The right ques­tions on Antarc­tica

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL -

What do you want from Antarc­tica? Camp­ing on a glacier? Face time with king pen­guins? World-class sci­ence lec­tures and photo sem­i­nars? Kayak­ing around ice­bergs? To­tal avoid­ance of the un­pre­dictable Drake Pas­sage? The com­forts of a large cruise ship for view­ing the oc­ca­sional ice­berg at great dis­tances? Pay­ing top dol­lar for a char­tered yacht for a hand­ful of pas­sen­gers, ex­quis­ite cui­sine, tiny staff and a Drake crap­shoot or two?

Those are among the ques­tions to ask, said Ash­ton Palmer, a long­time Antarc­tic travel ex­pert, whose Ex­pe­di­tion Trips matches ad­ven­ture trav­el­ers with small ves­sels in the 100-to-300-pas­sen­ger range.

Count the days ac­tu­ally spent on and around Antarc­tica, Palmer said. (Some two-week trips start­ing in Buenos Aires or San­ti­ago, Chile, have just four Antarc­tic days.) If on­board ed­u­ca­tion mat­ters, Lin­blad Ex­pe­di­tions/Na­tional Geo­graphic and Ze­grahm Ex­pe­di­tions use top nat­u­ral­ists who tend to be highly sci­en­tific and aca­demic, as as ter­rific pho­tog­ra­phers. While Quark and G Ad­ven­tures will “teach you some stuff, it’s not PhD level,” Palmer said. (I found Quark’s crash course ducky.)

For lux­ury travel, con­sider Sil­ver Sea and Po­nant ves­sels. For “drive-by” cruis­ing, Hol­land Amer­ica Line sails past the gen­eral vicin­ity. If Antarc­tica is your sev­enth con­ti­nent, en­sure that there is foot­fall on the ac­tual land­mass, and if you want to guar­an­tee a few great images of your­self, in­quire if there is an on­board photographer, Palmer sug­gested.

I didn’t know enough to ask most of th­ese ques­tions since my flash de­ci­sion was based on price and sched­ule. Look­ing back, I would have loved com­muning with hun­dreds of large king pen­guins and al­ba­trosses (a longer trip that in­cludes the Falk­land Is­lands north­east of Ushuaia). And although I hate camp­ing, I might have cho­sen an ex­pe­di­tion that in­cluded a cozy tent or sleep­ing bag on a glacier. Now I know.

— A.G.

LARIS KARKLIS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST Antarc­tic Penin­sula

200 MILES AR­GENTINA Punta Are­nas At­lantic Ocean CHILE ARGEN. Ushuaia Pa­cific Ocean Falk­land Is­lands (U.K.) Cape Horn Drake Pas­sage De­tail SOUTH AMER. En­ter­prise Is­land AFRICA At­lantic Ocean ANTARC­TICA Pa­cific Ocean South Pole AUSTR. King Ge­orge Is­land

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