11 Things You Need to Know About Ferry Crossing to Puerto Williams, Chile – the World’s Southernmost City
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Sailing towards Puerto Williams, a city in the southern end of South America, through Patagonia fjords and sub-Antarctic channels among the uninhabited islands, Beagle Channel and the sights of crystalline glaciers is a dream of a lifetime, but what do you need to expect on this ferry trip to the southernmost city in the world?
Before I made a trip to Puerto Williams, I did not find lots of information about this ferry. In order to help you plan your ferry trip and enjoy your journey to the world’s southernmost city, here are 11 things to know about ferry crossing from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams.
It is more expensive than flying
The ferry takes 31 hours from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams and the cost starts from CLP 108,110 for a semi-reclined seat. If you prefer extra comfort, you can pay $150,110 for a sofa seat.
I took the flight back from Puerto Williams to Punta Arenas and it only cost $60,000, which is almost half the price I paid for the boat trip. Although flying is cheaper and faster, you will miss out on the majority of the remote Patagonia vista along the way. Hence, I recommend that you take the ferry and return by flight for maximum experience.
The ferry leaves from Tres Puentes in Punta Arenas
The ticket office and the departure location of the ferry are in Tres Puentes, not in the downtown area. You need to either take the cab or a collectivo from the city center to get there for tickets and departure.
It is not a luxury cruise ship but actually a cargo ship
The ferry not only transports passengers between Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams, but also ships goods and produce from Punta Arenas. For this reason, you will see products and vehicles loaded on the lower deck. The passenger cabin is on the upper level and is not in the setting of a royal cruise, but instead a cargo ship that takes a small group of passengers.
The ferry will hardly stop elsewhere along the way
Unlike the Atlantic cruise and the ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, this 31-hour ferry does not make extra stops along the way for you to get off. Austral Broom will give you an itinerary of where the ferry will travel through. During the entire trip, we only stopped at a giant glacier for a short stint to take pictures and get a close-up view.
The price of the ferry includes dinner for the first night and three meals the second day with unlimited tea and coffee. The meal is served in a cafeteria on the lower deck and it is very basic.
Our morning breakfast was sandwiches made of white bread, cheese, and ham. Dinner for the first night was soup, a main dish with potatoes and dessert, and the second night was empanadas. A traveler I met on this boat who had taken other ferry trips in Patagonia said that the meals on the ferry from Puerto Yungay to Puerto Natales are way better.
Additionally, the food is not offered in a buffet style and everybody receives an equal and specific amount. There are no extra food and alcohol beverages for sale, but you can bring your own snacks and drinks onboard in case you are hungry.
You will probably not see any sunshine for the duration of the trip
As it is a trip to the world’s southernmost city, the weather made it look like we were sailing to the end of the world in a real sense. It was cold, gloomy, windy, and the water was turbulent in parts and it will get you wet.
Regardless, we had a great time standing outside on the second day and spent hours watching gigantic glaciers, uninhabited islands, and the mountains go by. It is one of the remotest parts of South America, so we had a rare opportunity to enjoy the spectacular sights only this part of the world can offer without tourist groups.
The people on the ferry
The people I met on this ferry were going to Puerto Williams either for a multi-day free trek on Dientes De Navarino or other work projects. Most of them were native Chileans or French, so speaking both Spanish and French can help you to quickly get around and have a great time chatting away with others.
Puerto Williams is a small place and, in my experience, you will definitely meet some of these people again during your stay there, or even trek and and check into the same accommodation with them.
The ferry does not provide private cabins and berth, and your choices are either Pullman seats or sofa-bed seats. I purchased Pullman seat and was very comfortable with plenty of leg room, a light, and an overhead shelf for me to put my luggage. There is enough heating on board and they also provide blankets in case you feel cold at night. A free shower is available on board but hardly anyone used it.
If you are willing to pay more for sofa-bed seats, it will add some extra comfort to your trip. However, according to other passengers, sofa-bed seats are located in an area close to the engine so it gets noisy at night.
You will pass glaciers during the day on your trip to Puerto Williams
I took the ferry on a Thursday in December around 6 pm and most of the glaciers are crossed during the day. If you took the ferry the other way around, you will pass through glaciers at night. There is another boat making the trip from Punta Arenas at 1 pm on Mondays, but make sure to check with the people at the Austral Broom office and get to know if you will see the glaciers during the day. It was a spectacular sight you do not want to miss.
The ferry will be delayed or canceled, so make sure to leave extra leeway for your next trip
The ferry was scheduled to leave twice a week from Puerto Williams, and the Pullman seats only open to sale for foreigners 24 hours before departure. I planned to leave Puerto Williams on a Tuesday afternoon but when I visited the Austral Broom office there, I got to know that the ferry would not be leaving for another week owning to the turbulent water along the Beagle Channel.
If you take this ferry to Puerto Williams, please take into account that the Austral Broom ferry is not a speedboat and they cannot manage to navigate through waterways that are too rough with heavy winds. Moreover, there is no way you will get a schedule update until you arrive at the office, which is not so great. Therefore, please do not book other significant trips before your return to Punta Arenas, because you will never know if the ferry will leave and arrive on time.
You will arrive in Puerto Williams at 12 am and you will possibly not be allowed to have extra hours onboard
We were told by the Austral Broom office that we have to pay extra to stay overnight on the ferry, so we ended up leaving the ship immediately when we reached Puerto Williams at 12 am.
For me, arriving in a new and remote place at midnight in complete darkness was not ideal, and without an advanced booking for accommodation, I worried that my trip to Puerto Williams would be off to a rough start. But luckily, the hostel Refugio El Padrino is across from the ferry terminal and the owner, Cecelia, was there at night. She accepted us as if she was our mother and determined to find us a place to stay when her hostel was full.
The other accommodations in Puerto Williams are not cheap and some are closed at night, and it is really difficult to book Refugio El Padrino online, especially if you do not know whether the boat will leave and arrive on time. I recommend you to bring a tent and a sleeping bag. In case all the places are full, you can stay at the Refugio El Padrino’s camping site.
Additionally, bear in mind that there are no public transport, taxi and Uber services in Puerto Williams. Most hotels offer complimentary shuttle service and you can request them in advance.
I enjoyed taking the ferry from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams. It was both relaxing and thrilling to spend 31 hours in this remote part of Patagonia. There is something special about traveling with this ferry -it is a trip to the southernmost city in the world and it navigates through the southern Chilean waterways that are hardly accessible to anyone other than a small number of ferry passengers.
The ferry does not provide any activities and entertainment facilities, but only rare announcements for some sightseeing opportunities. We also saw dolphins jumping next to us but we did not see the sea lion show in front of the glacier as experienced by passengers crossing at different times.
As only a small group of people boarded this ferry, we had the opportunity to talk to each other and everyone ended up knowing everyone. We met each other again after we set our feet in Puerto Williams, had meals and coffee together, walked around the town and even took the same flight back to Punta Arenas.
Tips for your ferry trip to Puerto Williams
The Austral Broom ferry is available year around from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams, and it makes two trips per week in the summer. For a detailed schedule, you can check out here.
Puerto Williams is small but it is worth it to spend a few days there. Locals in Puerto Williams are welcoming and will treat you as part of their community. It is easy to walk around the city and it is affordable.
You do not have to get a window seat as there are plenty of sightseeing opportunities on the front deck if the weather permits. There is also a huge window in the cafeteria where you can sit and watch the remote Patagonia fjords go by.
Make sure to bring warm clothes and dress in layers. It can get windy and cold during the ferry trip and on the mountains of Puerto Williams.
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