In the earliest days of Antarctic tourism, making the expedition to the frozen continent was fit only for the most daring of adventure junkies—those who were willing to put their lives on the line, didn’t mind sleeping in the barracks of military-style icebreaker vessels, and had weeks to spend crossing treacherous waters. But recently, most of that has changed. Ships have become reliably safe, even luxurious, with famous mega-yacht Le Boreal making its debut voyages early this year. But no matter which way you spun it, heading to the globe’s southern extremes has pretty much always necessitated a time commitment.
No more. Bespoke operator Jacada Travel has been taking requests for single-day trips to Antarctica—and delivering unforgettable experiences on that short timetable. The key, said Alex Malcolm, Jacada’s founder and managing director, is eliminating the time-consuming (and often choppy) ocean crossing and heading south by air instead.
Passengers on Malcolm’s single-day trips board a King Air 300 twin-turboprop plane in Puntas Arenas, Chile, which gets them to Antarctica in two hours, rather than two days. Feasibility studies are still under way on how to get larger planes to land on the continent; between iced-over runways and concerns about environmental impact, arriving by air is still a rare endeavor. (Another company, Antarctica Flights, leads daylong sightseeing flights to the continent from Australia, but they never touch down.)
Filling a day in Antarctica is the easy part. A stop at Collins Glacier, one of the region’s most dramatic sites, is a must—its towering walls of blue ice are bewildering in their proportions, and it’s home to a variety of endemic wildlife that includes leopard and elephant seals, whales, and more. Then it’s off to one of the continent’s strangest sites: Trinity Church, a Russian Orthodox institution built with wood shipped over from Siberia. (If you head in on a Sunday, you might catch a service by one of two priests who spend time on the continent each year.) Culminate with a Zodiac trip to Ardley Island, where you can see gentoo, chinstrap, and adelie penguins, or head to Antarctica’s first settlement, Villa Las Estrellas, where a sign shows you just how far you are from any other civilization on earth.
There is one caveat for daytrips to the most far-flung corner of the earth: Inclement weather can be a worse impediment here than anywhere else. In fact, there's a roughly one-in-five chance that a flight will be cancelled due to weather. For that reason, Malcolm recommends that guests include a quick hop to Antarctica as one element of a longer Patagonia trip to allow for some flexibility (a 10-day trip runs roughly $12,000 per person). But Antarctica was always meant for daredevils, anyway.