Navarino Island      FRA guipuzcoa-fra  ESP
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The gate of the Cape Horn and the Glaciers of Tierra del Fuego

Last updated 2018 12 12


Puerto Williams, 2017 02 23 - Courtesy: Thomas Niaucel (photo not processed)






Introduction

Navarino Island is the southernmost inhabited place of America. It is the starting point for expeditions to Cape Horn and the Glaciers of Tierra del Fuego (Ventisqueros).

The total population of the Island does not exceed 3000 people. The main activities are fishing (mostly centolla, i.e. king crab) and ecotourism.

The style of tourism is different from Ushuaia, the Argentinian City laying north of Navarino, where ecotourism became secondary.

The main village is Puerto Williams.  Initially a military base founded in 1953 by the Chilean Navy, Puerto Williams is now civilian, although the Navy maintains an important presence.

There are three other settlements in the Island: Puerto Navarino, the entry point from Ushuaia (Argentina), Caleta Eugenia, a small fishermen place on the Paso Mac Kinley  and Puerto Toro, on the route of Cape Horn (the southernmost  inhabited place of the world, excepting the Antarctic stations).

Nature and surroundings

The island is wild and well preserved: Mountains, forests and lakes with only one coastal road along the Beagle channel. Navigation along coast and trekking - most of it off track -  are the only ways of reaching the rest of the Island.

North of Navarino lays the Beagle Channel, which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. On the north west branch of the channel lay several Ventisqueros, glaciers of the Darwin Cordillera, some of them falling directly into the sea.

West of Navarino, the continent is a maze of channels and islands free from human presence, where the boats have to moor in Caletas to be sheltered from the strong winds.

East of Navarino are three islands (Picton, Lennox, Isla Nueva) of strategic importance to control both  the entry to the Beagle Channel. These Islands almost caused a war between Argentina and Chile (1978). They are not inhabited and allow beautiful treks.

South of Navarino lays the Nassau Bay, a body of water open to strong westerly winds, which may raise unpleasant waves.

South of Nassau Bay are the Wollaston and Hermite Archipelagos, and finally the Horn Island, the mythical end of the American Continent.

Weather and sea

The south of the continent is barren by strong westerly winds. The average temperatures are low due to the high latitudes.There is a gradient of precipitations from west (very humid) to east (more dry).

Navarino is in the middle,  a climatic exception as mentioned by the late Charlie Porter. There are moderate precipitations (yearly average ~500mm), moderate  temperatures (average slightly above 0oC in winter to 10oC in summer). The winds are strong on the mountains and the channels, but the settlements are well protected by the hills.

In the austral summer (December-March) you can expect strong winds alternating with days of total calm. On calm, sunny days the temperature can reach 18-20oC. Note that the skies - cloudy or clear - are beautiful.

In winter, you can expect snow (less and less frequent), eventually frozen rain, and many days of calm. Note that the climate is less stringent than in Canada, Scandinavia or Siberia.

The sea differs in the Channels, Nassau Bay and Cape Horn. In the channels, the wind can raise hard chopped seas, but no real waves (worst observed: 1.50m waves during a snow storm).

In the Nassau Bay, the winds are stronger and can raise 2-3m waves, steep and short, as unpleasant, as those of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Cape Horn, on the southern side, is open sea. The winds are even stronger, raising huge waves, which grow even higher because of the continental plateau. Nonetheless, on calm days, the sea is peaceful, flat or with a large smooth swell.

Activities

Trekking. From high level trails, e.g., Dientes de Navarino (2-3 days) to easy coastal walks. The most important trails are marked, other are not, e.g. the trail leading to Puerto Toro. With a guide it is also possible to walk off track.

Sailing. Towards the Ventisqueros (glaciers), the Cape Horn, the Eastern Islands, along the coast of Navarino, e.g. to Puerto Toro, from Puerto Navarino into Canal Murray, etc.

Important. If you plan to sail, you should stay at least 1 - 2 weeks in the island. The weather is unpredictable..

Other activities.  Bicycle riding, horse riding, kayaking, excursions to spots of interest in automotive vehicles...

Or just be there and enjoy the peace, the wind, the skies.. and the gentleness of the people.

Going to the Navarino Island

A first way is sailing.

Sailing from Ushuaia takes 4-6 hours, from Punta Arenas a few days, from Puerto Montt a few weeks and from the Rio de la Plata about 2 weeks (up to 4 weeks if you are unlucky).

By land, we recommend traveling to Punta Arenas (Chile) and from there to Puerto Williams

Punta Arenas has a good plane connectivity to Santiago de Chile, Puerto Montt etc. You can also go there by the Carretera Austral (bus + ferries in Chile) or by road from the Argentinian Patagonia or from Tierra del Fuego (Ushuaia).

An overnight stay is necessary  to catch a transportation to Puerto Williams.

From Punta Arenas, there are daily planes and weekly ferries to Puerto Williams.

Plane: company DAP. A beautiful flight above Cordillera Darwin, duration 1h - 1:30h.

Daily flights with a twin otter (capacity ~20 passengers) or a larger plane (BAE146).

Price one way: is 60.000CLP (~ 100us$). Last consulted: February 2018.

Warning:  luggage is limited to 12 kg (twin otter) or 15kg (Bae146). Overweight is pricey and can even be refused if the plane is fully loaded.

Warning: reservation strongly recommended in summer.
It can be done on the web or by phone but payment must be done at the DAP office or by bank transfer from Chile.
Reservation is cancelled if payment is not effective 2 days before the flight.


Tip: for short stays, you can leave your remaining luggage in Punta Arenas or give it to somebody that travels with the ferry.

Ferry el Yaghan, company TABSA. A wonderful navigation in the channels and in front of some ventisqueros, duration 1 1/2 day.

Departures from Punta Arenas every Thursday and Puerto Williams every Saturday (there are also additional trips on Tuesday, 2 times/month for gas and fuel truck transportation)

2 categories, cama completa (fully reclining seat)  or semi-cama (comfortable).

Food on board is OK, but basic.

Problem: for non-residents it is impossible to book semi-cama on the web.

Prices one way: 108.000CLP (~180us$) for semi-cama , 151.000CLP (~250us$) for cama completa. Last consulted February 2018.

Warning: reservation strongly recommended in summer.
It can be done on the web or by phone but payment must be done at the TABSA office in Punta Arenas or by bank transfer from Chile.
Reservation is cancelled if payment is not effective 1 day before the trip.

No free night aboard the Yaghan. Until 2017, when the Yaghan arrived at Puerto Williams, in the middle of the night, you could sleep aboard. Now they charge 26.000 pesos for the rest of the night and a breakfast. This at the request of a hotel owner A little mean, is not it?
 
Another option is coming from Ushuaia

Ushuaia is just in front of Puerto Navarino, on the other side of the Beagle Channel. However, crossing the Beagle Channel is very expensive.

There are 3 companies that cross the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia to Puerto Navarino with catamarans and small boats.

Cost one way: 120 us$ in week days.

The cost includes crossing towards Puerto Navarino (less than 30 minutes) and land transportation to Puerto Williams (where immigration and custom formalities take place).


On weekends and party days there is no regular crossing, and the exceptions are overpriced.


Sailing yachts sailing going to Puerto Williams can sometimes take passengers against a variable financial participation.

However, the skippers are reluctant to take passengers given the complicated clearance formalities and also to avoid trouble with the regular lines and the authorities.

Note that the port is closed for winds above 25 knots (neither regular transfers nor sailing  yachts can leave the port).

Formalities

From Punta Arenas, none.

From Ushuaia, boarder control (DPI), customs and sanitary authorities (SAG).  The procedure is easy. Two points however:

Warning: It is prohibited to import fresh food (fruits, vegetables, etc.)

For sailing yachts the procedure is more complex for all the passengers: Capitanía, Inmigración and Aduanas, back to Capitania and finally, inspection of the boat by SAG.

Warning: sailing to Cape Horn and/or the Ventisqueros requires previous authorization from the Capitania de Puerto.

The yachts starting from Ushuaia must stop in Puerto Williams to get the authorization.

Note that the Beagle Channel west of Ushuaia (where the Ventisqueros are) and the Nassau Bay down to the Isla Hornos are internal waters of Chile, controlled by the Chilean Navy.

Accommodation

There are hospedajes (basic accommodation, collective rooms or single), hostales, a luxury hotel (Lakutaia) and a luxury lodge (Errante), both outside of the village.

Prices for hospedajes and hostales range from 15000CLP for a single bed to 60000CLP for a 2- persons room.

The lodge and the hotel are expensive (typically above 250us$).


In general, Puerto Williams is 30% to 50% more expensive than the rest of Chile.

To find an accommodation, look on the web or search directly when you arrive at Puerto Williams. In case of problem, it is always possible to find a bed in private homes.


Food

There are 4-5 restaurants, some with traditional food (cazuelas, sopas..), other with burger-and-french fries. There is a also a bar-pizzeria (open on weekends), a local brewery and a discotheque (weekends only)

There are 4-5 small food stores (super mercados).

The choice is limited. Fresh fruits and vegetables arrive with the ferry boat on Saturdays and disappear from the stores within 2-3 days.

Prices are about 100% more expensive than in the rest of Chile, although transportation is subsidized and the businesses do not pay revenue taxes on the Island.

Phone and Web

Puerto Williams is connected but the connection may be lousy. In case of bad weather, the web may go down completely.

Internet is available in most of the hospedajes and hostales, the museum, the public library, and the cafetería at the ferry terminal (Puerto Luisa; afternoon only), among others.

Phone: there are networks (e.g., entel, telefónica). You can get prepaid phones, chips and reloads in some shops.

Currency and exchange

Currency is Chilean Peso, CLP. Exchange rates 1 us$ ~606 CLP, 1 euro ~748 CLP (consulted March 18 2018). The CLP is rather stable.

Credit cards are accepted in most of the hotels, hostales, restaurants and some food stores.

Changing foreign currencies is only possible with private persons, and maybe some shops.

There is a bank agency., but they only exchange foreign currencies for customers. However, you can withdraw pesos with a credit card (cash machine).

Development


The infrastructure of Puerto Williams is under development.

The tracks to Caleta Eugenia and Puerto Navarino are improved, the track to the airport is now asphalted (concrete, in fact).

The coastal avenue of Puerto Williams (Costanera) is now asphalted (concrete), and there is a pedestrian walk.

There is a hospital (first care only), a tribunal and bus shelters (but no bus lines).


Chile applies the Plan de Conectividad Austral to 1) connect Navarino to Punta Arenas and the rest of the country and 2) construct ports and maritime facilities.

Puerto Williams now has a fishing port with a technical zone and a travelift (construction 2013-2016).  See details below.

A new dwarf for yachts (local sailing and Antarctic) is under construction (source: informal communication).

A track crossing the Tierra del Fuego from Porvenir (on the Strait of Magellan) to Bahia Yendegaia, on the Beagle Channel is under construction (2016: less than 2.5 km missing).

This will provide fast traveling from Punta Arenas, with 2 ferries crossing, 2 hours each.

However I know from reliable sources  that the work is out of schedule, nothing to expect before 2030.

Note that the track crosses the Yendegaia National Park, created in 2013 thanks to a donation of property from Fundación Yendegaia to the Chilean Government.

Locally, the Gobernación applies a fiscal policy, the Ley de Navarino, which promotes development of enterprises in industry mining, sea resources exploitation, transport and tourism 'using rationally the natural resources' and 'preserving the environment'.

Which means little in concrete terms.


Fishing port and travelift

As said before, Puerto Williams has a fishing port with a technical zone and a travelift . The travelift is operational since November 2017. Initially prohibitive, the fees are now high, but reasonable for Puerto Williams.

Tips: flat price whatever the LOA. Limitations: displacement 35T, width 4.55m, for keel boats, no operations at low tide. No operations for winds above 25 knts.



Future?


The future of Navarino is uncertain.


The communication with Navarino Island will still be a bottleneck for at least 12 years, which precludes any form of mass tourism. After that?

In the extreme case it will follow the bad example of Ushuaia, mass tourism and artificially implanted industries. And an increasing pollution in the bay and the Beagle Channel.

In the best case Puerto Williams will remain genuine, as should be the gate of Southern Wilderness.
 




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