20 Aug 2012
How many people can say they've gone on vacation to Antarctica?
Chile's southernmost tourist destination, the small village of Villa Las Estrellas, welcomes Antarctic adventurers with open arms, a comfortable place to sleep, and even a souvenir shop.
Located on Antarctica's King George Island, Villa Las Estrellas was founded in 1984, primarily for its proximity to President Eduardo Frei Montalva Base, a Chilean military station. Fourteen families inhabit the town, and their presence legitimizes Chile's claim to the territory.
A miniature community
Despite frigid temperatures and a barren polar landscape, Villa Las Estrellas is home to a warm, albeit tiny community. Most residents are military base employees and their families, and the town provides basic amenities including a school, hospital, church, post office, bank, market, and a gymnasium that hosts most village activities.
Up to 120 people live in Villa Las Estrellas in summer, while the number of inhabitants drops to around 80 in winter.
Residents of Villa Las Estrellas engage in athletic activities and celebrate special occasions with members of other international military bases on King George Island, creating a network of friendship and support between Antarctica's remote settlements.
What to do in Villa Las Estrellas
Visitors to Villa Las Estrellas can enjoy the novelty of Antarctic life, appreciating the unique environment and scenery, skiing on ice platforms, whale-watching, and admiring the local penguins.
Letters mailed from the small post office will be delivered with a rare "Antarctica" postmark, a popular addition to the collections of stamp aficionados. For further proof of your visit to Antarctica, purchase one-of-a-kind souvenirs at the local gift shop.
Extreme runners can also participate in the Antarctica Marathon, held every year in February or March, and passing through Villa Las Estrellas and other Antarctic communities.
How to arrive
Villa Las Estrellas is 990 km south of Punta Arenas, Chile, and regular flights travel from Punta Arenas to King George Island. The village contains a small airstrip, accommodating delivery of supplies and guests.
Many tourism and cruise agencies provide transportation by air or boat to Villa Las Estrellas and other Antarctic points of interest.
Where to stay
Hostería Estrella Polar (Polestar Hostel) is the only option for guest lodging in Villa Las Estrellas. Rooms are clean, comfortable and heated, and the hostería can accommodate 85-90 residents.
When to go
Although one can visit Villa Las Estrellas at any time of year, the summer months of December, January and February are the most convenient time to travel.
The average temperature in the village rarely climbs above 0º C, falling to -12º C in winter, when the sun shines between four and five hours a day. Night never truly falls during the longest summer days, with several hours of twilight between sunset and sunrise.
For more information about visiting Antarctica, contact the Chilean Antarctic Institute, INACH.
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