Individual tourism in Antarctica

A little aircraftClick to enlarge
A sturdy Twin Otter makes flying the interior of Antarctica possible.
Source: Fritz Hertel/UBA

Travellers to Antarctica who do not join a cruise or yachting journey are considered 'individual'. This includes onshore tourism in particular – adventure and sport activities or a flight to the South Pole.

Journeys to Antarctica become more popular

A few hundred tourists per season take advantage of a number of tour operators’ activities on the Antarctic mainland or its offshore islands, and their numbers are rising steadily. Travellers have their choice of diverse offers promising “special adventure” or other extreme experiences. Individual tourists on such expeditions reach Antarctica’s mainland by plane or ship. The first private enterprise started in 1985 and organized landings on the South Pole and mountain hikes in the Patriot Hills.

Excursions ashore are an opportunity to go skiing or run a marathon, go mountain climbing or go parachute jumping from cliffs. A visit to the South Pole is an integral part of many expeditions. Somewhat less common are treks across the continent on skis, sleds with towing kites and motorized vehicles, or circumnavigations of the continent by sailboat. Short-distance ski races are also an occasional event. In the 2010/2011 season a German camera team driving four cars filmed a ski competition covering a distance of some 400 km across the ice of Queen Maud Land.

Camping in the world's icebox

Accommodation on the mainland is usually in the form of camping. One of the largest camp sites is currently on Union Glacier, where visitor numbers reached over 500 during the 2010/2011 season. These camps are the starting point for many of the activities in the vicinity, including excursions to emperor penguin colonies, mountain climbing, small aircraft sightseeing tours, or kite surfing on the ice. The amount and variety of sports and adventure tourism in the Antarctic Treaty area have grown steadily in recent years.

Since all commercial operators are members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), their activities are monitored by the IAATO and are at least somewhat regulated. Nevertheless, rising demand and corresponding supply of onshore tourist activities are cause for some concern.

Risks for man and nature

Tourists have the opportunity to access previously untouched areas of Antarctica and thus pose a threat per se to its pristine wilderness. The misconduct of a few individuals can not only lead to great damage to the environment, it can actually endanger human lives. A few activities undertaken by individual tourists, for example mountain climbing in remote massifs or treks across the continent on foot, can be very risky. Rescue operations and dealing with accidents in Antarctica are much more difficult and complicated than in populated areas. The lacking infrastructure and harsh climate conditions can often hinder or delay immediate response to emergency situations.

Some advice for your journey

If you are planning an expedition to Antarctica on your own, you will find the necessary application forms here: Applying for a permit to travel to the Antarctic. Independent expeditions such as a trek across the continent require a great deal of effort and years of planning and preparation. If you intend to go on such a journey, please contact the German Environment Agency as early as possible.
Even if you have booked a trip through a commercial operator it is a good idea to be informed about how to behave when on location. The following documents are available for this purpose:

 

Ein weißes Transportflugzeug mit blauen Streifen an der Seite steht auf der Start- und Landebahn in der Antarktis. Eine Treppe steht vor der Tür. Im Hintergrund fährt ein Pick-up.
Eine Ilyushin II-76 wartet auf ihre Passagiere.
Source: Fritz Hertel/UBA