Road : Puerto Montt to Chaiten.
Two lane paved road, well marked, and in good condition to the first of three ferry crossings at Punta la Arena. Crossing time about 30 minutes. Buy tickets on board.
2nd section, part paved. Ripio section about 7k, paved, then second section of ripio for 10k, then paved to Hornopiren.
The 2nd and 3rd ferry take you to Caleta Gonzalo. They are part of the same trip; only there is a 10k section of decent ripio about ¾ of the way through. Everyone unloads their vehicles and drives to the next boat.
Caleta Gonzalo to Chaiten starts with 50 k on ripio, then paved road for 8k. Road pretty reasonable, one small area of mud that was the most challenging. Looks like 5 kilometers of road north of paved area about to be ‘improved‘.
Notes: 2 ferries south per day. First leaves Hornopiren at 10.30am, the second at 3pm. This means arriving at Chaiten about 9pm (still light).
Take the second. There is no traffic coming at you on the fairly narrow and twisting ripio, as there are no ferries going back the other way. A traveller on the ferry told us that the first crossing is much more challenging with oncoming drivers going fast to make the boats on time. He was right. Saw virtually no vehicles coming at us. If someone came fast around a corner, the ditch would be next stop unless riding very cautiously.
Tickets: Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo: 2 ferries, operated by Transportes Austral, who despite claiming 2 offices in Puerto Montt appear to have none. Their web site refused to accept any US or UK credit cards we threw at it, and also required an ‘RUT’ number for ticket purchase. If you are not from Chile, you will not have one of these. We tried the one used by our hotel, which would have been a great solution if the credit cards worked.
While searching Puerto Montt for a T-Austral office we wondered into the Naviera Austral offices, located just to the right of the port entrance gates on the main shorefront road. They will issue tickets for T-Austral ferries, you will need to provide passports and license plate numbers. Reservations are required, and the boats are quite small and fill with vehicles quickly. This could be a good reason to purchase tickets ahead of time during busy season.
At Hornopiren there is a T-Austral ticket office right on the pier where tickets can be purchased, but if sold out it means a night in a modest hostel in the village. Office hours are 8.30 to 5.30.
I have wanted to visit ever since reading Bruce Chatwin’s book, though he wrote about the Argentine side. The ferries take an inside passage, sheltered waters with views of mountains coming straight out of the sea, sheer, straight to the constant cloud. Occasional breaks show saw-toothed peaks, they are snow covered, and impossibly high. Thick with vegetation the mountains seem impassable, even if you could walk straight up. Patches of rain give a gloomy look to the fjords guarded by mountain gates, the gates of Mordor are here. Waterfalls pour off granite so sheer even the trees can’t grow, they are hundreds of feet high, defying the camera. Every plant, every tree oversized; ferns with leaves 10 feet long, forests of hardwoods and Acera never logged.
Beyond my words, Dominic will post pictures. He’s doing a great job with blog and pictures, verdad?