ANTARCTICA DRAWS TOURISTS

By Julia Thiel

(Jan. 7, 2005) Antarctica, the coldest, windiest and most remote continent on the planet, has long been a destination primarily for scientists and explorers. It contains 90 percent of the world’s ice, winds blow gusts of 150 km/h and the temperature averages -47 degrees Celsius at the South Pole. It has no permanent residents.

Sounds like a good place for a vacation? Tourism is quickly growing on the icy continent – in 2003, 22,000 people visited Antarctica, up from 17,000 three years ago.

Antarctica’s natural wonders and unspoiled beauty are becoming more and more accessible to the public, drawing more people every year, from adventurers to tourists. Though it empties in the winter of all but a few people who maintain the research bases, the summer will bring travelers eager to see its sights.

It is the cleanest continent in the world, with stunning views and untouched landscapes, but only recently has it become possible for the average tourist to travel to Antarctica and experience its bleak grandeur. The journey does not come cheap.

Rates for a trip to Antarctica vary according to length of stay and accommodations. The cheapest possible journey is a day trip from Punta Arenas, which costs US$1,875. Travelers go to King George Island and to Fildes beach to see penguins and sea lions, then return the same day to Punta Arenas.

The company Antarctica XXI offers a program that combines a plane trip from Punta Arenas to King George Island with a six-day cruise on the ship Aleksey Maryshev and costs between US$6,350 and US$9,125, depending on the type of cabin. Antarctic Shipping Company has a 15-day cruise to the Antarctic peninsula for between US$5,895 and US$11,310.

Adventure companies are taking more people each year into the interior of Antarctica, the coldest and least hospitable area. This summer they will bring 180 people, 40 more than last summer, into the interior, of which 120 will climb Mount Vinson.