Unlocking the World

Travel to Antarctica during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

CNN StaffUpdated 1st April 2021
Luckily the penguins have remained covid-free.
Editor's Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on April 1.
(CNN) — If you're planning to travel to Antarctica, here's what you'll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

Antarctica reported its first cases of Covid-19 in late December 2020. While scientists who observed strict quarantine rules sailed to the continent from the UK in November 2020, tourism remains severely restricted, with many cruise companies canceling their operations for the brief summer season.

What's on offer

A remote icy wilderness at the end of the world, trips to Antarctica have grown in popularity in recent years, with travelers sailing across the Drake Passage from South America to catch a glimpse of sprawling penguin colonies, breaching whales and rare seabirds.

Who can go

Because Antarctica is a scientific preserve, special teams have been able to restart research work on the continent from the end of 2020. While tourism isn't banned, the fact that most visitors can only arrive via ship means it's almost impossible to go right now, as many cruises are not running at this time.

What are the restrictions?

Antarctica's unique position as an internationally administered region means that it isn't subject to Covid restrictions. However, because tourists access the continent from Chile and Argentina, they are subject to the entry rules of those countries. Travel to Argentina is off limits to all but nationals and permanent residents, who must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure.
Chile has been open to tourists from all countries since December 8; however, all travelers must have proof of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before departure, complete a health form and have travel insurance to cover the cost of Covid-related health care up to $30,000.
However, all major cruise companies have canceled operations for the 2020/21 season. Cruise ships remain a concern when it comes to Covid transmission, meaning sailings are not likely to take place until the next summer season in the Southern Hemisphere, in late 2021.
In January, Adventures by Disney announced it will launch round trip cruises to Antarctica later this year, with the first scheduled to depart in December.

What's the Covid-19 situation?

The first cases of Covid on Antarctica were reported on December 22, with 36 researchers and military personnel testing positive at a Chilean research base. Only a small number of full scientific expeditions to Antarctica have gone ahead since the pandemic began.
On January 8, a Spanish research ship headed to the continent from Spain was diverted after a coronavirus outbreak on board.
The Australian Antarctic Program has launched two voyages to Antarctica this season. A team of scientists from the program embarked on a two-month voyage to the continent on January 28, while a separate team left Hobart for Antarctica to resupply Davis & Mawson research stations on February 10. Extra precautions have been taken, including a two-week isolation period, and three PCR tests before departure.
According to the UK's Daily Telegraph, the British Antarctica Survey (BAS), is currently operating with 30% of workers, while the United States Antarctica Program has also scaled down its workforce significantly
"Our aim is not to minimize cases, but to get zero cases to Antarctica," John Eager, Head of Polar Operations at BAS told the UK newspaper. "Everyone involved with the mission has to follow exactly the same protocol.
In March, 49 people stationed at a Chilean base in Antarctica received the Covid-19 vaccine as part of the South American country's immunization program, and over 50 more are set to be administered with their first dose in the coming weeks.

What can visitors expect?

Any ships that do make it to Antarctica will find the waters far quieter than usual. If you're on a ship that allows disembarkation, expect there to be strict protocols about handling equipment and protective gear.

Useful links

Our latest coverage

In February, an iceberg bigger than New York City broke off near a UK base in Antarctica. Back in December 2020, Antarctica became the final continent to be reached by the Covid-19 pandemic, when 36 people tested positive on a Chilean research base. Before that, CNN Travel had reported on what it's like to live on the continent virus-free, despite the pandemic. Looking to the future? Here, experts tell us their favorite ways of experiencing Antarctica.