Tourist Guidelines

Antarctica is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, which maintains Antarctica as a place reserved for peaceful and scientific purposes. This means that all military activity is banned, as well as the commercial exploitation of its resources. Regulations are also in place to protect the environment and wildlife, and these affect how tourism is carried out in Antarctica. All those working or travelling in Antarctica are expected to adhere to the Antarctic Treaty.

Tours to Antarctica

At present, all tours aboard commercial passenger vessels to Antarctica are operated by IAATO members, although membership is not compulsory. The International Association of Antarctica Tour-Operators (IAATO) was set up in 1991 by seven Antarctic tour operators, in order to ‘advocate, promote and practice environmentally responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica’.


Whilst expeditions to Antarctica require permits, most tour operators will arrange this for their passengers, although you should confirm this with them before travelling. If you are travelling on a private expedition (for example by yacht) a permit will be issued by your country if it is a party of the Antarctic Treaty. For British Nationals, the Polar Regions Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) administers British Antarctic Territory and issues permits for all British expeditions.

Landing Limits and Site Guidelines

Antarctic Treaty guidelines give advice on the most frequently visited sites in Antarctica, providing limits on the number of visitors that can land at any one time. As a general rule, no more than 100 passengers are allowed on shore at sites in Antarctica at any time. However, each site has its own specific guidelines on landing limits, such as Port Lockroy where only 60 passengers are allowed. Limits also apply to larger cruise vessels, and those carrying 500 passengers or more are classed as ‘cruise only’, being prohibited from landing anywhere in Antarctica. Specific site guidelines can be found on the Antarctic Treaty website, and, for those sites managed by UKAHT, in Visiting Other Sites.

Protecting Antarctic Wildlife

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty designates Antarctica as a natural reserve and protects the native wildlife and environment. Regulations therefore exist to ensure that tourism does not negatively impact on Antarctic wildlife or the environment. The Antarctic Treaty prohibits any harmful interference or disturbance to the wildlife, including feeding, handling, or approaching in a way that causes them to change their behaviour.

Respect Protected Areas

Parts of Antarctica are designated as Special Protection Areas or Historic Sites and Monuments (HSMs). Before visiting such sites, you will be made aware of their protected status and any restrictions in place. Visitors should observe all rules and restrictions, taking care not to damage, remove or destroy HSMs or historic artefacts. Site guidelines for HSMs include details of any rules and restrictions, and information regarding HSMs managed by UKAHT can be found under Visit.

Respect Scientific Research

Visitors should not interfere with any scientific work or equipment that they come across in Antarctica.

Be Safe

Antarctica is a remote and widely changeable environment. Whilst field staff and guides will fully brief you on safety issues, visitors are expected to take responsibility for their own safety, ensuring that they have the proper equipment and clothing and act according to their own limits. Visitors should make sure they keep a safe distance from wildlife and take note of any instructions given by leaders and field staff. Emergency refuges should not be entered unless in an emergency, and no smoking regulations must be respected – Antarctica is the driest continent in the world and fire is a very real risk. Finally, visitors should not walk on glaciers or large snow field without the proper equipment due to the risk of crevasses.

Keep Antarctica Pristine

Antarctica is considered a pristine environment, and the mantra ‘leave nothing behind’ is often repeated during Antarctic trips. No rubbish or litter is to be left on land or in the sea in Antarctica (including human waste), and should be taken back to the ship for proper disposal. Nothing is permitted to be burnt in Antarctica, and graffiti is also prohibited. As well as leaving nothing behind, nothing should be collected or taken from Antarctica, including bones, eggs, fossils, feathers, rocks and sand. When visiting Antarctica, it should be left the way it was found!

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