Have you been dreaming about visiting the southernmost city in the world? Wonder what it looks like?
That was me many years ago. I have been dreaming about visiting the world’s southernmost city, which is Ushuaia, until I looked at the map closely and saw another city crossing the Beagle Channel south of Ushuaia.
That is Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world, according to the bilateral agreement between Chile and Argentina. I was curious about Puerto Williams since and it became my ultimate destination for my South America trip. I was finally able to visit after arriving in Punta Arenas. I boarded a boat and started my 31-hour trip towards Puerto Williams. Was the journey worth it? Totally.
Puerto Williams – the city beyond the end of the world
Puerto Williams was founded in 1953 as a military settlement. It is located in Isla Navarino and is the capital city of Chile’s Antarctic province with less than 3,000 inhabitants. Its airport and the hospital are run by navy personnel and there is a military neighborhood near the commercial center with horses on the loose. Puerto Williams is also a base for scientific research on the Antarctic and air trips to Cape Horn and the Antarctic.
Journey to Puerto Williams
Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about the destination”
The journey to Puerto Williams itself was no small feat. To arrive at the southernmost city in the world requires a 31-hour ferry crossing through complicated winds, tumbling seas, and unpredictable weather conditions. The boat was rocking left and right, and the violent waves intermittently gave us cold splashes, but the rewards are worth the effort. We went out to the deck and saw the labyrinth of uninhabited islands, white-dipped mountains, deep fjords, rugged sea cliffs, and the sea lions and dolphins jumping along the way. The sweeping vistas at this remote part of the world took our breath away.
At 3 pm, the boat entered Beagle Channel. In front of us was glacier after glacier. I did not count how many there were, but they are all huge and crystal blue. Some were hanging on the mountaintop and forming narrow waterfalls running into the ocean, and others were melting and we felt the wake on our boat. The last glacier was gigantic and the boat stopped for a moment for us to take pictures and appreciate the view.
The rough sea state started to disappear and our boat sailed quietly in the calm water for hours. When the boat approached Puerto Williams under the nautical twilight, we were all excited and stood on the deck until we saw the skyline.
Arriving in Puerto Williams- What does this world’s southernmost city look like?
There was not much happening in Puerto Williams, except the bustling winds, and the adventurous souls on Dientes De Navarino conquering the difficult terrain under the unpredictable climate. Locals do not market this place and they keep the world’s southernmost city to themselves. They live a slow – paced and happy life, and they will welcome you to be a part of their community. Therefore, my five-day trip became a wonderful experience living with the locals. And, regardless of its quiet and remote ambiance, I always found something interesting to do.
The south coast of Puerto Williams
On a sunny and wind-free afternoon, I chose to walk 7-kimometes on the coast along the Beagle Channel to the light-house, as a part of the 5-day Isla Navarino trekking circuit.
After a friendly local offered me a ride and a long walk on the dirt road and the rocky surface, I stood next to the light-house and looking over the peaceful Beagle Channel, the vast terrain, and the mountains on the Argentinian side. There were ferries sailing south towards Cape Horn and the Antarctica while seagulls whistled and soared over the sky in pairs. It was a beautiful walk in the remotest part of the world with nobody around.
Meeting the Yaghan People
Yaghans are the indigenous people of Tierra Del Fuego and they are highly resistant to the inhospitable climate. They wore little clothes and built bonfires to keep themselves warm. Tierra Del Fuego (translated into “Land of Fire) was named by a European explorer after seeing several bonfires in the darkness on the island.
Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum shows a collection of Yaghan’s history and the techniques Yaghans use for hunter-gathering. Villa Ukika, a district of Puerto Williams, is where the last decedents of the Yaghans live, and meeting Yaghans made this trip a worthwhile endeavor. Upon my first visit, I was invited to a party and met most people in the village. We chatted and laughed over the windy night around the bonfire with wine, beer, and music.
In Puerto Williams, you are constantly running into the same people. Whenever I met the Yaghans again, they would give me hugs, invite me to meals, offer me a ride, and provide me with insights on the island. Puerto Williams is a place where the locals remember you in a few days and the hospitality of the Yaghan people really shows this.
Delicious King Crab meal
Puerto Williams is known for its fishing industry and it offers a wonderful crab tasting experience. Just imagine eating crab fresh out of the Beagle Channel makes any seafood lover salivate. There is a king crab shop in the main plaza selling king crabs, and you can get four king crabs for CLP $10,000. A guest in our hostel working in the fishing industry grabbed a huge pack of king crabs for us. The meat was already cooked and taken out, and the mix with mayonnaise and lemon made me feel in heaven.
If you cannot get enough of the king crabs in Puerto Williams, you can purchase some and take it with you on the airplane, so you can share it with your family and friends.
Dientes De Navarino
As with the end of the world city, there is an end of the world trek at Dientes De Navarino. There are travelers coming to Puerto Williams that head to Dientes De Navarino and spend days walking the 55.3-km circuit.
The trail is poorly marked and you need to bring both GPS and the map to navigate the route. Once on the Dientes De Navarino, you have to cross the slippery and steep mountain slopes with cliff drops, camp in the wild, and walk in the wind, rain, and snow. This is the most grueling trek in Patagonia and those who completed it have been rewarded with otherworldly landscapes in every step, plus the fantastic view of the Dientes, glacial lakes, Navarino Island, Canal Beagle, Puerto Williams, Cape Horn and Ushuaia.
Life in Puerto Williams is simple and the expense is low
Everyday, I immersed myself in the beautiful nature, breathed in the fresh air, walked on the coast, and took in the serene beauty of this place. In Puerto Williams, it was not expensive to eat at the restaurants and purchase groceries. The museum visit and Dientes De Navarino treks are free.
On my last day in Puerto Williams, Lan, a photographer from Arica, and I went for an afternoon walk on the north coast and our goal was to capture the beauty of Puerto Williams through our lenses. We walked for an hour towards the airport where we arrived on the coast with the Beagle Channel, white-dipped mountains, rainbows, Ushuaia and the port of Puerto Williams in sight. We strolled on the beach, picked seashells, and looked at hundreds of seagulls flying overhead. The water was calm and there was nobody around.
We totally enjoyed being at this remote place alone and we lost track of time. When it started getting late, we decided to hitchhike. The first car stopped. The driver let us in before we asked him for a ride.
Refugio El Padrino and Cecilia
I spent my nights at Refugio El Padrino, where the owner, Cecilia, made this hostel our home. At Refugio El Padrino, payment is taboo to be talked about in the public, everything is shared, the door is always open, and even if you are not the guest you are welcome to visit.
If you have a hard time, Cecilia will tell you to relax and find you a solution. I arrived at this hostel at 12 am without a reservation. After knowing the hostel was full that night, Cecilia drove me around to find me a place to stay. She even told me that I could sleep in her daughter’s room in her house.
The hostel does not have internet so we abandoned our computers and cell phones, and spent time getting to know each other. We shared meals, explored the island together, and chatted throughout the night. Most of us were leaving on the same flight on the same date. Our last night there, we randomly decided to have pizza dinner and beer at the hostel’s camping site where Cecilia and the owner of the pizza restaurant joined us. We were sleepily full and happy, and returned to Punta Arenas together the next day.
Puerto Williams is easy to arrive but difficult to leave”.
Arriving in Punta Arenas, I saw the vehicles speeding on the streets, and the relatively fast-paced way of life was a bit shock to the system. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my days at the southernmost place in the world and all the other visitors did too. It was a peaceful and beautiful place, and it offered me a unique experience I will remember for a lifetime.
And if you’ve made it to the southern part of Patagonia, be sure to visit Puerto Williams, and I believe you will love this place as much as I do.
How to get to Puerto Williams
– Boat from Punta Arenas: Austral Broom $108.100 CLP one-way
– Flight between Puerto Williams and Punta Arenas: DAP airlines 60,000 CLP one way, 10kg check-in luggage allowed.
– Boat between Puerto Williams and Ushuaia: contact agents in Ushuaia and Puerto Williams for schedule and price.
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