Black Travelers Reflect on Visiting the World’s Iciest Continent, Antarctica

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Anthony Gould Jr. in Antarctica. Image: courtesy of Anthony Gould Jr.

"I set out on this trip knowing I was walking into a traditional white space with the chance to open doors for Black travelers."

Antarctica is one of those places that most only see and read about in magazines or special NatGeo-style shows. But, the world’s ‘white continent’— a nickname given due to 96% of its geographical mass being covered by ice— is becoming easier to visit and more Black travelers are adding it to their lists as they seek to check off all seven continents. 

Companies like Hurtigruten Expeditions are taking things even further by making better efforts to draw in more Black and brown travelers to Antarctica through the world of expedition sailing. Expedition cruises differ from leisure cruises in that excursions are more adventure based— think kayaking, polar plunging, and even camping overnight on the ice. Additionally, most on-board activities are centered around educating cruisers about their destination and the native wildlife. 

Image: courtesy of Anthony Gould Jr.

In February, Hurtigruten announced the launch of its first Black Travel Advisory Board. The brand recruited an all-star list of expert Black travelers and travel professionals to provide insight on what Black travelers need in order to take part in the expedition cruises. The entire board, as well as their family and friends, sought out on an 18-day adventure around Antarctica with stops at nearly a half dozen landing sites around the continent as well smaller zodiac sailings around the iceberg filled oceans.

EBONY tapped a few of the travelers from the trip to give their reflections on visiting the ‘white continent’ during Black History Month—a history making moment in itself.

Tanisha Downey in Antarctica. Image courtesy of subject.

Rockland County, New York native Tanisha Downey says that being in Antarctica was a stark difference to her life in the busy city. She describes it as pure serenity. The air was fresh and the water was clear and blue. Overall, it was an experience for the books.

“Not only was this opportunity happening to me as a young Black female from the suburbs, but this was also happening for a group of other individuals who looked just like me, and it was Black History Month,” Downey shared with EBONY. “I know we made our ancestors proud.”

“One of my favorite moments was riding in the zodiac boat around the Antarctic Ocean. Listening to the glaciers calving was unbelievable. Calving is when large pieces of ice break off from the glaciers into the water. You can literally hear the ice falling and splashing into the ocean. It was a bit alarming to hear at first while being in the middle of the ocean, but it was stunning.”

Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

For California resident Anthony Gould Jr., going to Antarctica always seemed impossible due to its remoteness, and the often high costs to get there. But, embarking on this historical journey was transformative for his personal life and career. 

“As a group of African Americans on the ship, we were definitely turning the tide. Just by being there in such a large group, we were changing people’s perspectives on Black travelers in expeditions. I set out on this trip knowing I was walking into a traditional white space with the chance to open doors for Black travelers. Prior to, I felt a little nervous about how I would be received by the other passengers and crew on-board. However, my nerves were relaxed knowing I would be joined by a group of Black travel executives who would share the responsibility of reshaping our narrative in these types of spaces.”

During the 18-days, the group got up close with native gentoo penguins, saw orca whales bob to the ocean’s surface for food, body sled down an ice-covered mountain, and even tried unique cuisines native to the region like reindeer and cloud berries. All in all, the group says that everyone— Black travelers especially—should add the continent to their bucket list. 

Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

Although flying to Antarctica is very much possible, traveling by cruise ship will allow you to see and experience more of the individual landing sites. There are no hotels on the continent as of now, nor are there permanent residents living there. Scientists and researchers may temporarily live on various landing sites for up to 6 months, but they are mostly living on ships or, sometimes, staying a few nights in the various science stations.

As for the temperature, which is usually the main concern for most, travelers usually visit during the continent’s summer months— November though March. During that time, temperatures hover in the low to mid 30s each day. But, the weather is very unpredictable, meaning it could be perfectly sunny one minute and shift to a blizzard the next. 

Travelers en route to Antarctica. Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

When packing for the Arctic, you want to take base layers. These are typically merino wool long johns that will go under a heavier layer, like waterproof/windproof ski pants or a bib and a fleece sweater or half-zip. Also, sunglasses and sunscreen are strongly encouraged as the sun is very bright there, especially as it beams off of the snow and ice.  

“Antarctica should be on everyone’s travel list,” Downey said. “Whether you are interested in cold locations or not, I believe just being there and experiencing the landscapes and wild life is worth it.”

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