Puerto Natales, Chile is most commonly known among travelers to be the gateway to Torres del Paine. But beyond that, the city is worth exploring for its history, unique mix of cultures, and beautiful scenery outside of the world-famous national park. Here’s a quick guide for your visit to this southern Chilean city.
Getting to and from Puerto Natales
The nearest major airport to Puerto Natales is in Punta Arenas. Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport provides flights with several airlines, most of which connect through Santiago if you are arriving from outside of Chile. From there, rent a car or take one of the many frequent buses to Puerto Natales.
Buses are the cheapest option, costing around USD$10-15 from Punta Arenas. They leave multiple times daily, and the drive takes between three and four hours. Buses can also be caught from other Chilean and Argentinian cities. If visiting in the winter, buses to and from Puerto Natales may be less frequent. Common bus companies include Bus Sur and Buses Fernández.
There is also a small regional airport in Puerto Natales with flights to and from Puerto Montt and Santiago; however, these are seasonal, less frequent when they are running, and more expensive.
Lastly, if you have more time to enjoy the journey, there is the Navimag Ferry that navigates the coastal islands between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt. This is also a more costly option and offers only one trip to and from Puerto Natales a week. But, it would be quite a unique way to see some of the scenery along the coast.
Whether you decide to rent a car or go by bus, plane, or boat, be sure to book in advance during the high season (summer) because options often sell out in advance.
Getting Around Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is fairly small, making it easily navigable on foot. Many of the city’s tour companies, hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores are concentrated in the heart of town.
There are no public city buses, but there are taxis around town if you need a ride to and from the bus station or to reach various activities in and around the city. Uber does operate here, but we never saw any available when there in the winter.
When to Visit
In our opinion, there isn’t really a bad time to visit Puerto Natales. But, your experience will vary depending on the time of year. It’s all personal preference, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
Summer runs from December through February and the weather is warmest during this time. However, it tends to be windier, there are more crowds, and prices are higher.
During the winter, temperatures are much colder and snow isn’t uncommon in the surrounding mountains. There are some extra challenges to visiting in the winter, such as trail closures in Torres del Paine, fewer bus options, and shortened hours at some businesses. However, we loved visiting at the end of May as activities were cheaper and we found a lot of solitude in Torres del Paine. For more info on visiting in the winter, check out this post!
Where to Stay in Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is the nearest city to Torres del Paine and travelers often choose to stay here to access the park. Accommodation here is generally cheaper than in the park and there are more options. There are a range of hotels for different budgets and quite a few lovely Airbnbs as well.
If you want a truly unique experience, check out some of the estancias (ranches) around the city, such as Estancia Bahia Esperanza. Many of these offer activities like horseback riding and treks, delicious local meals, and are immersed in the Patagonian wilderness.
Here are a few hotel options in the city:
El Patagónico Hostel: Double rooms with shared and private bathroom options and included breakfast
Xalpen B&B: Double rooms with shared and private bathroom options
Toore Patagonia: Private bungalow with kitchenette
AKA Patagonia: Double/queen rooms with a deck and private bathrooms and included breakfast
Hotel Altiplanico: Double rooms with private bathrooms and included breakfast
The Singular Patagonia Hotel: Large waterfront rooms with private bathrooms and included breakfast
Where to Eat
Most of our time was spent exploring the areas around Puerto Natales, so we didn’t eat too many meals out in the city. But there are quite a few restaurants in the area, many of which offer tasty local cuisine.
If you’re looking for breakfast or a quick bite, there are many cafés, including Chocolateria Patagonia Dulce and Guayoyo Café & Bistro, offering dessert, sandwiches, salads, coffee, and more. La Carmela is also a nice café that has some great breakfast foods, like pancakes and a variety of egg dishes.
For a refreshing drink and bar atmosphere, try Cervecería Baguales, which offers local brews, burgers, and bar food, or Last Hope Distillery for a cocktail at the world’s southernmost distillery. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn more about the distilling process if you’re interested. Basecamp and Pampa Restobar are popular spots to have a drink and enjoy the music and simple bar eats.
While traveling, it’s always fun to try the local food. Local cuisine in the area often includes lamb and beef, stews, and seafood. Try Café Artimaña for a variety of seafood dishes, hardy sandwiches, meat skewers, and also some vegetarian options. Santolla is a popular seafood spot, but they also cater to vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diets.
European influence can also be seen in the cuisine of Chilean Patagonia, and you’ll likely find risottos, pizza, and more. We were surprised at the number of pizzerias. If you’re craving a tasty pizza, try Napoli Pizzeria Italiana, which offers a great variety of toppings that cater to both meat lovers and vegetarians.
If you are spending much of your days hiking and exploring, it’s always convenient to pack a lunch. Some tours include certain meals, but if you want to pack your own, there are multiple grocery stores in Puerto Natales that offer bread, lunch meat, snacks, fruits and other options to bring. We also bought some dinner ingredients to cook at our hostel, which is great if you are on a budget or arriving to your accommodation late.
Unimarc is a Chilean chain store that is popular among locals and travelers. There are also a few other supermercados, like Express Market, that offer some food, wine, and basic self-care/beauty items if needed.
There are so many incredible activities in and around Puerto Natales, and tours are a very popular and convenient option. No matter the time of year, tours are pretty widely available. However, if you plan to take a tour during peak season, it is best to book in advance. Because tours are so popular here, many companies have a website or at least their contact information online.
During the summer, it is easier to get around without a tour as there are more frequent buses going to and from Torres del Paine, more shuttles within the park, and more cars around if you want to hitchhike. In the winter, getting around is a bit harder, so a tour may be more convenient. Some activities require a guide.
Renting a car is also a possibility all year that offers the most flexibility, though it is more costly. All in all, you can absolutely see the area without a tour, but they are available if you decide that is best for your trip!
If you don’t take a tour, but need camping or hiking equipment, some tour companies, like Erratic Rock, also rent out gear.
Being a very touristic area, most stores, tour companies, restaurants, and hotels accept card. Some exclude certain cards, so be sure to check beforehand.
It is a good idea to have some cash on hand for smaller shops, restaurants, and activities. There are a few ATMs and exchange houses around town; just check the current exchange rates beforehand.