Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world
Puerto Williams is exactly what you would expect to be the “last” place of the world: a beautiful spot where you can shelter from the wilderness around you. Arriving is not easy nor cheap, but every year more and more tourists are having the same idea of going to the southernmost place in America.
The city of Puerto Williams is located on Navarino Island, on the southern coast of the Beagle Channel, in southern Chile and where the American continent ends. Its population is about 2,200 inhabitants and most of them work in the naval base. The rest work on king crab fishing and tourism.
How to get to the island?
Deciding to visit Navarino is not easy, it requires planning, having days to spare and a bit of luck with the weather. From Chile there are two ways to get to Puerto Williams: on a plane or on a ferry. Everyone says that the ferry trip is much nicer than the flight, but since we had not planned going to the island, we had to take the plane, which was the only option with available spaces. Following is all the information of both options, so you can choose the best way for you.
1. Flying over the Magellan Strait:
From the city of Punta Arenas, there are regular flights in Aerovías DAP to Puerto Williams (and vice versa). The planes fly from Monday to Saturday and leave at 10 a.m. The trip takes between 45 and 75 minutes, depending on which aircraft you take: twin otter or BAE (it’s random, you can’t decide). Try to reserve a window seat and don’t fall asleep, because if the weather is good you will be able to see the glaciers of the Tierra del Fuego island, the Magellan Strait and the city of Ushuaia in Argentina.
The high season for this part of Chile goes from November to March, so organize your trip and buy your tickets in advance, because planes are small and there are not too many seats. The value of the one way ticket starts at CLP 70,000, about USD 107.
2. Navigating through the fjords
If you have more time and luck getting tickets, Austral Broom operates a ferry that takes about 32 hours to travel from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams (and vice versa). Departure days are usually every Thursday of the month at 6:00 pm. and some Mondays at 1:00 a.m.
This trip goes through the fjords and channels of the Alberto de Agostini National Park and, if there’s enough sunlight, during Summer you can even see a few glaciers. Accommodation is pretty basic, you can choose between a semi-reclining or fully-reclining “bus seat”. Prices start at CLP 108,000 (USD 165), one way.
3. Crossing the Beagle Channel from Argentina
If you want to go from Argentina to Puerto Williams, it is best to cross the Beagle Channel by boat from the city of Ushuaia; we made the trip the other way around, from Puerto Williams to Ushuaia. Although it’s very beautiful, prices are quite high for the quality of the service. Unfortunately, once in Puerto Williams you have to accept the price and pay, because all transport out of the island costs basically the same.
From Monday to Saturday, boats leave to and from Navarino Island. All the boats depart during the morning, around 9 a.m. From Argentina the first thing is going through customs, so don’t forget your passport or ID document. Then you board the boat and go across the Beagle Channel (around 30 minutes) to land on Puerto Navarino (Chile). From there a transfer takes you to Puerto Williams by land. It’s a beautiful ride, for about 1 hour 15 minutes, on the coast line.
In Ushuaia you can find many travel agencies that offer the crossing, but I recommend the only existing Chilean company, because it is way cheaper (although it’s not cheap). Hielos Antárticos makes the route to and from Ushuaia for CLP 79,000 (USD 120), one way. If your trip is from the island you can buy the ticket any of the tourist agencies in the city for the same price. However, always remember that these are small boats, so book at least one day in advance.
What to do in Puerto Williams?
Once in Puerto Williams the experience becomes memorable. After you arrive, the islanders smile at you as if you had achieved something special, which gives you the feeling of being in a hidden place. The city is small but with a charm that makes you want to stay more than the four or five days you had planned. Apparently there is not much to do, but as soon as you get settled in one of the hostels or hotels, other travelers will tell you why they have stayed so much longer than they thought they would.
We stayed at a hostel called Refugio El Padrino, that takes no reservations. You need to ask if they have beds available upon arrival, so it’s a matter of luck. And it’s actually luck, because the ambience is just the amount of warmth needed after such a long trip to such a cold and distant place.
If you want more luxurious accomodation, besides the 4 or 5 hostels in town, there are also some hotels you can book online.
1. The majority of those who come to Puerto Williams have one goal in mind: The Navarino Teeth, the southernmost trekking in the world that lasts 5 to 7 days (depending on weather conditions). This walk takes you through the depths of the mountain for 50 km. hike. The route has 38 pretty rudimental milestones, with signals painted on stones, stakes and trees. The landscape and the diverse vegetation you can see are impressive, an experience different from anything else, because the climate is extreme.
Once in the route there are no services and since it’s not well signposted it is essential to carry a GPS, as well as equipment against cold, wind, rain and snow. If you have excess baggage, it’s better to leave your bags in the city and grab only a backpack with only the essentials. Airkeep is already heading to Puerto Williams.
If you don’t have the necessary equipment or don’t want to walk so much, you can do part of the route (up to the 10th milestone), during the day. This hike isn’t dangerous and not very long (10 hours return), but you must also be prepared with appropriate clothes and accessories. The trekking is not suitable for beginners, so just go for it if you have some experience in mountains and lots of endurance.
2. Other must-see of the city is the Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum, dedicated to preserving the cultural and anthropological heritage of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Its most impressive collection exhibits artifacts and pieces from the Yagan culture, who settled in the area more than 7,000 years ago. The museum also gives an account of the evolution of the inhabitants of the Navarino Island, their canoe tradition and the mixture with european settlers. Besides all the interesting stories showed in the museum, the place itself is also beautiful from an architectural perspective. Admission is free and the place have different opening times in Summer and Winter.
Summer (November to March): Tuesday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, from 2:30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Winter (April to October): Tuesday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, from 2:30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.
3. Just outside the city (2.5 kilometers away) you will find the Omora Ethnobotanical Park (Omora means hummingbird in the Yagan language), It’s a park of about 2,500 acres where you can find a collection of native trees, such as coigües, nirres and lengas, as well as bushes, lichens and fungi you can only find in the island. By one of the cornerstones of this great park there is a beautiful miniature forest, housing 5% of the world’s diversity of mosses and liverworts. The entrance is free of charge and it’s always open.
4. If you want to go even further, after a 3-hour boat trip from Puerto Williams you will find Puerto Toro, the southernmost permanent human settlement in the world (excluding military bases and Antarctica). 32 people live in this town that lives from sea products and the food that arrives by boat once a month (the same boat tourists use. The trip is free, but you have to book your place at the Cabo de Hornos Municipality (residents have preference).
5. Getting lost on the island is my last advice. Walk on any direction and disconnect from everything, breath clean fresh air and feel the strong wind coming from Antarctica. During the walk around the city, you can see great things, such as the Ukika Park, which is bordered by a river of clean and icy water. Or you can visit Villa Ukika, where the last descendants of the Yagan people live. But more than anything, get lost and enjoy the landscape.