Antarctica: why the bottom of the Earth should be top of your bucket list

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Antarctica is the ultimate adventure travel destination – and the competition’s not even close.

As a working travel writer, without fail, I’m asked the same question at least once a month: “Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?” And for the past 15 years, my answer has always been the same: Antarctica. Yes, this planet is brimming with beautiful destinations if you know where to look (and Flash Pack certainly does), but there’s something about Antarctica that elevates it into an entirely different league. This is the wildest, coldest and most remote continent on Earth, after all, and the closest we can possibly get to experiencing life on a different world.

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But beyond that, it’s also the most pristine landmass on the planet: an immense untouched wilderness that wasn’t even discovered until the early 19th Century – and has been carefully protected ever since. Today, from its monumental mountains (the majority still unnamed, since they’ve never been climbed), to its glittering iceberg alleys and sweeping volcanic bays, it’s nothing short of epic in its frozen magnificence.


This is the wildest, coldest and most remote continent on Earth

Then there’s the wildlife too. Antarctica supports masses of life, from graceful minke whales and hungry orca pods to whiskered Weddell seals sunning themselves on the sea ice. There’s no disputing the real stars of the show, though: the waddling, bickering, marauding colonies of penguins, who pop up all over the place and have absolutely zero fear of humans. International stricture means you must try to maintain five meters from them if you can, but penguins don’t care about laws, and will wobble right up to you to say hello.

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The Edwardians called Antarctica “The Great Alone”, which is surprisingly fitting today, as it’s become an ideal destination for solo travelers. I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice on expedition vessels like the one chartered by Flash Pack, and on both occasions been pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of people striking out for the Seventh Continent alone.

The waddling, bickering, marauding colonies of penguins pop up all over the place

Soon after entering the unruly Drake Passage – the 600-mile body of water between the tail of South America and the frozen arm of the Antarctic Peninsula reaching for it – your phone signal will disappear for good, leaving you with no choice but to engage with your fellow crewmates. Which, to be frank, is no great hardship.

Not only do these trips tend to attract driven, fearless, fascinating individuals, but daily excursions, delicious meals and a full bar tend to forge bonds between those individuals quickly – as does the jacuzzi on deck. (Just gazing out at the frozen splendor from here feels like holidaying inside a high-definition TV. And who doesn’t want to enjoy their own private David Attenborough documentary?)

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Normally, when acquaintances are considering a trip to Antarctica, the Drake Passage is one of the first things they ask me about. The only point on the planet where three oceans meet, fighting for supremacy (the Atlantic, Southern and Pacific), it can make for a feisty crossing. Even the great polar explorer Ernest Shackleton feared the Drake, with one of his companions describing it as “so rough, the ship would roll the milk out of your tea.”

We are the final generation to experience the Great White Continent in its full, chilling beauty

It’s pure chance whether you’ll face the “Drake Shake” or the calmer “Drake Lake” for your own two-day voyage across to the Seventh Continent, but the good news is that today’s expedition vessels are light years ahead of Shackleton’s ships, equipped with everything from satellite navigation systems to gyroscopically controlled stabilizers.

I’ve crossed the Drake four times myself – experiencing two “Shakes” and two “Lakes” – and never felt in the least bit nauseous. Far from it, the white-capped waves only added to our excitement as we eagerly scanned the horizon for our first precious glimpses of Antarctica.

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Once you reach the calmer waters of the Peninsula itself, your days will be packed with optional excursions ranging from kayaking, ice-climbing and cross-country skiing to visiting penguin colonies and scientific bases (my advice is to do anything and everything you possibly can – particularly the overnight ice camping, channeling the explorers of old). 

A visit to the Great Alone will remind you just how special and unique our planet is

There are many, many reasons why you should visit Antarctica at least once in your lifetime, but one above all others: we are the final generation who will be able to experience the Great White Continent in its full, chilling beauty. Antarctica is melting – and it’s melting fast. We’ve already seen icebergs bigger than Jamaica simply break off and float away – and according to NASA’s latest data, the region is now shedding a terrifying 150 billion metric tons of ice a year. 

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As legendary adventure pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad, leader of the first commercial Antarctica cruise in 1966, famously said: “You can’t protect what you don’t know.” A trip to Antarctica is a genuinely life-altering experience, where indelible memories will be created, and lifelong friendships forged. But above all, a visit to the Great Alone will remind you just how special and unique our planet is – and how important it is to protect this fragile environment for as long as we can. 

Jonathan Thompson is an award-winning journalist, SOLO columnist and presenter of Adventure Cities on the Discovery Channel. 

Tempted to explore the Great Alone? Hop on-board a trip to Antarctica with Flash Pack: a 15-day voyage on a unique expedition ship featuring incredible encounters with humpback whales, vast colonies of penguins, almost endless daylight and an otherworldly landscape of giant blue icebergs. 

Photos: Jonathan Thompson, Unsplash and Holger Leue and Anthony Smith via Poseidon Expeditions

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