Every year, Puerto Natales is crossed by hundreds of visitors who come here to brave Torres del Paine National Park. For many, it’s just a stopover; a starting and ending point for their hikes. But in reality, Puerto Natales is a safe small town, whose slow pace and local charm are resourcing, and somewhat fascinating. I’m happy I spent 3 days following the gentle flow of the town, surrounded by fjords and mountains. So here come my personal recommendations for things to do to enjoy your time in Puerto Natales; I also include a selection of the best hotels and restaurants in town.
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About Puerto Natales: location and weather
With only 18,000 inhabitants, Puerto Natales is a small town in Chilean Patagonia, near the Andes mountains. It’s situated in the deep south of South America, even south of the Carretera Austral – the mythical Patagonian road. Puerto Natales is famous for being the gateway to the single most popular Patagonian attraction, Torres del Paine.
The weather is windy and cool in the summer (Dec–Feb), with temperatures between 0°C and 16°C (32°F and 60°F); and cold in the winter (May–Aug), with temperatures -4°C and 5°C (24°F and 41°F).
Is Puerto Natales worth visiting?
Hikers from around the world come to Puerto Natales town to visit Torres del Paine National Park. But besides the park, several other places nearby offer breath-taking views. If you love hiking and are attracted to wild, rugged landscapes, no doubt you’ll spend time in the area.
Puerto Natales is a lovely, typical Patagonian town. It has more charm than the small settlement of Cerro Castillo, at the Northern entrance of the National Park.
It’s located on the Last Hope Sound, on the shore of Almirante Montt lake, with a panorama of icy fjords right across the port. It’s worth spending here 1–2 days before and/or after your activities in the nature.
Planning your trip to Patagonia? Here’s all you need to know to help you go in 2022.
What to do in Puerto Natales
Despite its small size, Puerto Natales is geared towards active nature-lovers, without being overly touristy. At least, that was my impression when I travelled there in the shoulder season, at the end of March 2022.
These top 10 Puerto Natales activities will make you feel like you’re on holiday at the end of the earth.
1. Visit Torres del Paine
As the biggest attraction in the area, this has to come first on my list. This national park is a 100% hikers’ paradise with stunning day-trip and multi-day hike options.
You’ll find a ton of relevant info about the park in our article on how to visit Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales.
2. Take a day tour to the sights around town
With all that hype around Torres del Paine, who would think of all the other amazing places to see around Puerto Natales, such as the Mylodon Cave, the Channel of Last Hope or the Mirador Cerro Dorotea? They are as many day hikes opportunities.
Besides hiking, the second best way to see these highlights is to go on an organised tour. It includes transportation and a guide, and packs a lot of amazing sights into a single day. These are the best full day tours from Puerto Natales on Viator:
3. Go on a boat tour to see Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers
This unique area is perfect to see glaciers in real life, from up close. During this boat tour on Viator, navigating among the fjords of the Almirante Montt Gulf channel, you will marvel at Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers, before taking a short hike through a forest to take a view at the icy beasts from another angle. The day is usually finished with a glass of whiskey on glacier ice.
4. Chill at the riverfront
The harbour of Puerto Natales has a beautiful view on the Andes mountains. Its promenade offers a low-key, resourcing stroll without the crowds. But prepare for strong winds!
If you take a walk on a Wednesday evening, you can also observe the boarding procedure of the ferry scheduled to sail weekly between Puerto Natales and Caleta Tortel/Puerto Yungay. Walking at the harbour is completely safe both day and night.
5. Try delicious locally-sourced fish and Patagonian craft beer
Being by the sea obviously means locally-sourced fish (for example merluza or salmon); and in Puerto Natales, it’s cooked deliciously! It’s also relatively easy to find vegetarian dishes that taste great. Another gastronomic highlight is a craft beer made of a local berry fruit called “calafate”.
Restaurant staff often speaks English and are very friendly. I recommend El Bote restaurant, which also does amazing non-alcoholic cocktails. For more dining options, see the section about the top 5 restaurants in Puerto Natales.
6. Visit the Municipal Historical Museum
Although Patagonia’s nature wins hearts, discovering the past of this former inhospitable land is also fascinating. Learn about the history of Puerto Natales and southern Patagonia in the Museo Histórico Municipal (in Spanish).
The exhibition guides visitors throughout the different periods, starting from prehistoric times, throughout colonization and modernity.
7. Relax after a day filled with adventure
Puerto Natales is the perfect place to relax after a strenuous hike or a day tour in the national park; or to prepare for the big adventure. Stay in one of the hotels with gorgeous views on mountain landscape and spend some time relaxing. See the section about the top 5 hotels in Puerto Natales.
Check out my favourite multi-day hikes in Patagonia for fellow nature enthusiasts!
8. Stock up on missing items or repair your broken gear
It’s important to be well-equipped when you go for a hike. There are various outdoor shops in town, where you can buy any missing pieces or equipment. Several small businesses repair any equipment that got damaged (like tent repair).
Check the few streets around Manuel Bulnes avenue. But remember that in the low season (winter months of May–Aug), some of these businesses are likely to be closed.
9. Shop for Patagonia souvenirs
In general, I find most souvenirs hopelessly tacky, so I would never suggest spending time and money on souvenir shopping. But in Puerto Natales, I saw a couple of shops selling typical Patagonia pieces made from local, high-quality materials.
Understandably, local products include wool clothes; but also jams, syrups, and even beauty products made of calafate, a berry popular in Patagonia. However, my favourite souvenirs were the vintage-inspired posters of Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales. I loved them so much that I even bought 3 pieces…
10. Eat “completo”, the Chilean hot dog
Completo is a hot dog with a lot of ketchup, mayo and avocado (Chile’s favourite vegetable, here called “palta”). It’s a typical street food that you’ll find in “quiosques” and street food stalls. It’s not a high-end dish, rather a messy snack; locals across the country love it!
Yummy! Check out more Chilean food and drinks that you must try.
Top 5 hotels in Puerto Natales to relax in
These are some of the best hotels in Puerto Natales. We’ve selected them for their relaxing atmosphere and stunning views.
Hostal Camino de Santiago: this affordable hostel with a friendly atmosphere is located near the bus station. It offers both private rooms and dorms, and includes a buffet-style breakfast. The terrace and patio are great for relaxing.
Vinnhaus: a hostel in a historic building in the heart of the city, with private rooms and bathrooms. The garden with plum trees offers a nice setting for relaxation. In the summer, guests are welcome to try the plums.
Natalino Hotel Patagonia: in this hotel, guests can relax in the indoor swimming pool or in the fitness centre, enjoy city views, and access a rooftop terrace.
Weskar Lodge Hotel: this hotel is nestled against a stunning Patagonian mountain backdrop. The restaurant serves seafood dishes and the bar features an extensive list of Chilean wines, which are renowned worldwide.
The Singular Patagonia Hotel: this luxury hotel is a 10-min drive from Puerto Natales, in a small village called Puerto Bories. The building is an ancient cold storage set against the impressive backdrop of the Patagonian fjords of Last Hope Sound, offering perfect relaxation away from the bustle of the town.
Top 5 restaurants in Puerto Natales to eat well
These are some of the best restaurants in Puerto Natales. We’ve selected them for their tasty dishes and cosy atmosphere.
El Bote: a cosy restaurant with excellent Chilean seafood, vegetarian dishes, local craft beer and mouth-watering cocktails / mocktails.
Cafeteria Cangrejo Rojo: they have an impressive variety of seafood, vegetarian and healthy dishes. Gluten-free options also available.
Restaurant y Pizzeria Alcazar: an Italian restaurant with a wide variety of pizza and non-pizza dishes. The atmosphere is great.
Masay: a low-key, pub-style restaurant that Chileans love. On the inexpensive menu, there are pizzas, sandwiches and pasta dishes. Vegetarian options available.
La Mesita Grande: a pizza restaurant that also offers tasty organic salads. It’s a no-frills place with a relaxed atmosphere, probably our favourite restaurant in Puerto Natales.
How to get to Puerto Natales
If you are starting your Patagonia trip in Puerto Natales, it’s likely you’ll arrive by plane. Most visitors arrive to the neighbouring city of Punta Arenas in the south and then take a 3-hour bus journey to Puerto Natales.
Punta Arenas is served by international flights from Argentina, and traditional & low-cost airlines from other Chilean cities. The shuttle bus between Punta Arenas airport and Puerto Natales is timed according to flight arrival times. The one-way ticket costs 7000 CLP (8 USD).
Puerto Natales itself also has its own small airport with routes only from Puerto Montt (north Chilean Patagonia) and Santiago, Chile’s capital.
If you are already in the south of Patagonia, probably you are traveling from Punta Arenas (in the south) to Puerto Natales. There are daily buses from the main bus station; although remember that, in low-season, bus transportation can become more scarce. So check bus times and tickets in advance, for example on Busbud.
Between the end of the Carretera Austral and Puerto Natales, people travel by ferry boat. You can catch the ferry, operated by Transbordadora Austral Broom, from Caleta Tortel or Puerto Yungay to Puerto Natales.
This low-cost trip takes 3 days (2 nights on the ferry), navigating among fjords. This is by far the best traveling experience to/from Puerto Natales. Tickets should be booked in advance on this site.
Another option, more expensive and more comfortable, is to sail from Puerto Montt (very north of Chilean Patagonia) with Navimag. Tickets can be booked on this site.
Unless you take the plane, ferry is the only way to reach Puerto Natales when coming from the north (or to leave Puerto Natales northward). There’s no road connection between Puerto Natales and the Carretera Austral.
Drive to Puerto Natales from Punta Arenas in the south on RN 9, or cross the border from Argentina on RN 293 using the Paso Laurita Casas Viejas border-crossing point. Before setting off, check the opening hours, and if the border is open at all.
Check car rental on rentalcars.com, starting from Punta Arenas. If you travel from Argentina, remember that car rental companies usually charge a cross-border fee.
Which of these things to do in Puerto Natales appeal to you the most?
Tell us in the comments section below!