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The Travel Blog

Fiordos de la Patagonia (Ferry through the Patagonia Fjords)

Image Title: Whale Watching on the Patagonia Ferry. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Whale Watching on the Patagonia Ferry. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Riding the Ferry with Containers and Cargo.  [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Riding the Ferry with Containers and Cargo. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: The Cotopaxi Channel Marker.  [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
The Cotopaxi Channel Marker. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Daily Nature Lecture on board a Navimag Ferry.  [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Daily Nature Lecture on board a Navimag Ferry. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: 4 Person Cabin on a Navimag Ferry.  [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
4 Person Cabin on a Navimag Ferry. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Rainbow over the Patagonian Fjords.  [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Rainbow over the Patagonian Fjords. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

If you are looking for an adventurous way to travel through Patagonia, consider taking the passenger ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. The trip takes four days from noon on Friday to noon on Monday to sail 800-some nautical miles of some of the most remote and dramatic country on the planet. It's a bit of a spartan cruise with 100 or so of your new best friends from all over the world. You do get bunks and you do get fed, but there is no Lido deck, no cabin stewards, and the daily entertainment is the ship’s onboard naturalist giving lectures, first in Espanol and then in English. 

 

During the journey, you can expect to see birds ranging from various terns and gulls to albatross with a wing span of 4m (12ft) as well as turkey vultures and the famous Patagonian condor, one of the largest carnivorous birds in the world. You can also expect to see marine life like seals, sea otters, penguins, porpoises, and whales swimming and surfacing through the narrow channels. All of this bountiful wildlife is set against a backdrop of small islands and jagged peaks rising hundreds of meters out of the water.

 

Life for your four days on the boat is pretty simple. The ship’s intercom system provides an alarm calling you to the dining hall breakfast from 8:00 to 9:00 and then you are fed a lunch from 12:30 to 13:30 and finally dinner from 19:30 to 20:30. In between meals, there is a bar on the top deck lounge where you can start a tab for sodas, chips, and candy bars. Fair Warning: The ferry is a dry boat. No alcohol allowed. Really, you aren’t allowed to bring your own and there is none for sale. It's not clear just how militant they are about checking, but you certainly cannot openly drink wine or beer at your meals and the poor lads who were bringing beer aboard in grocery sacks had it confiscated for the duration of the trip. There is a story they will tell you about drunk lory drivers in the 1980's starting a fire for a BBQ inside one of the cabins as the reason the boats are all dry. Aside from the communal meals, people pass the day comparing stories, playing card or board games, reading or wandering the decks in awe of the landscape in a constant search for wildlife to photograph. The cabins are small and efficient. There are four bunks and four lockers to a cabin that measures about 2.5m (7.5 ft) across by 3m (9 ft) long. Some have ensuite toilets and showers and some share communal toilets and showers.

 

Connectivity is spotty. For the first and last days of the trip you can expect to have 3G cellular data service but the middle days are pretty remote. The upside of this is the spectacular views are not blighted with cellular towers or power lines. The manmade interruptions you can expect to see are other vessels and salmon farms. The channels are fairly busy with commercial marine traffic transiting up and down the Chilean coast and commercial salmon farming is a booming business for Chile.  Salmon farming is having a significant impact on the fragile ecosystem because of the synthetic food, hormones, and antibiotics given to the farm fish and the tremendous amount of biological waste that is being introduced. You will also pass by the 1889 wreck of the English merchant ship, Cotopaxi. There is now still visible the rusted hulk of a modern ship that was scuttled on top of the Cotopoxi, but instead of sinking alongside, ran aground on top of it and stayed there. The Chilean Maritime Authority decided to put a channel marker light on the wreck instead of trying to remove it and ironically named the channel, Cotopaxi Channel.

 

While most of the journey travels through narrow channels, you will have to make a 12 hour open ocean passage around Peninsula Tres Montes and you should expect some moderate to heavy seas during this passage which means . . . . . sea sickness.  Although the weather is nearly impossible to predict (trust the nowcast more than the forecast), the captain will have an idea of how big the seas will be during the open ocean passage. You can get seasickness pills and sea sickness bags from the ship's medical kit or you can bring your own if you know you are somewhat prone to getting motion sickness.

 

What to bring and wear? Plan for wind and rain in summer (Jan-Mar) with temps around 10C (50F).  Ferry cruise fashion is mostly fleece, down, and Gore-Tex. You should only bring what you can carry by yourself. Most of the passengers on our cruise were travelling with backpacks and duffels rather than rolling suitcases, but there were a fair share of rollers that were a little clumsy getting up and down the ship-ladder staircases. Like us, most of the other passengers were travelling to Chile's Torres del Paine National Park for a week of trekking or driving through Patagonia and elected to extend their trip with the ferry. There were also several passengers, like us, who were working their way to Ushuaia, Argentina prior to disembarking to Antarctica, but that's a subject for another blog entry.

 

Our Ferry journey was a special time and we met many kindred spirits with a love of adventure travel.  For more information on sailings, tariffs, and reservations, contact the ferry company, Navimag. For more information about our Patagonia and Antarctica expedition, check out our website: www.opendoortravelers.com.

 

Phil & Diane

Hotel Ilaia

Punta Arenas, Chile