Rich Heller is currently the Marine Operations Manager for G Adventures and has been a member of the company’s marine programs since 2006. During his near-decade with G Adventures, Rich has had the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most remote and beautiful destinations, usually by boat. With years of experience guiding and supporting tours in the Antarctic and Southeast Asia, Rich brings a mix of field experience and passion for wildlife, remote destinations, and shipping that collectively assists G Adventures to create life-changing experiences for its travelers and partner communities around the globe.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What motivated you to pursue a career in the travel industry?
Rich Heller (RH): In college, I studied business and international development, but by the time I graduated, I had one of those moments where you ask yourself: “What do I want to do with my life?” Initially, a healthy dose of wanderlust and a desire to travel drove me to pursue a career in travel, but as I looked into it, I realized more and more the connections between my educational background and tourism. I found there was an opportunity to give back through travel, in the learning that can be done between travelers and communities, the knowledge that can be transferred, and the connections and opportunities that can be shared. In 2005 I joined G Adventures, as there was a clear alignment between the company’s philosophy of using travel as a positive force for changing people’s lives and my own personal interests and goals.
TRO: Tell us about your role at G Adventures.
RH: I manage our Marine Operations team, which focuses on running all of the G Adventures water-based programs, including the G Expedition, yachts in the Galapagos, and sailboats in five destinations around the world. My primary focus is G Adventures’ polar programs onboard the G Expedition, which includes the budgeting and spending, all of our crewing decisions, any upgrades we make onboard, building the itineraries, setting the sail plan, and determining how long we’re going to spend in each place. Basically, making sure everything runs smoothly for our travelers, who always come first in G Adventures’ operations.
TRO: G Adventures recently unveiled a 38 night South America cruise from Ushuaia to Cartagena. How did this month-long cruise concept become a reality?
RH: We asked ourselves: where is a place where we can build an immersive, epic, continental voyage that shows travelers the geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic contrasts of the regions, and also allows them to put it in context? We feel that the diversity of each of the six countries along the Expedition’s South American route and all the included excursions along the way make this voyage truly spectacular.
TRO: What locations are featured in the cruise?
RH: Within the 38-days of our South America Cruise, there are three very distinct legs that can also be booked individually. Our guests begin in Patagonia, Chile, where the jagged peaks of the Three Towers in Torres del Paine National Park are visually spectacular and truly among the trip’s top highlights. This stop includes lots of outdoor time in the wilderness, with opportunities to see the region’s fjords and glaciers. As we move up the coast, passengers get to experience one of the journey’s great hidden gems in the pretty port town of Ancud, the gateway to Isla Chiloe. From there, we sail toward Valparaíso, where they will have the opportunity to explore coastal towns and vineyards during a winery tour in the Casablanca Valley. Moving north, they’ll see the Atacama Desert, which blankets the coast from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It is more industrial and arid than parts north or south, but uniquely beautiful in many ways. Moving up into southern Peru, travelers will be invited to head to shore by zodiac and take part in a number of excursions, all of which are included, before stopping in Lima, a G Adventures hub of operations. Then we spend three nights in and around the famed ruins of Machu Picchu. From there, we fly to Trujillo and back to the Expedition, where passengers are treated to a guided visit among the ancient Chimu capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chan Chan, which hosts incredible Inca ruins that are visited by significantly less tourists. (This would probably be the most underrated, hidden gem I would describe within this trip’s itinerary.) Then we sail to Ecuador and into tropical jungle environments, where passengers can tour the unspoiled islands of Isla Day La Plata, dive into marine snorkeling, visit local communities, watch incredible wildlife, and relax on the beaches. Finally, a stop along Panama’s underappreciated Pearl Islands, a visit to Panama City, a sail through the Panama Canal, and a beautiful ending in Cartagena. There are so many incredible destinations along this epic tour, it is hard to choose just a few highlights.
TRO: What advantages are there to sailing continuously long-term versus taking multiple shorter cruises to the same destinations?
RH: We like to say that one of the great advantages to any marine expedition, but especially this South America Cruise, is that you only unpack once. On this epic trip, which covers so much ocean and ground, that’s truly the case. You’re really getting an opportunity to see three unique geographic and cultural regions and actually see how the geography changes as you travel up the coast, as well as understand how that influences the ways in which people live. This allows travelers to put it all in context: contrasting how someone lives in Ushuaia compared to up in the jungle regions of Colombia. Plus, you get to experience it all with a crew and staff who are as excited to visit these places as you are. It really is the cultural, educational. and experiential adventure of a lifetime.
TRO: Tell us about the ship, the G Expedition.
RH: The G Expedition is a smaller ship with the goal to get in and out of ports that larger ships cannot. This provides an intimate small-ship cruising experience that has the feel of a friendly community. She was completely refurbished in 2009 and boasts spacious cabins, each featuring ocean-facing windows or portholes and private en-suite facilities, along with climate control, which keeps things comfortable when we’re in the icy regions of Patagonia or the hot and humid environs of tropical Colombia. The Expedition’s spacious quarters can comfortably accommodate up to 134 passengers with plentiful common areas and private spaces for reflection and retreat, plus observation decks that provide panoramic views of the distinctive landscapes of some of the world’s most remote regions. She also has a library, a lounge, a pub, and a computer room, which offers passengers limited internet connectivity to loved ones back home. Our passenger-to-crew ratio is generally about 10 to 1, which allows for many educational opportunities for travelers to learn from our local guides and experts, who share a major passion for adventure and sea travel. They offer our passengers a diverse range of expertise: geology, bird-watching, photography, history, and more.
With a focus on safety, comfort, and the unique demands of polar travel, the crew of the Expedition is committed to the ship’s continued safe operation.
TRO: What kind of expansion is G Adventures looking to do in the future for its cruise offerings?
RH: We are looking less at the future right now and more at the present: our primary focus is in making this new trip – the epic South America Cruise and its three smaller cruises – incredible for our passengers and successful for our business. However, we are also looking at the possibility of opening up other regions to expedition cruising, such as the Canadian Arctic, the Amazon River from its Atlantic mouth west into Brazil, and the UK. With more than 70 percent of the Earth covered by ocean and countless freshwater rivers weaving through beautiful lands, the opportunities for future adventure travel are wide and exciting.
For more information on Rich Heller and G Adventures’ cruising programs, visit them online at www.gadventures.com.