First Timer’s Guide to Puerto Natales, Chile
Puerto Natales, Chile is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. The Torres del Paine is Chile’s prized national park and a symbol of the entire country.
But what about Puerto Natales?
Well, it’s safe to say this small town is often forgotten about and for many, Puerto Natales is just a quick stop or base before exploring Torres del Paine National Park.
But, there’s actually a lot more to the city than meets the eye, and a lot to know before you go.
So, here’s your complete guide to Puerto Natales, Chile including everything you need to know from things to do in Puerto Natales, places to eat, getting to Torres del Paine National Park, renting equipment, the best places to stay, and so much more!
About Puerto Natales, Chile
Puerto Natales, Chile is located in the Magallanes and Antarctica Chilena Region of Chile. The town of Puerto Natales has a rather small population of around 20,000 people. Here, the local economy relies on fishing, mining, cattle and sheep farming, and of course, tourism.
Puerto Natales sits on the shores the Última Esperanza Sound which translates to Last Hope Sound. The sound got this name from a sailor named Juan Ladrilleros as it was the last unexplored passage and the only way out of the Strait of Magellan, and as such, the last hope.
Puerto Natales is the closest city to Torres del Paine National Park which has made it the go-to place to visit before exploring the park. Each year some 200,000 tourists visit the city with the majority of those visitors coming during the December to February peak summer season.
During this time, it is the summer season which means the national park can be explored unguided and in warmer conditions. With such a short season and the city’s remote location, Puerto Natales is known to be much more expensive than other cities in Chile.
The closest major airport to Puerto Natales is in Punta Arenas – a much larger city 2.5 hours to the south. Here, you can get regular flights in and out of Patagonia making Puna Arenas a common starting point for many who visit this region.
Important Things to Know about Puerto Natales
Plastic Bags – The city is plastic bag free so when you visit a supermarket you’ll need a backpack to take your things with you in your arms.
ATMs – ATMs aren’t cheap in Puerto Natales but there are many different options. The most you can withdraw is 200,000 CLP at a fee of around 6,000 CLP
USD – You can pay for lots of things in USD So, if you’re coming for a short holiday it’s a great idea to bring some.
Australian debit and credit cards – All my Australian credit, debit, and travel money cards would not work with EFTPOS machines in Chile. Be prepared to need cash.
Safety in Puerto Natales – Puerto Natales is a very safe city in Chile. It is often immune to political problems dues to its huge focus on tourism.
10 Things to do in Puerto Natales, Chile
1. Go hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
The number one thing to do in Puerto Natales, Chile is to visit Torres del Paine National Park. This stunning national park is high on my list of the most beautiful places in the world, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice.
Puerto Natales is the perfect place to base yourself beforehand and the entire town caters to hiking and exploring in the national park.
The main ways to explore the park are either by day on a tour, overnight hike on the track or in a hotel, or completing one of the longer treks called the Torres del Paine W-Trek (4 to 5 days) or O-Circuit (7 to 9 days).
No matter what trek you choose, you’re sure to be absolutely amazed by the park and have an amazing time!
If you need more info then keep reading. Below is much more information on visiting the park from Puerto Natales and preparing for your hike!
2. Party at the Last Hope Gin Distillery
This place is an absolute must in Puerto Natales!
The Last Hope Distillery is a rather new addition to Puerto Natales but has hit the ground running. Producing amazing gins, single malts, and mixing them into delicious and well-priced cocktails, this is the place to drink.
The atmosphere here is what really lightness the mood though. A friend of ours from the US said: “it has an atmosphere you’d expect at a cocktail bar in New York”. That’s a pretty bold statement, but one that’s well deserved.
The distillery also offers tours during the summer high season. The English tour starts at 5:30 pm, and Spanish at 6:30 pm.
3. Drink craft beer
For those who don’t overly enjoy a gin, or for the true beer connoisseur, Puerto Natales is a great place to try a range of Patagonian craft beers.
They say what gives a beer its clean taste is the quality of the water and here in Patagonia, they have access to some of the cleanest water sources on the planet.
Around town, there are many different places you can try craft beer from a huge range of restaurants or even the local supermarkets. But if you really want to dive into Chile’s craft beer culture then be sure to visit either the Brew Gallery or Baguales.
Both are a must for beer lovers!
4. Eat Patagonian lamb
There’s one dish in Patagonia that every lamb lover should try and that’s the traditional roast lamb. This style of roasting takes around 4 hours and is done over a bed of hot coals. If you pass by any lamb restaurant offering this dish you’ll likely see the lamb in the window cooking.
I tried this lamb dish in Puerto Natales at a place called Kawesqar Cafe. Here, they specialized in Chirrillo (BBQ) and it was amazing. Three of us shared the 3-person meat platter and it was almost too much!
If you’re traveling with others who don’t like lamb or you don’t eat lamb yourself, then there’s plenty of other options including the really good quality local salmon with mashed potato that’s to die for!
Of course, Kawerqar Cafe isn’t the only place who sells this style of lamb, so hit the streets and let your nose lead the way!
5. Join the Puerto Natales Free Walking tour
Free walking tours are the best way to get to know a city without breaking the bank. In Puerto Natales, you can join the Natales A Pie Free Walking tour every day at 10 am.
Meeting at the Monumento La Mono, you’ll be taken around the city to learn all about the history visiting many significant places while having a good laugh along the way.
The three friends who run the tour can give you a great local insight into places to eat and drink, plus they have lots of info on Torres del Paine National Park.
Although free, the tour runs off tips so don’t forget to support these awesome guys!
6. Walk the waterfront
Everyone who visits Puerto Natales should spend a sunset walking the waterfront boardwalk. This stunning region is truly beautiful and from the edge of the lake you can stare out at the mountains across the sound.
This area is popular among locals and you’ll often find lots of people sitting on the benches just enjoying the warm (kinda) Patagonian summer nights.
There are also some cool docks to explore and friendly dogs to meet. This is only a short activity but one well worth your time – just be aware the sun doesn’t set until late during the summer!
7. Balmaceda and Serrano Glacier Navigation
One of the most popular tours to do in Puerto Natales is the Balmaceda and Serrano Glacier Navigation tour. This tour takes you by boat through the Ultima Esperanza Fjord to view stunning waterfalls, mountains, and many different Patagonian birds.
Then, it’s time to see the Balmaceda Glacier before taking a short hike through the forest to the foot of the Serrano Glacier. Here, you’ll enjoy a whiskey on the rocks with glacier ice. On the tour, you do stop at a local estancia for a traditional lunch (but that’s not included in the ticket price).
8. Go Horseback Riding
Horses are a part of the Patagonian culture and the shrubland around Puerto Natales is perfect for a wild ride in this stunning landscape.
On this full-day Estancia La Peninsula tour you’ll get to see what life’s like on a real Patagonian estancia (station) and explore the landscape by horseback with a knowledgeable guide. You’ll get a roasted lamb lunch paired with Chilean wine as well as dog herding demonstration all before taking the ferry back to Puerto Natales.
This tour really hits some cool key points of Patagonian culture and you won’t just learn about it, but actually experience it! It’s also a great way to give your legs a break from all that hiking!
9. Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony
If you’re not heading down to Punta Arenas then you really should consider doing an Isla Magdalena penguin tour from Puerto Natales.
The penguin colony on the island is huge and you’re almost guaranteed to see hundreds of penguins on the island nesting and hanging out.
Tours run for around 10 hours as the tour drives you to the ferry terminal near Punta Arenas before boarding a boat for the 2-hour journey to the island to see the penguins. Then, you’ll get to explore the boardwalk before returning back to Puerto Natales.
It’s a great tour and one every wildlife-lover should do!
10. Visit the Puerto Natales Historical Museum
When I came to Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas I fell in love with the history of the indigenous groups who used to live in the region. It’s truly amazing to learn how people lived in this harsh region all those years ago.
Unfortunately, the story of some groups is very sad but without knowing our past we are doomed to repeat, so it’s important to learn.
Entrance to the museum is only around $2 USD so it’s a super cheap activity that only takes an hour or so! The museum is also located right in the town center so you can simply walk there.
Visiting Torres del Paine National Park from Puerto Natales
Torres del Paine National Park is the main reason almost all visitors end up in Puerto Natales, Chile. In fact, for most, it is a Chile highlight! For that reason, I want to shed a little bit of light on visiting the park from Puerto Natales including some day and overnight trips you as well as places to stay in the park.
1. Getting to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales
From Puerto Natales, there are many different daily buses running to and from Torres del Paine National Park. It is 112km from Puerto Natales and the journey takes around 90 minutes to complete.
There are three departure times to the national park from Puerto Natales, 7:00 am, 7:30 am and 12:00 pm. Each ticket can be booked one way (10,000 CLP) or return (15,000 CLP). The return ticket is much cheaper and is flexible on day and time.
The return bus times are company-specific with Bus Sur having the earliest departure time from the park at 1:30 pm (and at 5:30 pm). Other companies like buses Gomez have their first departing bus at 2:30 pm.
On your return ticket, there are always 2 and sometimes 3 return times you can choose from and your return ticket is good for ANY OF THESE TIMES ON ANY DAY. It’s really a great flexible system and the buses very rarely completely fill up.
This bus ticket does not need to be booked that far in advance and both times I have been to Torres del Paine National Park I have booked the bus at the station when I arrived two days before the hike.
There are literally so many companies, so don’t stress too much about booking this ticket in advance unless you really want a little peace of mind.
2. Entrance fee Torres del Paine
The entrance fee to Torres del Paine National Park will be changing as of January 2020. The new prices for entry to the Torres del Paine National Park are:
25,000 CLP for international adults, 12,500 CLP for international kids (12 to 17), free for kids 11 and younger. This ticket is valid for 3 days ONLY.
Those who want to stay for more than 3 days will have to pay 35,000 CLP regardless of age.
3. Rental gear in Puerto Natales
In Puerto Natales, there are plenty of rental shops offering rental gear for those wanting to hike or camp in Torres del Paine National Park.
The company I rented my gear with both times I hiked in the Torres was Rental Natales and I highly recommend this company. Guillermo (the owner) is a great guy with so much knowledge of the national park and I have never had a problem with his equipment.
You can book his rental gear in advance on his website however it is a little more expensive than in the shop. This is because he will guarantee you your equipment and have it all ready for you to pick up when you arrive.
Please note: In no way am I being endorsed or sponsored by Rental Natales nor did I receive a discount on my rental gear.
There are also lots of other rental companies around town so if you have to time you can shop around and find the best place for you. With that said, Rental Natales is the only rental company I have found where you can book online in advance.
4. Accommodation in Torres del Paine National Park
One thing many people aren’t aware of is that you can actually rent a car, drive into the national park, and stay at amazing hotels with breathtaking views of the park.
From your hotel, you can do many different day hikes in the park including many most never do. Once in the park, you can visit the visitor center or ask your hotel about the best hikes to do depending on the weather.
This is honestly a really good option and one I highly recommend if you missed out on the campsites (they book up fast) or aren’t a huge hiking or camping fan!
Below are some of the best accommodation options in the park (from cheapest to most expensive) as well as a map of where they are:
1. Goiien House – This is the cheapest option in the national park. The reviews really aren’t that great. They offer dorm beds at $95 USD per night. On the plus side, it’s only 1km from the entrance to the park and the views are pretty incredible.
2. Estancia Dos Elianas – Estancia Dos Elianas is by far the cheapest if you want a private room. This small hotel is located 20 minutes from the park and has a very rustic, but nice, vibe. Unfortunately, the views of the mountains aren’t the best (considering other places). Rooms start at $160 USD and include breakfast.
3. Hotel Estancia El Ovejero Patagónico – Located 30-minutes from the National Park, this hotel sits just at the turnoff to the park from the main highway. It’s beautiful and well-reviewed but is expensive for its location. Rooms start at $210 USD per night for a double room.
4. Pehoe Hosteria – For the price, this is a great option and this hotel has amazing views. It sits on the shores of Lago El Toro and has magnificent views of the national park. A room here starts at around $200 USD per night.
5. Pampa Hostel – Pampa is another hostel that sells dorm beds (but this time with amazing reviews and views of the park.) Beds aren’t cheap though at $135 USD per night.
6. Pampa Lodge, Quincho & Caballos – This place is located deep in the national park. The views and rooms are spectacular. The reviews are also amazing and rooms here cost $360 USD per night. Although a little expensive, I’d say it’s worth it!
7. Hotel Lago Grey – Hotel Lago Grey is a stunning hotel with views of Torres del Paine you could stare at for hours. This place has amazing food, rooms, service, and views of the Grey Glacier. Rooms here start at $360 USD per night.
8. Hotel Las Torres Patagonia – Located at the base of the Las Torres hiking trail, this is the most popular place to stay in the national park. It’s often booked up months in advance and doesn’t have the greatest reviews. But if the location is key, then the $415 USD price tag is worth it.
9. Explora Patagonia – All Inclusive – This place is unreal! Honestly if you have the budget of the minimum 3 night $7,000 USD (for two people) all-inclusive stay, then go check it out for yourself. It’s literally my dream to stay here one day!
5. Camping in the National Park
If you are organized enough and plan ahead, you can book campsites in Torres del Paine National Park that are very cheap or even free! For more info, read our blog all about camping in Torres del Paine National Park!
The Best Hikes you can do from Puerto Natales
There’s a massive combination of hikes you can do in Torres del Paine National park and without going into too much detail, I want to touch on a few just to give you some inspiration, info, and some general knowledge about some of your options.
1. Puerto Natales – Campamento Grey – Puerto Natales
The first Torres del Paine day hike from Puerto Natales is a really good option for those wanting an easy hike in and out of the park with a one night stay in one of my favorite campsites and refugios… Campamento Grey.
On this overnight hike, you’ll get the 7 am bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park and catch the ferry from the Pudeto Jetty. This ferry costs 18,000 CLP one-way or 28,000 return. This ferry will drop you at Campamento Grande and from there you can either walk to Camp Grey or take another ferry to Grey Camp and Refugio.
This hike is 11 km of rather easy terrain and takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete. From Grey Camp, enjoy the short walks to the glacier and if you’re up for it be sure to walk towards Camp Paso and check out the suspension bridges. You can do this extra hiking either the day you arrive or the next morning.
The next day, repeat the first day in reverse and hike back to the ferry and take the bus back to Puerto Natales.
This option isn’t the best for just a day hike as even taking the ferry to Grey Camp will take most of the day and you may miss the last ferry back to Pudeto Jetty.
If Camp Grey is fully booked then consider staying at Paine Grande instead (the first campsite where the boat drops you).
There is this one day-trip from Puerto Natales that will take you on alternative route to see Glacier Grey. It is a good option if you only want see the glacier in one day.
2. Puerto Natales-Chileno- Torres-Puerto Natales (can be done in one day)
On this overnight hike, your morning will be the same except when you get to the entrance of the park to buy or show your entrance ticket you must get on another bus that with take you to Campamento Central. Your bus driver will show you where to go so don’t worry.
From here, hike up to Campamento Chileno where you’ll spend the night either in a tent or in the accommodation. That morning hike to the Las Torres viewpoint and then hike all the way back down and get the buses back to Puerto Natales.
You can book campsite Chileno here
This can be done in a day by taking the 7 am bus to the park, hiking all the way to the Torres viewpoint, and then catching the 6:30 pm bus back to Puerto Natales.
However, just to avoid any issues with the bus and time, if you want to visit on a day trip I highly recommend booking a tour. This particular day tour from Puerto Natales includes transport and a guide. It goes all the way to Las Torres viewpoint!
3. Puerto Natales – Paine Grande – Puerto Natales (can be done in a day)
This last overnight option is a very relaxed option and perfect for those who don’t want to do too much hiking. The first day of this hike works exactly like the hike to Camp Grey where you take the ferry from the bus. Once you get off the ferry, you are already at your campsite or accommodation at Paine Grande.
From here you can explore as you please, but I recommend walking towards Campamento Grey to see the Grey Glacier. Walk as far as you’re comfortable before returning.
The next day, get the ferry and bus back to Puerto Natales.
Another option is to walk to the French Valley. This is a little bit longer of hike though and would be best suited for doing the next morning. Get up early and hike the French Valley and back before catching the last ferry and bus back to Puerto Natales.
You can book Paine Grande camping and lodging here!
The W-Trek and O’Circuit from Puerto Natales
Explaining all the information about the multi-day hikes in the park is a lot of information. So, if you’re planning on this option then jump over to my other articles on hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek and my Torres del Paine camping guide.
Where to Stay in Puerto Natales
1. Budget Hostels in Puerto Natales
Hostal Backpackers Cortes – A great social hostel with large common areas, a fully equipped kitchen, and a central location near the bus station. The only downside is that they charge for bag storage.
Hostel 53 Sur – My brother stayed here for 3 nights in 2019 and loved his stay. He said it was the best-included breakfast he had in Patagonia and the staff are extremely friendly. The only negative is the lack of bathrooms.
Forte Patagonia – A small cozy hostel with a great included breakfast. The hostel has really good wifi (uncommon in Puerto Natales), a large kitchen, and very clean comfortable rooms. The only bad thing is its a 15-minute walk from the center of town.
2. Mid-range Hotels in Puerto Natales
Hostal La Base – Although called a “hostel” La Base only provides private rooms in the form of singles, doubles, triples, or quadruples. I loved my stay here and really enjoyed the staff, breakfast, and cleanliness. They also do laundry per load very affordable and store bags for free.
Toore Patagonia – A beautifully designed rustic hotel located in the heart of Puerto Natales. I really love the design of this hotel and it’s the perfect place to spend those cold Patagonian nights.
Hostal Camino de Santiago – Simple hotel with some of the best overall reviews in Puerto Natales. It’s centrally located and the staff are friendly and helpful.
3. Luxury Hotels in Puerto Natales
Hotel Simple Patagonia – If you came for the magnificent views in Puerto Natales then this is a great option. Located on the shores of the lake with large floor to ceiling windows, the views are unmacthed. It is located in its own secluded area about 6 km from the town. The rooms are stunning, the staff are friendly, and the reviews are exceptional.
Hotel Costaustralis – One of the closest luxury hotels to town and right on the main boardwalk of the lake, Hotel Costaystralis is a top choice. The luxury furnishings and design are amazing and the restaurant has the best views in Puerto Natales.
Best Places to Eat in Puerto Natales
1. Hostal Alcazar – This place (although a hostel) does amazing pizzas! This was the best after hiking meal!
2. Kawesqar Cafe – As mentioned above, this restaurant does a really good authentic BBQ. The lamb and salmon are both amazing!
3. Afrigonia – Hands down the best seafood in town! It’s Patagonian infusion food and it’s amazing!
4. Santolla – Another amazing seafood restaurant, do yourself a favor and get the king Crab!
5. The Singular Patagonia Restaurant – Really amazing steaks and crispy skin salmon. Literally everything looked delicious.
Getting in and out of Puerto Natales
Multiple buses run in and out of Puerto Natales every day with lots of departures to Torres del Paine, Punta Arenas, and El Calafate. These buses usually don’t book up too far in advance but they do book up.
The best place to book your tickets in advance is on Bus Bud. On this website, you can check and book seats without worry. I have used this service so much and never had a problem!
Renting a car in Puerto Natales
If you plan on renting a car in Patagonia then Puerto Natales is a great place to do it. There are lots of rental car companies in the city to choose from and a quick search on RentalCars.com can find you the cheapest deal.
I did, however, find it much cheaper to rent a car in Punta Arenas and because I was finishing my trip there and actually got the bus back to Punta Arenas after hiking the O-Circuit and picked up my car. Rental companies tend to charge a lot more if you drop off in another location.
Another very important fact to note is that if you’re planning on going to Argentina you need to get approval from the rental car provider in advance. This will cost you around $100 USD but you will not be able to leave Chile without this paperwork as it is a legal requirement.
Before you go…
Puerto Natales is a small humble town but it’s the gateway to one of the best national parks in the world. As you can see, there’s a lot more to the city than meets the eye but its still a very friendly and safe place to visit.
Bailey and I hope you found what you were looking for in this blog and would love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments section below.
If you would like to check out more of our articles from this region then check out all our Patagonia blogs here! There’s so much more info on places to see and things to do!
Thanks for reading and safe travels!
May 14, 2020