Antartica: the 7th continent

» Posted by on May 24, 2023 in Featured

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on Earth, and it’s also the most remote. Despite these harsh conditions, it’s a destination that attracts thousands of visitors each year. The best time to visit Antarctica is during the summer months of December to February, when the weather is slightly warmer and the days are longer.

To get to Antarctica, most visitors will fly from Punta Arenas, Chile, to King George Island, where they will board a cruise ship for the journey to the continent. The ship will navigate through the Drake Passage, which can be rough and is known for its high winds and waves. Once in Antarctica, visitors will have the opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife, including penguins, seals, and whales. They will also have the chance to visit research stations and take part in activities such as hiking, kayaking, and even diving.

One of the most popular activities on a trip to Antarctica is visiting the penguin colonies. There are several species of penguins that call Antarctica home, including Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins. They can be observed from close quarters, and the visitors can see them in their natural habitat.

The other popular activity is visiting research stations. These stations are operated by different countries and offer a glimpse into the daily lives of the scientists and researchers who work on the continent. Many of the stations offer tours and provide visitors with information about the research that is being conducted there.

Overall, a trip to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers the opportunity to see some of the most remote and beautiful places on Earth. The harsh conditions make it a challenging destination, but the rewards are well worth it.

How to Reach Antarctica

There are only a few ways to get to Antarctica and most people take ships from Ushuaia, Argentina, or Christchurch, New Zealand or Punta Arenas, Chile.

In my case, I choose a cruise company called Ponant and the new ship they have just built the Commandant Charcot. In early 2022, Ponant was operating from Punta Arenas in Chile. Covid restrictions were in full force but with a bit of planning we manage to get there.

Here the flight informations to get from San Francisco to Punta Arenas

The most common way to travel to Antarctica is by taking a ship from Ushuaia, Argentina. This port city is located at the southernmost tip of South America and is the departure point for most Antarctica cruises. The journey from Ushuaia to Antarctica takes about three days and most ships stop at the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and South Georgia before reaching the Continent.

Another way to reach Antarctica is by flying into Stanley Airport on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and then taking a small plane or boat to one of the research stations on the Antarctic Peninsula. This option is usually only available to those who are working in Antarctica or are part of an organized tour group.

Christchurch, New Zealand is another gateway city for travelers headed to Antarctica. From Christchurch, you can take a direct flight on an Antonov AN-74 charter plane operated by Kenn Borek Air which will take you straight to one of the research stations on the Continent. These flights only operate during the Antarctic summer (November-March) when there is enough daylight for landing and take-off.

The ship: Le commandant Charcot

It’s possibly the best cruise ship ever built. Le Commandant Charcot is a Polar Class 2 rated icebreaking vessel capable of reaching remote polar destinations such as the Geographic North Pole. She features a hybrid power plant powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and 5 MWh electric batteries, capable of briefly driving the ship without engines running.

In February 2022, Le Commandant Charcot collaborated with the British Antarctic Survey research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough in Antarctica. The cruise ship, capable of breaking much thicker ice, created a channel for the research vessel in second-year ice covered with thick layer of snow in Stange Sound.[

The Commandant Charcot helping the RRS Sir David Attenborough

Punta Arenas, Chile – The Gateway to the 7th Continent

Punta Arenas, Chile is the southernmost city in the world and is considered the gateway to Antarctica. It is located on the Strait of Magellan, which is the body of water that separates South America from Tierra del Fuego. Punta Arenas was founded in 1848 by Chilean settlers and was originally a penal colony. Today, it is a thriving city with a population of over 140,000 people. It is also home to many research facilities and is a popular tourist destination for those wishing to experience Antarctica.

The Drake Passage

Our full itinerary.

The Drake Passage is one of the most treacherous bodies of water in the world. It is notorious for its strong winds and waves, and for being the site of many shipwrecks. The passage gets its name from Sir Francis Drake, who was the first person to sail around Cape Horn.

The Drake Passage is located between South America and Antarctica, and is about 600 miles wide. It takes about two days to cross, depending on the weather conditions. The best time to cross is during the austral summer, when the weather is more stable.

During a crossing, it is important to be prepared for rough conditions. The ship will rock back and forth, and there will be strong winds and waves. There may also be icebergs floating in the water. It is important to stay hydrated and eat regular meals, even if you don’t feel like it. If you start to feel seasick, there are medication available to help with this.

Most people say that crossing the Drake Passage is an experience they will never forget. It can be a challenging journey, but it is also an amazing opportunity to see some of the most remote places on earth.

In our case, both time, the Drake was light with waves less than 6 meters. That’s where the new ship with active stabilizer makes a world of difference. We enjoyed our passage on our way south and coming back.

Exploring Charcot Island and Beyond

Charcot Island is one of the most isolated places on Earth. It’s located in the Southern Ocean, near Antarctica. The island is named after French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who was the first person to study it.

There are very few people who live on Charcot Island. In fact, there are no permanent residents. The island is home to a small research station that is operated by the United States Antarctic Program. About 50 people live on the island during the austral summer (December-February). During the rest of the year, there are no people living on Charcot Island.

The research station on Charcot Island is called McMurdo Station. It’s one of the largest research stations in Antarctica. McMurdo Station is a busy place. Scientists from all over the world come to conduct research on everything from astronomy to zoology.

Charcot Island is also a popular destination for tourists who want to experience Antarctica firsthand. Tour companies offer trips that include visits to McMurdo Station and other parts of Charcot Island. These trips can be expensive, but they’re worth it for those who want to explore this amazing continent.

What Wildlife Can You See in Antarctica?

Nearly 75% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.6 kilometers in thickness. The continent has no native land mammal population, although many marine mammals live in its waters. These include seals, whales, and penguins. Penguins are the most common birds in Antarctica and can be found on every continent except for Europe. Some other Antarctic birds include albatrosses, skuas, petrels, and terns.

There are also a number of smaller animals that call Antarctica home, such as mites, nematodes, springtails, and midges. These animals are often found near the coasts where there is more food available. The Antarctic environment is harsh and many animals have adapted to live in this environment. For example, some fish have antifreeze proteins in their blood which prevent them from freezing in the cold water.

Tips for Visiting Antarctica

When planning a trip to Antarctica, it is important to keep in mind that this is a very remote and isolated continent. There are no roads or airports, and the only way to get there is by ship or plane. This means that you need to be prepared for some extreme conditions, including cold weather, high winds, and icebergs. Here are some tips for visiting Antarctica:

  1. Do your homework (if you have read this blog post, you are doing great). This trip is an investment, it costs as much as a new car. I would encourage you to research the company you are going with, read the reviews, look at the capabilities of the ship and the level of comfort you are ok with. For example, the bigger the ship, the less place you can go and less time you will have on shore. The regulation is no more than 100 people at one time. The bigger the ship, the more comfortable you will be. There are some 20 people ship that makes the trip but are you ok crossing the Drake with a 60ft ship?
  2. It is going to expensive, know that up front. Budget it properly and be patient and opportunistic. I have been researching Antartica trips for several years. When Ponant built The Commandant Charcot I knew that was the ship I wanted to sail with to Antartica. By a stroke of luck, I just called Ponant during the Omnicron peak and they had a lot of cancellation so they made me an very good offer. We decided to go only 3 weeks before boarding.
  3. It’s not as cold as many think. Yes it’s very cold in winter but most trips happen during the Antarctic summer where temperature are around 0c (32F). So it’s cold but not uncomfortable cold.


Antarctica is an incredible continent that should be explored and respected. From its beautiful landscapes to the unique animals and plants, it provides a wealth of opportunities for learning about Earth’s ecosystems. The most important thing to remember when visiting Antarctica is to respect the environment, as even small changes can have major effects on fragile habitats. If you ever get the chance to go to this remarkable place, take advantage of all it has to offer and experience one of our planet’s great wonders!