A Budget Cruise in Patagonia: The Navimag Ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales
I should mention straight away that the trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales isn’t your typical cruise. There are no swimming pools, tennis courts, spas, fancy meals or alcohol. There is plenty of stunning scenery though, and at $300 for a 3 night trip it’s great value (we went in low season; it’s a lot more expensive in high season!). Here’s a quick look at what it’s like to go on a budget cruise in Patagonia on the Eden, a cargo ship / ferry run by Navimag.
We did this trip in late October / early November and it was freezing. We were very close to the geographical “end of the world” and it definitely felt like it. The wind constantly raged and it even snowed once, but luckily we didn’t get too much rain. The bitterly cold wind stopped us from spending much time outside. If you’re doing this trip through Patagonia (at any time of year) make sure you bring a warm jacket, gloves and a hat.
We drifted slowly past the desolate snow-covered mountains that surround the narrow channels. We passed a hill with dozens of tiny waterfalls crashing down its side. We saw big pieces of ice scattered throughout one section of a wide channel. We cruised past so many rugged hills and quiet fjords. It’s a lonely, bleak kind of beauty. Patagonia is full of scenery like this and seeing it from the front deck of a ship is a great way to experience it.
We started in Puerto Montt, an uninspiring city in Chile’s Lake District. We spent the previous few days in and around Puerto Varas, which is a much better nearby alternative. After arriving on the Eden we slowly made our way past Chiloe Island towards Puerto Natales. We were on the boat for around 72 hours, passing very few signs of human life along the way. We saw a small lighthouse surrounded by sea lions, a rusty shipwreck, 2 tents occupied by local fisherman and eventually a small town, Puerto Eden. The route took us to the rough open ocean but most of time we were navigating through narrow channels. We arrived in Puerto Natales at about 11 am but didn’t disembark the boat until 9 pm, as the wind was too strong to dock.
The Eden definitely isn’t luxury. Its main purpose is to carry cargo between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales — a town that isn’t connected by road to the north of Chile. There are some cabins aimed at intrepid tourists, which combine to house a few hundred people. We stayed in a private cabin with a window, 2 bunk beds, a sink, a small table and a cupboard. It was warm, clean and there was plenty of room for 2 people.
There’s a naturalist on board who gives short talks on the flora and fauna in the area, as well as providing information on Torres del Paine National Park (the eventual destination for almost everyone on board). He would also hang out on the front deck with his huge camera. You can tell he’s passionate about what he does — he was always up for a chat about anything to do with Patagonia.
The food was also surprisingly good. We never went hungry and actually enjoyed most of our meals, which didn’t seem to be the case for some people (the food is a common complaint on Tripadvisor). Meals usually consisted of soup, meat and a small dessert, while the breakfasts were made up of bread and fruit.
The Budget Navimag Cruise through Patagonia FAQs
- What type of cabin should I book? If you’re travelling outside of high season (high season is November to April) it’s a good idea to book the cheapest cabin possible. We booked two beds in 3 bed shared cabin and were upgraded to a private cabin. It’s a bit of a risk (you might not get upgraded) but we saved $100 by going for the cheapest option. There are also more expensive cabins with private bathrooms.
- Should I take the Navimag ferry, fly or go overland through Argentina? Those are the 3 options for getting to Puerto Natales and we looked into all of them before deciding on the boat trip. The flights that we found from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales were around $200 — which we felt was far too expensive for such a short trip. We thought about going overland through Argentina (via Bariloche) but we didn’t have a lot of time and figured we would be too rushed. The bus ride from Bariloche to El Calafate (which is close to Puerto Natales, Mount Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno Glacier) is well over $100 and takes around 30 hours. I’ve never heard anything good about that trip. The ferry cost us $300 each for 3 full days and nights. It was great value, considering we didn’t spend any other money during those 3 days. If you’re travelling during high season you’ll have to pay around $550.
We arrived in Puerto Natales at 9.30 pm and were on our way to Torres del Paine National Park at 7 am the next morning. The W Trek was tough but rewarding, and the views were consistently breathtaking. It’s one of the highlights of South America and the boat trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales is the best way to get there.
Further reading: The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Trekking in Patagonia
Is Patagonia on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!
*I didn’t work with Navimag or receive anything for mentioning them here.