Antarctica is a land as vast as it is white. Uninhabited for ages, Antarctica can now proudly claim to be the home to some people, sort of. See, there are people who live in Antarctica, but not in the same way that most people live somewhere. Antarctica has no permanent residents, and no real cities or towns. So if that’s the case, who are these people that live in Antarctica and why would anyone want to visit?
The People of Antarctica
Perhaps one of the only truly discovered landmasses on Earth, Antarctica has no native population. That means when it was first discovered in 1820, no one had seen it before. Ever. For an estimated 35 million years, Antarctica was isolated from the rest of the world.
But there are people there now. Anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000, depending on the time of year. And most of these people are scientists.
Even though there are people now in Antarctica, you won’t find a whole lot else. There is no commercial industry. There are no towns or cities. No department stores. No Walmarts. But there are settlements, the closest thing you’ll find that resembles any sort of civilization.
Antarctic settlements are typically a combination of scientific and military developments. Of the 66 settlements on the continent, most house around 50 people during the summer season, which is October/November through March/April. During the brutal winter months, only 37 settlements remain open, with 15 to 20 people at each.
Host to Brief Visitors
Although it’s mostly scientists who live in Antarctica, it does see quite a few visitors. During the summer of 2014-2015, a registered 36,702 visitors from around the world came to Antarctica. Most of these visitors only spend a few hours, a brief stop on a southern cruise. But you can visit for longer. If you’re interested, you must gain approval from your country per the Antarctic Treaty. As part of your request, you must plan on being completely self-sufficient, have a good reason for going, have minimal to no environmental impact, and show how you’re going to do it.
What to Do
If you are planning a trip to Antarctica, you may wonder what you can do while you’re there. Although there are 66 settlements, Antarctica is a vast land, 5.4 million miles of nothing but ice, rock, and the occasional penguin. Compare that to the nearly 3.8 million miles of American soil, and it’s easy to see that you can’t just jump on a snowmobile to go visit the neighbors.
But there are some things to see and do.
- Visit McMurdo Station, the US base in Antarctica. It’s on the southern tip of Ross Island and is the largest community in Antarctica, with 1,258 summer residents and 250 winter residents.
- Send a postcard from Port Lockroy. If you want to send postcards home, stop in at the English research station. There’s even a museum and souvenir shop.
- See the penguins. If you go to Antarctica, you must take some time to visit the penguins. Not afraid of humans, if you sit quietly, you may even get a few to come investigate you.
- Experience Deception Island. An active volcano, Deception Island was once a whaling station and is one of the safest harbors on the continent. It’s an eerie site, littered with old oil drums, boilers, and whale bones.
- Take a tour. From zodiac viewing expeditions to wildlife tours, it doesn’t get better than sightseeing in Antarctica with a guide. With a little help, you can see whales and seals that aren’t afraid of humans and glaciers and icebergs that are awe inspiring.
- Go on an adventure. From kayaking to partaking in a polar plunge, there is no limit to the adventures you can have in Antarctica. Whether you’re camping, snowmobiling, or just exploring, you’re surrounded by a beauty like nowhere else on Earth.
When to Go
Traveling to Antarctica has to be planned far in advance. There’s all that Antarctic Treaty stuff to worry about and then there’s the actual getting there. You can only arrive in Antarctica during the summer months, because once winter hits, no ships or planes are going to make it. But if you really want an adventure, be one of the few who stays the winter and have the experience of living in darkness. The majority of Antarctic winter days are dark, with just a brief sunrise/sunset that can last only a few minutes. But if you can catch sight of the Aurora Australis, also referred to as the Southern Lights, it’s well worth it.
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