The Ferry to South Patagonia, Chile

The ferry trip to South Patagonia. To the Region de Magallanes y de la Antárctica. 4 days on the boat. A fascinating trip thru the backwaters of Chile’s south coast.

Puerto Varas 2 Puerto Natales

 Day 1 – Navimag Ferry, 29th November

Our last evening in Puerto Varas – sipping some beers. Tomorrow our cruise will start. It’s with Navimag’s ferry to Puerto Natales. 4 days, all-inclusive. We booked the cabin-breakfast-lunch-dinner-drinks-package. The only 1 available. You even don’t have to pay for beer or wine. Stuff like that is simply not available and forbidden on board – even if you bring your own. The only exception is made if you ignore this strange regulation.

The next morning we’re on our way to Hotel Versalles some km outside of Puerto Montt: Navimag’s check-in. Arriving there, we find 2 other overlanders. Cornelia and Simon on a bike.

Inside this formerly posh sleepery quite a lot of international tourists waiting for the ferry as well. Many on their way to Patagonia’s national parks, and a few others think the ferry might be the perfect preparation for an Antarctica cruise.

The check-in: quickly done. We leave our heavy bags with them, then we have to get Prado on the ferry. Easy, as well. Just, nobody knows where to park the car on the deck. The responsible guys enjoy their lunch break. A little later even Prado’s problem gets solved. Finally, just a paper is missing. Only a small 1, but incredibly important. So, Prado has to drive out again. To an office in a container on the other side of the road. There’s a balance where its weight is checked, eventual scratches on Prado’s body are carefully noted, and all kinds of important information about the car is collected. Once they know everything about Prado’s parents, we get this paper. Now Prado is definitely ready to be parked on Navimag’s deck – that’s it.

Up to the passenger deck. In the corridor the luggage we checked in at this strange Hotel Versalles. To the cabin. Everything looks pretty nice, much better than expected. And very Chinese – no wonder, they built the ferry. So far, everything is ok. Just 1 of our bags smells like a bar at 4 am after selling 5000 pints of beer. Quickly we discover the mishap: the guys didn’t care about the precious content of the bag. 1 can of beer is damaged and soaked everything. What a mess, quite a job until all is washed out again in the small basin of the cabin’s washroom. And even worse, now the whole cabin smells like this bar in the early morning.

On to have lunch. Yeah, it’s all-inclusive. The eatery reminds a little of the canteen at university. But food is pretty ok. Of course, drinks have a certain potential for improvement, especially this over-sweetened chemical mixture they call orange juice.

After lunch, we have to wait quite a bit for departure. An opportunity to have a look at their lounge. Would be a pretty nice place for a sundowner.

To avoid that everybody is falling asleep, the captain has a pretty impressive speech. Telling where we’re heading to, how to behave, and especially not to consume alcohol in public areas – at least not to the extent that we fall over the rail into the sea. Yeah, looks like the question of having a beer is a big issue on this cruise. Finally, he promises that he will legally divorce anybody on request. But only while cruising.

By 4 pm we finally leave Puerto Montt. We nearly miss the departure. No announcement, no horn, no shaking of the ship. 

We sail along Chiloe Island. Still, the impression remains the spectacular landscape still has to come.

Later we’re even invited to the bridge. The captain explains everything we need to know, should he go on strike during this trip. Whatever, now we all are experts in navigating a Chinese ferry.

Then it’s already time for a sundowner – true, sunset is pretty late, at around 10 pm. Of course, in our cabin. To avoid all danger to fall over the rail into the ice-cold water.

Day 2 – Navimag Ferry, 30th November

We need a wake-up call to ensure that we don’t miss our breakfast. 

Weather – excellent for this part of the world. Cloudy, sometimes even some sun. Just a few showers – every half an hour or so.

Now we’re sailing in the channels of Chile’s southern Pacific coast. Waterways protected by 100s of islands. Channels a few times so narrow the ferry can just pass. Only a few meters on each side. 

Many passengers observe the sea in front of the ferry. They’re optimistic to see a whale, or a few dolphins, maybe just a bird or 2. Others hang around in the canteen or the lounge, going outside whenever there’s something to discover. Exchanging tales of their adventure, playing cards, or simply telling everybody how often they already suffered from severe diarrhea after a sumptuous portion of South American street food. Finally, there’s a number of people just ignoring everybody else, reading the whole day, or staring thru the window – the zombies. 

Late afternoon the ferry moves towards the open sea. Yeah, there’s a 14h passage in the open Pacific. Well known to be pretty rough.

The crew seems to be used to the passenger’s behavior during this time. Thus, the nurse distributes pills for seasickness.

Still, many of the esteemed passengers are missing dinner. Maybe the pills are not too efficient, or for some girls, they were not sufficiently vegan to take 1. Who knows.

Later in the evening, the passenger decks emptied very early. Ok, a bit boring. We go to our cabin for our well-deserved beer.

Day 3 Navimag Ferry, 1st December

The next morning. The sea smooth as glass. The weather as it should be – lousy: strong wind, rain, cold.

Our cabin a bit of a mess. Everything moved around. Looks like the ship rolled quite a lot.

In the canteen just a few people. Some telling they nearly fell off their bed. Many just sipping tea.

Whatever has happened in certain cabins, we’re back to the channels. Most of the day we’ll be cruising in the backwaters of Parque Nacional Bernando O’Higgins or its adjacent reserves. 

The highlight of the morning – the ship Capitán Leonidas run aground many years ago. Hopefully a reminder to our captain to double-check his navigation.

Later he can prove his navigational skills. We’re approaching the famous Angostura Ingles. The ferry can only pass by driving a sharp S-curve.

In the afternoon a short stop at Puerto Eden. A Chilean outpost with some 70 souls earning their living from fishery and government’s bureaucracy.

After 1h the trip goes on. Again, thru the channels lined by steep mountains. Many waterfalls, and some glaciers.

In the evening we celebrate the last night of the trip with Navimag’s special cocktail in the lounge: tea from the kitchen, and rum from the passengers. 

Later the guys organize a cultural evening with popcorn: classical guitar music from the continent.

Day 4 –  Navimag Ferry, 2nd December

Our last day on the ferry. Still in the backwaters of Parque National Bernardo O’Higgins.

Weather – a little better than yesterday. But much colder. Strong, icy Patagonian winds. It’s changing every 15′ from rainy to bright sunshine.

About 2h before reaching Puerto Natales the ferry passes the last narrow passage – Angostura White. You can only pass it during daytime and if there’s next to no wind. Another couple of sharp curves – and we’re done.

By 3 pm we approach Puerto Natales. On the viewing deck, we enjoy the brightest sunshine and little wind. Then we’re informed, that the port has closed down due to strong winds. Difficult to believe. Nonetheless, just minutes later we have to go inside due to extremely strong wind. A little later we’re informed that there will be no way to anchor the ferry until tomorrow morning.

The staff is getting extremely busy again. Of course, they already arranged everything for tomorrow’s trip back to Puerto Montt. Now they have to arrange for another dinner and another load of this chemical orange juice.

For us, the poor passengers remain only the option to hang around and later move to the tea’n’rum ceremony.

In the evening we have an astonishingly good dinner. 

Then we suddenly realize that the ferry moves again. They just forgot to tell us.

Indeed, by 10 pm the ferry is securely anchored. Those who wish to leave may do so. The others who fell in love with Navimag’s cabins may stay on board until tomorrow 7 am. No breakfast and nobody to be late. Well, we just get the information by asking around. The whole staff still seems to be overwhelmed that they can have a couple of beers  tonight. And a few passengers are slightly upset about the complete lack of information.

Many passengers can’t wait to leave the ship. For us, it’s no option. No idea at what time we’ll get Prado back.

True, it’s a bit chaotic. Some want to get into town, others don’t know if they can stay, and nobody has any idea what’s really going on. 

We take the opportunity to check if Prado is still ready to start its engine after 4 days in the icy weather. No, it’s definitely not ready. The battery is absolutely flat. We ask a guy for some help. Hopeless, he just disappears after a minute. Fortunately, there’s this beautiful red car just next to Prado. A brand-new Nissan. And the keys are in the door. Thus, with no time to lose, we quickly start it, connect it to Prado – and start without any problem. Quickly we cover all traces of the misuse of this foreign car, leave Prado with running engine, and wait to drive off.

Indeed, by 0.30 am Prado gets out. Just a bit difficult to convince them, that nobody else than us will do that. We’re pretty sure any guy working with them will drive the car without problems. But arriving at the parking he will stop the engine – and tomorrow we’ll not easily find another red car willing to share its battery. Finally, Prado is out, the engine will be idling until tomorrow, and we enjoy our very last night on the ferry.

Puerto Natales, 3rd December

7 am sharp, we’re kicked out and perched into a bus. For those few guys with their own transport just 100m to the parking lot. 

There we find Prado still idling. Happy that it doesn’t need to start again. We quickly socialize with a customs officer providing us with the most important paper you can have – the confirmation that you passed from Chile to another part of Chile – well, to Tax-Free-Chile. Whatever that might mean. 

A last pic of the ferry, then we head for breakfast.  The 1st attempt is a complete failure. It’s in a nearby hostel, where their rules don’t allow non-guests to have breakfast. Even if they pay for it. As we’re not keen to know the other rules they might apply, we move on to quickly find another sleepery. They’re even ready to provide breakfast to guests just arriving. 

Finally remains the big question: is it worth spending 4 days on Navimag’s cruise ship? Yes, no doubt, we would do it again. Not cheap, but where else can you drive thru all these narrow channels towards the South Pole?  Hoping for whales, dolphins, otters, and other monsters of the sea. Even if we rarely saw any.

On to save Prado. Quickly we find a shop selling good quality batteries. We replace it – and Prado can start again.

Puerto Natales – maybe not the place to visit for its beauty. It’s rather a convenient, but non-descript gateway to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. The place to buy everything you need if heading for the national park.

Surely, you agree with us – it’s enough. You had to read a lot of boring nonsense and admire so many pics. So we postpone the adventures in Chile’s most famous national park to the next post.

Thanx for reading the whole stuff. Please don’t forget to remain jealous – even if you don’t know what might be an appropriate x-max gift for Auntie Jane (we propose woolen socks, red or yellow color).



Argentina's and Chile's Lake District
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile