Nov 10th, 2011 | By James E Becker | Category: Senior Travel

Senior Tourists Visit Antarctica

This may be the last year that Antarctica is open to mass tourism — not because the ice is melting too fast (though it is), but because of restrictions that would severely curtail travel around the fragile continent. Thousands of seniors want to travel to Antarctica every year but few do. However, if you are strongly motivated to go to Antarctica (as you should be!), you can find a way.

Pure Nature

Yes, there are tourists and lots of them. A recent count placed the annual number of tourists who visit Antarctica at around 10,000, giving tourism the greatest percentage of Antarctic visitors. There has been some controversy over the effect that these visitors are having on earth’s most pristine environment, yet clearly tourism will be part of Antarctica for the foreseeable future. Antarctica’s most pressing issue is its environment and how best to protect it. The major impacts on the Antarctic environment are caused by people who have never even visited it. If you do decide to travel to Antarctica just remember to avoid touching all animal life, don’t leave any trash or take anything with you. Also, let others know how incredible it was to see untouched wilderness for miles around. TripAdvisor has plenty of suggestions for seniors as a guide.

Exploding numbers

Until recently, most vessels passing through Antarctica were limited to scientific expeditions, but an exploding number of senior tourists now flock to what is arguably the world’s last great wilderness. The tourism boom, scientists argue, poses a major environmental threat. Indeed, several passenger ships have run aground in recent years. Countries that manage Antarctica are calling for limits on the number of tourist ships, for fortified hulls that can withstand sea ice and for a ban on the use of so-called heavy oils. A ban on heavy oil, which is expected to be adopted by the International Maritime Organization later this year, would effectively block big cruise ships.

Antarctica – Land of Extremes

Here seniors will find a land of extremes: it is the coldest and driest continent on Earth and has the highest average elevation. As the fifth largest continent in the world, Antarctica is also the most southern, overlying the “South Pole”. Scarcely touched by humans, the frozen land boasts breathtaking scenery, broken by only handful of scientific bases and a “permanent” population of scientists numbering only a few thousand. Senior visitors to Antarctica generally must brave rough sea crossings aboard ice-strengthened vessels, but those who do are rewarded with amazing scenery and tremendous and unique wildlife. And the Pole? Becoming an Antarctic tourist is an attractive prospect for anyone with both the time and the means. Obviously though, not everyone fits into this category.

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. There are no cities per se, just some two dozen research stations with a total population ranging from 1000-4000 depending on the time of year. Private travel to Antarctica generally takes one of three forms: 1) commercial sea voyages with shore visits (by far the most popular), 2) specially mounted land expeditions, or 3) sightseeing by air. Approximately 80 companies belong to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.

So what can I expect?

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 at the North Pole.) However its shoreline serves as nesting ground for many species of migratory birds and penguins, and the Southern Ocean surrounding it is home to many fish and marine mammals, including whales. Antarctica is accessible only during the austral 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 twenty four hours of daylight. During the winter the sea is impassable. The basics are here and you will want to know all of these.

The Antarctic Peninsula

The Antarctic Peninsula is regarded by many visitors as being one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is included in the majority of trips to Antarctica for practical reasons as well as being a fantastic place to visit in its own right. The trip there by ship is the shortest distance between Antarctica and a departure port, (usually Ushuaia in Argentina) so it takes less time to get there and back than any other place on the Antarctic continent. What a trip that will be, Seniors.  Now more on how to get there by Yahoo. Better go while you still can and be sure to take some earmuffs and a very warm parka. All in all, it’s a very very COOL place!  jeb

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