Right here’s How To Get There

A display of the Northern Lights in Greenland

Photo, J Micallef

Tourism in the polar regions is nothing new. It’s been available for decades. Historically, polar voyages in both the Arctic and Antarctic have been conducted by cruise ships that sailed along the periphery of the polar ice caps.

Travelers could choose between relatively luxurious cruise lines that sailed through the region before returning to port, or expedition cruises where travelers could actually land. The latter ships were often old, converted icebreakers, typically Russian, that had been modified to carry guests.

Polar travel has changed dramatically in the past decade. Initially, luxury expedition cruise lines were launched by several cruise companies, notably Ponant, Silversea and Viking.

In addition, expedition cruise companies have switched from old converted icebreakers to luxury cruise liners specifically designed for use in polar environments.

Quark Expeditions recently launched the Ultramarine, an expedition ship that offers the same amenities and accommodations typical of luxury cruise ships, but also includes two helicopters on board and a small fleet of Zodiacs.

Quark Expedition's newest luxury expedition ship, the Ultramarine

Quark Expedition’s newest luxury expedition ship, the Ultramarine

Photo courtesy of © evenfh – stock.adobe.com

Global warming has also been a factor in Arctic tourism, opening new routes in the Canadian Arctic and the Greenland coast, allowing the Northwest Passage to transit across the Canadian Arctic from the Atlantic to the Pacific and, albeit not reliably, the Northeast Passage through the Russian Arctic.

Russia has also opened trips to the Russian Arctic to tourists. Moscow has historically blocked tourist access to this region for military reasons. Quark is now offering a route that crosses the Russian Arctic from Murmansk to Severnaya Zemlya.

However, it is the Poles who have become the ultimate destination on the bucket list. Today it is possible to travel to both the North Pole and the South Pole. It’s not cheap. These two trips will each set you back between $ 30,000 and $ 100,000, but it’s a lot cheaper than it used to be. These trips also take you to a very exclusive club. Only a few hundred tourists have traveled to both destinations.

One of the unusual aspects of polar traffic is that there are multiple jump points due to the geographic location of the poles. Trips to the Arctic regions usually start in Canada, Iceland, Norway (Tromsø) or Russia (Murmansk), while trips to Antarctica usually start from Chile (Punta Arenas), Argentina (Ushuaia), Australia (Tasmania), New Zealand (Invergordon) start) or South Africa (Cape Town).

I recently sat down with a group of international tour operators to talk about the pros and cons of polar travel, and specifically traveling to the North and South Poles.

According to Wendy Batchelor, VP of Marketing at Quark Expeditions:

The coast along the Antarctic Peninsula

The coast along the Antarctic Peninsula

Photo, J Micallef

Interest in polar travel has increased over the past decade for several reasons. For many, the polar regions are the last remaining frontiers to explore. These domains are largely unexplored. The opportunity to step into an exotic part of the world where few – if any – people feed the passions of many seasoned travelers.

As polar travel has grown exponentially, consumers are learning about the incredible adventures that await them in the Arctic and Antarctic. The wildlife in the polar regions (penguins, polar bears, birds – depending on which pole you visit) is absolutely breathtaking to look at in its natural environment.

Due to the isolation of the polar regions, experienced travelers are increasingly booking polar adventures. On a Quark expedition, for example, there are no densely populated ports on the travel routes in the Arctic or Antarctic, only small communities of Inuit peoples in the Arctic and research bases in the Antarctic. At a time when health and safety are paramount, the polar regions are some of the safest places to visit.

Jamie Lynn Ensey, Director of Marketing at Antarctica21, a Chile-based tour operator, noted that:

There are more ways and ways to get to Antarctica than ever before. For example, Antarctica21 made it possible to fly to Antarctica and join an expedition ship there. We have been offering this convenient alternative since 2003, offering travelers the option to skip navigating the Drake Passage and the associated complaints.

Patrick Woodhead, CEO of White Desert, a tour operator in Cape Town, South Africa, also offers flights to the Antarctic continent. He will actually land you at the South Pole and give you the opportunity to stay in a luxury tent camp.

All three companies claim that American tourists typically take up about half of the space available, with Chinese tourists taking up about a quarter, and the balance spread across a range of nationalities.

According to Batchelor

Icebreaker of the Quark Expedition at anchor at the North Pole

Icebreaker of the Quark Expedition at anchor at the North Pole

Photo courtesy Quark Expeditions

In the past, polar travelers have turned to the older generation – North Americans and Western Europeans who have the resources and time to go on expedition travel are often retired. But the last few years have made the profile anything but typical – we have guests in all age groups and with very different cultural, religious and professional backgrounds. An important trend that we’re also noticing is solo travelers booking these expeditions.

Visiting the North and South Poles usually involves a combination of sea or air travel. The specific combination depends on the goal and your budget. According to Batchelor

To reach the South Pole, travelers need to book a small plane that can land on the ice near the pole, where they can explore the research base there when the weather is fine. These trips can start up to $ 50,000 and more.

Patrick Woodhead’s White Desert will fly you from Cape Town to the South Pole on a 12-passenger Gulfstream G550 business jet for around $ 90,000. Last year they made about 20 trips and brought about 250 people to the South Pole. Overall, he estimates that only a few thousand tourists have ever reached this destination.

The drive from Cape Town to Antarctica takes five hours, and the stage across Antarctica to the Pole takes another seven hours. The trip to the South Pole is part of a longer eight-day itinerary.

Polar Explorers offers a seven-day itinerary that flies you from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the South Pole and stays there for around $ 50,000.

Only a handful of tour operators offer flights to the South Pole. The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has a list of all tour operators operating in Antarctica. The membership list is a good place to start when looking for ways to travel to Antarctica.

Even if you don’t plan to go to the South Pole, traveling to Antarctica puts you in a very elitist brotherhood.

Antarctica21 does not offer trips to the South Pole, but trips to other destinations in Antarctica. According to Ensey, Antarctica received around 85,000 tourists annually. She also points out that expedition cruise ships on the Antarctic continent are not allowed to unload more than a hundred passengers at a time. Booking on a smaller ship is essential if you plan to land on the continent.

Traveling to the North Pole is comparatively easier than to the South Pole. For a full list of expedition cruise companies in the Arctic, see the Association of Arctic Cruise Operators (AECO) membership list.

Walrus rests on ice.

Walrus resting on ice floe in the Arctic Ocean near Svalbard / Svalbard, Norway. (Photo of: … [+] Sven-Erik Arndt / Arterra / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Arterra / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Polar Explorers fly you from Longyearbyen on the Norwegian Svalbard to the North Pole. The islands are well above the Arctic Circle, about halfway between the North Cape, the northernmost point of Europe, and the North Pole. The two-and-a-half hour flight lands at the floating Barneo Ice Station, which is about 80 km from the North Pole. The final leg from Barneo to the North Pole is a 45-minute helicopter flight. Polar Explorers offers a three-day trip for around $ 30,000.

The other alternative to reach the pole is to take an expedition cruise ship / icebreaker from Murmansk, Russia for five to seven days. According to Batchelor

Quark Expeditions is one of only two companies that offer North Pole expeditions to tourists, and we typically run two trips each summer. The best way to get to the North Pole is on board 50 Years Of Victory, one of the most powerful nuclear icebreakers in the world, and you can navigate the frozen Arctic Ocean for 5-7 days until you reach 90 ° North. There, travelers can spend a day walking on the ice, enjoying a special BBQ feast hosted by the crew, and can even take a dip in the sub-zero sea if they dare. The ship has a capacity of 160 guests.

Quark is offering a 14-day North Pole expedition starting at $ 31,995 in the summer of 2021.

If you plan to travel to the Poles, it is best to plan your trip early, ideally two years. Space is limited. The operators usually offer significant discounts if you book a year or more in advance. They also offer significant discounts for last minute bookings if space is available. If your schedule is flexible and you can leave within a few days, this option can be very attractive.

In theory, you can do both poles in the same year as the travel seasons mirror each other. If your wallet can handle it, you will be put in a very dilute club. It is estimated that only a few dozen tourists visited both poles in the same year.

There is only one final question. If you make it to the Poles, what drink will you celebrate with? According to most tour operators, champagne is the first choice, followed by vodka. The latter has a close relationship with cold environments, possibly because vodka is typically associated with Russia and Scandinavia.

You can even use polar ice to cool your martini. At the North Pole, it’s likely only around 5 to 10 years old, but at the South Pole, especially at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, you may find incredibly dense ice that is hundreds of years old. That would be an interesting martini for sure. Given what it costs to get there, it would easily be the most expensive cocktail in the world.

This is about the soil of the world.

Bottom up!

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