If you ever looked into going to Antarctica, it will come as no surprise that this trip of a lifetime will come with a pretty high price tag. As one of the most remote and harsh destinations in the world, the Antarctica trip is likely to cost you more than any other holiday you’ve ever taken (worth every penny though…). In this article, we will explore most of the costs involved in visiting Antarctica, including the expedition cruise fare, flights, various activities, and some of the costs that you may have not thought of!
Let’s get it out in the open from the get-go: no matter how much your Antarctica trip is going to cost you, we strongly believe that the white continent is worth it. We hope that this article will help you understand and budget for the trip, rather than scare you off 🙂
The main factors that influence the cost
Two main factors that will determine the ballpark figure for the overall cost of an Antarctica trip are the cruise line you choose to travel with (and the deal you can get with them) and the length of the trip (or itinerary).
Let’s look into each of these.
Expedition company selection
Hundreds of different expedition tours run trips to Antarctica during the Antarctic summer months. But each company has its own advantages and disadvantages. When doing our research we found that:
- Large cruise lines offer the lowest prices, but the trips are on larger ships that cannot go to remote locations and therefore they typically don’t offer trips further south than the South Shetland Islands (typically Elephant Island).
- Midsized companies offer smaller ships, relatively affordable prices, and the ability to go beyond the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Companies like Hurtigruten Expeditions (now HX) or Silversea offer luxurious expedition ships that are capable of going through thin sea ice and travelling beyond the Antarctic circle and into the depths of the South. What is more, the ships are small enough to explore narrow passages like the Lemaire Channel.
- Small Antarctic tour operators that specialize in expeditions to polar regions specifically tend to be the most expensive. Whilst the ships may not be as comfortable, a small group of travellers means that you get to spend a lot of time exploring on land or out cruising on Zodiac boats. What is more, some of the smaller operators have ice-breaker ships that can navigate right into the heart of Antarctica. If you can survive crossing the Drake Passage on a small ship (where motion will be felt significantly) and can afford the higher price tag, this is the best option for maximum exploration and adventure.
Booking your own flights vs package deal
Booking international flights yourself is likely to be a cheaper option than booking flights through your cruise company. However… From our own experience, we would highly recommend finding a package deal (typically early booking incentives), that includes flights and transfers and will allow you to come to the country of departure at least a day before the cruise starts.
Not only does arriving early minimize the stress of being delayed or missing your cruise, but the cruise company representative will handle any cancelled flights or unexpected hurdles along the way.
What is more, a package deal will likely include a higher-end hotel to stay at the night before and after your cruise, as well as options for activities in your embarkation ports.
Length of the Antarctic cruise/ itinerary
Most Antarctica cruises start in South America – crossing the Drake Passage is the quickest (and cheapest) way to get to the Antarctic Peninsula. Some of the cruise lines offer a package starting in Buenos Aires in Argentina with transfer flights to Ushuaia, where you will board a ship, others will take you from Punta Arenas in Chile (a longer and more expensive option). Round trips from Ushuaia to Antartic Peninsula are typically about 9-10 days, giving you 5 full days to explore Antarctica.
There is also an option to visit South Georgia Island and Falkland Islands en route to Antarctica. That typically adds 3-4 days to the duration of the trip and can get a couple of thousand pounds/dollars more expensive.
The most expensive option is to fly to King George Island (the only Antartic airport). It is a great option for those who are not keen on crossing the Drake Passage, but the flights are rare and far in between, so you need to plan your expedition way in advance (and allocate some serious budget for it too).
Additional costs you may not have considered
Whilst Antarctica cruises can get expensive, it is important to consider any additional costs that you may encounter. Full awareness of these will help you budget for the trip better. Assuming that you have a package with flights and transfers included, here are a few other things to consider.
Visa fees and necessary documentation
Good news for travellers going on an Antarctica trip: Antarctica itself imposes no visa requirements. However, additional costs may arise depending on your citizenship and the country of embarkation port, as well as any other countries visited along the way. Visa fees and other required documents can contribute to the Antarctica trip cost. It’s essential to research the specific visa requirements for each destination on your itinerary to avoid unexpected extra costs.
Vaccinations and medical check-ups
Before embarking on an Antarctica cruise, travellers may need vaccinations, depending on their departure location, and undergo medical screenings to ensure fitness for the journey. Given Antarctica’s remote location, most cruise lines mandate a medical check-up for passengers. However, accessing this service might entail an extra cost, as most public health services do not provide it for free. Travellers may need to schedule an appointment with a private GP or family doctor and pay a fee for the necessary medical evaluation before setting sail. We paid £55 per person before our Highlights of Antarctica cruise with Hurtigruten. So these additional expenses should be factored into the overall budget for the Antarctica expedition.
More likely than not, a lifetime trip to Antarctica may not be covered by your standard travel insurance. Due to the remote location of an Antarctic expedition cruise and the exorbitant price of medical evacuation, you will likely have to invest in some top-of-the-range travel insurance that will not only cover cruises but also cover travel to Antarctica, including winter and extreme sports (yes, apparently snowshoeing and kayaking with the whales count as extreme sports!). Be prepared to pay at least double your standard travel insurance cover price!
Clothes and gear
Preparing for an Antarctica cruise involves investing in appropriate clothing and gear to withstand extreme weather conditions on the frozen continent. Unless accustomed to cold climates, acquiring essentials like merino wool base layers, snoods, and hats is necessary. Read more about What To Wear In Antarctica here!
Even for those well-equipped, shopping for polarized sunglasses or a swimsuit for the polar plunge or relaxing in the ship’s hot tubs may be required.
While most luxury cruises provide windproof jackets and waterproof boots, ensuring personal comfort and safety in the harsh Antarctic environment requires careful consideration of additional attire and accessories. From icy landscapes to cosy hot tubs, proper gear enhances the expedition experience. We have put together a list of 10 Things You Should Take To Antarctica for you as well!
You are likely to need seasickness medicine for crossing the Drake Passage – be it a small fraction of the total cost, but still an additional cost. Even if you never suffered from motion sickness, we highly recommend packing some meds just in case – the Drake Passage is a different kind of beast!
Specialized photography equipment
For travel photography enthusiasts, investing in camera gear may seem like a huge temptation. However, instead of outright purchases, considering specialized equipment rental can be a cost-effective alternative. Renting high-quality cameras, lenses, and accessories tailored for polar conditions ensures capturing breathtaking images without the hefty upfront expense. What is more, you may already have everything you need. Head straight to our articles on Antarctic Penguin Photography, Iceberg Photography and Antartic Seabird Photography to learn about photography without an expensive lens.
We have plenty of Antarctica photography tips on the blog, including:
- Antarctica Landscape Photography Techniques
- Best Photography Gear for Antarctica
- Camera Setting To Master for Antarctica Photography
Pre-cruise and post-cruise spending
If you are spending a night or two in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia or Punta Arenas before or after your cruise, account for the money you’ll need for sightseeing, eating out and getting around.
Extra activities: shore excursions and optional activities
There is plenty to do on an Antarctica expedition without buying additional activities. Your day will typically consist of exploring landing sites, a zodiac cruise and seabird and whale watching from the observation deck with the knowledgeable members of the expedition team.
However, if you’ve come all this way to experience it all, you will be presented with some compelling options, like kayaking to get up close and personal with Antartic icebergs, penguins and whales swimming beside you (the average price for kayaking is US$200 per person).
What is more, you may want to go snowshoeing or even spend the night camping in Antarctica (the price range for camping can be anything from US$400 to US$1000).
It is worth noting though, that the demand for these activities may be so high on your cruise that you would be entered in a lottery, and may not be able to take part even if you are willing to pay the price.
Most cruise lines also offer pre- and post-cruise excursions.
Drinks, spa and on-board spending
On-board spending on drinks and spa services can quickly add up during an Antarctica cruise. Consider setting a budget to manage expenses and prioritize experiences that matter most. Opt for inclusive packages or pre-purchase options to save on indulgences while still enjoying the amenities offered on the ship.
Whilst we found that amongst all the landings, zodiac cruises, workshops and educational talks, there was hardly any need for more entertainment, some relaxation or retail therapy is a must for many people I know 🙂
Tipping crew members
A lot of cruise operators state that tipping is not required or included in the price of the expedition, but if you would like to tip, account for this type of spending in advance.
Cost saving tips
There is no two ways about it – a trip to Antarctica cruise costs a lot of money, but there are a few ways that you can get a better price.
Firstly, engaging a reputable travel agent specializing in Antarctic travel can provide valuable insights and access to exclusive deals. Booking in advance is crucial, as last-minute deals are rare due to the limited capacity and high demand. Look for cruise lines that offer early booking discounts, allowing you to secure the best prices.
Additionally, opt for travelling during the shoulder season rather than the peak season when prices are typically higher. Head to our article about The Best Time To Go To Antarctica to help you decide!
Consider larger cruise ships (300-500 passengers) – these luxury ships are typically cheaper than small expedition ships, but note that you won’t be able to spend as much time on land, as only 100 people are allowed ashore at any given time at each landing site (from experience, you can still have a great time on deck watching humpback whales, spotting fur seals on ice floes or simply enjoying incredible Antarctic landscapes).
Consider flexibility in your travel dates, as departing outside of high season can yield significant savings. Some cruise lines may waive the single supplement fee for solo travellers, making it more affordable to embark on the journey alone. Furthermore, explore options for double occupancy to share costs with a travel companion.
Our personal experience: Antarctica cruise cost breakdown
We went on a Hurtigruten Antarctica expedition (now known as HX), called Highlights of Antarctica in December 2022. The package deal we bought included an early booking discount and included flights, hotels and transfers. We spent an afternoon in Buenos Aires, then got an internal flight to Ushuaia, where our ship – MS Fridtjof Nansen – was waiting to take us to Antarctica.
Here’s a breakdown of all the Antarctica Cruise cruise costs in GBP for two people staying in a window cabin:
Highlights of Antarctica Cruise (Package Deal With Flights, Hotels and Transfers): £11394.00
Parking at The Airport: £183.00
Excursion in Buenos Aires: £90.00
Excursion in Ushuaia: Tierra del Fuego National Park: £346.00
Pre- and Post-Cruise Meals: £96.00
Extra Activities on the Cruise: £1374.00 (we were selected to go camping, unfortunately it was cancelled due to weather, but we included this in the total price)
New Clothes and Gear: £178.00
Medical Screening: £110.00
Travel Insurance: £320.00 (it covered the two of us for the whole year, not just the expedition)
Seasickness Medicine: £10
Souvenirs & Postcards from Port Lockroy: £38.00