Travelling by cruise ship to Antarctica

The majority of visitors to the Antarctic come by ship.Click to enlarge
Most visitors to Antarctica reach the perpetual ice by ship.
Source: Fritz Hertel/UBA

There are no hotels, restaurants or tourism infrastructure in Antarctica as there are in other holiday destinations. The great majority of tourists arrives on floating hotels, which range in size from small sailboats to large cruise ships carrying several thousand passengers.

Traditionally the majority of visitors to the Antarctic continent and its offshore islands arrives by ship (95%). Travellers can choose one of three vessel categories. Most expedition journeys are done on ships with up to 200 passengers, followed by medium-size cruise ships with 200-500 passengers, and a few "cruise only" ships which carry more than 500 passengers. The latter are not permitted to land in any territory covered by the Antarctic Treaty; that is they only "cruise" through. As a result of the Antarctic Heavy fuel oil ban issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which entered into force in August 2011, and which also prohibits the carriage of heavy-grade oils, there are very few "cruise only" vessels in Antarctic waters at the present time.

Tourists are taking advantage of the many possible leisure activities in Antarctica that go beyond a simple stroll ashore. Tour operators' offers range from diving, kayak tours, and guided hikes to climbing tours and mountaineering. Still others offer helicopter or submarine excursions. The broad range of opportunities is of some concern, however, since few concrete guidelines exist for any of these activities, and improper behaviour by visitors could cause great harm to the sensitive ecosystem in the Antarctic.

Guided tours with trained lecturers

Visitors are accompanied on their trip by a team of trained lecturers. Lectures on board the ship about the specific features of Antarctica's fauna and flora and also on proper behaviour prepare travellers for the special local conditions. Excursions ashore require one lecturer to accompany a group of up to 20 people. As a responsible visitor please follow the instructions given by the crew and keep an eye on your fellow travellers. Thus you can help protecting Antarctica and its uniqueness for future generations.

See our web pages for more detailed information. A leaflet and a comprehensive guide on proper behaviour are available here:

Passengers on cruise ships do not have to apply for a permit to visit Antarctica on their own since this is generally done by the tour operator. Any interested traveller can request to see the authorisation and other legal documents onboard the ship.