Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ferrying from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales

For many travelers to Chile, the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales is one of South America's highlights. In my role as a guidebook writer for Lonely Planet and then (more recently and far better) with Moon Handbooks, I've done the trip at least six times over the last 15 years. The trip that started last Monday the 19th, though, was the most spectacular of any of them--the weather and visibility were so good as to be almost beyond belief. It was so good that I suggested first-time travelers on this route ought to have asked for their money back because it wasn't the typical Patagonian experience--even the open-ocean crossing of the Golfo de Penas, where queasy passengers traditionally "feed the fish," was calm.

Many people on the ferry Evangelistas choose more expensive cabins, some of which have interior private baths and others with exterior private baths. You should know, though, that the dorm-style bunks are, in some cases, nearly as private as cabins--some are on cul-de-sacs, for instance, so nobody will be walking past you. The bunks (literas in Spanish) are significantly cheaper, and the only drawback I see is that if the Golfo de Penas crossing is rough, there's more chance of being close to a seasick passenger. Or if by chance there's a seasick infant with an earache that might be even worse. Bunks next to the shared baths (which are separate for men and women) might be unpleasant if people start regurgitating nearby, but I still think the dorm bunks are excellent values.

After arriving at Puerto Natales, of course, nearly everybody plans to visit Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, named for what is arguably the world's most beautiful mountain range. Some have been disappointed, not because of the park's beauty, but because nearly all the park accommodations are running full. My suggestion is that anyone arriving on the ferry should, after dropping off your bags at your Natales hotel or hospedaje, go immediately to make arrangements for park hotels and refugios (shelters, but very comfortable ones). Otherwise, your only option may be camping.

As this is my first blog entry, I don't expect to get much response soon, but I welcome questions about Patagonia, Argentina, Chile, Buenos Aires, and coastal Uruguay, areas all covered in my Moon Handbooks. I will be traveling in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, as well as the Falkland Islands, throughout November and December, and will spend January and February in Buenos Aires before returning to Chile for the month of March.

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