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Air

Aeropuerto El Tepual

Aeropuerto El Tepual is located 16km west of the city and is served by LATAM, which flies two to four times daily to Punta Arenas, twice daily to Balmaceda/Coyhaique and up 10 times daily to Santiago. (Flights to Castro, Chiloé, are from Santiago only.) The airport is also served by local low-cost airlines JetSmart (www.jetsmart.com) and Sky Airline (www.skyairline.com).

Transport Options

Andrés Tour services the airport from the bus terminal (CH$2500; boxes 10-14). Catch the bus two hours before your flight's departure (don't cut it close with the shuttle departure time – they are fined if they sit in their assigned gate longer than a few minutes and they will leave without you!). It also offers door-to-door service from the airport to Puerto Montt (CH$5000; CH$8000 for two) and Puerto Varas (oddly, CH$10,000 for one or two people).

Taxis to the airport run CH$12,000 to CH$15,000 (Uber rings up between CH$7000 and CH$9000); both trips take 30 to 45 minutes.

In addition to car-rental companies at the airport, the small Terminal Rent-A-Car, just outside the airport on the main road, houses several budget-friendly local agencies.

Aeródromo La Paloma

Charter flights leave from the small Aeródromo La Paloma, 3km northeast of downtown Puerto Montt.

Pewen Services Aéreos flies to Chaitén Monday to Friday (9:30am, 11:30am and 3:30pm) and Saturday and Sunday (9:30am). Aerocord flies the same route daily in summer, less in low season. A one-way ticket on either is CH$50,000.

A quick taxi from the costanera in Puerto Montt is CH$3500.

Bus – Regional

Puerto Montt's modern waterfront bus terminal is the main transportation hub for the region, and it gets busy and chaotic – watch your belongings or leave them with the custodia (per 24 hours CH$1200 to CH$2400) while sorting out travel plans. In summer trips to Punta Arenas and Bariloche can sell out, so book in advance.

Regional micros (minibuses), including Puerto Varas (CH$900, 25 minutes), Frutillar (CH$1600, one hour) and Puerto Octay (CH$1900, two hours), leave frequently from the northern front of the terminal. Buses Río Puelo/Estuario Reloncaví leaves for the villages of Ralún (CH$2500, two hours), Cochamó (CH$3000, 2½ hours) and Río Puelo (CH$4500) at 7:45am, 2pm and 4pm Monday to Saturday, and 7:45am, noon and 4:30pm on Sunday. The first morning departure carries on all the way to Lago Tagua-Tagua (CH$5000, 4½ hours). Transhar plies the Cochamó route at 12:15pm and 3:30pm Monday to Saturday only (CH$4500 as far as Río Puelo).

Bus – Long-Distance

Bus companies, all with offices at the bus terminal, include Cruz del Sur, with frequent services to Chiloé; Turbus, with daily service to Valparaíso/Viña del Mar; Pullman Bus, with a one-stop only departure for Santiago at 9:30pm; and Buses ETM. All of these services go to Santiago, stopping at various cities along the way (locals consider ETM the most reliable and comfortable); Buses ETM and Bus Norte also offer nightly service to Valparaíso/Viña del Mar. Cruz del Sur also has a town office.

For Pucón, Villarrica and Validivia, Buses JAC departs 10 or so times per day. Kemelbus has a daily departure to Chaitén that stops at Parque Pumalín; otherwise, catch more frequent buses to Hornopirén and switch there.

For long-haul trips to Punta Arenas via Argentina, try Queilen Bus, Cruz del Sur and Pullman Bus. Queilen Bus also goes to Coyhaique.

For Bariloche, Argentina, try Cruz del Sur, Via Bariloche, Andesmar and Trans Austral.

Puerto Montt Long-Distance Bus Services

Sample travel times and starting fares are as follows. Note that prices fluctuate with the quality of bus, seating classes and season.

Ancud

Bus Company

Cruz del Sur

Cost (CH$)

4000

Time (hr)

Frequency (daily)

25

Bariloche (Ar)

Bus Company

Andesmar, Cruz del Sur, Trans Austral, Via Bariloche

Cost (CH$)

18,000

Time (hr)

6

Frequency (daily)

3-4

Castro (Chiloé)

Bus Company

Cruz del Sur

Cost (CH$)

6000

Time (hr)

4

Frequency (daily)

25

Chaitán

Bus Company

Kemelbus

Cost (CH$)

20,000

Time (hr)

Frequency (daily)

1

Concepción

Bus Company

Buses ETM

Cost (CH$)

17,100

Time (hr)

10

Frequency (daily)

14

Coyhaique

Bus Company

Queilen Bus

Cost (CH$)

40,000

Time (hr)

22

Frequency (daily)

1 Wed

Hornopirén

Bus Company

Kemelbus

Cost (CH$)

4000

Time (hr)

4

Frequency (daily)

3 (2 Sat)

Osorno

Bus Company

Queilen Bus

Cost (CH$)

2200

Time (hr)

Frequency (daily)

10

Pucón

Bus Company

Buses JAC

Cost (CH$)

9800

Time (hr)

Frequency (daily)

9

Punta Arenas

Bus Company

Cruz del Sur, Pullman Bus, Queilen Bus

Cost (CH$)

35,000

Time (hr)

32

Frequency (daily)

1 (except Wed & Fri)

Quellón

Bus Company

Cruz del Sur

Cost (CH$)

8000

Time (hr)

6

Frequency (daily)

14

Santiago

Bus Company

Buses ETM, Pullman Bus, TurBus

Cost (CH$)

11,900

Time (hr)

13

Frequency (daily)

16

Temuco

Bus Company

Buses ETM

Cost (CH$)

6700

Time (hr)

5

Frequency (daily)

16

Valdivia

Bus Company

Buses JAC

Cost (CH$)

5200

Time (hr)

Frequency (daily)

10

Valparaíso/Viña del Mar

Bus Company

Buses ETM, Bus Norte, Turbus

Cost (CH$)

12,000

Time (hr)

15

Frequency (daily)

1

Villarrica

Bus Company

Buses JAC

Cost (CH$)

9300

Time (hr)

5

Frequency (daily)

9

Boat

Puerto Montt is the main departure port for Patagonia. At the Terminal de Transbordadores, you can find the ticket offices of Naviera Austral. The offices of Navimag are located near the bus station. Both companies are primarily commercial transporters, so don't expect thread counts and Dom Pérignon. If you are looking for added comforts or a more cruise-oriented experience, consider Skorpios.

Naviera Austral sails the Jacaf Monday, Thursday and Friday to Chaitén at 11pm daily, year-round. The trip takes nine hours and usually runs overnight and is less than comfortable. Prices are CH$17,300 per seat while vehicles are CH$95,100.

Auto-passenger ferries from Pargua, 62km southwest of Puerto Montt, leave for Chacao (30 minutes), on the northern tip of Chiloé, on a first-come, first-served basis every 30 minutes or so. Fares are CH$12,200 per car (pedestrians are free), no matter how many passengers.

Navimag Check-In

Navimag Departure Point

The Navimag Experience: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Back in the prehistoric Patagonian travel days of the 1980s and early '90s, travelers had to beg and swindle just to stow away on the rusty cargo freighters that plied the waters between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales. No regular passenger ferries were installed as tourism to the region increased, but the Navimag shipping company caught on and decided to dedicate a section of their boats to passenger transportation. So, these days, you can have that same experience of stowing away on a freighter – sometimes packed with 18-wheelers, drunken truck drivers and cattle – but you can make a reservation on your smartphone and click away hundreds of dollars for your bunk.

If you are looking for a cruise, check out Skorpios or Mare Australis. The Navimag is a quirky travel experience that comes with the good, the bad and the ugly. If you like to try different experiences and are adventurous, it just might be the highlight of your trip.

The Good

The Japanese-built, Patagonian-adapted cargo boat takes you through days of uninhabited fjords, close encounters with glaciers and views of surreal orange sunsets over the Pacific. It passes through Aisén's maze of narrow channels, navigates narrow passages like the White Channel and the Angostura Inglesa (the ship seems to graze the shoreline on both sides) and stops at the impossibly remote Puerto Edén, a small fishing port and the last outpost of the region's indigenous Qawashqar people. To the south, the channels become narrower, the snowy peaks get closer and hundreds of waterfalls tumble from glacial valleys to the water's edge. Along the way, you might spot minke and Humboldt whales, a variety of birds, a long-abandoned sea-level shipwreck and South American sea lions.

Beyond the stellar scenery, the trip has become a unique bonding experience for independently minded travelers (the common areas are like UN break rooms – 23 nationalities on our trip). Strangers become tight friends after round after round of pointless card games, sympathizing about queasy stomachs, deck-top soccer matches, late-night dance parties, yoga classes, knitting and maté workshops, and plans to meet up in Torres del Paine. Even though the ship's common spaces are bare and not particularly comfortable, the crew does a yeoman's job of trying to entertain with karaoke, slide shows, music, English-language movies and video games for the kiddies. There is an entertainment app, Travel Play Navimag, that's downloadable on board.

Life on board is cramped, but beds are surprisingly cozy, hovering somewhere between 1st class on an Indian train and mid-level rock-band tour bus for comfort level. Those who book into C class can expect very little space or privacy, just a curtain separating you and a hallway, while those who spring for BB get private rooms (though cramped if full) while AAA affords a private dining room, separate menus and larger rooms. Breakfast leaves something to be desired (instant coffee, pan típico, bowls of eggs and uninspired cold cuts). Provided coffee is predictably foul, but the cafe sells machine cappuccinos and espresso, which are a step up for CH$1300 to CH$2000. Lunch and dinner can be hit or miss, but sophisticated dishes like roasted hake with lemon-cream sauce occasionally find their way into the cafeteria-style meal plan. Navimag has taken great strides in recent years to cater to special diets (gluten-free, vegan etc).

The Bad

If the weather is poor, your views are limited and you will spend much of your time watching movies in the dining area. If the weather is worse, you can spend a day or so pitching back and forth on rough seas and fighting to hold down your lunch. If the weather is worse than that, your trip can be delayed (for days) prior to departure and you can even be delayed en route if the Golfo de Penas (on the open Pacific) is too rough to cross. Cancellations altogether are not infrequent. Either way, it's windy and cold, summer included.

In the winter the boat can have less than a dozen passengers, which can be fine or can really detract from the social experience. In the heart of summer, it is often so full that people are packed on top of each other and must dine in shifts. A very crowded boat can make the cramped downstairs dorm rooms seem less bearable.

After several alcohol-related accidents (including a death), beer, wine and spirits are no longer sold on board. As long as you are discreet, the crew will look the other way if you bring your own for in-cabin consumption or drinking clandestinely in a Nalgene bottle (is that vodka in your water bottle or you are just happy to see me?). There is a mocktail menu (CH$700) for those who like to pretend.

For anxious travelers, the trip can become tedious by the third day. There is no internet on board and only very sporadic mobile signals throughout the trip, principally in Puerto Edén.

The Ugly

During the winter, when there are fewer passengers and more cargo, hundreds of head of cattle are kept on the top and middle decks in open-top trucks. They are packed together so tightly that not all animals can keep their feet on the ground and after a day or two the stench of 300 cattle can be tough on your nose – especially if you are already seasick.

However, as you should know by now, no valuable travel experience comes without a dose of hardship. If you have the time, a journey with Navimag will not only change the way that you see and understand Chilean Patagonia, it will also add depth to your entire trip.

Navimag Costs & Seasons

Fares below represent the Puerto Montt–Puerto Natales leg between November and March. In the opposite direction, fares are slightly less in high season. There are no discounts given to anyone other than residents of Puerto Edén. In low season (April to October), prices drop significantly, but the ship does not accept passengers from June to September when inclement weather makes it a most unpleasant ride.

Single

AAA (US$)

1950

BB (US$)

1500

CC (US$)

780

C (US$)

Double

AAA (US$)

2100

BB (US$)

1520

CC (US$)

1200

C (US$)

Triple

AAA (US$)

BB (US$)

2010

CC (US$)

1500

C (US$)

Quad

AAA (US$)

BB (US$)

2200

CC (US$)

1800

C (US$)

400