The idea of cruising through the fiords of Patagonia in Chile admiring the spectacular scenery while spying whales and dolphins from the deck is one that sounds fantastic, and if you don’t like the idea of taking a luxury cruise ship, or lack the cash, the Navimag ferry would seem to be a great option, but is it?
Of course there are pros and cons to all modes of transport, something that is clearly highlighted by searching for Navimag on Trip Advisor or other travel forums. Having recently taken the journey on our 15,000 km Patagonia road trip I thought I would give you our take on the experience.
The first thing to say is that it is not a cruise, it’s a form of public transport, which is something that really appealed to us as a way to know even more about the country. You spend 3 nights on a ship that is mainly transporting cargo trucks, but has been adapted to carry passengers. The vessel we were on is called Eden, it’s a new addition to the company we understand and I was told that it is French made and used to sail to Corsica. Eden is 136 meters long and can carry 2400 tons of cargo, which on our trip included 14 trucks of cows!
On that note, I was talking to the guy who looked after the cows during the journey, a genuine Chilean Gaucho (or Arriero). He travels back and forth on the same ship just taking care of the cows and other livestock. I say “just” but it is quite a task as on our journey there were 14 trucks of cows and he has to tend them for 3 days. The smell from the cows and the packing of them in the trucks did seem to upset some people but I personally felt it really added interest to our time on-deck, watching how they were fed and watered, and knowing that someone is always making sure these animals arrive safe and sound.
You have some spectacular views from the deck, even if the weather doesn’t always play ball. The first day on the northbound journey sees you pass through some narrow fiords and the ship has to weave around small islands. It stops once en-route at the very remote village of Puerto Eden where local people get on and off and many small boats approach to collect and send packages, quite fascinating. This ferry is their only real connection to the outside world, passing only twice a week.
If you are patient on deck you might see glaciers, icebergs, whales or, as I did one afternoon, dolphins. The black and white creatures appeared to be playing with the ship and it was a thrill to have them all to myself as everyone else was inside as it was very cold. Time is spent talking to other passengers, in common areas or your cabin, plus there is a guide on board who gives lectures which are interesting. You are allowed on to the bridge once or twice, and seeing how things work was one of the best parts of the trip for me.
Weather conditions can vary a great deal, from beautiful sunshine to gale force wind and rain. We had three distinct days, one sunny, one gloomy and one with plenty of rain. I enjoyed them all. How often are you on the high seas on a cargo ship, in the lashing rain, 6 meter waves and 14 trucks of cows. A unique experience for most of us I would imagine.
The waves are only felt when you are in open water of course, in the fiords it is very calm indeed, and if the waves are too high the captain changes course and sometimes will “hide” the ship more inland as he did on our trip. Make sure you have some sea-sickness pills for the trip, quite a lot of people were absent for a couple of the meals while we were in open water.
The food was plentiful and better than I had imagined. Living in Peru we are a little demanding in this respect as our food is so good, but I have to say that it was all fine, or even good. You would share the table with different people each meal and get to know some of them, exchange travel stories etc.
You will see many comments online about the random sailing times, or even dates, and it is true that schedules can vary due to weather conditions. If people were on trips with us at Escaped we would always advise a day free both before and after the scheduled departure / arrival, and be able to fill those days with activities if the sailing didn’t go to plan for any reason. At one end of the route you are near Torres del Paine and the other the Chilean lake district, so it’s not like you have nothing to do.
Part of being in Latin America is accepting the randomness of certain things. Chile is the most “western” and organized country in Latin America by some distance but some things are still very random and slightly chaotic, Navimag boarding and setting sail is one of those things. Our boat was 10 hours late setting off for example, we had booked a spare night in Puerto Natales in any case so there wasnt an issue, and we would always leave lee-way like that for our clients.
I could waffle on about the trip for ages, I loved it but there are many comments on-line that it isnt worth the money. My advice is to take the trip from South to North, there are fewer people traveling in that direction and you will have the chance of a free upgrade from a last-minute price on a cheap cabin to the best standard, such as we secured, making the trip very much worth the money. Also if you have a car with you, as we did, it goes for free!