Antarctica is Earth's coldest and driest continent, and also has the highest average elevation. It is the southernmost continent, overlying the South Pole. As visits are restricted, costly and difficult, Antarctica is the only continent to be largely untouched by humans, in that it is still a vast expanse of icy wilderness with few traces of human activity, although global warming is melting the ice caps. Antarctica's population consists of only a few thousand scientists. Unlike the Arctic in the north, there is dry land below the ice in Antarctica.
|Antarctic Peninsula |
The continent's main destination, which has the warmest climate and is nearest to Tierra del Fuego. The impressive heights of the Antarctic Andes and many research stations are here.
|Antarctic Islands |
These are ranged around the Antarctica mainland with the main group being the South Shetland Islands north of the Peninsula. They extend out to 60° latitude; those lying further north between 60° and 45° are the Subantarctic Islands.
|East Antarctica |
East Antarctica's vast ice desert that makes up most of Antarctica is probably the least well known to tourists, but there are a few exciting destinations, including Mawson's Huts, the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility and Mount Kirkpatrick.
|West Antarctica |
With the exceptions of the Antarctic Peninsula and the Brunt Ice Shelf, West Antarctica is barren and empty, even of research stations. But it does contain the continent's highest and lowest points, the former of which you can climb on a guided expedition.
|Ross Sea and Ross Ice Shelf |
The Ross Sea and Ross Ice Shelf regions contain the largest settlement in Antarctica, McMurdo Station, the Transantarctic Mountains and Mount Erebus. This is a primary destination for ships leaving from New Zealand or Australia.
- All dots on the map represent inhabited research stations.
There are no cities in Antarctica, but there are some research stations that are open for tourism.
- Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station — A research station that's located a few hundred meters from the geographical south pole. The ceremonial south pole is at the station.
- Esperanza Base — One of the two civilian bases in Antarctica. Home to the world's southernmost school.
- McMurdo Station — The largest research station in Antarctica, 35 km (22 mi) away from Mount Erebus and Mount Terror.
- Neumayer III - The German research station of the Alfred-Wegener-Institut. It sits on the approximately 200-metre-thick (660 ft) Ekström Ice Shelf.
- Port Lockroy — One of the most visited places in Antarctica, Port Lockroy has a museum, a post station, and a huge penguin colony.
- Villa Las Estrellas — The other of the two civilian bases in Antarctica. Contains one of Antarctica's only hostel and has a post station with a unique Antarctic stamp.
The main destinations for those visiting Antarctica will probably be the Antarctic Peninsula or Ross Sea areas. Other destinations are reachable only by those blessed with extreme motivation and (most importantly) funding.
- South Pole — Unlike its northern cousin, the South Pole sits upon stationary ground and therefore supports a permanent research station (Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station) and a ceremonial "pole"; A metal rod marks the geographical south pole, a few hundred meters away from the ceremonial south pole.
- Southern pole of inaccessibility — the furthest place in Antarctica from the Southern Sea (in other words the hardest place to get to in the world), home to an abandoned Soviet station, which although covered by snow, still bears a visible gold Lenin bust sprouting from the snow and facing Moscow. If you can find a way inside the building, then there's a golden visitor book to sign.
- Lemaire Channel — A beautiful strait at the Antarctic Peninsula. Unlike most waters near Antarctica, the Lemaire Channel is very still, and storms rarely occur. However, the Lemaire Channel is sometimes blocked by ice, forcing ships to leave the Channel.
- Mount Erebus — The world's southernmost active volcano, located on Ross Island and is right next to Mount Terror!
- Anver Island/Anvord Bay — If any part of Antarctica is "touristy", this is it. Home to Palmer Station (U.S.), a museum at Port Lockroy, Cuverville Island, and the only two expedition ship harbors on the continent: Paradise Bay and Neko Harbor.
- McMurdo Sound — Contains the McMurdo Station (USA) and Scott Base (New Zealand) on the mainland that's near Ross Island.
- Mawson's Huts — The small encampment of Sir Douglas Mawson's ill-fated Australian Antarctic Expedition, of which he was the sole survivor, at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay.
Although several countries have laid claim to various portions of Antarctica, it is governed by the 1958 Antarctic Treaty, which establishes the continent as a peaceful and cooperative international research zone. As the Antarctic Treaty prohibits most of its signatories from making any new claims to territory and claims to Antarctic territory already made have little to no effect as long as the treaty stands, there are overlapping claims and a rather large swath that is not claimed by any country. The only other significant piece of dry land with that characteristic is Bir Tawil between Sudan and Egypt. There are no cities, just some two dozen research stations with a total population ranging from 1,000–4,000 depending on the time of year (more in the November–March summer than in the June–September winter). These are maintained for scientific purposes only and do not provide any official support for tourism. The Antarctic Treaty grants some rights only to those countries that maintain year-round stations, so it is desirable for some countries to maintain a winter crew at their stations even if the scientific research done during that time could be done more cheaply and easily during the Antarctic summer or somewhere else. The laws of the nation operating each research station apply there.
Private travel to Antarctica generally takes one of three forms:
- Commercial sea voyages with shore visits (by far the most popular),
- specially mounted land expeditions, or
- sightseeing by air.
Approximately 80 companies belong to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), a membership organization which regulates non-research travel to the region. According to the organization, 41,996, visitors traveled to Antarctica in 2017-18, an increase of 16% over the previous year.
Antarctica was the last continent to be discovered by humans. While explorers earlier reported sightings of the "unknown land in the south", the earliest certain sightings of land south of the 60° latitude are by either Russian, British or American ship crews in January 1820 (there's no reliable information of which sighting was first). The first person known to have set foot on the Antarctic mainland was an American sealer named John Davis in 1821.
The rough waters and the coast were explored throughout the 19th century. In 1897 a Belgian expedition overwintered on Antarctica and this was the start of the "Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration", culminating in the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his crew setting foot on the South Pole 14 years later. The scientific research station at the pole, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, is jointly named after him and the British explorer Robert Scott who arrived at the pole about a month later but never made it back to the coast.
Eventually, countries started setting up stations and claiming parts of the continent, with some claims overlapping. This was ended by the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959. The treaty makes the continent a scientific preserve, "doesn't recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims" and prohibits any military activity there. Today most of the few thousand "inhabitants" are indeed transient researchers, given the remoteness and inhospitable environment it's no surprise. They are joined by some 40,000 tourists visiting each year, though most of them only make trips to the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent islands. A handful of people have been born on Antarctica, but this has thus far neither resulted in anything approaching a "native born" population, nor any serious demands for "Antarctic independence".
Flora and faunaEdit
Antarctica is notable for being the only continent with no significant land plant life and no native land mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. (There are no polar bears; they are only in the Arctic.) However, its shoreline serves as nesting grounds for many species of migratory birds and penguins (several species of which stay in Antarctica regardless of the season), and the Southern Ocean surrounding it is home to many fish and marine mammals, including whales.
Don't be fooled by all the ice: Antarctica is a desert. The region's moisture is all tied up in the frigid seawater and the huge sheets, shelves, and packs of ice which cover nearly all of the continent plus surrounding waters. There is little snowfall here and even less rain.
For tourists, Antarctica is accessible only during the Antarctic summer season from November to March, during which sea ice melts enough to allow access, coastal temperatures can rise up to highs of 14°C (57°F) and there are 24 hours of daylight. During the winter the sea is impassable. Temperatures can fall to -40°C/F and there are 24 hours of darkness.
The above temperatures apply to the islands and coastal regions that tourists ordinarily visit. While some of the islands and coasts could be considered just about habitable, the weather is so extreme on the Antarctic Plateau that living there, in any shape or form, is impossible. Temperatures in the interior, such as the South Pole, are far harsher, with summer highs of around -15°C (5°F) and winter lows plummeting to -80°C (-112°F). A few people still struggle through the winter each year on a few scattered research stations.
Within the Antarctic Circle, the midnight sun can be seen during part of the summer.
For most people, reading about Antarctica is the only affordable means of experiencing the continent. Books range from wild works of fiction to non-fiction accounts of the extraordinary early missions of adventurers looking to conquer Earth's last land frontier.
- Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure, by Richard E. Byrd
- At the Mountains of Madness — the earliest science fiction/horror story to take place on the continent, written by H.P. Lovecraft, detailing the adventures of a geological expedition to Antarctic Mountains, where the researchers discover something so inconceivable that they lose their minds
- Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson — science fiction account of 21st-century Antarctica and the impact of global warming.
- Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
- Endurance, by Caroline Alexander
- A First-Rate Tragedy: Robert Falcon Scott & the Race to the South Pole, by Diana Preston
- Mawson's Will, by Lennard Bickel
- North Pole, South Pole: Journeys to the Ends of the Earth, by Bertrand Imbert
- Scott's Last Expedition: The Journals, by Robert F. Scott and Beryl Bainbridge
- Shackleton, by Roland Huntford
- South Pole: 900 Miles on Foot, by Gareth Wood and Eric Jamieson
- The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
- Terra Incognita, by Sara Wheeler
- South, by Ernest Shackleton
The native languages of the country operating each research station are used. English, and sometimes French, is the common language used between different stations. As there is no indigenous Antarctic population and only a handful of people were ever born here, there is no official or indigenous native language for the continent whatsoever.
While Antarctica has no government or border controls, visitors to any land or sea south of 60°S need permission from an Antarctic Treaty member country. An application should be filed six months in advance.
Aircraft and pilots need to be capable of landing on ice, snow, or gravel runways, as there are no paved runways; see general aviation. Nearly all flights to Antarctica leave from Christchurch, Cape Town or Punta Arenas. There are 28 airport landing facilities in Antarctica and all 37 Antarctic stations have helipads. Landings are generally restricted to the summer (December to February). Winter landings have been performed at Williams Field but low temperatures mean that aircraft cannot stay on the ice longer than an hour or so as their skis may freeze to the ice runway. Travel is often by military aircraft, as part of the cargo. In this situation, passengers should anticipate carrying all their own luggage and may need to assist with freight as well. Commercial flights to Antarctica are rare but available. Aerovías DAP and Adventure Network International offer commercial flights to Frei Station on King George Island and the ANI Union Glacier Camp, respectively. If taking the Aerovías DAP flight as part of a tour with Antarctica XXI, the tour company transfers all checked luggage to your lodging.
Flights from Punta Arenas to King George Island at the Antarctic Peninsula would take about 2 hours, and flights from Punta Arenas to the South Pole would take about 10 hours. Most flights to Antarctica are from Punta Arenas.
Major landing fields include:
- 1 Teniente Rodolfo Marsh Martin Aerodrome (TNM IATA). Serves Frei Base, Bellingshausen Station, Great Wall Base, General Artigas Station, King Sejong Station, Jubany Base, Commandante Ferraz Base, Henryk Arctowski Base, and Machu Picchu Base. It's distinguished by being the only place in the whole continent of Antarctica with an IATA code.
- 2 Williams Field. Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
- 3 Phoenix Airfield. Replaced the Pegasus Airfield which served McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
- 4 Annual Sea-Ice Runway. Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
- 5 Union Glacier Blue-Ice Runway. Operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions LLC.
Commercial overflights to Antarctica are limited - a handful of operators offer flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, and Punta Arenas. These flights typically visit Antarctica and spend several hours flying over the ice. Passengers in most seating classes rotate their position in the row halfway into the flight, to give everyone a window or one-over-from-window seat for half of the time. Rates range from up to US$7999 for first class, $7499 for business class with window access, $4299 for business class without window access, $1999-3299 for economy class, to $1199 for non-rotating center-section economy class seats with window access depending on the courtesy of better-seated travelers.
Ship is the most common method of visiting the Antarctic, with a sailing season Nov-Feb. The vessels are usually ice-strengthened rather than icebreakers; the latter are stronger but round-bottomed, so they heave about more in the massive waves of Drake Passage. Most itineraries are to the Antarctic peninsula and nearby Antarctic islands, and they often also take in more northerly islands such as South Georgia and the Falklands.
Smaller ships (less than 100 passengers) can go where the big ships can't, getting you up closer to the nature and wildlife. Larger vessels are less prone to rough seas but have more limited landing options; both will use RIBs (powered dinghies) to get you ashore or close in among the ice floes. Big ships may have 1000+ normal capacity but be limited to 500 on Antarctic trips. IAATO rules say that at most 100 people may be ashore at any one time: that's mainly so that everyone can be swiftly plucked to safety when (not if) conditions turn dangerous. Larger ships therefore have to segment their landings, so those passengers might only get a couple of hours per day off ship. Smaller ships can get their shore parties out and back in one operation then move on to visit a second location same day. Everything is very dependent on the weather: an onshore breeze (which in these climes will be going on a gale) will send furious breakers pounding onto the landing beach. About a third of landings have to be called off.
Even on a cosy cruise ship, you need warm clothing just to stand on deck let alone get ashore: boots, hoods, glove, water repellent pants, parka, and warm underwear. Most of these items can be bought or hired in Ushuaia, but they might not have your size. So bring whatever you can from your own stock.
Many shipping companies also offer fly/cruises, so you fly one-way or round-trip from mainland Chile. These cost more but save a couple of days each way upchucking across the Drake Passage.
As of 2020, a couple of dozen companies offer trips to Antarctica: others simply act as agents, selling you on to another company and charging a mark-up for their labours. Those listed here are understood to be direct operators, though they may be hiring the vessel with crew and sharing it with other companies. Supply outstrips demand: there is a lot of last-minute availability, but trips for the eclipse of 2021 are likely to sell out early. Don't be too last-minute as even reaching the port of departure ranks as a major trip in its own right. These companies all sail from Ushuaia unless otherwise noted:
- Abercrombie & Kent sail on Le Lyrial (200 passengers max).
- Antarpply Expeditions on Ushuaia (90).
- Aurora Expeditions on Greg Mortimer (126).
- Bark Europa on Europa, a square-rigged sailing ship.
- Cheesemans Ecology Safaris: flying into King George then onto to 12-passenger Hans Hanson.
- Compagnie du Ponant on Le Soleal, Le Boreal and L'Austral (all about 260 max).
- Expedition Cruise Specialists on Expedition (134) and Sea Spirit (114), also from Invercargill on Spirit of Enderby and Spirit of Shokalskiy (both 50), or flying into King George then onto 100-passenger Magellan Explorer.
- G Adventures also sail on Expedition.
- Heritage Expeditions also sail from Invercargill on Spirit of Enderby and Spirit of Shokalskiy.
- Geographic Expeditions sail from Ushuaia or fly into King George or to the South Pole.
- Hapag-Lloyd Cruises on Bremen (155), and from 2021 on Hanseatic Nature and Hanseatic Inspiration.
- Hurtigruten sail from Ushuaia and Punta Arenas on Roald Amundsen (500), Fridtjof Nansen (500), Fram (250) and Midnatsol (500).
- Intrepid Travel on Ocean Endeavour (100).
- Quark Expeditions also on Ocean Endeavour.
- National Geographic Expeditions on National Geographic Explorer (148), NG Orion (102) and NG Endurance (126).
- Lindblad Expeditions sail on the same vessels.
- Oceanwide Expeditions sail from Ushuaia and Bluff NZ on Plancius (108), Ortelius (108), Janssonius (170) and Hondius (170).
- Polar Latitudes on Hebridean Sky and Island Sky, plus Seaventure from 2021.
About a dozen charter sailboats, many of them members of IAATO, offer three to six-week voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula from South America. Most offer "expedition style" trips where guests are invited to help out, although usually no prior sailing experience is required. Yachts take individuals on a "by the bunk" basis and also support private expeditions such as scientific research, mountaineering, kayaking, and film-making. Compared to the more popular expedition ships, a small yacht can be more work and significantly less comfortable, but typically allows more freedom and flexibility. For the right people, this can be a far more rewarding experience.
- Ocean Expeditions. Expedition support yacht Australis purpose-built for high latitudes. Specializing in private or commercial expeditions involving film making, scientific research, adventure activities, wildlife enthusiasts or just an intimate experience of the Antarctic.
- Expedition Sail. Sailing yacht Seal is a purpose-built expedition sailboat offering private expeditions, support for research, filming, or climbing projects, and also offers "by the bunk" trips for individuals.
- Spirit of Sydney. Australians Darrel and Cath own and operate Spirit of Sydney, an expedition support yacht for film crews, mountaineers, skiers and snowboarders, sea kayakers, dry suit divers, scientists, sailors of all experience levels, and whale watchers. They typically carry kayaks on board and offer private charters and group trips for individuals.
Ponies, sleds and dogs, skis, tractors, snowcats (and similar tracked vehicles) and aircraft including helicopters and ski planes have all been used to get around Antarctica. Expedition ships use zodiacs (sturdy inflatable motorized boats) to ferry tourists from ship to shore in small groups. Bring your own fuel and food, or arrange supplies in advance. You cannot purchase fuel or food on the continent. Expedition ships come fully prepared with landing transport, food, etc. Some also provide cold-weather clothing.
See and doEdit
Antarctica is an amazing place just to look at, with its enormous calving glaciers, icebergs the size of cities, penguin flocks and towering snow-clad mountains. But even just standing there looking is going to involve exertion on your part, elaborate preparation, and a degree of risk. The distinction between seeing and doing is a fine one in many locations, and here it vanishes altogether.
- In that spirit, the prime thing for you to do in Antarctica is come home safe. Don't do anything, not even just standing there, without having that in mind. How are the sea conditions and the weather? How is your body faring? What about the other people in your group, is everyone accounted for? And what if, what if, what if?
- A total solar eclipse on Saturday 4 Dec 2021. It starts at 07:00 UT east of the Falkland Islands, tracking south over the South Orkneys and the Weddell Sea to reach its maximum duration on the Antarctic coast at 07:30. It crosses Antarctica via Byrd Land, becoming an unusual example of an eastbound eclipse thanks to the earth's tilt, to end in the Amundsen Sea at 08:00. Most of the shipping companies listed above have a cruise that takes in the eclipse, and these are likely to sell out early.
- The southern aurora, but not in summer. You need full darkness to see it, but in summer the sky is bright even if the sun has briefly dipped below the horizon. You may have more chance on the homeward sailing, as your latitude decreases and the nights lengthen. The same applies to other dark sky sights such as meteors.
- The midnight sun in midsummer, but only within the Antarctic circle; most of the Peninsula and all of the Antarctic Islands lie north of it. Actually you're going to get fed up with the sun, since it's broad daylight at 02:00 when you need your sleep.
- Deception Island, one of the South Shetland Islands, is a remarkable natural amphitheatre with an equally remarkable show within. It's an active volcano, last erupting in 1970, and the deception is that it looks like a normal mountainous island. But its flanks are just the rim of a great flooded caldera, entered via the narrow channel "Neptune's Bellows" into a sheltered natural harbour. Its main sights are the scenery, a large colony of chinstrap penguins, geothermal hot springs (so you can swim in Antarctica), and the remains of an old whaling station and bases wrecked by eruptions.
- Tangerine penguins maybe 60 cm high, are they Adélies? There are penguin colonies all round the Antarctic coastline, but viewing them from close-up needs a colony near a safe landing beach; so these attract a stream of visitors. You'll smell them first and hear their grating kra-kra kraa? before you see their orange line along the shore. Then as the boat draws closer you realise the orange things are traffic cones. They are there partly to show you the trail (you may be trying to return in poor visibility), but mostly to indicate the line that you must not cross to avoid disturbing the colony. Expect grief if you transgress, and if you do so in January when the eggs are hatching and the chicks are most vulnerable, you'll be busted off further shore trips.
- Climb the Seventh Summit, Mount Vinson at 4892 m. The "Seven Summits Challenge" is to climb the highest peaks of all seven continents. The list of seven is disputed: which continent does Elbrus belong to, and does Puncak Jaya in Indonesia supplant the Sunday afternoon stroll that is Kosciuszko? What is universally agreed is that Everest is the highest in Asia and Vinson the highest in Antarctica, and that these two are the most difficult and perilous. Vinson is much less of a technical challenge, you spend little time in the "death zone" above 4000 m, but it's the isolation, the logistics, and the literally perishing cold.
- Paradise Harbor
- Other Antarctic wildlife
- McMurdo Station's observation hill
- South Pole
- Port Lockroy
There isn't much to buy in Antarctica, and most of the shops are small gift shops and souvenir shops. The largest shop is McMurdo's General Store, which would probably provide you with just about anything you will need in Antarctica.
In research stations, the foods served are usually frozen, dried or canned. Fresh fruits and vegetables are very limited, as they cannot last long and must be carried to the research station by infrequent ships or planes. Most bases will have some cooks who prepare the food on the station.
Outside research stations, food must be carried and more food will be required than in research stations, because of the cold. The foods will be dry, as wet foods will freeze in the cold weather. The foods will also be very energetic so you will get more energy and need to carry less weight.
Antarctica has 24-hour sunshine during the Antarctic summer and 24-hours of nighttime during the winter. Visitors should ensure that they take steps to keep regular sleeping hours as continuous daylight disturbs the body clock. There are no hotels or lodges on the mainland except for a hostel at Villa Las Estrellas, and research bases will not generally house guests. Most visitors sleep aboard their ship, although land expeditions will use tents for shelter.
It is possible to obtain employment with scientific expeditions and research bases in Antarctica. Positions are often competitive and may only be open to very qualified candidates.
Induction and training need to be undertaken before departure for Antarctica. Most positions are summer positions, lasting for the northern-hemisphere winter/southern-hemisphere summer while the bases are fully staffed. A few positions are for people who want to "winter over" in the dark, brutally cold Antarctic winter.
The following agencies are responsible for staffing bases in Antarctica:
- Antarctic Support Contract. Agency responsible for staffing all United States Antarctic bases. Applicants can apply through the web site or at one of the Antarctic job fairs held around the country.
- See also Cold weather
Antarctica is an extreme environment, and accidents are unavoidable. Every year numerous people are injured or even killed visiting the Antarctic, and while this should not dissuade people from visiting, it should encourage visitors to exercise caution and make a realistic evaluation of their own abilities when choosing a trip.
As most visitors to Antarctica will arrive by ship, the greatest dangers occur due to storms at sea. The weather in the Southern Ocean is nature at its most extreme, with the potential for hurricane-force winds and waves as high as 60–70 ft (18–21 m). With modern safety and ship design, the odds of sinking are low, but the odds of being thrown about by a wave are high. When on a ship in rough weather always make sure that you have at least one secure handhold, and avoid opening doors during storms as a sudden shift in the waves can easily bring a heavy door crashing back onto a body part. In severe weather stay in your cabin and wait for the storm to subside. Similarly, be extremely cautious when returning to ship via a zodiac and follow crew instructions — a landing platform in rough weather can be deadly should you slip and fall.
Weather on the continent is equally extreme, although most visitors pack appropriate gear. For expeditions there are limited search-and-rescue options, so expeditions must plan for all contingencies. There is no formal government or legal system in Antarctica, but the laws of the country of origin or departure, as well as those of a claimant government, may apply. Rules regarding protection of the environment and of historical sites will be strictly enforced, and fines can be extreme.
In Antarctica, a hospital is usually days away. Most ships and research stations have a doctor, but facilities are limited. In cases where evacuation is required (if even possible), costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Many Antarctic cruise operators require passengers to obtain evacuation insurance. Before embarking on an Antarctic journey, those with pre-existing conditions should strongly consider the risks of venturing into a land where medical help may not be available.
Antarctica has an extreme environment. Cold weather is a major health hazard. Visitors should be properly prepared and equipped for any visit. Waterproof and windproof gloves, coat, pants, and boots are an absolute necessity. Other necessities that are often overlooked include sunscreen and sunglasses — summertime visitors will be exposed to the sun's rays from above and from reflections off of snow, ice, and water. The fact that there is not as much ozone over Antarctica and some of the nearby islands than other regions of the world means that there is not such a strong block against the sun's rays. Additionally, those arriving by ship are strongly encouraged to take some seasickness medicine on their journey, as even the most seaworthy individual will feel queasy in a severe storm; check with your doctor to determine what medicine is appropriate for you to bring.
Antarctica has a very fragile environment. Pollution should be avoided if at all possible. Expeditions should anticipate the need to remove all waste from the continent when they leave. Waste disposal and sewage facilities on the continent are severely limited and restricted to permanent installations. Of particular concern to tourists is the danger of introducing foreign organisms into the fragile Antarctic environment. Many tour operators will require visitors to do a boot wash after every landing to avoid carrying seeds or other items from one location to another. In addition, visitors should examine all clothing before embarking to avoid bringing any plant or animal material to the Antarctic; invasive species have devastated many regions of the planet, so it is particularly important to protect Antarctica from this danger.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) is a voluntary organization of tour operators which promotes safe and environmentally responsible tourism in Antarctica. It publishes standards for member tour operators on responsible practices for private visitors to the continent.
The top-level Internet domain for Antarctic sites, .aq, is assigned to organizations that conduct work in Antarctica or signatory governments to the Antarctic Treaty. Generally, its servers are hosted elsewhere; a satellite connection may be possible from some Antarctic locations but connectivity is limited at best.
Post offices are few and far between, but you can send home a postcard (with a truly unique postmark) from the Chilean town of Villa Las Estrellas or the British base of Port Lockroy, both on islands off the Antarctic Peninsula.