On December 14, 1911, mankind conquered—well, at least planted a flag—atop the South Pole, one of the world’s last truly wild places. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen won the deadly race across the icy Antarctica to the Pole, thanks to Inuit technology (furs, sleds, and dogs) he’d adopted. His rival, British naval officer Robert Scott, never returned to civilization.
Today, about 40,000 tourists visit the Antarctica annually, with perhaps 300 travelers (in addition to some 250 scientists and support staff) making it to the South Pole every year. There, they’ll experience the bitter cold and blinding white landscape that tempted Amundsen and Scott to risk their lives, as well as more comfortable accommodations at the international research station, which comes complete with a gift shop.
The 1,250,000-square-kilometer (482,628-square-mile) swath of the Antarctica claimed by Chile has only one settlement, Villa Las Estrellas, as well as six scientific bases that can cater to tourists with advance notice. Though only a fraction of the eighth continent’s travelers come through Chile, that number is growing every year.
Tourism to the Antarctic actually began here, in Chile, in the early 1950s. The government chartered a naval transportation ship for 500 paying passengers to the South Shetland Islands, technically the first Antarctic cruise. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that mass tourism truly arrived, with most tourists originating in New Zealand and Australia. Though Chile (as well as Argentina) was suffering serious political and economic upheaval during that era, in recent years South America has begun to catch up, with expeditions were leaving from Ushuaia, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile.
Tourism to the Antarctic from Chile is “skyrocketing,” according to the embassy. The Chilean government just invested US$8 million to open yet another port town to Antarctic tourism, tiny Puerto Williams, on icy, isolated Antarctic Ice Marathon. More libertine travelers might consider New Years’ Eve instead, when the Antarctic’s privileged position at the intersection of every time zone offers the opportunity for 24 full hours of kisses and champagne.