Today's weekly travel issue of Newsday.com contained a really good article "Over Antarctica" about the flight that 33 passengers of a cruise ship took from Puntas Arenas Chile down over King George Island and selected parts (unidentified) of the Antarctic Peninsula. This summary of travel options at the end of the article may interest you:
Our Antarctic flyover out of Punta Arenas, Chile, was offered as an extra-cost excursion to passengers of the Norwegian Crown ship (ncl.com) that sails from November through March between Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile. Price of the excursion: $1,599 (all prices in this story are subject to change).
These programs are limited to cruise passengers, but there are options for civilians. Among those we found:
Aerovias DAP (011-56-61-223340; aeroviasdap.cl), a Chilean airline serving Patagonia, offers one-day flightseeing and a two-day, one-night program that includes an overnight at a base on King George Island, one of the islands off the coast of continental Antarctica.
Upside to King George Island: It's popular with penguins and technically qualifies as "Antarctica," if you're keeping score. Downside: When you're there (the "season" is December through March), its usual lack of ice and snow won't match your image of Antarctica.
Price of that flyover (subject to change) is $2,300; the overnight version is $2,950. Depending on demand, the aircraft can be an eight-seat Beechcraft or a 40-passenger plane. Other points: Hefty non-refundable deposits are required, and passengers are advised to plan on spending several nights in Punta Arenas (not a bad place to spend several nights, under these circumstances) to allow for alternate dates in case the weather doesn't cooperate.
"It's amazing," Isabel, a reservationist in the Punta Arenas office who made the trip in March 2006, said of the experience. "And you can see the penguins very close."
An option that combines the flight, which eliminates the days and potential discomfort associated with crossing the Drake Passage by ship, with a ship-based expedition is offered by AntarcticaXXI (011-56-61-228783; antarcticaxxi.com), also based in Punta Arenas.
This program flies passengers in a 50-seat plane to King George Island, where they board an expedition vessel (limit: 46 passengers) and off they go.
Prices for the seven-day program start at $7,100 per person, double occupancy.
Flyovers from New Zealand, nearest gateway after South America, ended after a 1979 flight crashed into 13,200-foot Mt. Erebus on the continent, killing 257 passengers and crew. But Antarctica flightseeing from the region resumed in 1994, and these days there are two flights annually, both from Australia -- one out of Sydney and a second leaving from Sydney with a stop in Melbourne. The most recent was on New Year's Eve, and the next is scheduled for Feb. 7. These are 12-hour flights -- four hours to Antarctica, four over the continent and four back -- aboard a Qantas Boeing 747, with prices based on seat location. Prices: from $713 for a seat you probably don't want to $4,126 for First Class and a guaranteed window seat during prime time. Food and bar included. Details: Australia-based Croydon Travel (011-61-3-9725-8555; antarcticaflights.com.au).
Now, if you're really serious about this Antarctica thing and can afford the cost of seriousness, there's a U.S.-owned company that operates out of Punta Arenas with programs that fly you into the interior: Adventure Network International (adventure-network.com). Among its programs: an Ice Marathon. Price: $15,000. A seven- or eight-day adventure that will get you to the South Pole and back runs a tidy $33,500. There are more options. A Wilmette, Ill., agency that features adventure travel, Northwest Passage (800-732-7328; nwpassage.com), can answer questions.
Most other access to Antarctica is via ship out of (or at least stopping in) Ushuaia, Argentina, in vessels ranging from luxury cruisers to small-ship expeditions utilizing converted Russian icebreakers. Prices are all over the map.