To Navimag or not to Navimag

Chile

After posting our Torres del Paine article, we received the following message from Gabi in Austria:

Hey! Great article about Torres del Paine, just perfect for our travel planning. You also wrote about the trip with Navimag. Is it recommendable? It’s quite pricey, is it worth it? Cheers, Gabi

When Dominik and I were in Patagonia, we worked out that we had three options to head north after trekking around Torres del Paine. Here’s why we decided to take the Navimag from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt

Option One: Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt by road

The first map shows the route that we had already taken, firstly going south from San Carlos de Bariloche to Ushuaia, before heading north to Punta Arenas and on to Puerto Natales in order to get to Torres del Paine.

The second map shows the route that we would have to take to get from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt by road, a trip of roughly 2,000 kilometres, or 1,200 miles.

As you can see, this option would have involved a lot of backtracking – something that we weren’t all that keen on doing, especially after hitchhiking from El Bolsón to El Chaltén didn’t go exactly as planned…

Among other things, we had to camp for a night under some trees next to the highway just outside of Esquel; were dropped off in the middle of nowhere as it started to get dark, with intense winds that even made standing difficult; and took an unplanned trip to Comodoro Rivadavia, on Argentina’s east coast. The twenty-four hour bus that we were trying to avoid probably wasn’t such a bad option after all!

If you take a different route to Puerto Natales (for example, flying to Ushuaia, or travelling down the east coast of Argentina) and have the time to do so, then getting to Puerto Montt by road would easily be the best option, as there are some great places to visit along the way. Our highlights included hiking around El Bolsón and El Chaltén, visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate and road tripping around Los Siete Lagos (the seven lakes) between Bariloche and San Martin de Los Andes.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it there, but I would also love to visit the Marble Caves of Lake General Carrera.

Option Two: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas by road; Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt by plane

Even though this would have involved taking another three hour bus from Puerto Natales back to Punta Arenas, it still would have been the quickest way to head north.

From memory, it was still quite expensive to fly this route back in early 2013, but it looks like you can now fly with Sky for as little as $50 USD.

Personally, one of the reasons I didn’t consider this option is because I (stubbornly) didn’t want to take any internal flights during my six months in South America – I managed to stick to my goal, but had there been flights this cheap back then, it would have been very hard not to book one!

Option Three: Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt by Navimag Ferry

This is the option that we eventually decided upon – booking a fortnight before our departure at a last minute discounted rate of $380 USD each. We travelled at the end of January on the ‘Evangelistas’, but judging from the Navimag website, it now looks like it only runs in the low season (April 1st to October 30th) with beds starting from $350 USD. Their other ferry, the ‘Edén’ operates during the high season (October 31st to March 31st) and rates start from $550 USD per person.

We chose this option mainly because we thought it would be a great opportunity to check out the Patagonian Fjords and neither of us had travelled by boat for an extended period of time.

After some pretty hectic travel in the month leading up to booking, we also saw it as a good opportunity to chill out for a few days while still making some progress towards our next destinations – Chiloé, Valdivia and Pucón.

Pros

  • We met a great group of people
  • It was a completely new experience
  • All meals were included in the cost
  • Four nights of accommodation were included (one at the port in Puerto Natales and three at sea)
  • We didn’t have to backtrack along any roads we’d already been down
  • There wasn’t a great deal to do onboard

Cons

  • The scenery was nice, but didn’t compare to what we’d seen in the previous month in Patagonia and we obviously couldn’t enjoy it in the same way
  • The weather didn’t really allow us to spend time on the deck for extended periods
  • We didn’t see any whales or other marine life like we’d hoped to
  • There wasn’t a great deal to do onboard

Looking back, I’m glad that we did it, but I’m not sure whether I would do it again, especially given the large difference in price between the Navimag and the cheap flights that are now available.

The highlight was easily spending time with the people we met, but I think we were particularly lucky in that regard.

I’ve listed not having much to do under both ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ because, while time might have dragged occasionally, it was also a good chance for us to relax and not have to think about, or plan where we were going next.

We were also able to take our own alcohol onboard, which definitely helped – both to avoid paying the bar prices for every drink and also to while away the hours when combined with numerous card games… The Navimag website now suggests that alcoholic drinks “are not allowed to be brought, sold or consumed onboard” so it might be worth checking with them before booking if this would be a deal breaker!

When it comes down to it, there are many factors to consider when deciding whether the Navimag is the right choice for you – in particular, where you have been so far, where you want to go next, how much money you wish to spend, your preferred method of travel and the type of experience you are looking for.

Hopefully this article has given you some insight into our experience and helps make your decision a bit easier!

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