The Navimag ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt was a nice break from all the driving we had been doing over the last few months. In addition to having to drive less, you also get to see scenery that can only be seen from the water. There are no roads connecting far-southern Chile — the area including Torres del Paine and the cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas — to the rest of the country. The land connects, but the terrain is so extreme and the distances so long that it just hasn’t been connected yet; and I can’t imagine it ever will, considering there are also several ice fields that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Argentine border. So to get from the main part of Chile to the southern part by car, one must cross into Argentina, drive south, then cross back into Chile.
Doing that, as we did on our southward travels, may lead you to believe that Patagonia solely consists of vast empty windy grasslands and sharp granite spires of mountains. What you don’t realize is that on the other, Chilean, side of the Andes, stretching from Puerto Montt to the end of the continent, is a long skinny temperate rainforest. With no roads leading north from Torres del Paine, the only way to see this beautiful green landscape is from the water, and that is what the Navimag ferry offers. The Navimag ferry Evangelista is actually a cargo ship that brings goods to the southern part of Chile. Years after it was built, it was modified to have simple accomodations, a dining room, and a lounge area with outdoor decks. The trip is made even more spectacular by the fact that the coast is made up of over 1,000 islands, so the vast majority of the route follows the patagonian fjords and not the open Pacific Ocean.
Having a set budget that was to last us most of a year, meant we could only afford the cheapest accomodations possible. However, the cheapest beds are actually located in the hallways, with only a personal curtain to separate your bunk from anyone walking the hallway. We decided to spend a little more on the next cheapest option, which was a 4 bunk room which would be shared with two other travelers.
The idea is that this would help us sleep a little better and possibly get to know some other travelers. Looking back, I’m not sure if the $50 p/p was worth it or not. The clientele of Navimag’s ferries are decidedly – shall we say – more mature, and we can attest to the fact that the more mature Chileans have the same tendency to snore as do the more mature North Americans we know! So, did we sleep any better? Probably not…in addition to the snoring, our room was uncomfortably hot since the controls for the small radiant heater seemed to not be working properly. Recommendation: for the budget traveler, bring good ear plugs and stay in the hallway (by this time our ear plugs were getting worn out and losing their springiness).
We had done a ton of research by reading other travelers’ blogs and had heard that the food was edible but bland. I would say that it was actually pretty decent and better than we were anticipating. As budget travelers, only eating one real meal a day, and just doing something small for the other two, we went a little overboard the first day, taking advantage of the large meals served three times a day. Without much physical activity, three full meals a day was a little overkill and by day two and three, we found we weren’t all that hungry by the time the next meal came.
Aside from eating and sleeping, the rest of the time we were enjoying the scenery through the windows, playing lots of rummy, and meeting other travelers. The weather on our first day was nice (i.e. not raining), but it rained most of the second and third days. In short, the scenery was beautiful!
The ferry leaves in the middle of the night on night one, spends three full days heading north, then arrives in Puerto Montt in the middle of the fourth night (they let you sleep till 8 and still feed you breakfast, which is nice). When we received our car in the Puerto Montt port, I noticed the car next to ours had an audible leak from one of its tires, and I thought ‘that sucks’, thinking nothing more of it. Well it turns out they weren’t the only ones to get a flat that day – we got a little ways down the road and realized our tire was low. We filled it a gas station, and kept going to our destination for the night, which was beautiful Puerto Varas. By the time we reached Puerto Varas it was completely flat again, and it was raining, so we had the joy of figuring out how to get our flat fixed in the hardest downpour we’d seen in all our South American travels. Luckily we found some very nice Chileans who let us pull into their garage so we weren’t out in the rain!
We spent the next week or two exploring the Puerto Varas area and revisiting the family we met in Valdivia (You can read about these wonderful people here). Ultimately our goal was to get back to Santiago, where we had family then friends arriving to travel with us for most of a month!