What do you expect when you go on holiday? Sun, sea and sand? Or maybe to try the local food? How would you fancy ice, glaciers and penguins on the coldest, windiest and driest continent? Perhaps that sounds a bit of an odd holiday! Yet a trip to Antarctica has been described by many as an unforgettable, magical place, like nothing else on earth. With stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife and a history of heroic exploration, it's easy to understand what draws tourists to Antarctica. It is a place without development, tourist shops, restaurants or even permanent residents where you can discover pure nature up close and personal.
Although Antarctica is a vast continent, more than 60 times the size of the UK, most tourism is concentrated at relatively few sites, leading to concerns about the potential environmental impact of visitors on the fragile ecosystem. Tourism is a legitimate activity under the Antarctic Treaty and brings a range of potential benefits provided it is managed effectively. Modern Antarctic tourism has grown from several hundred visitors in 1967 to more than 37,800 in 2008/09 (of which some 26,600 landed), according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).
Some visitors arrive by private yacht or chartered flight but most visitors travel on a cruise ship. Tourists go down to the Antarctic Peninsula on cruises ranging from one to three weeks, mostly departing from Ushuaia in Argentina. Some will take in the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Orkneys before heading down the Peninsula, but the commonest route is from Ushuaia down to a small number of relatively heavily visited sites on the Peninsula like Deception Island, Port Lockroy, Cuverville Island and Petermann Island. Most operators are now members of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) which aims to promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible tourism to the Antarctic. The UK supports safe and environmentally responsible tourism while aiming to conserve Antarctica for future generations as a pristine wilderness. The second highest nationality of Antarctic tourists is British.
More information can be found on the IAATO website.