Puerto Natales, a backpacker’s haven

A culture of knowledgeable guides and trackers, sheep and horses; with snowy mountains as a backdrop. An enchanting Patagonian town.

lunes, 27 de julio de 2009  
Cueva del Milodón Cueva del Milodón (Photo: Monumentos Nacionales)

Located just over 247 kilometers north-east of Punta Arenas, with a population of 19,000 inhabitants, it is a must for those traveling to Torres del Paine. It is the closest city to the Park and it offers good touristic infrastructure.

In the last twenty years it has become a cosmopolitan city. Its closeness to the Torres has transformed it into a base camp for international backpackers. Founded in 1911, its mining and sheep-rearing past has given way to tourism as its main activity.

Hundreds of signs in English, French or Hebrew announce trips, hostelry and other services typical of a multicultural milieu. An ancient inhabitant of the region makes its presence felt in posters and an enormous statue that welcomes travelers: it is the Mylodon, Mylodon darwini, a prehistoric animal that became extinct about 10 thousand years ago and now plays host to the human and natural treasures of this area.

City Attractions

Plaza de Armas: Beautiful pine trees pruned in circular shapes are the framework for the main meeting-place of the city. Around the plaza are the church, the municipality, hotels, hostels and good restaurants. A major attraction is an old steam engine located in its center. This was the first train that linked the old cold-storage plant in Puerto Bories with Puerto Natales at the beginning of the 20th century.

Coastal promenade: The panoramic view from the coast of Puerto Natales is impressive: snowy mountains, glaciers descending from the mountains to the sea and the wind-combed Señoret channel. Beautiful coastal hotels, the pier, some cruise ships plus varied fauna such as black-necked swans, coscoroba swans, gulls, ducks, cormorants and flamingos in the salt waters complete the marvelous scenario.

Puerto Bories: At a mere 5 kilometers north-east of Puerto Natales and on the way to Torres del Paine is the Puerto Bories Site Historic Museum. These are the buildings of the largest cold-storage plant that operated in Patagonia at the beginning of the 1900s. Its architecture is English and a self-guided tour is available to visit the museum and surroundings, featuring an impressive pier.

Nearby Attractions

Mylodon Cave

The Mylodon, symbol of the city, was a prehistoric herbivorous animal whose remains were found in a large cave located 24 kilometers north-west of Puerto Natales. The site was declared a Natural Monument and is made up of three caverns and a natural rock structure called the Devil’s Chair. There is a replica of the animal on the site and a cafeteria. 

Balmaceda Glacier

Visible from the Puerto Natales coastal promenade, this ice mass is part of Campos de Hielo Sur and belongs to the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. To get there it is necessary to board a boat that will take you to the foot of this almost 2,035 meter-high  hanging glacier, located on the western slope of the mountain. Huge icebergs break off and slide down the eastern slope of Balmaceda Mountain to finally deposit themselves in the Última Esperanza fjord. Impressive.

Mountain Channel

This is a new Natales attraction. It is essential to reach it by sea, and the trip can take from two to ten days, taking time to practice kayaking, ice-scaling and trekking along the Almirante Montt gulf and Kirk channel areas. Several associated companies are available to show you some of the secret places close to the city: Mount Sarmiento, the Bernal glacier, Alsina and Bahía Paredes are part of the itinerary. Three hours’ sailing from Puerto Natales. 

Dorotea Range

A quintessential poster of the eastern area of Puerto Natales, the range was formed during the Upper Cretaceous period, i.e., 72 million years ago, and is made up of sedimentary rocks containing fossil remains. The Dorotea Lookout, close to 600 meters up, offers the best views of the Puerto Natales landscapes. The trek takes only a few hours and the route is four kilometers away from the city.

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