Puerto Montt (population 155,895) is 1,016 kilometers south of Santiago via the Panamericana, which bypasses the city center en route to the Chiloé archipelago. Like Valparaíso, it occupies a narrow shelf at the foot of a series of hills, but not quite so high nor so steep as those at Valparaíso.
No Chilean city enjoys a more impressive setting than Puerto Montt, where a cordon of forested mountains and snowcapped volcanoes stretches south along the waters of Chile’s island-studded “Inside Passage.” While the midsized port can’t match the prosperity and cultural diversity of cities in comparable surroundings, such as Seattle and Vancouver, improvements are underway. Part of the waterfront, with its dramatic views, has become a park, anchor businesses such as the Ripley and Falabella department stores are helping make downtown a retail mecca, handsome high-rise apartments are filling once-vacant lots, pedestrian malls are sprouting chic sidewalk cafés, and pubs and bars are proliferating.
Puerto Montt owes part of this growth to shipbuilding, extractive industries such as forestry, and the burgeoning fish-farming sector. As a city whose potential, to this point, exceeds its achievements, the capital of Region X (Los Lagos) remains primarily a gateway to the Andean lake district, the Chiloé archipelago, Chilean Patagonia, and parts of Argentina. As a transport hub where mainland Chile ends and archipelagic Chile begins, it enjoys air, land, or sea connections in all directions but west. Increasing numbers of cruise ships are calling at its port of Angelmó, though there’s barely room for them to maneuver in and out of the congested harbor; the largest vessels have to anchor offshore and shuttle passengers to the pier.
Other than Santiago, Puerto Montt is the main gateway for air, land, and sea connections to Chilean Patagonia and across the Andes to Argentina. Only in summer can overland travelers begin the entire Carretera Austral by heading southeast from here, as Naviera Austral’s Hornopirén–Caleta Gonzalo ferry link operates in January and February only; otherwise, it’s necessary to take the ferry or catamaran from Puerto Montt to Chaitén.
By Air: LanChile (O’Higgins 167, Local 1-B, tel. 065/253315) flies several times daily to Santiago, usually nonstop but sometimes via Valdivia, Temuco, or Concepción, or a combination of those. Sky Airline (Benavente 405, Local 4, tel. 065/437555) flies three times daily to Santiago and once to Balmaceda/Coyhaique. Aerolíneas del Sur (Antonio Varas 464, tel. 065/319450) flies north to Santiago and south to Punta Arenas.
No carrier has lasted long on the air-taxi route to Chaitén, a common starting point for overland trips on the Carretera Austral, but several continue to try. The current entrants are Cielomaraustral (Quillota 254, Local 1, tel. 065/266666, cschuwirth [at] hotmail [dot] com), Aerotaxis del Sur (Antonio Varas 70-A, tel. 065/252523, aerotaxisdelsur [at] entelchile [dot] net), and Aeropuelche (Freire 172, tel. 065/435827).
By Bus: Puerto Montt’s Terminal de Buses (Av. Portales and Lota, tel. 065/294533) is about one kilometer southwest of the Plaza de Armas. Services are frequent to rural, regional, and most long-distance destinations, as well as to Bariloche, Argentina. Buses to the Chilean Patagonia destinations of Coyhaique and Punta Arenas, which pass through Argentina, are less frequent but reliable.
Several companies go to Puerto Varas (US$1, 30 minutes), including Expresos JM, Expreso Puerto Varas, Thaebus (tel. 065/420120, less frequently), and Buses Fierro (tel. 065/253022), whose route continues to Ensenada, Cochamó (US$5), and Río Puelo (US$7), daily at 8:15, 12:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. Thaebus also passes through Varas en route to Frutillar and Puerto Octay.
By Train: After several years’ interruption, Puerto Montt once again has rail service north to Temuco and, with a change of trains there, to Santiago. Trains leave from the new Estación de Ferrocarriles (Cuarta Terraza s/n, tel. 065/480787), opposite Aeródromo La Paloma on the heights above downtown. Taxi colectivos connect the station with downtown.
By Sea: From Puerto Montt there are passenger and passenger/vehicle ferries or bus-ferry combinations to Chiloé and Chaitén in Region X, Puerto Chacabuco (the port of Coyhaique) in Region XI (Aisén), and Puerto Natales in Region XII (Magallanes). Since these routes follow the sheltered inland sea, seasickness is usually a minor problem except on the open-sea crossing of the Golfo de Penas (literally, Gulf of Sorrows), en route to Puerto Natales.
Puerto Montt’s Terminal de Trans-bordadores (Av. Angelmó 2187) is the ferry port. Also at the Terminal de Transbordadores, Naviera Austral (tel. 065/270430, fax 065/270415, www.navieraustral.cl) runs shorter ferry routes between Puerto Montt and Chaitén (nine hours) on the ferries Pincoya or Alejandrina four times weekly. Fares range from US$22 per person for fixed seats to US$30 per person for reclining seats. Vehicle rates are US$125 for passenger vehicles and small trucks, plus US$11 for the driver, and US$33 per lineal meter for other vehicles; bicycles cost US$13 and motorcycles US$27.
September–May, Cruceros Marítimos Skorpios (Av. Angelmó 1660, tel. 065/252996, fax 065/275660, www.skorpios.cl) operates luxury cruises to Laguna San Rafael that begin in Puerto Montt; rates on the 140-passenger Skorpios II start at US$823 per person and range up to US$1,400 per person.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition