Patagonian channels, to navigate the southern seas

The journey from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt considers islands, shipwreck tracks and small glaciers.

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Several companies offer the sea voyage between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales. In general the route is covered in four days, during which the ship travels through uninhabited places where nature is impenetrable and perfect. The landscape is visibly insular and made up of enormous snow-capped mountain ranges that plunge into the sea, with no beaches and covered with trees.

No human habitation can be seen until reaching the famous Moraleda canal and Puerto Aguirre, a picturesque and colorful fishing cove where occasionally passengers board or disembark.

The voyage continues by the Taitao peninsula, crossing the mythical Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Sorrows). This entails 12 hours of violent wave motion that may cause seasickness, making it advisable to spend the time below deck. For the hardier souls this day can be a great maritime experience.

The ship crosses a vast territory of protected areas: Isla Magdalena National Park, Laguna San Rafael National Park, Kalalalixar National Reserve; Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (the largest in the country) and the Alacalufes National Reserve. The climate is cold, occasionally intensely so, making it advisable to wear warm clothing when you go out on deck with your camera.

The region of the Patagonian channels was for thousands of years inhabited by the native Kawésqar people, skillful seamen living between Golfo de Penas and the south-western part of the Strait of Magellan. Although they underwent the same fate as the rest of the Patagonian ethnic groups, ten original members still survive in Puerto Edén, located on the east coast of Wellington Island. Scientists foretell that this race will be extinguished in not more than 50 years.

The enclave has colorful houses situated on a small hill, accessible only by wooden walkways. Founded in 1969, a high percentage of its 300 inhabitants devote themselves to extracting and smoking mussels. It is possible to stay over for a few days or stop for a few hours.

Close to Puerto Edén and sheltered by the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park is one of the greatest attractions of the route, the Pío XI glacier. This immense mass of ice that is part of Campo de Hielo Sur holds several records: it is the only glacier that is moving forward in Patagonia, advancing a meter per year, whereas almost all others are tending to melt. Its has begun to invade the forest and has so far advanced about six kilometers, with walls of up to 80-meters high. It is an enormous 1,263 km2 mass, the largest glacier of South America.

This post is also available in Spanish