Unlocking the World

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

CNN StaffUpdated 8th October 2021
Luckily the penguins have remained covid-free.
Editor's Note — Coronavirus cases are in flux across the globe. Health officials caution that staying home is the best way to stem transmission until you're fully vaccinated. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on October 8.
(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 currently off limits to all but nationals and permanent residents, who must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. However, fully vaccinated travelers are permitted to enter the country from November 1 provided they submit a negative PCR test taken no earlier than 72 hours before travel on arrival, as well as a negative antigen test seven days after entering.
Meanwhile, entry to Chile has already reopened to international travelers. Visitors are required to fill in a Travelers Affidavit and submit a negative PCR test three days before their arrival. While those who are not vaccinated must isolate for five days on entering, fully vaccinated visitors who submit proof of vaccination and take a second PCR test on arrival can leave isolation once they've their negative result (provided it's negative).
Visitors must also have travel insurance to cover the cost of Covid-related health care up to $30,000.
While all major cruise companies canceled operations for the 2020/21 season, summer season in the Southern Hemisphere, which occurs in late 2021, looks set to go ahead.
However, capacity will likely be reduced on most, if not all voyages, and cruise lines could issue safety protocols that require passengers to be fully vaccinated.

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.
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 were administered with their first dose in the following weeks.
In October, several boxes of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine were flown into the Antarctic in order to vaccinate 23 staff members at the British Rothera research station.

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

CNN Travel answers some commonly asked questions about Antarctica, and looks at what the future may hold for the world's least understood continent. Back in May, the world's largest iceberg calved from Antarctica, while in February, an iceberg bigger than New York City broke off near a UK base in the continent. 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.