Searching for the Unknown: Kayaking & camping in Antarctica
Off the beaten path destinations are sadly getting harder and harder to come by. Although it is wonderful that world travel has become both easier and more economical, this has also resulted in over- tourism and destinations losing a bit of their magic.
Antarctica is one of those rare destinations that have managed to remain relatively unchanged thanks to treaties and conservation laws that look to keep this continent as pristine as possible.
While there are many restrictions on what you can and can’t do on Antarctica, there is surprisingly a wealth of recreation and unforgettable experiences to be had other than simply admiring the icy world from a cruise ship hotel room.
The key to booking any holiday to Antarctica is to choose a company that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the continent while also staying committed to preserving it. People are often surprised to learn that you can kayak and even camp on Antarctica. I have been lucky enough to do both and it is something that is truly priceless.
My wife and I took part in an Antarctic cruise on the Sea Spirit out of Ushuaia. The cruise itinerary was designed for people who love activities such as kayaking, camping, and trekking. Not all Antarctic cruises offer these activities or even let you set foot on the continent, so it pays to do your research.
The cruise was absolutely epic and there is definitely never a dull moment! The landscape of Antarctica is unlike anything I had ever witnessed and the ships’s small size and low number of passengers made for an even more rewarding intimate experience. After crossing the Drake Passage, a magical landscape of icebergs, penguins, seals, and the odd whale come into focus. It’s easy to imagine Antarctica as a large block of ice, but it’s so much more.
Visit incredible islands such as Deception Island as well as research stations where you can meet the people that call Antarctica home for an extended period of time. Knowledgeable guides bring Antarctica’s history alive and know the best locations for giving you the best opportunity to spot wildlife.
I’ve done a fair amount of sea kayaking, but nothing comes close to Antarctica. We were able to go out numerous times during the trip, each time exploring new regions and seeing different animals. We were amazed at how approachable the wildlife was, many times having whales break the still surface just meters away and penguins and leopard seals simply watching from floating blocks of ice as we would glide by.
Kayaking allows you to get up close and personal with the many icebergs. Although they looked big from the ship, seeing them up close from sea level really put them in perspective. The fascinating shapes and colors of the icebergs continually changed as you kayaked around them.
We generally went in small groups with our lead guide which took us to the best spots to explore. Our safety was always made top priority as was the welfare of the wildlife we admired. Although Antarctica is known for its ferocious weather, the seas were actually very calm and not much kayaking experience is needed for the outings. It’s incredibly leisurely and relaxing but adventurous at the same time.
Probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, literally and metaphorically! It was by no means a warm night, but it was certainly one of the most memorable. Very few people on earth can say that they have actually camped overnight on Antarctica.
No food is allowed on shore, so we made sure to have a hearty dinner aboard the ship prior to our camping adventure. Our expedition guide chose an appropriate site, one that avoided important bird breeding areas and making sure we wouldn’t end up falling into a crevice overnight. We took a zodiac boat ashore with all of our gear and began setting up on the ice and snow.
When I say gear, I really mean just a mat, bivy sac, and a sleeping bag. There is no tent! We literally had to shovel out a small grave like depression in the snow that we could fit in. I had the luxury of digging a double wide grave as it was my wife and I.
After capturing some epic photographs, we all bedded down for the evening. The silence was pretty epic. Only the occasional sound of calving icebergs and distant thunder broke the silence. . Although it was cold, it was definitely one of the more interesting and fun camping experiences of my life. We were told that the Antarctic continent is considered a desert but of course it decided to rain the night we camped. Luckily it was never more than a soft drizzle though.
As you make your way back across the mighty Drake Passage en route to the southern tip of South America, you have the opportunity to share your stories with fellow travelers and look through all of your incredible images that proves the magic you just experienced was indeed real.
A trip to Antarctica is something everyone should try their hardest to experience at some point in their life. It is definitely worth every penny and provides an experience you cannot find anywhere else in the world.