Believe me, traveling on a boat along the fjords in the south of Chilean Patagonia is a memorable experience. It rings of slow-paced adventure surrounded by a stunning landscape. It’s more sustainable and way more scenic compared to plane travel; and cheaper too, if we take into account the cost of accommodation and meals for those days. Here’s all you need to know about the inexpensive Tabsa ferry between Puerto Natales and Caleta Tortel. 


Jump to:
Route  |  Booking  |  Costs  |  Duration  |  Timetable  & distances
Sleeping & eating  |  Entertainment  |  Sights


Ferry Puerto Natales – Caleta Tortel

The witchy-named Transbordadora Austral Broom (shortened as Tabsa) is the local company that runs the inexpensive ferry between Puerto Natales (the gateway to Torres del Paine, on the Carretera Austral) and Caleta Tortel.

Although the ferry goes all the way to Caleta Yungay, most people get off at Caleta Tortel to wander in this pretty town, almost entirely built on wooden panels.

Glacier Chilean Patagonia fjords
Glacier on uninhabited fjords in Chilean Patagonia: a typical scenery from the Tabsa ferry


The Tabsa boat called Crux Australis also stops at Puerto Edén, between Puerto Natales and Caleta Tortel. So this is the route:

  • Puerto Natales
  • Puerto Edén
  • Caleta Tortel
  • Caleta Yungay

Of course, you can also take the ferry boat in the other direction, from Caleta Tortel to Puerto Natales. Tabsa operates since 2016, with ferries transporting foot passengers, cars and freight.

Tabsa ferry traveling fjords
Tabsa ferry transporting passengers, cars and freight between Puerto Natales and Caleta Tortel.

Practical info

Where to book

The easiest way is to book on Tabsa’s website: tabsa.cl. The website has an English version, but at times booking doesn’t seem to work there; in that case, head over to the Spanish version of the site. Select “passport” as your travel document. In case of problem, just reach out to them via Facebook Messenger.

Payment can be made with debit or credit card, in USD. You’ll receive a confirmation email right after the booking. When booking, make sure to select the correct origin and destination as Tabsa also runs other routes in Chile, for example around Punta Arenas.

Alternatively, if you are already in Puerto Natales, you can walk in to Tabsa’s office at the ferry port. However, consider that there are only 146 seats on the ferry. So tickets sell out far in advance, especially in the summer season (Dec-Apr). Therefore we advise to stick to online booking.

Tip! You can request vegetarian food on board (or any other special diet), in Tabsa’s office at the ferry port, either in Puerto Natales or wherever you board the ferry.
Chilean Patagonia fjords
Beautiful, inhospitable scenery on the Patagonian fjords from Tabsa ferry between Puerto Natales and Caleta Tortel

Costs

Puerto Natales – Caleta Tortel: 133,870 CLP (140 USD)
Prices as of Oct 2022, for foreign foot passengers (without a car).

Find here on Tabsa’s website the up-to-date prices, prices for different routes and prices including vehicle or freight.

How long is the trip

The journey takes approximately 3 days and 2 nights. If you leave from Puerto Natales, the ferry leaves at 5 am; therefore passengers have to board the ferry at 6 pm on the previous night, and sleep on the boat, while still at the port. At least you save on one night at a hostel.

The advertised runtime is 39 hours, but due to strong currents, the travel often takes half-a-day longer, reaching Caleta Tortel only very early on the next morning. So overall, you’ll probably spend 3 nights on the ferry, as we did.

Dawn at Caleta Tortel
Caleta Tortel around 5 am, when we arrived with the Tabsa ferry

Timetable

In the summer season (Dec-Apr), the ferry runs once a week. In the 2021/22 season it was on Thursdays. Outside of the summer season, the ferry might run only every 2 weeks; so make sure you check the timetable on the website and plan ahead.

In case of bad weather, the departure can be delayed –sometimes days– so the best is to follow Tabsa on Facebook, where they post live info on departures.

Distances

Here are the distances from Puerto Natales to the different destinations on the route:

Puerto Natales – Puerto Edén:450 km (280 mi),  26 hours
Puerto Natales – Caleta Tortel:670 km (416 mi), 39 hours
Puerto Natales – Puerto Yungay:700 km (435 mi), 41 hours
Warm meal Tabsa ferry
A typical vegetarian lunch or dinner on board: soup, lentils main, sweet rice and juice.

Sleeping and eating

Sleeping is in reclining chairs. The chairs recline almost horizontally, so a lot more than standard plane seats. Chairs are the same as on long-distance buses across South America, so the leg stand covers the whole calf.

Meals are served 3 times a day. For lunch and dinner, there’s warm meal (vegetarian needs to be booked in advance by contacting them): soup, main and dessert. Meals are balanced but the portions are not too big. Luckily it’s possible to ask for a second plate.

There are shower cabins and toilets (including toilet paper) on the ferry – surprisingly clean.

Don’t be surprised to find out that the ticket costs less for nationals, just like the entrance to national parks. That’s pretty usual in Chile.
Socialising on ferry board
Enjoying the view on the Patagonian fjords and socialising on the ferry boat

How to spend the days/nights on the ferry between Puerto Natales and Caleta Tortel

Regarding entertainment, the views over the fjords are obviously stunning. You can marvel at them from the upper deck. Unfortunately, the weather is often hostile, with a lot of rain and wind mixed together. So spending all the time on the deck isn’t possible. Also, believe it or not, the fjords panorama does get a tad repetitive after a while.

For those cases, there’s individual TVs (like on long-distance flights) with films in English and Spanish, music and some tourist info about the destinations. Earphones are provided. With luck, you might be able to watch one of the best South American movies.

Many people spend time in the café to socialise. Chileans are super friendly and happy to engage in conversation in Spanish or even in English. It can also be a good way to get some tips about your next destinations.

Seating area Tabsa ferry
The seats on the Tabsa ferry recline for sleeping and have individual TV.

Sights from the ferry: the Patagonian fjords

You’ll pass very close to the fjords, and you can even spot birds and sea animals: orcas (also called killer whales), humpback whales and black-necked swans, if you’re lucky and in the season (between Oct-Apr with the peak in Jan-Feb).

A map on the ferry (also on Tabsa’s website) highlights the main fjords and sights, together with the approximate time you pass them.

One sight is a shipwreck, San Leonidas, that, according to the legend, a drunk ferry captain conducted to waste. Don’t let that scare you though! You’ll pass very close to it too, and you’ll see how the Patagonian vegetation is taking over its hull.

San Leonidas shipwreck ferry route Caleta Tortel Puerto Natales Tabsa
San Leonidas’ shipwreck as seen from the Tabsa ferry, on our way to Caleta Tortel with bad weather

Staying in Puerto Natales? Check here all the things to see in Puerto Natales.


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Who am I?

Anna is a world citizen, an avid traveller, a passionate environmentalist and a digital nomad. Writing about her year backpacking through South America, she tries to encourage everyone to discover this beautiful continent as a traveller or a digital nomad and pass on her love for responsible travel.

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