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One of the best parts of traveling and meeting people is hearing everyone’s story. Everyone has a story. A series of life events that have led them to be in this place at this particular time. A reason why they are traveling, what made them start and what drives them to continue.
These stories are all so vast and varied, but the one thing that binds everyone is their love of travel, their sense of adventure, of taking the world by its horns and living each day to the fullest. I watch their eyes light up as they recount their experiences, whether good or bad, as the bad are also experiences and they usually make for a good story. Their overcoming of adversity.
I love being part of this world, surrounded by these fascinating people and living life to the fullest. It feeds my soul yet makes me yearn for even more. There is so much to see, and I want to see and experience it all!
“Travel is the only thing that makes your richer while making your poorer”
WHAT WE DID IN SOUTHERN CHILEAN PATAGONIA
We had received lots of warnings about campervan break-ins in Puerto Montt, so we knew that under no circumstances could we leave the van unattended. Driving into the large Walmart shopping parking lot, all we could see were patches of broken window glass, so that sealed the deal and Tai was left in the front seat as a deterrent. He wasn’t very scary looking but could probably talk them to death if they came close!
The city itself looked poor, tired and dilapidated. Peeling paint, rotting roofs, corrugated iron walls and graffiti, made the city look unwelcoming. A port community without the resources to maintain its facades. We didn’t intend to stay long anyway.
We had come to stock up on food before heading down south on Chile’s only southern road – Route 7, otherwise known as the Carretera Austral. Said to be one of the most scenic roads in the world, but also one of the worst roads in the world. The further south you get, the more expensive everything becomes, so filling our cupboards beforehand would save us a good few pennies down the road.
Reaching the start of the Carretera Austral required a ferry ride from Hornopien to Caleta Gonzalo. A 9-hour ferry ride through the Patagonian fjords. Not knowing how long we would be at the mechanic; I hadn’t booked ahead, and the ferries were full for more than a week! Bugger!
Book in advance! Hornopien to Caleta Gonzalo Ferry bookings: www.taustral.cl
Cost: Depends on the size of your vehicle. Ours would have been 80 000 CLP.
After an hour or two of bouncing between ferry booking agencies, I decided to change our plans altogether and instead of driving down the Carretera Austral and coming back up by ferry, we would take the Navimag ferry south from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales and then drive back up the Carretera Austral.
Not wanting to stay in Puerto Montt, we went back to Puerto Varas for another 2 nights before boarding the Navimag Ferry. Puerto Varas really is a delightful little town and we were super happy to have a little more time there.
Oh, what heaven! Oh, what joy! Four days without driving while we are on the ferry! Woohooo!!!
The Navimag Ferry is by no means cheap, it’s also a cargo ship, so nothing luxurious, but it felt like absolute heaven to me. We had booked the very very cheapest beds, which were literally bunk beds with a curtain in the passage! Luckily the delightful booking agent took pity on us and upgraded us to a 4-bed cabin which we would be sharing with two girls, Megan and Katie, both of whom were solo travellers.
All our meals were included, and the food was excellent! Huge portions of deliciousness with free tea, coffee and juice all day. There were yoga and tai chi lessons, a huge chess board on the upper deck, loads of board games, movie night, educational seminars and wildlife documentaries. The staff were incredible, speaking multiple languages and always with big smiles. And that was just on the ferry…
We were sailing through southern Patagonian Chilean fjords. The Andes mountains rose up on the left of us, the Cordillera de la Costa mountain range, now fragmented into islands, on our right. Snow-capped volcanos dotted the landscape and hanging glaciers magically perched on the edge of sheer rock faces. Schools of Humpback whales spurted fountains of water, sea lions floated past on their backs, their flippers folded calmly on their chests, albatrosses glided past on their enormous wings and numerous sea birds bobbed and dove to eat their fill. I spent hours on deck, just marvelling at the immensity of nature’s beauty.
Being so far south, I had been warned about howling winds and freezing weather, but the God’s were smiling on us and the weather during our trip was incredible. Standing at the bow of the ferry could be quite icy in the wind, but at the back of the ferry on the upper deck, we were in t-shirts lathered in suntan lotion and could easily have put our bikinis on!
The ferry can take 100 passengers and it wasn’t full, so it felt like we got to know almost everyone within our 4 days aboard. Tai made friends with some kids and they had the time of their lives playing monopoly and catch catch through the maze of passages. On our last morning, I woke up with a teenager. Yip, it was Tai’s 13th birthday. Everyone made such a fuss, the chef made him a cake and everyone on the ferry sang happy birthday to him. I had bought reigniting candles much to everyone’s amusement when Tai tried to blow them out. He was super chuffed and felt really spoilt. So much better than what would have been a boring day with Mom, should we have been driving down the Carretera Austral!
Navimag Website: www.navimag.com
You can only book beds/cabins on the website. To book a vehicle, you need to go into a Navimag agent office with all the vehicle details.
After making so many friends on the ferry, we kept bumping into people we knew everywhere we went. It was wonderful!
From the town of Puerto Natales, you looked across the bay at a snow-capped mountain range while black-necked swans floated gently by and when the sun came out, the sea sparkled the most magnificent royal blue. What is it about snow on the top of mountains that makes them look so magnificent? I get quite mesmerised by them.
We had excellent thin-based pizzas at Base Camp, the most ginormous burgers I have ever eaten at Baguele’s Brewery, delicious food and huge slices of cake at Patachic 58 and the most amazing and much needed hot showers at Erratic Rock Hostel. All of which had great wifi, which we made full use of!
TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK
There are two multi-day hikes in Torres Del Paine. The “W” and the “O” trail. The “W” is a four day hike, while the “O” can be done in 8 or 9 days. To do these hikes, you need to pre-book a site at each of the campsites along the way. During peak season, these sites are booked out months in advance. I knew this, but I had no idea when we would be arriving so pre-booking wasn’t an option. We were just going to wing it when we got there and hope that there were sites available. Well, that was the plan, but on arrival in Puerto Natales I was told of campervans blowing right over in the strong winds in the parking lot where I would have to leave Thor. A Dutch couple I met even had their windows blow in! I knew I would spend the entire duration of the hike worrying about the van, so decided to just do the main Towers hike and some of the shorter hikes.
We had met a whole bunch of solo travellers on the ferry and so a merry band of travellers had formed. We filled a hire car and our campervan, Thor, with happy hikers and off we set for Torres Del Pain National Park to do the main hike to the Towers.
On arrival we were told we were too late. It is an 8 hour hike and for safety reasons, no one can start the trail after 12pm and everyone has to leave the top of the mountain by 4pm latest in order to get back before dark. We were there at 12h15. What a disappointment! The big hike would have to wait until the next day.
The park is really big, nearly 100kms of road from the north-east entrance to the southern exit, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Huge herds of grazing Guanaco’s, turquoise lakes and hundreds of flamingos with the Torres Massive as an astounding backdrop. Just driving through the park was amazing, even though the gravel roads were absolutely horrific!
We passed the Pudeto boat dock where they are now charging an exorbitant 23000 CLP per person one-way! Luckily our hike wouldn’t require us needing the boat. We were doing the Mirador Cuernos Hike. A easy 5km hike that would take 2 hours.
We started with a view of the Pehoe Lake with the Explora Hotel in the distance. A few minutes in we reached the Salto Grande (“The Big Waterfall”) with turquoise water barrelling over the edge. We had a curious Guanaco seemingly follow us as we walked with the magnificent Cuernos mountains in the background. At one point we heard a thundering crash and realised it was an avalanche causing the noise. We weren’t anywhere near, so no danger, but the sound was amazing.
The hike offered incredible views of the turquoise Nordernskjold Lake and cresting the last hill we could see the glacier hanging on the top of the mountain. The view was so spectacular that we stayed for ages, just drinking it all in.
The next hike on the agenda was the Glacier Grey hike. A 5 hour hike up to the Grey Glacier. The road was bad and the going slow. We’d had a late start leaving Puerto Natales and getting to Torres Del Paine Park had taken an unexpected 2 hours. It was getting late and we realised that we wouldn’t actually have time to do the hike, so plans were abandoned. The others were staying in Puerto Natales so they all piled into the hire car and left the park via the South entrance. We were going to spend the night at the welcome centre which was the start of the Mirador Las Torres hike and it was right at the other side of the park. By the time we got back, we had a broken cupboard, a smashed glass and jangled nerves. Did I mention the road was terrible!
VAN LIFE AND LESSONS LEARNT
- As we get further south, so the sun sets later affording us more time to finish excursions and get home before dark
- Puerto Natales may be near the end of the earth, but the wifi here is some of the best we’ve had in all of South America!
- When they say the wind blows here, they are not kidding. Lying in bed at night I feel like I’m in a cradle being rocked!
WHERE WE STAYED
PUERTO VARAS: This is the best spot in Puerto Varas. Follow the road along the lake shore until the big gravel parking lot at the end. Lots of campervans here and the best views of the town, the volcanos and the lake. There were a few food trucks nearby and city centre only a few minutes’ walk away. The police patrolled often so a safe spot to stay.
GPS: S 41°18’41.58”, W 72°58’40.44”
PUERTO NATALES: We wild camped next to the small park, opposite Base Camp restaurant, which is highly recommended for awesome pizzas. There is free wifi on the ChileGob network. You just need to accept the terms and then resign in every 30minutes. You can have a delicious hot shower for 1000 pesos at Erratic Rock Hostel, where you can choose which of their six charities to donate the money to. Lots of places with bathrooms if you need.
GPS: S 51°43’51.36”, W 72°29’52.32”
TORRES DEL PAIN NATIONAL PARK: We wild camped in the large grassy parking lot at the Torres del Pain Welcoming Centre. This is where the Torres Hike starts from. The bathrooms are free and water is drinkable. There is a café for coffee, drinks and snacks. No wifi or cellphone signal.
GPS: S 50°57’52.08”, W 72°51’43.98”
We travelled from Puerto Varas > Puerto Montt > Puerto Varas > Navimag Ferry > Puerto Natales > Torres del Pain National Park
Total Distance Driven: 274km (distance sailed on ferry not included)
I will be providing our basic travel costs per week, so that you get an indication of what a trip like this entails. Bear in mind that we are budget travelers, so your budget could vary depending on your lifestyle choices. For example, we always opt for the cheapest and often, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and only require very basic accommodation. For us, the experiences are where it is all at, so we’d rather spend money on activities.
The costs below are for the full 7 days. They do not include campervan repair costs, visas and insurance costs.
The costs below are shown in Chilean Pesos (R1 = 54 CLP) ($1 USD = 774 CLP).
- Fuel = 62014 CLP
- Tolls = 600 CLP
- None = 0 CLP
- Navimag Ferry = USD $1697
- Torres Del Paine National Park = 37850 CLP
- Restaurant = 14500 CLP
- Supermarket = 95496 CLP
- Quick Bites = 9300 CLP
Van Supplies and Living
- LPG Gas = 11268 CLP
- Showers = 3800 CLP
TOTAL = 1 635 702 CLP = USD $1982 or R30864
WHERE TO NEXT
We’re as far South as we are planning on going so from now on, we will be heading North. We’ll be crossing back into Argentina to go to El Calafate where we will see the Perito Moreno Glacier and then on to El Chalten where we will be doing some amazing hikes.