A rare Antarctic solar eclipse is coming up in December – but getting there from SA is costly
- On December 4 this year there will be a once-in-400-year total solar eclipse in the Antarctic.
- You'll need to board a ship in order to view its totality – and dozens of cruise liners have created the ultimate packages.
- These cruises don't come cheap, though.
- Excluding flights to either Chile or Argentina, you can expect to pay at least R225,000 per person.
- If money's no object, there are packages that cost in excess of R1 million per person.
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A rare solar eclipse that will be visible near the Antarctic Peninsula in December has seen a flurry of cruise companies offering packages to go and view it from aboard a luxury liner. And if ever there was a time to take a cruise - or chase an eclipse - this might be it, because the same pattern won’t be repeated for hundreds of years.
Even under non-eclipse circumstances a cruise from South America, and in the vicinity of the Drake Passage and around the South Shetland Islands, makes it onto many bucket lists. And in December, when the total eclipse will occur in this region, there's also every chance of seeing towering icebergs, glaciers, and plenty of marine life as well.
The next solar eclipse viewable from around Antarctica will also be some time in the future. There's one in 2023, and another in 2030, but neither offers the near-perfect location, totality, and timing as this year's. Some suggest that the closest equivalent to this year's event will only be witnessed again in 400 years.
The eclipse takes place on 4 December, and any cruise company that operates even close to the region has scheduled voyages that take this into account. Given the devastating year that cruise companies and international tourism businesses have had, it also appears as if many are using this perfect storm as a way to salvage their operations.
Fittingly, prices for these cruises are high - especially if you're travelling from South Africa. You'll also need to stump up for a return flight somewhere low down on the South American continent, either in Santiago, Chile, or Ushuaia, Argentina. And with visa and Covid-19 restrictions still making international travel an uncertainty for South Africans, and no guarantee that you'll have clear skies on the day to view the eclipse, you may be better off settling for the partial version - all 11.62% coverage of it - that will be viewable from Cape Town.
But assuming money is no object, here are some of the various cruises you can take in the vicinity of this rare phenomenon later this year.
Lindblad Expeditions is offering voyages of up to 24 days on three of its vessels with itineraries designed to take in the eclipse. Their ships - all sponsored by National Geographic - are small but luxuriously appointed, and some include the ability to sleep out on deck under the protection of glass igloos. The company has a strong photographic element to it, too. It has a relationship with B&H Photo/Video for gear purposes, and National Geographic photographers on board to offer tips and advice. The cruises embark from Ushuaia, Argentina, on November 17 and 18.
Budget option: R368,000 per person sharing.
Luxury option: R711,000 per person sharing.
Abercrombie & Kent
Luxury cruise company Abercrombie & Kent is selling a 12-day cruise starting in Santiago, Chile. The cruise is limited to just 199 people and features three experts, including aerospace engineer Susan Kilrain. After sailing the South American coastline the cruise will take in the eclipse from the South Orkney Islands, before exploring the Antarctic Peninsula. Much of the cruise is already sold out, but there are certain room categories with some availability.
Budget option: R270,000 per person sharing.
Luxury option: R740,000 per person sharing.
Quark Expeditions is one of the more established cruise companies operating in the Antarctic Peninsula - a trip they ran 16 years ago to the region to witness a similar solar eclipse was also the first of its kind. They're offering a 17-day eclipse cruise departing from Ushuaia which has on-board experts in photography and astronomy. The cruise also offers adventure options - like sea kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding.
Budget option: R241,000 per person sharing.
Luxury option: R455,000 per person sharing.
Atlas Ocean Voyages is selling a 12-night cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula and among the Shetland Islands, with added extras like the possibility to go kayaking and paddle-boarding from the ship. The cruise departs from Ushuaia and has timed arrival at the eclipse viewing midway through the journey. There are various suites available, from "Adventure" to "Navigator", which differ significantly in price.
Budget option: R222,000 per person sharing.
Luxury option: R370,030 per person sharing.
Silversea is currently offering two eclipse cruises, both departing from Ushuaia - an 11 day and a 22 day. Neither option is particularly cheap, but both will take in the eclipse from the sea while including several iconic attractions both before and after. There will also be experts on board to share insights on the surroundings and the eclipse itself.
Budget option: R292,000 per person sharing (11-day cruise).
Luxury option: R1.4 million per person sharing (22-day cruise).
Oceanwide Expeditions is sending three ships out to view the eclipse on a journey that will last 19 nights. The company is geared towards more intrepid travellers who are interested in exploring the unique surroundings - and their trips include the possibility of shore excursions like hikes and snowshoe walks.
Budget option: R254,000 per person (sharing berth).
Luxury option: R829,000 per cabin of two.
Hurtigruten is sending two of its ships in the direction of the eclipse. One will be taking an 18-day journey, and the other 23 days. On-board photographers will offer tips on how to capture the surroundings and the event itself, and professional astronomers will be hosting lectures on topics related to the eclipse and be available to talk you through it as it happens.
Budget option: R225,000 per person sharing (18-day cruise).
Luxury option: R421,030 per person sharing (23-day cruise).
Ponant is selling a 15-day cruise that will take in the eclipse from the often-walkable Weddell Sea ice pack. The ship departs from Ushuaia and travels along what the company calls "extreme and captivating" waters towards spectacular Antarctic landscapes. Scientists and experts onboard promise to offer in-depth insight into the phenomenon, and there are also possible add-ons like kayaking, snowmobiling, and helium balloon rides. This comes at a price, however, and with entry-level rooms sold out, these may be some of the more expensive eclipse cruise tickets currently on sale.
Budget option: R284,000 per person sharing (currently sold out).
Luxury option: R1.07 million per person sharing.
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