Isla Navarino, Chile

Tour reports

What to discover

The Dientes circuit leads around the most spectacular mountains on Isla Navarino. Perfectly shaped like teeth, the spectacular Dientes range rises vertically towards the sky. Since the tree line is located at around 500 meters only, an extreme alpine environment can be experienced at very low altitude. Most of the time, the trail stays well above the tree line, leading through exposed terrain. If you are lucky with the weather, you can enjoy breathtaking views not only of the mountain environment on Isla Navarino, but also over the Beagle Channel and the Argentine Fuegian Andes to the north and even over the islands of Cape Horn to the south. In the valleys, out-of-control beaver populations are shaping the landscape. In every place where they find water and trees, they have constructed numerous artificial ponds, in addition to inhabiting the many natural lakes, and left traces in the appearance of the vegetation. Although very isolated, the route is becoming relatively popular during the peak season. This does not mean that you will be facing crowds, but it is likely to meet other parties especially at the recommended campsites.

How to prepare

You should plan for a five-day trek, although if in a rush it can be done in four or even three days as well. Sticking to the clockwise direction makes it easier to find the 38 signs (“snupies”) and, in addition, may be easier to walk. A detailed description of the trek and recommended day stages are included in Lonely Planet’s “Trekking in the Patagonian Andes”. Alternatively, German-speaking trekkers find information in the Rother hiking guidebook “Patagonien und Feuerland”, although I found directions not always sufficiently described therein. Very detailed route descriptions are also available from this document compiled by the Chilean Ministry of National Assets (describing all “snupies” and the sections between them) and online from the very useful Chilean outdoor community Detailed hiking maps remain unavailable. Careful navigation is required especially in bad weather conditions. The first and last sections of the trail seem to have been relocated in recent years and do not follow the description in the Lonely Planet anymore. 

It is obligatory to register at the Carabineros de Chile office in Puerto Williams before and after doing the trek. The challenges of this trek should not be underestimated, but are mainly defined by the weather. Expect steep ascents and descents, often on scree, and muddy trails in between. Trekking poles are strongly recommended, in addition to a warm sleeping bag and mattress, a stable tent and warm and waterproof clothes including gaiters. Even in summer, snowfall in the mountains is not uncommon. In general, weather conditions can change very quickly here, with the risk of emerging southerly storms. It is advisable to pitch camp only at the recommended places and, in particular, not above the tree line in order to keep safe from sudden strong winds. Better do not attempt this trek before the peak of the summer season (December – February) due to the risk of lots of old snow. Lastly, and very important on Isla Navarino, potentially contaminated water (Giardia) by the innumerable beavers has to be purified.

How to get

Travelling to an isolated place like Isla Navarino requires some planning. Essentially, there are three different possibilities:

  1. Boot transfer from Ushuaia (Argentina) to Puerto Navarino, from there further on by the connecting bus to Puerto Williams. Four different companies offer these tours (summer season 2016/17): Ushuaia Boating, Rumbo Sur, Los Cauquenes and Piratour. Information is available from the tourist information in Ushuaia and most of these providers run an office at the adjacent tourist pier. All of them are charging 120 US$ for a single journey (Piratour even 160 US$ on Saturdays, while Ushuaia Boating had the same price as on weekdays)!!! There are no connections on Sunday, probably because the authorities in Puerto Navarino / Puerto Williams are closed then.
  2. Flight from Punta Arenas: Great experience in case of clear sky, offered by Aerovias DAP from Monday through Saturday for ca. 100 US$ for a single journey.
  3. Ferry from Punta Arenas: Shall be a great experience as well considering the view to the glaciers of the Cordillera Darwin. It is run by Tabsa, takes 32 hours, is not cheap either (ca. 150 or 210 US$ depending on seat preference) and operated only once, sometimes twice a week.

The trailheads of the Dientes circuit can be reached from Puerto Williams by car or an additional walk only. Especially on the last day of the trek (in clockwise direction), it makes sense to take a lift. Although vehicles are not passing very frequently, drivers usually stop for hitchhikers.

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