Three hours by bus north of Punta Arenas is the port city of Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales was originally a beef producing fishing port, but over the years has embraced tourism based on its proximity to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the most popular and most expensive national park in Chile.
Because of the number of people coming to walk the ‘W’ trek – the most popular hike in the national park – the city has expanded rapidly. While it still has a small town feel, the plentiful hostels, tour operators, adventure stores and restaurants makes it feel bigger.
There are multiple main streets crisscrossing the city, a restaurant square, a tourist triangle and a brand new supermarket. Along most of the north and eastern horizons are the fantastic mountains of the Andes, including Torres del Paine Massif, while along the north and west of the city is the harbour.
Puerto Natales is all about Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Every hostel and many convenience stores – not to mention the adventure stores – hire out equipment, arrange tours and organise bus trips to the national park. And every day at 3PM at a bar called Base Camp there is an hour-long free lecture about the hike.
The hostel where I stayed, Backpackers Kaweskar, was set up specially for the hike and can provide everything you could need, even discounted transport fees. While its owner, Omar, is crazy (in a good way), is very knowledgable about the hike and definitely loves his football. While I was there he spent two solid days playing FIFA 2012 on the X-box with one of his friends. It was the low season and he did pause when needed by someone, but it made the place feel down to earth. Definitely a recommended place to stay.
Puerto Natales is also the southern port of the Navimag ferry. The ferry wends its way through the Patagonian fiords for five days to Puerto Montt in the lakes district at the northern end of Patagonia.
Puerto Natales is in a class of its own and should be on everyone’s visit list if they wish to hike anywhere in Patagonia.
From Puerto Natales:
- I hiked the Torres del Paine Circuit for 9 days
- I crossed over the border to El Calafate to head into the Los Glaciares National Park
- I took the Navimag north to Puerto Montt
The Lone Trail Wanderer