Getting there & away
Puerto Montt's waterfront bus terminal (253- 143; cnr Av Diego Portales & Lillo) is the main transportation hub for the region, and it gets busy and chaotic - watch your belongings or leave them with the custodia while sorting out travel plans. In summer, trips to Punta Arenas and Bariloche can sell out, so book in advance.
Minibuses to Puerto Varas (US$1.50), Frutillar (US$2) and Puerto Octay (US$2.25) leave frequently from the eastern side of the terminal. Buses leave for the villages of Ralún (US$4) and Cochamó (US$3.50, four hours) five times daily, three of which carry on to Río Puelo (US$5.50).
Bus companies, all with offices at the bus terminal, include Cruz del Sur (254-731; Varas 437), with frequent services to Chiloé; Tur Bus (253-329), with daily service to Valparaíso/Viña del Mar; Igi Llaima (254-519); and Buses Lit (254-011). All of them go to Santiago, stopping at various cities along the way; departures are usually around 10pm. For long-haul trips to Coyhaique and Punta Arenas via Argentina, try Cruz del Sur, Queilen Bus (253-468) or Turibús (253-345).
Puerto Montt is the main departure port for Patagonia. At the Terminal de Transbordadores (Av Angelmó 2187) you can find ticket offices and waiting lounges for both Navimag (432-360; www.navimag.com; Angelmó 2187) and Transmarchilay (270-430; www.transmarchilay.cl in Spanish; Angelmó 2187). Both companies are primarily commercial transporters, so don't expect a lot of cruise-ship comforts.
The most popular trip is Navimag's M/N Magallanes, which sails on Monday to Puerto Natales (and back on Friday). It is a popular three-night journey through Chile's fjords; book passage at Navimag's Santiago office. You can also reserve via the website, but it still doesn't hurt to confirm with the Santiago office.
High season is from November to May, mid-season is October to April and March, and low season is May to September. Prices for the trip include three meals per day (vegetarian meals can be requested). Per-person fares vary according to the view and whether it is a private or shared bathroom (ranging from the upper-deck AAA room with an en suite bathroom to the dark C class in the bowels of the ship).
Cars are US$385 extra. Bicycles and motorcycles can also be carried along for an additional cost. Travelers prone to seasickness should consider taking medication prior to the half-day crossing of Golfo de Penas, which is exposed to rolling Pacific swells - particularly in winter. If you are afflicted with seasickness, it is best to lie on your side in bed and severely restrict your intake of food.
Navimag also runs ships to Puerto Chacabuco on Wednesday and Saturday. Prices range from US$216 for the AAA single to US$52 for the C berth. The company connects to Laguna San Rafael on most Saturdays (including some ships that go directly from Puerto Montt to the Laguna). Prices are from US$310 to US$827.
Chaitén Transmarchilay leaves on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday to Chaitén. The trip takes 10 hours and usually runs overnight. Service is scaled back in the winter and is limited in the low season. Prices are in the US$12 range for a seat. The same company runs the ship from Parqua to Chacao on Chiloé. Bus trips to Chiloé obviously include ferry passage, but it is best to make a reservation for a car ahead of time - especially in summer.
Cruceros Skorpios (252-996; www.skorpioscruises.com; Av Angelmó 1660) is a legitimate cruise, which travels to Laguna San Rafael and the Chilean fjords. It also departs every Saturday from the Terminal Chinquihue in high season for a seven-day round-trip cruise, stopping at its exclusive hot-springs resort, Quitralco, and at towns in the Chiloé archipelago. Rates, which include abundant buffets, open bar and hotel-class rooms, range from US$2500 to US$5000.
Catamaranes del Sur (267-533; Av Diego Portales 510) focuses on shorter, faster trips and offering great service. Catamaranes del Sur has the fastest and most comfortable high-speed Catamaran to Chaitén, taking four to five hours. The passenger-only (bicycles allowed) ferry leaves Monday, Wednesday and Friday and costs US$35 one way or US$66 for the round trip. Laguna San Rafael Catamaranes del Sur provides a three-day trip to Laguna San Rafael from Puerto Montt, costing US$605 per person. Its schedule allows for a daytime sail through the glorious fjords to the glacier. A day trip from Puerto Chacabuco costs US$286 per person.
Chiloé Cruz del Sur (621-777; www.busescruz delsur.cl/naviera in Spanish; Chacabuco 672, Ancud) operates auto-passenger ferries from Pargua, 60km southwest of Puerto Montt, to Chacao, on the northern tip of Chiloé. Fares are about US$1 for passengers (included in bus fares to Chiloé) or US$14 per car, no matter how many passengers.
Lan (253-315; www.lan.com; O'Higgins 167, Local 1-B) flies up to four times daily to Punta Arenas (US$200 or more), three times daily to Balmaceda/Coyhaique (around US$100) and up to eight times daily to Santiago (US$200 or more).
Aerosur (252-523; Urmeneta 149) flies daily except Sunday to Chaitén on the Carretera Austral (US$50). AeroGala (253-219; Quillota 127) costs just slightly less, but isn't as established. Both include transfer to the airport.