Four options of ferry travel in southern Chile AKA public transport sailing in Patagonia.
This article has been updated on January 4, 2021
If you are fond of observing nature from the deck of a large ship, the southern Pacific shore of Chile might be just the perfect place for you. The region is filled with multiple islands, fjords, icebergs and beautiful mountains. While the more wealthy travellers are able to pick one of the pricey tourist cruises in the region, most of us are left at the mercy of our more modest budgets. Fortunately, the local ferry routes are also sailing through the stunning Patagonian landscapes. So unless you want to head all the way down to Antarctica, you don’t have to splash $5000+ on a luxury cruise. The upcoming piece will describe four interesting options of budget ferry travel in southern Chile, each with a massive potential for spectacular views.
1: Ruta Cordillera: Puerto Chacabuco to Quellón (Chiloé Island) /30hrs
Let’s start with the most basic and economical option of them all. The major purpose of this Navierra Austral ferry service is to deliver goods and passengers to the remote islands in Chile’s Lake District. We are talking very remote here, if the public transport passes by only several times per week and the nearest village is many nautical miles away.
As remote as it can get
Most of the settlements along the way do appear very picturesque and romantic, although, after a short observation, life appears to be hard in this part of the world, whether it’s determined by the climatic conditions or the general limited possibilities and services one can get in such remote places, especially when you consider the fact that the ferry stops between those isolated settlements are in the frequency between 3-6 hours.
The journey and services
In case you were hungry the ferry has a large cafeteria on board where you could buy some classic mediocre cafeteria-style meals and non-alcoholic beverages (alcohol is banned on the ferry but…) and watch the local TV channels. There are two stories of decks where one could sit down and observe the stunning nature around.
The journey takes you through 2 fjords with impressive mountain range around with numerous waterfalls, those were literally everywhere in Patagonia. And then there was also The Sunset. I mean observing a sunset inside the fjord from a deck of a ferry certainly qualifies as a very special moment to me.
The boat also takes passengers, the capacity is I think up to 250 people, who jump on and off in its (I believe) 8 stops. Sometimes it only slows down and small boats pick up people on the way. A semi-cama seat allows you to decline your seat up to 45 degrees, which gives you a decent-ish sleep. But I took the ferry for the views and those were spectacular all the way. So I’ve spent most of the daylight outside on the upper deck.
How to get the ticket and how much
You can purchase the ticket at any Navierra Austral office. I got mine in Coyhaique. More precisely, I purchased a semi-cama ticket for 1920,-CLP (€26). Current prices and online booking are here.
How to get to the port
There are numerous and inexpensive buses from Coyhaique to Puerto Aysen, where you’ll have to change for collectivo, which will bring you directly to the ticket offices of Navierra Austral in the port in Puerto Chacabuco. Just before 12:00, the bus will pick you up to board the ship. FYI: You can also board the ferry in Puerto Aysén before midnight but you would miss the epic sunset 😉
2: Puerto Chacabuco to Puerto Montt /24hrs
This is a 24-hour passenger journey, also operated by Navimag. It runs once a week each way from October until the end of March. It will cost you about €75,- for a bed in a 4-bed dorm. Except having a bed, the meals and everything else is apparently similar to the ferry from option one. The journey would be also nearly identical, only faster with fewer stops.
3: Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams (Isla Navarino) /30hrs
This attractive Austral Broom operated trip would take you through the southern fjords of Chile across the Beagle Channel to Isla Navarino. It leaves at 6 pm and arrives at about 11 pm the next day. It would cost you a staggering 140000,-CLP (€184) for a cama seat (fully recline) or 102000,-CLP (€133) for a semi-cama (1/2 recline), using cash only.
You’ll be served food, and for some fee, you might be also allowed to sleep on board upon arrival to Puerto Williams, the southernmost human settlement on the planet. In case you were interested, book here or at the ferry terminal at least 24hrs prior to your departure. Please note that this is not a passenger boat – like the Navierra Austral route above. It is a cargo boat that also takes passengers.
FYI, I did not opt for this rather seductive option for boring reasons. The ticket was rather expensive and getting from Puerto Williams to Ushuaia was also nearly 100,-USD for crossing the Beagle Channel only. That however still wasn’t enough to put me off. But then I’ve checked how much would cost me to stay in Puerto Williams and that to take upon on 6-day Dientes de Navarino trek (which was my original plan), I’d have to be most probably better prepared when it comes to my gear as well as fitness levels, so I’ve finally given up on that plan ): Maybe next time…
4: Patagonian Fjords Rute: Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt /3 days
The last route I’m going to talk about is the longest and most “luxurious” on this list. The 3 day/$400,-USD route that’s also operated by Navimag. Apart from its price and length, it separates itself from the other trips by the vibe it sometimes comes with.
For such a long duration, you obviously get a bed in the dormitory. Few people I’ve met have described this trip as “a hostel on a boat”, as opposed to the local vibes on the ferries described above. Given the length of the trip, there’s also more time and opportunities to observe nature.
In case you were up for this more luxurious ‘backpackers mostly’ option, you could get more information and book the journey here.
Sort of conclusion
Whatever option you’ll pick, you’ll be obviously at the mercy of the local weather that can change its mind rather fast. Personally, I hope that you will have great weather to enjoy the full potential of the stunning ferry travel in southern Chile. It’s definitely worth it unless mother nature decides that all you could see is rainy clouds. FYI, there are also numerous shorter local journeys I haven’t listed here because the goal was to get a bit of the “explorer” feeling, rather than just going from A to B across a narrow bay or something like that.
- Navierra Austral company’s website: routes, time schedules, tickets, info and so on (in Spanish);
- Navimag company’s website: all routes, prices, time schedules, tickets, information and more;
- Austral Broom company’s website: routes, time schedules, prices, booking, info and more.
Some popular destinations nearby
Tip: Start creating your own itinerary by saving the red-highlighted location links provided bellow on Google Maps. Just sign in into your Google account and if any listed place sounds like your cup of tea, just click "want to go". Personally it worked as a useful indicator for determining my trip across Latin Americas to me.
Explore Chile’s largest island Isla Chiloé, with its significant landscape that reminiscent of Ireland, unique local architecture, dark magic and superstition legends and amazing wildlife. Read more here, in case you were interested.
In case you were heading north, just a few hour’s drive from Chiloé‘s Castro, you’ll hit a small and pretty resort town of Puerto Varas that offers a variety of tourist attractions and activities. More details could be found here.
After a stunning ride from Isla Chiloé across the Andes, you can explore the Argentinian resort town San Carlos de Bariloche as well as many tourist attractions and activities it offers. Find more details here.
If you are in the area, I’d definitely recommend exploring the stunning Carretera Austral, a 1240km road that cuts through the stunning Patagonian nature from Puerto Montt down to Villa O’Higgins. Rather detailed guide with a lot of practical as well as descriptive details could be found here, in case you were tempted.
Other Patagonian destinations within reach
About 1/2 day’s drive further south on the Argentinian side of Patagonia, I’d recommend visiting El Chaltén to take upon some treks in the Los Glaciares National Park, which the town is surrounded by. Get more details here, in case you were interested.
Perito Moreno Glaciar
If you made it this far south, please do not miss out on the option of visiting a truly spectacular place. Nearby the city of El Calafate, there’s the majestic Perito Moreno Glacier. A little guide on how to visit the glacier could be found here.
Torres del Paine
Visit Puerto Natales, the gateway to the iconic Torres del Paine National Park, which is only about five hours away from El Calafate. More details, including links to popular treks, logistics and so on could be found here;
If you were interested in visiting a huge, 120 000 colony of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena nearby Punta Arenas, please note that from Puerto Natales, you’d be the only 3hrs away by bus. More info could be found here.
“End of The World”
Only about 12hrs away from Punta Arenas south-east-ish would take you to Tierra del Fuego and “The End of the World” AKA southernmost city in the World: Ushuaia. More details, including popular treks and activities in the area, could be found here.
Traveller’s Guides to Chile and Argentina
For more complex information about Chile and Argentina, that includes basic history, cuisine, general tourism info and safety, popular as well as off the beaten path places to visit in Chile, please click here, respectively here.