What is it like to travel to Antarctica?

Recent years have seen an increase of Chinese tourists traveling to Antarctica, the last piece of unspoiled land on earth, from less than 100 in 2008 to 3,944 in 2016. And this year the number has hit 5,000, according to Trip.com, one of the world's leading online travel agencies.

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What is so special about Antarctica?

For many people, traveling to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The mostly ice-clad terrain is so primeval, mysterious and far-away that the location of the continent — at the end of the world — itself is fascinating.

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About 1,000 to 5,000 scientists and others live in Antarctic, where 98 percent of the land is covered by ice — about one mile thick, on average. It’s estimated that if the ice of Antarctica melts, the world’s sea level would rise about 60 meters.

The continent is home to many breathtaking geographical and natural attractions. Antarctic Peninsula, for example, is the warmest place, with most rainfall, on the continent. The South Pole, however, has an average annual temperature of minus 48 degrees Celsius (-54.4℉) and sees sunrise only once a year.

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Rolling mountains stand in striking contrast to snow-white icebergs looming over or dotting the dark blue sea, chubby baby penguins wobble and chase after their mothers for food, whales and dolphins leap magnificently out of the water, fat seals sleep like cellulite on the beach, the beautiful sky constantly changes colors, and the air is incredibly fresh — all bringing out the explorers and adventurers in people who can’t resist the purest existence in the world.

How to go there?

Most visitors go to Antarctica by ship from Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. After two days of crossing the hostile, stormy Drake Passage, ships reach the Antarctic Peninsula, the closest part of Antarctica to the South American continent.

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Ship fare can cost from 70,000 to 200,000 yuan, depending on the travel route, departure time, passenger load, and the standard of cabins. Visitors may choose one of the three common travel routes — cruising around the Antarctic Peninsula; entering the Antarctic circle; or visiting the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. The price increases as the routes get more challenging. It will take visitors leaving from China about 16, 19 or 25 days to return home from these three routes. Book your ship at least half a year in advance.

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Visitors with a higher budget can choose to fly to King George Island or the South Pole to save time and avoid the difficult experience of crossing the Drake Passage. But it could cost more than 400,000 yuan.

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Leave nothing but your footprints

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), founded in 1991, has set out a series of strict rules to protect the world’s last piece of clean land from any possible pollution from tourists.

It's not permitted for more than one shipload of over 100 tourists to land on the continent at the same time. If a ship carries more than 100 visitors, some must wait their turn until the first 100 get back on board. 

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Every visitor must vacuum his or her clothes, pockets and backpacks to clean out any possible alien species before setting foot on Antarctic.

Visitors must not leave anything but footprints there, nor take anything but photos and memories away. Things they have lost during the trip should be recovered. 

Visitors are required not to step on or damage any plants on Antarctic whose ecosystem is very fragile and plants of any kind could be the result of centuries' growth.

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Tourists are required to keep a five-meter distance from penguins and 15 meters from the seals. If visitors remain still for a while, some curious penguins may approach them, but no touching and feeding of the birds are allowed. Speaking loud or making big movements near birds or animals are also prohibited in case of intimidating them.

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Also, no polar lights may be seen during the tour as the sun never sets in summer and makes it too bright for tourists to see the lights.

There's no cellphone signal in Antarctic. All the communications are made through satellites. Tourists may get Internet connection (with fees) back on the ship.

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Tourist season: From November to March (summer for Antarctic), when the sun hardly sets.

Preparation: Take sunblock, sunglasses, moisturizer, seasick pill, gloves, waterproof bag, wind- and water-proof winter clothes and others with you, because the weather can still be extreme and capricious in the summer, with strong solar ultraviolet rays.

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Source: Life of Guangzhou

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