Polar Plunge Antarctica: The Day I Swam in the White Continent’s Icy Waters

by Antarctic Peninsula, Water Adventures11 comments

When I had the chance to go to Antarctica on an expedition cruise with Hurtigruten, I made it one of my goals to do my first ever polar plunge on the continent — and I did! (Polar Plunge Antarctica)

…However, it helps to note that this almost did NOT happen.

This is a “right of passage” for all of us who have adventurous souls as well as one of the best things to do in Antarctica; but of course, we all know that it isn’t exactly a wise decision to swim in the world’s coldest waters in just a bikini, right?

So yes, for total disclosure, I did spend some time debating with myself before the whole ordeal happened, and I segregate them into the following stages…

Polar Plunge Antarctica

» Stage #1: Excitement

Deception Island

A few days after we’ve landed in the Antarctic Peninsula itself, the Hurtigruten crew announced our upcoming arrival to Deception Island: a unique place in the continent due to the fact that it is the caldera (volcanic ‘crater’) of an active volcano. To set everyone abuzz even further, they said that this will be the location wherein we would be allowed to do a polar plunge.

This is it, I’m going to do a polar plunge!” I thought to myself excitedly.

After all, it’s not every day that someone can have the unique opportunity of swimming in Antarctica waters — and even inside a volcano at that!

– – –

» Stage #2: Doubt & Fear


“Meh, I’m not going to do it.”

My friend quipped from across the room while I was preparing my clothes for the shore landing on Deception Island.

“Wait, what? You won’t do the polar plunge?”
He shrugged, “It’s not my thing, and I have to work.”

Well, there goes my ‘plunging’ support buddy! Aww…  Then again, nope, I was not to be swayed. Of course, I was a bit disappointed, but I didn’t let it bother me too much.

Later at lunch, I passed by one of the service staff and he gave me a little nudge, “So, are you going to do the polar plunge today?”

Yes,” I replied, “How about you? Have you done it before?”

He chuckled, “Yes, and I will NEVER do it again!”

Something in me faltered, but I shrugged it off. I went back to my cabin and in order to hype myself up for the experience, I typed the phrase “polar plunge” on my web browser. I simply wanted to browse through some cool photos — but one thing led to another… and I rather stumbled into article headlines that read:

  • Polar Plunges: Are They Even Good for You?
  • Is the Polar Plunge Safe?
  • Swimmer Rescued During Polar Plunge
  • How to Survive a Polar Plunge

I can die from this? What do they mean it’s not safe? Someone had to be rescued before? And what — I have to “survive” it?

It then dawned on me that my initial “euphoria” on the idea of doing my first ever polar plunge had clouded my practical judgment that: OF. COURSE. Swimming in cold waters has risks that are not limited to shock, heart attack or hypothermia (maybe even drowning because I’m not a good swimmer myself lol). It didn’t even help that I started to recall how cold I felt when I first took a dip in European waters — and mind you, that was in the summer!

So okaaaay. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all…

– – –

» Stage #3: Facing it All

Pendulum Cove

Sure, I might die because of “cold shock” if I’m not healthy enough or if I happen to have a heart problem — but that’s just highly unlikely. The expedition team even told me that they never had someone who died from doing a polar plunge; besides, the whole plunge will only be for a few minutes (even seconds if anyone couldn’t bear it) and there will also be a doctor onshore.

Naturally, the above factors were all sensible reasons for lessening my building doubts and fears; but do you know what took it all away completely…? When I thought of ‘regrets’.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog and if you’ve followed my whole journey up to now, you would know how I dislike having regrets in my life. I didn’t want to have a lot of “what ifs” in the future — and certainly, I didn’t want this polar plunge to be one of those.

So that afternoon, I boarded the zodiac boat that was sailing to Deception Island’s Pendulum Cove. As I sat there, I can already see the cluster of ship guests onshore, both old and young, who were either stripping off their clothes or running straight into the freezing waters. I couldn’t help but giggle… “Yup, I am one of those crazy lunatics.”

After I set foot on the cove, Hurtigruten’s expedition team leader gave us a tip that we could walk (or even run) around the island before taking the dip so that our bodies can get to warm up a bit more before the plunge itself. However, I was in a daze — I went straight to the part of the shore where all the swimmers were.

I just wanted to get it over with before I could change my mind.

Once there, I did a quick chat with one of the swimmers who gave me an encouraging mini-speech, and then, without missing a beat, I set up my camera and started putting off one layer of clothing at a time. Now I assure you that I shuddered terribly when the harsh Antarctic winds first hit contact with my bare skin — plus, I felt even more chills when my bare feet touched the cold black sand. It didn’t even help that the water boots they made me wear were sogging wet!

I ran over to one of the expedition staff and muttered, “I’m ready.”

She put a checkmark beside my name and afterward, I swiftly turned and ran towards the water.

– – –

» Stage #5: Adrenaline High

Antarctica Polar Plunge

You see, running is essential in order for this particular polar plunge to be successful. Some other ships do it ‘pirate style’ where you get to jump off a plank; but for ships like Hurtigruten, it is up to you to set your pace — and nope, there’s no room for slow wading and adjusting here: you MUST run, or else, you might back out given that the water is so awfully cold.

So as my body gradually went through the water, all the obscene words that I’ve learned in this life spilled out from my lips.

And when the water hit my waist — there was a pause. I didn’t think that a sudden ‘slow mo’ could happen to me in real life, but it did. And for some reason, the word “PLUNGE” popped into my head. Before I knew it, my body automatically did a little dive and then I was wholly under the water.

…Aaah, I can still recall how cold and painful it was as if millions of tiny needles were piercing through my skin! But before I could process everything further, again: there was another pause and I think this is the part when my body was already done with the cold shock response. I proceeded to push myself out of the water and then walked back to shore. One of the expedition staff wrapped a towel around me while saying, “Good job!” and as I was drying myself off, I felt incredibly weird.

For some reason, my body didn’t feel like it was cold anymore. Rather, I felt so refreshed and energized.

At some point, I even took off my towel and then took some photos of myself on the beach with just my bikini on. But of course… I didn’t take too long because I know that my body must actually be very cold despite the numb yet invigorating feeling that I was having!

Soon after, I was back on the ship and enjoying a hot jacuzzi (as if to remind my body how it felt to be warm again).

Outdoor Jacuzzi

TRIVIA: There was a time when you can dig holes in the warm sands of Pendulum Cove so you can enjoy a ‘hot spring’ by the bay — but this is NO longer allowed under the Antarctic Treaty. Hence, people’s perception that there are hot springs in Deception Island is not true; and believe me, even if it was still allowed to do that, there is no way that your plunge won’t be cold.
You can also do a polar plunge in Whalers Bay of Deception Island, but the upside of doing it in Pendulum Cove is that once you get back on the beach after your swim, you’ll get to enjoy brief moments of semi-warm sand on your feet.

Polar Plunge Certificate

By the way, I got a certificate for doing this and it’s probably the coolest certification that I have to date!

Water temperature was at 1.5°C
Windspeed of 6 meters per second
Air temperature of 2°C
December 10, 2017
Place: Pendulum Cove, Deception Island, Antarctica

• • •

Polar Plunge Antarctica


It still felt like a dream that I really did manage to check off ‘polar plunge’ on my travel bucket list! (I also did camping in Antarctica.)

Now if you were to ask me if I’m going to do this again, my answer would be YES! — But, I won’t make a habit out of it. wink I will most likely do the next one in the north pole once I get to be on those parts.

All in all, I’m just so glad that I didn’t let my doubts and fears stop me from doing this. So if you ever are in the glorious Antarctic, I highly recommend that you do this.

Again, remember: better to push yourself to do it than to regret it later!

• • •

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  1. Gemille Sleweon

    I’ve heard of this, but always wondered about it. Is there a high chance of getting sick after being in such cold water? Also, I admire your courage, I’d be scared of of my mind! lol!

    • Aileen

      I was told that it’s fine if it’s only for a few seconds. When I did this, I felt fine afterwards and didn’t get sick. It actually felt refreshing too (plunging into cold waters and then dipping in a hot bath or sauna).

  2. Joel Ouano

    hahaha so crazy… yeah … death is at the doorstep. Well, congratz aileen so inspiring…

    • Aileen

      Thank you Joel! It was a bucket list experience haha

  3. Censie Sawyer

    Oh man! I really have never had any urge to do this! ha! I cannot imagine how cold it would be in Antarctica! What a once in a lifetime experience for you though. I am sure you are glad you did it.

    • Aileen

      Yes, I really am glad! I wouldn’t have wanted to regret not doing it ;)

  4. Jenn

    Okay, these photos are stunning. My first thought about the swimming, is NO way. Yet if I were there in person, I might just think otherwise and have to try it out. If I was with other people doing it, I probably would go for it. What a great experience.

    • Aileen

      True! It always helps to have people with you that are ‘game’ for it. Either way, I’m so glad I didn’t chicken out and that I did this!

  5. Katie Halsall

    Oh wow, it looks incredible there. I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to take a polar plunge… But I think it’s always cold enough getting into my local indoor swimming pool haha! Well done to you!

    • Aileen

      HAHA yeah I remember when I first swam in European seas and boy, it was cold — and that was in the summer! Haha still can’t believe I managed to do this, yeah!


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