For the typical visitor, Puerto Natales is the jumping-off point for excursions to Torres del Paine National Park, with its towering crags and hiking trails. For the less-typical visitor, however, one who’s willing to explore a bit, this once-sleepy fishing port holds a subtle charm all its own.
Perched on the luminous waves of Last Hope Sound, some 70 miles south of Torres del Paine, the town looks out on some of Chile’s most pristine fjords, including the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. A day trip via bicycle or catamaran allows you to probe the inlets of this body of water, with their decayed docks and cormorant colonies. Or, if you’re game for an icier adventure, you can explore the area’s glaciers by kayak and camp overnight nearby.
The region offers other up-close encounters with nature. Fly-fishing aficionados will relish wading in the abundant local streams and brooks in search of salmon and trout, while amateur naturalists will marvel at the Mylodon Cave, where the bones of a 10,000-year-old sloth-like mammal have been discovered. Back in town, you can learn about Patagonian history at the local museum, before settling in by the fireside at a cozy inn with a glass of local wine.
With its proximity to Torres de Paine, and twice weekly flights from Santiago in the summer, Puerto Natales is a true gateway. Its landscapes offer adventurous travelers a portal not just to southern Chile, but to the wilds of Patagonia and beyond.
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