Most backpackers that are traveling in Chile will eventually go to the famous Patagonia area in the south for hiking. So the question is, how will they get there? Will they fly, will they do the bus & ferry through the fjords, take the bus via Argentina, or take the Navimag Ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales?
I eventually decided to take the more expensive Navimag Ferry ($550USD/person) that goes from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales.(four days) Before I made my decision, I did a lot of research on the internet to try and get some insight on this method of transportation. I wanted to know if it was worth the money? Was there a tour guide? Was there coffee onboard? Are your belongings secure? Do people speak English? Are the passengers mainly locals, budget travelers, or luxury travelers? How do we check-in? I had so many questions about what to expect on the ferry.
I couldn’t find very much information on the blogs that I read, so this is the reason why I wrote this post. I did find the Navimag website to be very informative. With this post, I would like to give you some reliable information so that you can make the best decision on to go, or not to go by ferry. The Navimag Ferry is an expensive way to travel to southern Patagonia for a budget backpacker, but I think it is a very economical solution for somebody who is on a short vacation with a bigger budget. Please note that The Navimag is nothing like a Carnival Cruise with unlimited luxury, but I felt that it was good value for the money, and there is a good chance that you will see some beautiful views of the fjords. Some of the other backpackers that I met on the Ferry did not think it was good value. Everybody on the ferry had a different type of budget.
I will discuss the prices, timetables, my experience on the boat, and most importantly the pros and cons of this choice of travel.
What Is The Navimag? How Long Does It Take? Where And When?
So the Navimag is a car/passenger ferry that links Chiles’ Southern Patagonia with the middle part of Chile(The Lake District). The boat can take over 300 walk-on passengers, providing food, and basic dorm style bunk beds for everybody on board. Typically the passengers are foreigners. It is a mix of budget backpackers like me, luxury travelers, some Chilean tourists, and a dozen or so truck drivers.
The Ferry from Puerto Montt(North) to Puerto Natales(South) takes four days and three nights to cross. You can also go the other direction Puerto Natales(South) to Puerto Montt(North). If you do the South to North Ferry, it takes four days and four nights because you board the boat the night before the departure(That’s an extra nights accommodation!) Both directions are the same price.
Puerto Natales is the town where travelers usually stay a few nights so they can organize a hike on the famous ‘W’ or ‘O’ trek in the Torres Del Paine National Park. Puerto Montt is a small port town where travelers typically only stay one night so that they can take the Navimag Ferry, or a flight somewhere the next day. Most travelers prefer to stay at Puerto Varas(20km away) instead of Puerto Montt.
North To South
The ferry leaves Puerto Montt once a week every Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and arrives in Puerto Natales around noon on the following Monday. Check-in is on Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Boarding starts around 2:00 p.m.
South To North
If you want to go the other direction the ferry leaves Puerto Natales every Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. and arrives in Puerto Montt around 6:00 a.m. on the following Friday morning. (Note, you must board the ferry the night before departure!) Check-in is on Monday between 9:00 a.m. and 6 p.m. And boarding will start around 9 p.m.
A word of caution! If the water is too choppy when the ferry is in either port, it cannot dock! This is obviously for safety reasons. When I took the boat to Puerto Natales, we arrived around noon on Monday but couldn’t dock until 10 p.m. due to the high winds. So when you are planning your hiking reservations, you may want to give yourself some extra time. And maybe let your hotel or hostel know that you are arriving by ferry before you leave for the trip, so they don’t give away your bed if you are late.
How To Buy Tickets
You can buy your ticket ahead of time online on the Navimag website, purchase tickets from selected travel agents, or from the main office in Puerto Montt. They take cash or credit card.
Boarding Day(Friday) Puerto Montt To Puerto Natales (North to South)
Since I took the ferry from North to South, I will only provide a detailed description of this direction. On the day of departure I check-in around 10:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Express in Puerto Montt, not at the Navimag central office. This hotel is attached to the main shopping mall along the waterfront, and it is very easy to find.
When I checked in, I received my room and bed number. Then the guide told me to return to the check-in area(Holiday Inn Express) around 1:00 p.m. so that I could catch the organized bus(free) to the Ferry. They also tagged and stored my luggage, so I was free to walk around the city and get some food before the journey.
I returned to the check-in area(Holiday Inn Express) around 1 p.m. and got my luggage back. I waited at the hotel with all the other passengers for the organized bus. We boarded the bus around 1:20 p.m. and drove to the ferry.(15 minutes)
After boarding, we were allowed to find our rooms and get unpacked. The rooms were not very big, and they can have up to 4 people in each one if the boat is full. There are two sets of bunks in each room. Each person gets a locker that is big enough for a 30L backpack but not large enough for a suitcase.
Approximately 1 hour after we had boarded there was an announcement over the loud speaker for a general meeting in the large cafeteria area. The tour guide(naturalist) reviewed all of the safety procedures, told us the meal times, and explained the layout of the ferry in both English and Spanish to us. After the briefing, we were allowed to get the keys to our rooms and our assigned security lockers. And at this time we had the option to specify any special meal requests like vegetarian, no seafood ext.
The meals were served cafeteria style at the same time every day. There was always a menu listed in Spanish at the entrance of the Cafeteria for each day’s meal selection. If you don’t understand Spanish, you can upload an offline Spanish/English dictionary to your phone or just ask fellow travelers to translate for you. Also, be prepared for four days of no internet! Try to get all your important business that requires wifi done ahead of time. Most travelers agreed that four days with no wifi was a good thing!
We got three meals a day with no snacks, breakfast(8:00-9:00), lunch(12:30-1:30), and dinner(7:30-8:30). The food was pretty good (Chicken, Potatoes, Fish, Port, Steak, Spaghetti, etc.) considering the price of the ferry. The portions were large, and you could go up for more food if you wanted. There was free tea, and instant coffee set up during the meal times, but it was put away after each meal. Hot water was always available, so if you stock up on a couple of tea bags or coffee packets, you can make a drink in between meals.
You can bring as many snacks aboard the ferry as you want, but alcohol is not allowed on board due to an incidence in the past. You can buy snacks, and there is a Nescafe espresso machine for those who do not want the free instant coffee in the top lounge for sale at a slightly inflated price. A Cappuccino was $2 USD.
We stayed on the boat for the complete four days. While aboard we were free to walk along the upper and lower decks as much as we wanted providing that it is safe.(Weather-wise) Every day there was an announcement informing everybody that there would be an information session on our current itinerary. The tourist guide(Naturalist) talked about our current path, what we might see if the weather is clear, and what wildlife and fauna are in the area. The lecture was done in Spanish first and then in English. They always announced when the English session was about to start.
There would always be an announcement if the tour guide, captain, or any of the team members saw anything interesting like Orca Whales, or if were we in a scenic area.
Weather & Scenery
Typically the weather in the fiords is cloudy and rainy. So I figure just set your expectations low weatherwise and hope for the best. There is a lot of beautiful scenery to see, even if it is cloudy. A lot of white capped mountains and remote islands. But the mountains are often covered by the clouds. During my time on the Navimag Ferry, I did get some excellent views of the mountains but only a few times a day due to the weather.
For me, I found this excursion to be a much-needed break. There is not much to do when you’re on a boat for four days. I concluded that it was nice just to sit on a bench and watch the little islands go by, read a book, or talk with some of the other travelers on the boat. If you decide to take the Navimag Ferry maybe, you will be lucky and have a sunny day or two. Overall I found it to be a great experience. I think everybody needs a break from the modern world now and then. I would do it again if I had the time, and money.
What Happens If The Ferry Is Late?
As I said earlier the ferry was stuck in the port for 8 hours. We were served an extra meal at no charge, and if the delay were going to be longer, we would be able to sleep an extra night and have breakfast at no charge.
So to do the Navimag Ferry or not? Let’s go over the Pros and Cons
It was a very relaxing experience that may include a lot of excellent views of mountains and remote islands. You are somewhat secluded from the modern world as wifi is unavailable for four days. You can meet lot’s of fellow travelers and maybe get some much-needed rest. The air is fresh, and the area is mostly uninhabited.
It does cost a lot for a budget backpacker. It would be 60% cheaper to take a bus via Argentina or by taking a bus through the fiords of Chile. If you do not have much time to spare, four days may be too long. Flying will only take a few hours and cost a lot less. If you are dependent on wifi, then you may get a bit stressed out being offline for so long. You may get terrible weather the entire four days. The rooms will be very crowded if the boat is full. During the four days, we experienced choppy water for one night. Most people didn’t have any problems with sea sickness because the ferry is a decent size. But sea sickness is possible.
I feel that if you do decide to take this mode of transportation, you must approach it with low expectations weatherwise and have a positive attitude. The weather will decide on what you will see. My favorite personal quote is “Any day not at work is a good day!” I will take being on a boat in the middle of the fijord during the rain any day over being at work.
If you can manage to book a flight ahead of time from either Puerto Montt or Santiago to Puerto Natales, it would most likely be the cheapest method of transport and the fastest.
I hope that this post has helped you with your decision to take the Navimag Ferry or not to. If you have any questions on this post or any other posts, feel free to add something to the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.