Sorry for such a long break between posts, but we have been going non-stop for quite a while now! As a quick summary, we spent January and February taking a long road trip south to Patagonia, then we just finished spending the month of March receiving family and friends who came down to see us and travel around a bit. But let’s back up…
After seeing some of the best scenery that Patagonia has to offer (Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paine), we had a decision to make: to drive to ‘the end of the world’ — as the southern tip of the south american continent is often referred to — or not. On the one hand, we had already driven thousands of miles to get where we were and were getting a little tired of driving (and paying for expensive tanks of gas!), we had already experienced the best of Patagonia, and driving farther south meant that we only had farther to drive to
return north. On the other hand, we wanted to experience the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego, and Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world.
About this time we started looking into the 4-day Navimag ferry/cruise that carries people and cargo from Puerto Natales, Chile in the south to Puerto Montt, Chile almost 1,000 miles north through the Patagonian fjords. It’s not cheap (~$400pp and up), but they offer free car ferries (normally $500) for the northbound trips since they have a hard time filling the cargo hold. We had read some blogs about other peoples’ experiences and they all talked positively
about the beautiful scenery, the simple cabins with bunk beds, and the not-too-bad cafeteria. We did some quick math, and decided this was the perfect opportunity to skip out on 1,000 miles of driving, not have to buy gas, meals, beds, or showers for 4 days, and see more amazing scenery and countless uninhabited islands that you can only experience from the water.
Making the decision to take the Navimag ferry north made our decision to drive to the end of the continent much easier. Having reduced our northerly driving by 1,000 miles, we suddenly had our second wind and hit the road south!
South of Torres del Paine national park, with its soaring granite spires, the South American continent is pretty bleak. The mountains flatten out and turn into endless miles of grassland, and the wind seems to have nothing to slow it down and blows all day long. The last major city on the mainland is Punta Arenas, Chile on the Strait of Magellan. We always talk about how the guidebooks always find something nice to say about every city or town, but really Punta Arenas is pretty dingy, drab, and industrial (Puerto Natales to the north is much more colorful and picturesque). PA’s location on the straight of Magellan was very strategic back in the day, since coal deposits were found nearby meaning that steam ships could refuel half-way around the continent. The opening of the Panama Canal, however, has greatly reduced the shipping traffic through the Straight.
We took the ferry across the Strait to the island of Tierra del Fuego, which is split down the middle by Chile and Argentina. The Chilean side, and the first few hours on the Argentine side looked the same as the mainland: windy grassland. But just an hour or so before reaching Ushuaia, the terrain steepens into a beautiful mountain range that separates and differentiates Ushuaia from the rest of the island. There was definitely a sense of accomplishment in arriving at the southernmost city in the world. We had to check the world map, because it seems like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are all pretty far south, but sure enough the South American continent reaches farther south than them all. The city of Ushuaia is roughly as far south as Ketchikan, Alaska is north.
Ushuaia is a pretty town with colorful architecture, set against the dark green mountains, and nearly-constant cloudy skies. We enjoyed our time there, taking a tour of the Beagle Channel, eating seafood, and watching the Superbowl at an Irish pub. The weather was nice and clear one day for us, so we went for a hike at the local ski area, but on our way back to the car it started snowing on us – in the middle of their summer!
After a few days of seeing the city, we started the drive back up to Puerto Natales where the Navimag ferry was going to give us a much-needed break from driving! More importantly, we were headed in the direction of Santiago, where in a few weeks family and friends would be arriving to come visit us and get a taste of South America!