Welcome to the end of te world. Or at least very close to it. This is the southern tip of Patagonia, an area hostile to humans almost. In a province called Ultima Esperanza, the last bit of hope. Welcome to Puerto Natales.
This is one of those many small not-too-cute Chilean industrial towns. Think Talca, Temuco, Calama. In these case business revolves around fishing… and tourism. Because this is the closest place to the famous national park Torres del Paine.
When you walk the Costanera, the waterside boardwalk, you will see hundreds of small fishing boats in the harbour. And if you are lucky a couple of bigger ferries for cars, cargo and tourists.
That kind of wraps up the entire city. It is organised more or less in neat little blocks, with a Plaza de Armas (central square) as well of course for its 18’000 inhabitants.
Walking around, you will discover that most places cater mainly for tourists. They usually accept credit cards, speak a bit of English (or at least have an English menu), and there are many shops for renting or buying rental gear. If your purse is big enough, there is no reason to bring your own tent.
Food and drinks
Let’s talk about prices first. Chile is already not exactly cheap, add another 25% for southern Patagonia as almost all stuff has to be flown or boated in. And add another 25% for some more hipster places, of which you will find aplenty here.
There are a couple of places that will provide you with good local food. El Bote for example is a good one, which might have paile marina (a kind of soup with seafood), churrasco and other classics on its menu. A bit cheaper and more for locals (thus away from the main plaza) are La Picada de Carlitos, Tia Carlina, Oro Negro or Patagonia Food (close to the football ‘stadium’). Expect good-sized dishes of salmon, merluza (hake) or churrasco (steak).
Then there is a slew of slightly more expensive and popular restaurants. Asador Patagonia (on the main square) has the best grill in town, La Forestera has gourmet burgers, Basecamp (cash only…) American pizzas, La Mesita Grande has pizzas and pastas on the main square. Entre Pampa y Mar is far above average quality-wise and only slightly more expensive. And Vinn is a beautiful classy place.
There are also several good lunch places. Patagonia Dulce has croissants, cakes and coffee and almost opposite is La Creperia for… crepes of course. Both look funky and are expensive. Slightly less expensive, off the beaten track, is Patachic 58.
Activities / things to do
- walk along the water in and around Puerto Natales, along the monument for the wind (two sculptures high up on a post)
- Mirador Dorotea: a lookout 7km from the city, you can best take a taxi (or rent a bike) to the start of the walk. Entrance is around 5.000 pesos, because the walk is on private land. It takes 1-1,5 hours to walk up to the viewpoint over Puerto Natales and surrounding mountain ranges, looking well into Argentina
- Mandala Andino offers massage and more wellness
- there is a small historical museum
- all other main attractions are far outside the village:
- Torres del Paine national park: buses leave from the Rodoviario (central bus terminal), a ten minute walk from the pain plaza
- Mylodon natural caves, 24km from the city
- Balmaceda glacier: a longer daytrip includes whisky on the (natural) rocks!
- Isla Magdalena pinguin colony: a massive ten to fifteen hour excursion
Getting to Puerto Natales and getting around
- the airport is very small and has a couple of weekly direct flights (as of early 2023) in high season to and from Santiago by LATAM. You have many more options if you fly to and from Punta Arenas, a much bigger city three hours away. Another option is to cross the border to/from El Calafate in Argentina, served from Puerto Natales by a three-hour bus. This is an excellent option if you come from Argentina and/or want to go/come to/from Buenos Aires
- bus: there are of course also long-distance buses. But if they start in Chile, they have to travel through Argentina. The only alternative is…
- boat: there are two good but slow connections. One is the famous Naviera Austral, taking four days and three nights to/from Puerto Montt, the gateway to Patagonia. The other option is the ferry from Puerto Yungay / Caleta Tortel, which takes around 40 hours. Both are for cars, trucks and passengers, and travel once or twice a week. Reservations are recommended in high season (January and February)
- within the city: it is small so you can walk everywhere. Close to the bus terminal is a place where you can rent bikes (though also an option elsewhere in the village) if you want to venture beyond he city
- Weather: this is Patagonia, four seasons in one day. It doesn’t get much beyond twenty degrees even in summer, wind can be ferocious, same goes for the rain. Layer up to adjust to the circumstances, and be prepared for extreme winds higher up the mountains
- links: overview of things to do in Puerto Natales