On Isla Navarino’s north shore, across the Beagle Channel from Argentine Tierra del Fuego, Puerto Williams is the so-called “Capital of Antarctica” and gateway to the rugged Los Dientes backcountry circuit. Local residents look forward to establishment of a permanent ferry link to nearby Argentina, but there is much political opposition across the channel because myopic Ushuaia impresarios fear losing business to tiny Williams—however unlikely that possibility.
Founded in the 1950s, the town (population 1,952) has paved sidewalks but gravel streets. Most residents are Chilean naval personnel living in relatively stylish prefabs, but there are also some 60 remaining Yámana descendants, only a few of whom speak the language—now a hybrid including many Spanish and English words—among themselves.
Make reservations well in advance for DAP (tel. 061/621051), at the Centro Comercial, which flies 20-seat Twin Otters to Punta Arenas (US$64) on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday April–October and daily except Sunday the rest of the year.
Connections between Puerto Williams and Ushuaia, on Argentine Tierra del Fuego, continue to be problematical, but hitching a lift across the channel with a yacht is feasible—for a price. For up-to-date information, contact the Gobernación Marítima (tel. 061/621090), the Club de Yates (tel. 061/621041, Ext. 4250), or Turismo Sim (tel. 061/621150). There are occasional charter flights as well.
In summer, the ferry Bahía Azul sails to Punta Arenas (38 hours) Friday at 7 p.m. Fares are US$120 for a recliner, US$150 for a bunk.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition