That Time I Sailed A Yacht On
The Beagle Channel To
Puerto Williams, Chile
That Time I Sailed The Beagle Channel To Puerto Williams, Chile was originally published in December 2020
I arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina off of the M/V Ortelius, a ship I called home for 32 days as I made the journey down from New Zealand and onward to Antarctica and finally to Tierra del Fuego. Before embarking on this Antarctic adventure, I had made no, I mean absolutely zero plans for onward travel.
I had no idea when I would go back to Alaska, or if I would decide to do something wild- like acquire a car and drive the Pan American home (I didn’t in the end), or backpack across Patagonia. I didn’t even have a return ticket. Hell, I didn’t even know where I was going to sleep that first night.
You see, this was March of 2017. I had not seen or heard what was happening back home in over a month after my NZ Vodafone SIM card lost reception shortly after pulling out of the port in Invercargill/Bluff.
I left Alaska two days before the inauguration of Donald Trump. I met up with friends along the way as I made my way through Australia and New Zealand before I descended on the South Island to head off into the Antarctic abyss. We joked about the US being at civil war by the time I made it back to the Americas (no, I didn’t think the US would be at war by March, but to describe the time I was home in December and January, I’d say politically speaking things felt quite tense).
Going to Antarctica? Use my Antarctica Travel Guide to plan your once in a lifetime adventure
How I Ended Up Sailing A Yacht On The Beagle Channel From Ushuaia, Argentina To Puerto Williams, Chile
An Unlikely Offer
As we left the Aitcho Islands, a minor group of the larger Shetland Islands to make for the Drake Channel, I knew my hours were numbered, and I was about to head back to reality(ish) in a couple of days. I would have to figure out where I was staying in Ushuaia and what my next move was from there.
That’s about when Darrel, one of the staff members aboard the Ortelius mentioned that his yacht was now docked in Ushuaia for the upcoming winter season. In actuality, Darrel is an Antarctic tour operator, purveyor of permits, and has run his yacht, the Spirit of Sydney back and forth to Antarctica for almost 20 years, taking tourists on adventures to the seventh continent.
Darrel offered to put me up in one of the berths on his yacht (as well as several others on the trip), as he knew I had no onward travel planned. He also needed to get back to Montana at some point that (Southern Hemisphere) winter to be with some relatives. Ultimately he had offered me to stay in Ushuaia to look after the yacht all winter should I decide to stay down there.
So it was settled, I was moving onto a yacht for my time in Ushuaia. Time frame, unknown.
Planning other adventures in Argentina? Don’t miss Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park
An Invitation To Sail The Beagle Channel
Once we managed to get all the gear hauled down to the yacht, Darrell had to explain the little conundrum he was in. He needed to stay in Argentina for at least another month, but due to visa reasons (it had something to do with the fact that he was arriving in Argentina because of work. I can’t remember all the details) Darrell needed to leave Argentina within 72 hour of our arrival into Ushuaia. After that, he could return and stay in Argentina for 90 days as an Australian.
So what do you do if you need to pop into a neighboring country due to a visa debacle and you own a yacht, docked in Ushuaia’s harbor because its Antarctic Season is over? You sail to Puerto Williams, of course. Why drive to Chile when you can sail?
So I was left with a decision, stay somewhere in Ushuaia for a couple of nights, or carry on to Puerto Williams and return. Well guys, this decision was quite simple in the end (for me at least)- I was going to Chile.
Setting Sail Into Ushuaia Bay
In the morning, a couple of days later, we ran down to the Aduana (customs) & Immigration Office to officially leave Argentina. After a quick check of passports, we headed back to the yacht to head to set sail into Ushuaia Bay to cross the Beagle Strait to Isla Navarino.
Beyond Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse
Leaving Ushuaia is a scenic cruise in its own right. Our journey across Ushuaia Bay was extended by my getting a little caught up in some seaweed in the wide cove, surrounded by the jagged peaks that run the southern edge of Tierra del Fuego from west to east at their terminus toward the Mitre Peninsula. Eventually, we arrived at the edge of the Bay.
The Les Eclaireurs Islands, along with other islands to their west, located about five nautical miles from the city of Ushuaia, shelter Ushuaia Bay from the Beagle Channel, earning their name meaning ‘the scouts’. On the northeasternmost island of the group sits the 11-meter-high Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse.
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse has been operating since 1920, guiding captains into Ushuaia Bay from the Beagle Channel now for 100 years. Many Argentines have nicknamed the lighthouse Faro del Fin del Mundo, meaning the Lighthouse at the End of the World, though it leads to some confusion with San Juan de Salvamento to the east, on the island of Isla de los Estados.
Traveling elsewhere in Chile? Plan a quick visit to Torres del Paine National Park
Someone Let Me Sail The Beagle Channel…
I will never stop being surprised with some of these wild and bizarre things I’ve gotten to do while on the road, many of which were not even my idea.
Driving in Afghanistan and Yemen? Check. Leading a tour that included hitchhiking over a remote mountain pass and border crossing? Check. And now, sailing a yacht along the Beagle Channel is one more thing I can tick off the list of random things I never set out to do in the first place.
Sailing the Beagle was surprisingly uneventful, granted I was guided by someone who largely knew what he was doing having made this particular jaunt several times. To say it was boring would be downright inaccurate, this stretch of the Beagle Channel is one of the most gorgeous straits you’ll ever sail along. The Beagle is lined by the Dientes de Navarino to the south, which gives Puerto Willams its stunning backdrop, and the Andes Fueguinos which loom dauntingly over Ushuaia.
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A Technically Illegal Night In Puerto Williams, Chile That I Have No Photos Of
We took our sweet time sailing the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams, arriving at the ‘Southernmost Town in the World’ (there is a rivalry between Puerto Williams and Ushuaia over who is the southernmost city in the world, which it appears that Ushuaia typically wins as it has 70,000 inhabitants versus Puerto Williams’ 2,000, making one a city and one a town. Either way, you look at it, both are locations of extremes.
As we arrived at the Micalvi Yacht Club in the late afternoon, with Darrell now back in the driver seat (wise decision on his part as with my shit depth perception I’d have probably bashed into another yacht trying to get situated in a slip), we put a call into the Aduana & Immigration Office in Puerto Williams. After a couple of attempts, a man finally picked up the phone, only to say that they were closed for the afternoon and that they would come over for our aduana check in the morning and then stamp us into Chile at the immigration office in the morning.
So, we were free to enter Chile as illegal intruders for the evening. Things were so informal here in Puerto Williams that it very much reminded me of home.
Puerto Williams is a tiny town on the edge of nowhere, I mean, really Isla Navarino, but it does look like the ass-end of the world on a map. Though once in Puerto Williams, it reminded me of coastal towns that dot the Kenai Peninsula back home. Walkable little towns set against jaw-dropping backgrounds.
Unfortunately, the only photos I have of Puerto Willams were taken from the yacht out in the Beagle Channel. I left my camera on the yacht when we went into town for dinner at Resto del Sur and bar hopping in the evening and took all my photos with my iPhone… which met its demise a few months later, and was not backed up lesson learned. So, you’ll just have to believe me.
If you’re headed to Patagonia see why you must do the Mirador Las Torres hike
Entering & Exiting Chile At The Same Time
The following morning we were paid a visit by aduana to check the yacht to make sure we weren’t bringing in any contraband to Chile, you know like drugs, or fruits and vegetables (Chile has strict customs). After the quick check, we were sent down to the immigration office to officially enter and exit Chile.
At immigration, we were sat across a table from the officer, who seemed no stranger to the situation of arriving after hours. He knew that we were departing, so he rolled the date on the stamp back to 19 March, and then stamped our passports again with the date forwarded to 20 March (and thus why I have two back-to-back entrance stamps to Chile).
Back To Ushuaia
After a pleasant stay in Puerto Williams, it was back up the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia along the same route from which we arrived. Yet again with relatively calm waters en route.
The only thing I would change about the trip if I were to repeat it, would be to take some time to explore Isla Navarino more thoroughly, hiking in the Dientes de Navarino, kayaking in the Beagle Channel, and maybe even taking a lap around Cape Horn. But, I can’t complain about getting swept along on an impromptu sailing trip to one of the world’s most remote and beautiful areas. And who knows, I may end up here again with my strange penchant for returning to the far-flung of places.
Want To Go To Puerto Williams, Chile Yourself? A Travel Guide
How To Get To Puerto Williams
You have two options for arriving in Puerto Williams (for most people), by plane and by ferry… or by sailboat/yacht if you either own one or happen to fall into my situation and know someone (luck).
There is a flight on DAP Airlines between Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams. It costs about $100 USD one way/$200 return. We had two DAP helicopter pilots with us on the trip to Antarctica who said that on a clear day the flight offers some of the best views in the world.
The ferry from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams is more expensive than the DAP flight with tickets ranging from 108,000-151,000 CLP for the roughly 32 hour journey.
There is also a ferry that connects Ushuaia and Puerto Williams. I read about it on a forum, stating that it costs around $120 USD for the trip with Almanza Supply. It also mentioned a 30-minute speedboat that connects Ushuaia and Puerto Williams on Onashaga Express.
Where To Stay In Puerto Williams
As I stayed on the boat while we were docked in Puerto Williams, I can’t comment on which places are the best to stay, but with the small size of the town, there aren’t too many options. I’d recommend shopping for rooms on booking.
Where To Eat In Puerto Williams
Same with accommodations, Puerto Williams is small enough that trying to decide on where to eat will not be too difficult. There are also a couple of small shops where you can pick up produce to cook back at your accommodation.
Things To Do In & Around Puerto Williams
- Martín Gusinde Anthropology Museum: Isla Navarino is the home of the Yagán and Selknam peoples, of which very few remain. The museum offers information on the history and culture of the indigenous Yagán and Selknam peoples. Entry is free.
- Ukika Park: Ukika Park offers nice walking trails. Keep an eye out for local birdlife.
- Sea Kayaking: Rent a kayak and head out on the Beagle to explore from water-level.
- Day Hike to Cerro Bandero: If you don’t have the time to do the Dientes de Navarino Circuit, the 8 kilometer out-and-back day hike to Cerro Bandero (the first leg of the circuit) has been highly recommended by others.
- Trek the Dientes de Navarino Circuit: This 55 kilometer Dientes de Navarino Circuit Trek will take most hikers about 4-5 days to complete, but from the views I had of the range from the water I am thoroughly tempted to return.
- Omora Ethnobotanical Park: Sitting 3 kilometers west of Puerto Williams, Omoro Ethnobotanical Park offers the chance to view the varied and fascinating flora of Isla Navarino.
For more ideas on hikes and things to do on Isla Navarino, check out Explora Isla Navarino.