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.

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