Passenger Volumes have increased steadily since 1993

Between 1993 and 2023, tourism to Antarctica experienced a remarkable increase. In the early 1990s, the number of passengers was relatively low, with 7,957 passengers making landings in the 1994-95 season and no cruise-only passengers recorded. Over the next decades, these numbers grew substantially. By the 2002-03 season, 13,263 passengers were making landings, accompanied by 2,424 cruise-only passengers. This trend continued upward, with significant milestones in subsequent years. In the 2019-20 season, 55,164 passengers made landings, and 18,506 were cruise-only. The 2022-23 season its highest numbers to date, with 71,346 passengers making landings and 32,730 cruise-only passengers[1].

This growth underscores the increasing allure of Antarctica as a travel destination, facilitated by advancements in travel technology, a growing interest in unique and remote destinations, and heightened awareness of the continent's environmental and ecological significance.

Despite welcoming new members, the IAATO is still a fairly exclusive club of only 40 touristic operators

For the 2023-2024 season, 40 Operators with a total of 72 vessels sailed the Antarctic waters with tourists on-board. In total they operated 553 sailings carrying a total of 122,072 unique passengers. Out of these, 78,848 visitors have set foot on Antarctica through a zodiac landing or other land-based activities[1].

Some vessels are involved in a lot more voyages than others such as Antartica21's Magellan Explorer due to their fly-cruise offer which allows people to skip sailing through the Drake Passage. The expedition-class Ushuaia vessel is also one of those work-horse of a vessel, cummulating an impressive 15 sailings with Antarpply Expeditions in the 2023-24 season. All that without the benefit of any air support but instead by shortening the amount of time spent landing in Antarctica thus making it one of the most affordable albeit barebones trips authorized by IAATO. The other notable vessels exclusively servicing Antarctrica for the entire season include G Adventure's Expedition, Swan Hellenic's SH Vega, Hurtigruten's MS Fridtjof Nansen, Quark's Ultramarine, and Albatros Expeditions' Ocean Victory & Ocean Albatros.

While there may be more seats on the large sail-by cruises, our recommendation will always be to join a ship under 200 passengers which allows you to make full landings in Antarctica

Proportionally the sail-by cruises offer more seats to the white continent, but the issue with these is that they are prohibited from making any shore-landings, hence their moniker sail-by. Ships under 200 passengers can disembark their entire passenger load at landing points subject to the IAATO rules. Ones above that and with a clearance can also do landings, but still subject to the 200 person cap. For that reason, expedition ships above 200 passengers often organize a lottery to determine landing orders and do not guarantee that every guest will get to go on them due to weather and other time constraints. Hurtigruten and Viking's vessels are part of those.

In the sub-200 passengers segment but still offering a significant amount of capacity to Antarctica we can count on Ponant, Quark Expeditions, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Silversea, Albatros Expeditions and Oceanwide Expeditions. There are other providers, but they would be considered more boutique due to their lower availability of Antarctica cabins, often due to splitting their time between the 7th continent and other cruise destinations during the November to March short Antarctic season.

With numbers like these, it makes Antarctica the least visited continent on the planet by a wide margin! Will you be part of the lucky few to set foot on its untouched white expanses in the next season?

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From IAATO Overview of Antarctic Vessel Tourism: The 2023-24 Season, and Preliminary Estimates for 2024-25