A21 History: Our First Air Cruise

In 2023, Antarctica21 celebrates its 20th Anniversary. This is one of the notable moments in the company’s history.

Monday, January 23, 2023

In 2023 Antarctica21 celebrates its 20th Anniversary. During our company’s 20th anniversary year, we want to celebrate our history with a review of the important milestones that have defined our journey. This is one of the notable moments in the company’s history. You can read more stories here.

Written by Jaime Vásquez, President

The story of Antarctica21 begins with our first Antarctic fly and cruise voyage, a proof-of-concept trip we organized in December 2003.

We flew to King George Island in a De Havilland Dash-7 aircraft, a 50-passenger turboprop-powered plane that was brought to Punta Arenas all the way from Canada. Our sea voyage was aboard Grigoriy Mikheev, a former research vessel we had chartered for a single trip from another expedition company. Mikheev was a simple base for our first exploration, and most cabins offered shared bathrooms. Quite different from our boutique ships today.

Grigoriy Mikheev, the vessel that took us on our first Antarctic expedition.

During an office move, the exact records have been lost, but I know that there were only 13 paying guests on that first air-cruise. Now we have up to 73 on Magellan Explorer. Everyone else on board was either an invited travel professional on a familiarization trip, a travel journalist researching a story, or a friend we engaged to provide feedback on the experience.

I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement and anticipation as I sat in the airport waiting to board the aircraft. I had been to King George Island before as a guest of the Chilean Air Force on a C-130 Hercules, but I had never explored Antarctica before. While I had traveled a lot around the world, at that time, expedition cruising was a new style of travel for me.

On arrival in Antarctica, I felt like I had entered a primordial world, an early version of our planet. Like most Antarctic visitors, I felt moved and humbled by the majesty of the landscape, especially by the spectacular, gigantic icebergs we encountered along our journey. The lack of vegetation had an extraordinary impact on me. At the end of each day of exploration, we would gather in the dining room, sharing stories, making connections, and trying to evaluate all aspects of the operation. During those long conversations, we refined our plans and developed a vision for the future.

At the end of the adventure, as we flew back to Punta Arenas, I was keen to record my travel companions’ reactions to the trip. Wanting to capture their feedback as close to the travel experience as possible, I spoke to most of them. They were all thrilled. More than one had teary eyes.

I already knew the power of our innovation and understood that flying over the Drake Passage could revolutionize the Antarctic travel experience. But those conversations taught me something more: that this new enterprise of ours was a different kind of business.

I understood that success would depend on more than just organizing logistics and resources. We would impact people at a very personal level, provoking deep joy and intense emotions. To ensure that, our business needed to have heart and soul.

That has been our guiding light for the past 20 years. It finds its best expression through the extraordinary teams we have built and the strong relationships we have fostered in Chile and around the world. During that first trip, I could not imagine our company would become what it is today.

I could not be prouder of what we have built.


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