Antarctica on a budget (ish)

M/V Ushuaia in Paradise Bay

Can you visit Antarctica on a budget? No. Well, not unless your budget is much less than $5,000/ยฃ4,000 (or if you manage to find work there). But it is possible to see this incredible continent without being hugely wealthy, as I recently did. Here’s how.

Jump to:
Getting to Ushuaia
Your low-cost ship
Booking your cabin
When to go
Working in Antarctica
Spending time in Ushuaia

Getting to Ushuaia

Approaching Ushuaia

The lowest-priced ships sail from Ushuaia in Argentina. To get to Ushuaia you can either travel overland (take a look at my Northern and Southern Argentina itineraries for inspiration) or, if you don’t have weeks to spare, the low cost airline JetSmart have just started flying there from Buenos Aires on either a Monday or Friday.

You can take a low-cost flight from the UK to Buenos Aires with Norwegian. You’ll need to change airports, though, and so I highly recommend spending a few nights in the wonderful Argentine capital.

Your low-cost ship

M/V Ushuaia at port in Ushuaia

The M/V Ushuaia isn’t a luxurious cruise ship. It was built in 1970 by the US Navy as a spy ship which operated around Cuba. Antarpply purchased the ship and converted it so that it can take 84 passengers. You can find out more about this ship on my YouTube video, but few other ships (if any) take passengers to Antarctica for less money.

Booking your cabin

Standard Twin cabin, M/V Ushuaia

You have two choices for booking Antarctica on a budget:

  1. Book as early as possible – I’d recommend at least 11 months in advance
  2. A month or two before you wish to depart, contact Freestyle Adventure Travel in Ushuaia and ask to join their WhatsApp group. This agency will broadcast the latest Antarctica deals to the group and cabins go on a first-come-first-served basis so be vigilant and be quick! Although M/V Ushuaia cabins are often cheapest (and rare), other bargains can be had with this excellent, friendly agency.

When to go

Gentoo penguins, Antarctica

The cheapest time to go to Antarctica is November. However, the notoriously rough Drake Passage is still particularly choppy at that time and storms may shorten your time in Antarctica. Penguin chicks will also not yet have made an appearance. When you do make it across, though, you will find few other people, thousands of adult penguins and intact snow. Perfect.


Toastier than a piece of toast in a toaster

Booking your cabin with Freestyle Adventure Travel means that you don’t need to invest in expensive clothing as they will provide most of what you need. Don’t forget to bring your own thermals though.

The ship also provides motion sickness tablets and so you can save money on these too. Although it has a bar, you can bring your own alcohol on board (in moderation). All meals are included.

As well as having fewer passengers (and therefore the ability to spend more time off the ship), the advantage of voyaging on this smaller ship is that you have access to the bridge, where they keep binoculars for spotting wildlife. No need to bring your own!

Working in Antarctica

Camara Base
Cรกmara Base, Half Moon Island, Antarctica

If you want to spend a lot more time on this awesome continent, then there are also opportunities for working in Antarctica. You’ll spend months here, rather than just a few days, and you may not earn anything beyond board, transport and lodging. But wow, what an experience, and this really is seeing Antarctica on a budget. There is a fascinating post on the These Vagabond Shoes blog about what it was like to work at the Penguin Post Office. Here are some of the English-language sites I found for finding work in Antarctica:

Spending time in Ushuaia

Tierra Del Fuego

If you’ve booked your low-cost flights in advance (which I recommend for visiting Antarctica on a budget) but find yourself with days to spare before or after your cruise departs, then Ushuaia is a good place to hang around.

There are plenty of apartments to rent, as well as some good hotels, and you can embark on hikes straight from town (Martial Glacier and Laguna Esmeralda are favourites). You can also take shuttle buses (prices are the same amongst all the companies – book at the tourist office or at hostels/hotels) to Tierra Del Fuego National Park, where you’ll find a plethora of hikes.

Please note that I don’t earn any commission from these links, apart from those linking to airlines or accommodation.


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