Swoop Tips on How to get to Antarctica

While travelling to the remotest continent may seem daunting, it doesn't have to be. To help you get started you should consider the following key points:

  1. What are the main entry points to Antarctica? While 98% of visitors approach Antarctica via the tip of South America as this is the quickest and most accessible route, there are other routes to be aware of. Our Top 6 ways to get to Antarctica Guide will help​ guide ​you.
  2. Should I choose to cruise or fly to Antarctica? Traditionally sailing was the only way to reach Antarctica and it still remains the most common ​route ​for over 90% ​of ​visitors. However, it's​ now ​also possible via ​a short ​2-hour ​flight. Read ou​r​ Guide on Sailing versus Flying​​.
  3. How do I get to the start point for my trip? It's important to understand from the outset what the best routing is for you to take, which airlines to consider and the approximate flying time of these international flights.

Top 6 Ways to get to Antarctica

Accessing Antarctica through South America remains the most popular route as this is the quickest, most accessible and with the widest choice. However, there are other less frequent (and more expensive) alternatives.

  • Sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina - The most popular gateway to Antarctica for 90% of visitors with the widest choice of voyages, including to the Polar Circle & South Georgia
  • Flying by charter plane from Punta Arenas, Chile - Reach the Antarctic Peninsula in just 2 hours, instead of 2 days at sea, perfect for time sensitive or anxious travellers
  • Sailing from South Island, New Zealand - Only four voyages each season depart from here to Antarctica's remote Ross Sea, home to emperor penguins and the early explorer's historic huts
  • Flying into Antarctica's interior from Punta Arenas, Chile - Landing on a blue ice runway, this is a trip into the heart of The White Continent. Limited departures each season
  • Flying to the South Pole - For a lucky handful each season, it's possible to reach the South Pole by flying from either Punta Arenas, Chile or Cape Town, South Africa. Much quicker than walking!

Cruise or Fly?

Choice is an affliction of the modern era which you can't even escape by going to Antarctica. Firstly you need to choose whether you want to sail south in the traditional way, or skip the notorious waters of the Southern Ocean by flying. The Swoop Team has had plenty of first hand experience of both options and can help you weigh up the Pros and Cons:

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Cruising to Antarctica

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Sailing to Antarctica, typically from the Argentine port city of Ushuaia, remains the most popular way to get to Antarctica, and for good reason.

For purists following in Scott and Shackleton's footsteps, sailing is the only real option to consider. For the adventurous, getting to Antarctica is all part of the adventure and the price to be paid for entering the world's last pristine wilderness.

Pragmatically, an Antarctic cruise offers the widest choice of voyage types, ships, departure dates and prices - far more extensive than if you were to opt to fly - with ​a wide range of ​prices to suit all budgets​. Plus, sailing has the advantage of departures in November and March when flights to Antarctica don't operate. The following Antarctic cruises are available:

  • Antarctic Peninsula & South Shetland Islands
  • Polar Circle
  • South Georgia, The Falklands & Antarctica
  • Weddell Sea
  • Ross Sea

Much has been written about the perils of the Drake Passage, and not without reason. It is a notorious stretch of water with approximately 30% of voyages experiencing rough weather, however it can also be surprisingly placid too, at which time its euphemistically called 'The Drake Lake'. The reality for the majority of our customers - regardless of whether they are lucky with a benign Drake crossing or not - is that it's rarely as bad as it sounds, and it's certainly a 'price' well worth paying.

What's Cruising to Antarctica like?

Flying to Antarctica

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Tried and tested for over a decade, flying from Southern Chile to Antarctica and then embarking your ship once you arrive is becoming increasingly popular. The benefits in terms of time saved travelling and the comfort of avoiding the Drake Passage are undoubtedly compelling.

As expedient and comfortable as this option is, you should bear in mind that your choice of ships, itinerary and departures dates will be far more limited if you choose to fly, than if you were to sail. You should also expect to pay approximately 20% more than if you were to sail.

It's also important to recognise that flying to Antarctica carries a higher risk in terms of potential delays than sailing. In simple terms this is because planes are more prone to being affected by weather than ships, as we all know. But it's more acute in Antarctica as a clear weather window is necessary for landing and because accurate weather forecasting down there is challenging, due to the rapidly changing conditions.

Having said all that, the majority of flights each season run on schedule. On the odd occasion when delays do occur they are typically only a few hours. For many people, the modest risk in opting to fly is more than outweighed by the significant gains.

What's Flying to Antarctica like?

What our Customers Think

How do I get to Antarctica from...

  • The USA?

    Getting to Ushuaia in Argentina

    If you want to go on one of the Antarctic cruises which sails across the Drake Passage, then the cruise will depart from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. To get here, you first need to fly to Buenos Aires:

    There are flights from several of the larger airports in the USA, either direct or with a stop. Below we've listed flights from some major cities, but we're more than happy to help you find and book a flight from anywhere else in the United States.

    • New York, NY - American Airlines fly direct from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) once a day, with flight times of approximately 10 hours 35 minutes.
    • Miami, FL - There are several daily direct flights from Miami International Airport (MIA) which take around 9 hours. American Airlines fly 2 to 3 times per day, and LAN Airlines once a day.
    • Dallas, TX - American Airlines have one direct flight each day from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), with a flight time of about 10 hours 20 minutes.
    • Atlanta, GA - Delta Airlines operate a direct daily flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), which has a flight time of around 9 hours 35 minutes.

    Getting to Punta Arenas in Chile

    For 'Fly & Cruise' trips which skip out the Drake Passage crossing, you need to get to Punta Arenas in southern Chile. First, you'll need to fly into Santiago:

    There are flights from a number of major airports in the USA to Santiago, either direct or with a stop. Details of flights from some cities are listed below, but we're happy to help you find and book flights from anywhere in the United States.

    • New York, NY - LAN Airlines fly direct to Santiago avery day from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), with a flight time of approximately 10 hours 55 minutes. In addition, there are around 3 flights a week which stop once at Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) in Peru. These flights are operated by LAN Colombia and have a total journey time of just over 13 hours.
    • Los Angeles, CA - There is a daily flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), operated by LAN Airlines. These flights have one stop at Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) in Peru, and the journey takes around 13 and a half hours in total.
    • Miami, FL - There is a daily direct flight from Miami International Airport (MIA), operated by American Airlines, with LAN Airlines also flying direct up to twice a day. The flight times are approximately 8 hours 30 minutes.
    • Dallas, TX - American Airlines fly direct once a day from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). The flight takes around 9 hours 40 minutes.
    • Atlanta, GA - There is a direct flight operated by Delta Air Lines, which flies daily from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with a flight time of approximately 10 hours 10 minutes. 

    Returning from Antarctica

    The return journey from Antarctica to the USA usually takes the same route as the outward journey. However, on some Antarctic cruise trips operators fly out to Antarctica from Chile and return by ship to Ushuaia or vice versa. This means you'd need to fly into Santiago and back out from Buenos Aires.

    Not to fear, flying into one country and out of another is perfectly doable and often no different price-wise than flying in and out of the same country.

  • Australia?

    Getting to Ushuaia in Argentina

    If you want to go on one of the Antarctic cruises which sails across the Drake Passage, then the cruise will depart from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. To get here, you first need to fly to Buenos Aires:

    There are no direct flights to Buenos Aires. The most efficient way to make this journey is to fly to Santiago and then take a connecting flight to Buenos Aires. Flights from Santiago (SCL) to Buenos Aires (EZE) are regular and take around 1 hour 55 minutes.

    • From Sydney, you can take a flight direct from Kingford Smith Airport (SYD) to Santiago. Qantas operates this flight around 4 times a week, with a flight time of approximately 12 hours 40 minutes.
    • From elsewhere, you'll either need to get to Sydney and then fly Sydney to Santiago to Buenos Aires... or it may be more convenient to fly to Auckland, NZ to Santiago to Buenos Aires - LAN Airlines fly direct from Auckland International Airport (AKL) to Santiago once or twice a day in around 11 hours 45 minutes.

    Getting to Punta Arenas in Chile

    For 'Fly & Cruise' trips which skip out the Drake Passage crossing, you need to get to Punta Arenas in southern Chile. First, you'll need to fly into Santiago:

    From anywhere in Australia, you should be able to fly to Santiago with, at most, one stop.

    • From Sydney, there is a direct flight 4 times a week from Kingford Smith Airport (SYD), which is operated by Qantas and takes approximately 12 hours 40 minutes.
    • From elsewhere, one option is to get to Sydney and then fly direct from Sydney, as above... or, if it is possible for you to fly to Auckland, NZ, you can fly Auckland to Santiago - LAN Airlines have direct flights once to twice daily from Auckland International Airport (AKL), with a flight time of about 11 hours 45 minutes.

    Returning from Antarctica

    The return journey from Antarctica to Australia usually takes the same route as the outward journey. However, on some Antarctic cruise trips operators fly out to Antarctica from Chile and return by ship to Ushuaia or vice versa. This means you'd need to fly into Santiago and back out from Buenos Aires.

    Not to fear, flying into one country and out of another is perfectly doable and often no different price-wise than flying in and out of the same country.

  • The UK?

    Getting to Ushuaia in Argentina

    If you want to go on one of the Antarctic cruises which sails across the Drake Passage, then the cruise will depart from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. To get here, you first need to fly to Buenos Aires:

    Wherever you're coming from in the UK, the best option for flying to Buenos Aires is to make your way to London and then fly from Heathrow.

    • You can fly direct from London Heathrow (Terminal 5) (LHR) to Buenos Aires with British Airways, in around 14 hours. Great news for people trying to get down to Antarctica as it has made the overall journey time far quicker.
    • There is also the option to fly out to Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) in Spain, from where Iberia operates a daily direct flight to Buenos Aires. Whilst this is a cheaper option, it will also take longer.

    Getting to Punta Arenas in Chile

    For 'Fly & Cruise' trips which skip out the Drake Passage crossing, you need to get to Punta Arenas in southern Chile. First, you'll need to fly into Santiago:

    From 3rd January 2017 British Airways is operating a direct flight from London Heathrow to Santiago. Until then, the best option is to fly out to Madrid in Spain and from there you can connect to a direct flight over to Chile.

    • You can fly from most UK airports to Madrid. From Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD), Iberia flies direct to Santiago once a day, with a journey time of around 13.5 hours.

    Returning from Antarctica

    The return journey from Antarctica to the UK usually takes the same route as the outward journey. However, on some Antarctic cruise trips operators fly out to Antarctica from Chile and return by ship to Ushuaia or vice versa. This means you'd need to fly into Santiago and back out from Buenos Aires.

    Not to fear, flying into one country and out of another is perfectly doable and often no different price-wise than flying in and out of the same country.

  • Canada?

    Getting to Ushuaia in Argentina

    If you want to go on one of the Antarctic cruises which sails across the Drake Passage, then the cruise will depart from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. To get here, you first need to fly to Buenos Aires:

    It's possible to fly direct from Toronto to Buenos Aires, but not from elsewhere. From some areas of Canada it will be most efficient to travel to Toronto and fly direct from there, while from others you could fly with a stop in the USA.

    • From Toronto - Air Canada operates a direct flight 5 times a week from Pearson International Airport (YYZ), with a flight time of around 13 hours 50 minutes.
    • Canada to USA to Buenos Aires - for this option, take a look at how to get to Antarctica from the USA. If it's not clear how to get down to Buenos Aires from your part of Canada, do get in touch and we'll be happy to find and book flights for you.

    Getting to Punta Arenas in Chile

    For 'Fly & Cruise' trips which skip out the Drake Passage crossing, you need to get to Punta Arenas in southern Chile. First, you'll need to fly into Santiago:

    There are direct flights from Toronto, but from elsewhere in Canada, you'll either need to first travel to Toronto, or take a flight which stops in the USA.

    • From Toronto - There are 5 flights a week direct from Pearson International Airport (YYZ) to Santiago. The flights are operated by Air Canada and take approximately 10 hours 40 minutes.
    • Canada to USA to Santiago - for this option, take a look at how to get to Antarctica from the USA. If you're unsure how best to get down to Santiago from your part of Canada, don't hesitate to get in touch so we can help you find and book flights.

    Returning from Antarctica

    The return journey from Antarctica to Canada usually takes the same route as the outward journey. However, on some Antarctic cruise trips operators fly out to Antarctica from Chile and return by ship to Ushuaia or vice versa. This means you'd need to fly into Santiago and back out from Buenos Aires.

    Not to fear, flying into one country and out of another is perfectly doable and often no different price-wise than flying in and out of the same country.

John says

FAQs

  • Can Swoop arrange my flight?

    Yes we can, we've got an experienced Flights Department who can assist you with booking both the domestic flights within South America, and advise you on the best routing from your home airport.

  • Where will I stay before pre & post Antarctica?

    99% of Antarctic trips start from either Ushuaia in southern Argentina or Punta Arenas in southern Chile. If pre-voyage hotel accommodation in these cities isn't already included in your voyage price, we can make arrangements for you.

  • Can you help me with travels to see more of South America?

    Between us we know South America incredibly well - Patagonia in particular - and would be delighted to discuss and help you make extension plans to your Antarctic trip.

  • Do I need a visa?

    No you don't, Antarctica is a non-sovereign nation.​ However you do need to check whether you need a visa for the country (Argentina/ Chile) which you are travelling through to get there. Plus, Argentina and Chile charge some nationals a reciprocity fee. For more information visit our Visa section.

More about Antarctica

More helpful insights when researching your perfect Antarctic adventure.

Ready to plan your Antarctic adventure?

  • Swoop Antarctica Expert Alex
  • Swoop Antarctica Expert John
  • Swoop Antarctica Expert Loli
  • Swoop Antarctica Expert Sarah

With over 10 years' experience in Antarctica, we can guide you through the maze of options to choose the perfect voyage.

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