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Top Chile

Sailing the Southern Seas

The southern seas of Chile are a world apart. Around any boats plying these waters leap whales, dolphins and toninas. On the rocky shores are penguin and sea lion colonies. A huge variety of birds wing above the ship, seemingly following its journey through channels and fjords. Ice floes tumble from white mountains, calving into blue bergs. The air is crisp.

How do you get to experience this world? Two major ship lines sail into Chile’s Southern Seas: Naviera Magallanes, more popularly known as Navimag, and Naviera Austral. They do not compete against each other, though, for the trade on these icy waters. Each has its own routes — and its own personality.

Navimag is the better known company. Its routes, though devoted to carrying cargo to the towns Puerto Chacabuco and Puerto Natales, take the opportunity to make these unforgettable experiences available to tourists. The prices are high, however, making them beyond the economic reach of those ports’ inhabitants. (People who live in Puerto Natales fly, as the fare is cheaper.)

The Puerto Natales journey, called Canales Patagónicos, lasts four to five days. Sailing the Kaweskar route, the ferry Evangelistas traverses Canal Moraleda, around Isla Messier, across Golfo de Penas and through Canals Messier and White. It includes a landfall in Puerto Edén, thus providing that village a connection with the outside world, and a pass by of Glaciar Pío XI (South-bound) or Glaciar Amalia (North-bound). Talks, movies and other on-board activities entertain the passengers. Accommodations are in berth (22 bunks per section with shared bathroom) or in one of three classes of cabin. Prices also include all meals. This ferry also takes bikes, motorcycles and cars.

A purely tourist excursion is the sail from Puerto Montt to Laguna San Rafael to see the glaciers up-close and to toast the bergs with whiskey on millennium ice. It makes a stop in Puerto Chacabuco to pick up passengers who join the expedition from there. Then slicing through the frigid waters of Fiordo Aisén and Canal Costa, the ship enters Elefantes Estuary until it approaches the wall of Glaciar San Rafael, the foot of the Campos de Hielo Norte, or Northern Ice Fields. The glacier reflects ice blue in the sun’s light. Frosty ice bergs scatter the lagoon. A toast of whiskey on the rocks (in this case, millennium ice) is made to this special place declared by UNESCO in 1979 as a Biosphere Reserve. The crew speaks Spanish and English.

The third route Navimag operates is a normal run between Puerto Montt and Puerto Chacabuco, the gateway into the heart of XI Región de Aysén. It goes directly between the two ports, not stopping at any village along the coasts. The voyage takes 24 hours. The ship also takes vehicles, bikes and motorcycles.

Whereas Navimag is a sleek, thorough-bred shipping company, aiming its passenger services to foreign and moneyed tourists, Naviera Austral is the region’s workhorse. It is the most important provider of ferry service from Puerto Montt and Chiloé to the Northern Patagonian villages. On these ships journeyers can get to know the common face of Chile. Any traveler heading down the Carretera Austral will be taking one of Naviera Austral’s ships, whether from Puerto Montt to Chaitén or from Hornopirén to Chaitén (this latter only January to February). On these routes it is possible to see Volcán Chaitén seething on the eastern horizon.

This company’s other three routes connect Isla Chiloé with the northern Patagonia mainland. Departing from Quellón on the southern tip of the island, the Don Baldo heads to Chaitén. In January and February another ferry connects Castro and Chaitén. A more fascinating run is the 22-hour Ruta Cordillera journey from Quellón to villages along the coast and fjords: Melinka, Raíl Marín Balmaceda, Santo Domingo, Melimoyu, Puerto Gala (Isla Toto), Puerto Cisnes, Puerto Gaviota (Caleta Amparo), Puerto Aguirre and finally anchoring in Puerto Chacabuco. On this, the Don Baldo pulls into the small villages, delivering supplies and dropping passengers off home. The slower Alejandrina does the trip in 36 hours and has only butacas or seats. The Don Baldo has butacas and berths.

Schedules change throughout the year, with some routes operating only in summer. Boats may be canceled due to weather and sea conditions, especially from May to October.


Navimag accepts all credit cards. Special group rates are available; discounts are given for students, minors and third-agers, and during the low season. Details on schedules and fares can be obtained at: Navimags offices are:

Santiago (Avenida El Bosque Norte 0440, Piso 11, Las Condes, Tel.: 2-442-3120, Fax: 2-203-5025)

Puerto Montt (Hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 2:30-6:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Terminal Transbordadores, Avenida AngelmĂł 2187, Tel.: 065-43-2360, Fax: 065-27-6611)

Puerto Chacabuco (Terminal de Transbordadores, Tel.: 067-35-1111, Fax: 067-35-1192)

Coyhaique (Paseo Horn 47, Tel.: 067-23-3306, Fax: 067-23-3386),

Puerto Natales (Pedro Montt 308, Tel.: 061-41-1421, Fax: 061-41-2229)

Punta Arenas (Magallanes 990 Piso 2, Tel.: 061-20-0263 / 061-24-4400, Fax: 061-24-2003)

Naviera Austral

Naviera Austral's prices remain more constant regardless of the season, though in the height of winter specials are offered. Volcán Chaitén's activity can affect services to Chaitén port. For up-to-date information consult or drop by one of the company’s offices:

Puerto Montt (Avenida AngelmĂł 2187, Tel.: 065-27-0430 / 31 / 32, Fax: 065-27-0415, E-mail:

Quellón, Chiloé (Pedro Montt 457, Tel.: 065-68-2207, Fax: 065-68-2601)

Hornopirén (Ingenieros Militares s/n, Tel.: 07-968-1646)

Ayacara (MarĂ­a Mayorga, Ayacara Centro s/n, Tel.: 07-475-1168)

Chaitén (8 a.m.-9:15 a.m., 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-6 p.m. Avenida Concorvado, near Calle Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Tel.: 9-875-0320)

Palena (Sandra Millapinda, José Miguel Carrera 647, Tel.: 065-74-1326, 09-829-51976, E-mail:

Melinka (Elizabeth Ulloa, Avenida Costanera s/n, Tel.: 067-43-1707, 07-654-0758)

Puerto Cisnes (Olivia GĂłmez Goio, Arturo Prat 07, Tel.: 067-34-6426, 08-448-2837, E-mail:

Puerto Aguirre (Braulio Guaquel Mariman, Balmaceda 350, Tel.: 067-36-1357, E-mail:

Puerto Chacabuco (Terminal de Transbordadores s/n, Tel.: 067-35-1493)

Coyhaique (Chaltén Travel, Avenida Ogana 1147, Tel.: 067-24-6113)

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

24 Jun 2009

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