Puerto Natales is a town in Chile, the gateway to trekking in Torres del Paine or Bernardo O'Higgins National Parks. It offers good infrastructure, especially a few trekking shops and not-so-cheap supermarkets (although you'd do better to get your gear in Punta Arenas).
Puerto Natales features a couple of characteristics that visitors should be aware of. One is that the population is largely descended from immigrants from Chiloé, and the "chilote" tendencies (cooking, building style) are evident. Another characteristic is that there are very strong communist/leftist affiliations in this town, so take this into account by being careful with your conversations involving related politics. Aside from the Chilotes, you will find many surnames of British and Croatian descent.
Although not of very high interest as itself, Puerto Natales is an ideal basis for a trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Remember that the city is the last chance to get food (in the supermarkets) and gas at reasonable prices before the park, where you are to pay double for those goods.
The city is built along the very beautiful Señoret Channel, which connects Almirante Montt Gulf to the south with Última Esperanza Sound to the north.
The Navimag ferry ship to Puerto Montt departs from here.
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Whatever the season you choose to travel, be prepared for harsh weather conditions, not only cold, but wind and strong sun. You can have the four seasons in the course of a day! During late spring and summer, it can get very windy.
Bringing fruit, vegetables or animal products from Argentina into Chile is not allowed. Chilean border officials always check luggage, especially if you are a tourist, and if they find anything which is not declared in the form you are asked to fill in, you will have to pay a fine and will have your goods confiscated.
There is a small airport about 10 km from the city center, on the road to the Torres del Paine National Park. During the high season, i.e. from September to April, there are flights connecting the city with Puerto Montt and Santiago.
Buses arrive and depart from Rodoviario Puerto Natales, a 10 minute walk away from the central area.
Buses arrive and depart several times a day from Punta Arenas, Chile. The trip takes about three hours. There are several companies including Buses Fernandez, but it's easiest to book the tickets in person at the bus company's location in Punta Arenas depending on your schedule. Those who can may be able to get the regular bus diverted via the airport saving them a trip to Punta Arenas centre. Most bus companies will do this, but you should ask when you purchase your ticket.
Buses and tours depart to Torres del Paine, El Calafate and El Chalten through several agencies in town, during summer book ahead.
From El Calafate, the road is entirely paved too, and the trip takes less than 4 hours.
This is a small, waterside town that is easily accessible on foot. Most services are found between a sort of triangle formed by Manuel Bulnes street to the west, Pedro Montt street (costanera) to the north and Bernardo Philipi to the southeast. In the junction of Philipi and Bulnes streets, there's Baquedano Street, where you can find fruitshops, internet cafés, pharmacies and call centers. If you keep walking you find Plaza O´Higgings between Miraflores and Yungay, around which you can find budget lodges.
The Plaza de Armas (square) is a large open area between Eberhard and Bories, around which you can find the municipal buildings, the church, the post office, some pubs and restaurants and a bank.
If you walk up along Miraflores street to the "sector alto", you will reach Santiago Bueras Avenue, where you can get nice views of the city and the scenic beauty that surrounds it.
Following the coast direction to the harbour, there is a boat cemetery.
Taxis colectivos are shared taxis, although entirely black (taxis have a yellow roof), running on fixed routes like buses (which are not found in this city) with a roof sign indicating the destination. They charge about CLP$450. Since the bus terminal is far on foot from downtown Natales, colectivos are a good option to get there because they are cheaper than taxis (which tend to charge more to tourists).
Also known as radio-taxis, are fast in case you feel asleep and don't want to miss your bus to Punta Arenas or El Calafate and are also a good option to visit Mylodons Cave or Cerro Dorotea (Dorotea Hill). They usually charge CLP$1000 during the day and CLP$2000 at night, for destinations within the city. They are not metered as in Santiago or Punta Arenas, so always ask: ¿Cuánto cuesta la carrera? (How much is the ride?) so that you agree upon a fare in advance.
Hitchhiking works very well in Puerto Natales. Easy to get a ride to Torres del Paine (start early, around 8am), Cueva del Milodon or even direction to cerro Dorotea and Punta Arenas. To go into the park, its better to go by Cerro Castillo. The road is nicer from Cueva del Milodon but its easier to enter without paying from Laguna Amarga
- Cueva del Milodón Natural Monument, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 08:30-20:30. This is a good place to visit if you are an archaeology lover. The 200-m deep cave is astonishing, besides there are two more caves which are worth seeing, that have been dug by a team of archaeologist of the Instituto de la Patagonia, having found rests of paleofauna and human remains. The most notable animal was the mylodon, an extinct 12 ft (3.7 m) tall giant sloth which lived some 10000 years ago at the end of the Ice age. The big cave was its home. Of course, not all the mylodons were 12 feet tall. Some of the younger ones weren't even 11 feet tall. There's a scenic interpretive loop trail and campsites run by CONAF. CLP$2,000-$4,000.
See the harbour, do a trek in Torres del Paine, Perito Moreno, Milodón Cave, catch a boat on one of the lakes.
There are guided rentals of motorcycles (Kawasaki KLR650) for adventure tours of southern Patagonia, including Tierra del Fuego. The owner has been riding Patagonia since 1978 and takes clients to points that many tourists would miss including scenic spots; also good breaks in places with good cappuccino). Inquire via email@example.com You must be an experienced off-pavement rider in good physical and mental condition and have a motorcycle cert on your licence. You must plan ahead and bring your own riding gear.
- Walk to the boatyard. South on Pedro Montt, about 1 km beyond the Navimag pier. Wooden fishing boats are hauled ashore for painting, repair, or sometimes just abandoned. Don't forget your camera. There is also a "Navy pier" adjacent to the Navimag pier with benches to sit and enjoy the scenery.
- [formerly dead link] Criollo Expeditions, Huerto 157 B, Calle No 1 (On the way to Torres del Paine, take a right on Felix Valenzuela (just past hotel Remota). To the top of the T, to the left), ☏ , . Daily 07:00-19:00. Daily horse rides and fishing trips. Kids and families welcome, no experience necessary. Fun, friendly and responsible!
- Museo Histórico Municipal (The city museum), Bulnes 285 (In front of La Burbuja Restaurant), ☏ . May-Nov: M-Th 08:00-17:00, F 08:00-16:00; Dec-Apr: M-Th 08:00-19:00, Sa 10:00-13:00 and 15:00-19:00. To learn about the local history. There are natural history items, archaeological artifacts belonging to the khaweshkhar and aonikenk tribes, and historical photographs of Puerto Natales' development. CLP$500 for Chileans, CLP$1000 for tourists.
- Mirador Dorotea (Less than 10 km from the city just off Route 9). 09:00-18:00. Dorotea is a range of hills about 900 meters high above the sea level, from which you get amazing views of the city, the glacial valley and the surrounding mountains. There's a sign that identifies the hike to the viewpoint at lot 1. The hike takes 2 hours roundtrip US$7.
The two larger supermarkets (Unimarc and Don Bosco) stock foods that are needed by trekkers/backpackers, including lightweight soups, precooked "ramen" noodles, hard cheeses, gorp components (dried fruits and nuts), Snickers bars, and powdered drinks. Freeze-dried products are available in several outdoor shops for about 10US$ per package.
- Miriam Parra handicraft, Manuel Bulnes. Great handicrafts excellent quality situated on one of the main roads in Natales. Everything from sheep skin to wooden craft.
- Taller del Arbol, Eberhard 36, ☏ . Very nice custom made jewelry, made in the workshop while you watch. Even if you're not buying, they're happy to talk.
- El Toque Campero, Eberhard 148 (3 blocks down on the right hand side, from the main square (with the church) or right next to Hotel Glaciares), ☏ . Daily 08:00-21:00. Cool artesan crafts, you can find mate, bombillas and other gaucho things, wool sweaters and nice hats. great quality things.
- [dead link] Etnia Souvenirs & Wool, Baquedano 351-B (between Bulnes and Esmeralda St.). Handicraft, souvenirs, wool store, sheep and alpaca wool, handmade knittings,funny and colorful designs, best prices in town, english spoken.
- Afrigonia, Eberhard 323, ☏ . Food is not typical of the local region, because the owners are a Zambian and Chilean couple who have something different to offer apart from the other typical food of the region. Small but nice and cosy!
- Andres, Ladrilleros 381, ☏ . Great meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. 1970s diner decor and very good prices. Andres himself is very kind and sometimed tend to "spoil" customers with free pisco sours as starters and a complimentary ice cream for desert. A few blocks from the plaza but worth the walk.
- Baguales Brewery, Bories 430 (Near the Plaza de Armas), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Ec-Feb: M-Sa 13:00-02:00. Only brewery in Puerto Natales. Fantastic beer with great food.
- El living, Arturo Prat 156 (Near the Plaza de Armas). Cafe with wholesome food, great cakes, lunches and coffee. Recommended for vegetarians and has a book exchange.
- El Asador Patagónico, Arturo Prat 158 (Near the Plaza de Armas), ☏ . Parilla serving traditional Chilean lamb.
- Mesita Grande, Arturo Prat 196 (Southwest corner of the Plaza de Armas), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Good pizzas and salads. Owner is Swiss. Microbrew Baguales beer is served. Get there early. Free wifi. CLP$2,300-5,500.
- Patagonia Dulce, Barros Arana 233, ☏ . Days and times open. Some of the best coffee and pastry in Natales, if not the region. Free wifi. Pleasant background music. Friendly and very professional, the sort of place you might expect to find in Switzerland. Prices commensurate with the better quality.
- La Picá de Carlitos, Esmeralda 581, ☏ . Typical Chilean fare at reasonable "picada" prices. Free Wifi. If you try talking with Carlos himself you will not understand a word. Has both smoking and nonsmoking sides.
- Última Esperanza, Eberhard 354 (across from Afrigonia). Good, moderately-priced seafood. Popular with families, and one of the first places to open on Sunday afternoon.
The water quality in Natales is not particularly good, though it is considered safe and healthy by the government. It has a high concentration of dissolved mineral content. The Natales municipal water is pumped from wells and the raw water is rather silty, with high tannin and other organic content. The water does not come "from the glaciers" which in any event are more than 40 km away and dump their icemelt into the brackish waters of the fjord.
There are plenty of hostels and residentials around the town. There are also many Hospedajes. The (mostly) women of the hospedajes wait for the bus to come and try to talk tourists into their home. They have really good deals and will usually serve breakfast and store your luggage while you are trekking. Spanish language skills are useful if you choose a hospedaje.
- [dead link] Backpacker's El Refugio, O'Higgins 484, ☏ . A great, cozy hostel with low prices, comfy beds and a safe, warm atmosphere.
- Casa Cecilia, Tomas Rogers 64, ☏ . This hostel also rents out trekking equipment.
- Erratic Rock, Baquedano 719, Benjamín Zamora 732, ☏ . Bill, the owner, is from Oregon, and gained Chilean citizenship under an amnesty program. He understands European and North American expectations in moderately priced lodging, and he's a bit of a hoot as well. He's a good citizen, getting involved in supporting local schools and such. Two locations: the Erratic Rock I is located on Baquedano near the provincial CONAF office, three blocks away is the Erratic Rock II on Benjamín Zamora which has 10 rooms - all doubles with private bathrooms. Central heating is nice. Internet and cable TV with 50 channels. Excellent English language support for local travel needs.
- Hostal Lili Patagonicos, Arturo Prat 479, ☏ . Friendly, central location, rents out trekking gear, organizes buses and tours. International crowd. Free internet (wlan), free breakfast (and it is an excellent breakfast). Kitchen use. Laundry.
- Los Inmigrantes, Carrera Pinto 480, ☏ . Good value, breakfast, equipment rental and luggage store.
- Lodging Evelyn, Chorrillos 779, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Good value, free breakfast, organizes busses, laundry service.
- The Singing Lamb, Arauco 779, ☏ . Two dorms with seven single beds and feather duvets, a well-equipped kitchen and book swap. Cleanest hostal in town! The owner and operator, Susan, speaks English, Spanish, German, and some French. Breakfast includes fresh homemade bread, real coffee and homemade jam.
- 1 Pire Mapu Cottage bed and breakfast, Esmeralda 1435, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. Pire mapu cottage b&b offers en-suite rooms with free Wi-Fi, cable TV and tea and coffee making facilities in all rooms, with a hearty breakfast included in the price. The hosts speak both English and Spanish.
- The Singular Patagonia, Puerto Bories s/n (Four kilometers northwest of Natales along Ruta 9), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The Singular is a hotel converted from the old freezer plant (frigorifico), constructed in 1913, that is the main reason for the existence of Puerto Natales, which served as the lodging and supply point for the plant. A museum and national monument until 2010, the frigorifico is the best preserved and largest of the freezer plants related to the sheep industry that was the basis for much of the economy of southern Patagonia until World War II. Construction began in December 2010 for this hotel that preserves and showcases the infrastructure of the original plant. Even if you don't have the money to stay at the Singular, the restaurant/bar is open to the public and is worth the trip. US$290-1,210.