Image credit: Christopher Michel
If you were suddenly woke up in an ice station in Antarctica, there is a very good chance you would think you were transported to another world. Antarctica is an isolated continent, where massive ice shelves and mountains never touched by humans during the enormity of time are home to some of the most exotic wildlife on planet earth.
Its extreme cold makes it inaccessible by boat, except for during its three-month long summer: between December and March of every year. During the summer months the sun never sets, it just rotates around the sky. Then during the winter months the opposite occurs, there is no sun, just never ending darkness.
During the winter months the ice is too thick for all but the most scientifically advanced vessels to approach Antarctica, and those generally travel under, rather than through, the thick sheets of ice that surround the continent. So where is Antarctica? That is a complicated question that requires two separate answers.
Image credit: TUBS
Where is Antarctica located?
Strictly speaking Antarctica is a continent with fewer than 1000 people living there year round, and is about one half times the size of the United States. It is 5.4 million square miles in size with 11.2k miles of coastline; it is due south, inside the Antarctic Circle (66.5°S). Antarctica is surrounded by the Southern Ocean on all sides. Both the magnetic and geographic south poles are located on the continent.
How do you get to Antarctica?
The other meaning to the “where is Antarctica” question is, “how do I get to Antarctica?” This is a different question, because this is one that inquires about transportation to Antarctica, rather than the specific longitude and latitude of the Mysterious Continent.
This question is often asked because going to Antarctica is on someone’s bucket list (usually as part of, “I want to visit all seven continents before I kick the bucket”). So if you ask, “Where is Antarctica,” what you really mean is, “How Do I Get to Antarctica.” The answer is almost always by ship for us mere mortals. Tickets are not cheap, from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the ship and its accouterments, but outside of being part of a scientific expedition, this is the cheapest way to go. The ship will take you to the edge of the continent, but you cannot get to the middle because there are no roads, rails or even toboggan runs that can take you there. Ships almost always depart from Ushuaia in Southern Argentina.
Image credit: Christopher Michel
The other option, for the well to do, is to fly in by a specially designed, high powered, Russian private jet called the Ilyushin 76. This four-engine aircraft was designed to deliver heavy machinery to poorly serviced areas of the USSR back in the day. Because of its unique design it is one of the few jets that can land on Union Glacier’s ice runway.
This method will get you to the center of the continent (Union Glacier) to ski the South Pole, climb Vinson Massif (the highest peak in Antarctica) or traverse the continent’s vast interior. The starting price of that ticket – $20,000.
Now you just need to find the time and money to make the trip! One thing is for sure, if you can find your way down to Antarctica, it will truly be a once in a lifetime trip that fewer than 40,000 people a year experience.