you want to travel to Antarctica for Christmas.

Step 5: Wait for last-minute deals.

Regularly monitor the 4 FB/twitter pages mentioned earlier or email the last minute cruise travel-agents. In 2012,2013, the deals were announced 2-3 months in advance. In 2014,2015 I noticed that the deals were announced less than 3 weeks before the cruise departure. Jump on a deal and contact your favorite travel agent to book as soon as a deal pops up for departures within your travel window. There might be very few seats left.

Penguin Post Office, Antarctica by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com

 

I had to leave out a lot of information to make this post comprehensible. I’ll follow up this post my experiences in Antarctica.

Let me know if you think I am I missing something here. I would be happy to answer any questions you have.

Antarctic sunset glow by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com

 

Acknowledgement: A big shout out to Debjeet Sen; without his help, my trip would not materialize.

Related Post

My Antarctica trip diary: Drake passage, Shetland islands

Note: Do not copy or use any photographs on this site without express permission of the author.

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3 comments

  1. Just read your blog, lots of useful information in it, I am currently traveling South America and would love to visit Antarctica in November or December, could you please send me the links to the Facebook pages for last minute discounts, thank you!

    Like

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