ANTARTICA FROM CHILE
Today, a growing variety of Antarctic tourist services allow modern
adventurers to follow in the footsteps of great explorers such
as Cook and Shackleton, Amundson and Scott. Maritime cruises and
scenic flights departing from Punta Arenas continue to be the
most common means of visiting Antarctica, though mountaineering
trips and overnight visits to Chile's research bases and the civilian
settlement at Villa las Estrellas are increasingly available.
The frozen continent - the wildest and least understood of all
-- has never been closer or more accessible.
Southern Chile's historic port city, Punta Arenas,
at the southern tip of South America, is fast becoming the departure
port of choice for adventure travelers to Antarctica, skyrocketing
from a mere five in 2001 to over 1800 in 2004/05.
Antarctic Shipping, a Chilean firm with highly
regarded sailing experience in the southern oceans, responds
to the growing demand for cruise travel to Antarctica from Punta
Arenas, Chile, the world's closest major city to the alluring
8th continent. Eight 14-night departures from Punta Arenas,
located on the banks of the legendary Straits of Magellan, and
a single 21-night itinerary are scheduled. The exhilarating
former route follows the Beagle Channel into the renowned Drake
Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula for three days of highly
educational touring. The latter includes a call at the Falkland
Islands (Islas Malvinas) to the east followed by another at
lesser-known South Georgia before continuing southward to the
Antarctic Peninsula. All return via legendary Cape Horn. There
are also shorter cruises northward that include Puerto Edén,
one of the most remote hamlets in the southern hemisphere.
Cape Horn and its environs, covering some 4.9
million hectares (11.8 million acres) was recently officially
designated as a Chilean Biosphere Reserve.
Antarctic Shipping joins other Chilean enterprises
offering leisure travel opportunities in the daunting waters
where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.
The enterprising Chilean airline, DAP, operates
the only commercial aircraft, a 48-passenger de Havilland DHC-7
(Dash-7), departing Punta Arenas to Antarctica for one- and
two-day visits to King George Island off the Antarctic Peninsula
from Punta Arenas. DAP also offers optional helicopter tours
inland that include snowmobile treks over the ice fields.
A "fly-sail" itinerary to Antarctica
was introduced in late 2003 as Antarctica XXI, an innovative
option for visitors to travel by air (with DAP) directly from
Punta Arenas to King George Island, with tours along the ice-bound
shoreline and a return to Punta Arenas by sea aboard a hardy
re-vamped Russian research vessel. The fly-sail itinerary is
reversed on alternate dates.
Antarctica XXI has five five-night itineraries
scheduled for December, 2005, as well as two three-day planned
for late November and December.