Puerto Natales & Punta Arenas

Sunset in Puerto Natales

We boarded a bus and departed El Calafate, Argentina on the morning December 17, 2015 bound for Puerto Natales, Chile. The ride was somewhere in the 3-4 hour range, and much of the ride up to the border on National Highway 40 was not very scenic as the bus crossed the Patagonian steppe. There was one small town, Esperanza, and a few estancias along the road, but not much else. We passed through one of the estancias right before we arrived at the Argentine border crossing at Paso Rio Don Guillermo.

Argentine side of the Paso Rio Don Guillermo border crossing
Chilean side of the Paso Rio Don Guillermo border crossing

This area was a little more scenic as we were entering the mountains, and we had a few minutes to enjoy it outside as we waited for everyone to pass through the checkpoint. We then boarded the bus, drove a few miles, and arrived at the Chilean border crossing. Both of these border crossings are not directly on the border, and there's nothing between them. We were warned to not have any fruits or nuts when entering Chile as they would be confiscated and possibly delay our passage. After every passed through, we rode south on highway 9 through a somewhat mountainous area before arriving in Puerto Natales.

The road next to the hotel in Puerto Natales

The pier and coastline in Puerto Natales

Our hotel, Hotel Captain Eberhard, was situated right along the coastline with beautiful west-facing views of the distant mountains. Puerto Natales is at sea level on the coast, but it is far from the open ocean thanks to southern Chile's complex coastline. It was another beautiful day in Patagonia, so after going to the hotel we went to lunch at Mesita Grande, which is not your typical Patagonian restaurant. It is primarily a pizza place and an excellent one at that with some traditional and unique takes on pizza design. After lunch we explored this city of about 18,000 people (there really isn't that much to see) for part of the afternoon before stopping at a supermarket to pick up extra snacks and drinks for the following few days. The remains of an old pier just north of the hotel gave us our first glimpse of the cormorants that colonize these and other structures just off of the shoreline in this region.

Parroquia Maria Auxiliadora in Puerto Natales

Skate park in Puerto Natales

By the time evening rolled around, we walked a few blocks to Baguales, a restaurant and brewery across the Plaza de Armas from Mesita Grande. The food was mostly good with the exception of some soggy chips, and the beer was decent too, though it was the last decent beer of the trip. The sun seemed to set very slowly as we walked back, which provided an amazing view, so we went to the lounge overlooking the water on the second floor of our hotel to catch the last of the sunset.


Following another standard Patagonian breakfast the next morning, we boarded a van for a ride to Torres del Paine National Park, where we would spend the next three days and two nights hiking and camping. I'll leave that for another post and continue here with our arrival back in Puerto Natales on the afternoon of December 20. We were very hungry after three days of hiking, and spent some time walking around town trying to find a place that was open. Being Sunday evening most places were closed and one of the two we found that were open was tiny and packed, so we ended up back at Mesita Grande (very busy too). I would have preferred to go somewhere new, but given the limited options I was satisfied with Mesita Grande, especially considering it is a fantastic restaurant.

There was also some sort of festival going on in town with live music, activities, and rides for kids, but after we finished dinner we checked out a few shops in town before walking back to the hotel in time to catch another great sunset. The following morning clouds had moved in, but we were only in town for a short while to catch a bus that morning to Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas from the southeast-facing viewpoint
Punta Arenas from the northest-facing viewpoint

The bus ride was only about three hours, but there was very little scenery along the way. This leg of our journey was really about travel logistics rather than seeing Punta Arenas as in order to get to Ushuaia, we had to catch an early morning bus out of Punta Arenas the following morning. By early afternoon we arrived at Hostal Oro Fueguino, where we would be spending the night. It was a little bit a walk from there to downtown, but easily doable on a nice day. After sandwiches for lunch at Lomito's, we again spent the afternoon wandering around this city of 127,000.

The Strait of Magellan in Punta Arenas

We first made our way to the Strait of Magellan, the long, navigable waterway that separates mainland South America from Tierra del Fuego. We saw another old pier with even more cormorants than the one in Puerto Natales as well as fantastic art on the sides of buildings in the same area. We walked back through the main part of the town through a couple plazas and back towards the hotel. Less than a block uphill from the hotel (the road ends and you have to climb stairs) is a southeast-facing viewpoint that provides a great overview of the city. There is a second northeast-facing viewpoint a few blocks from this one, but the views from it were not that great.


As we were leaving the viewpoints storms were on their way in, so we went back to the hotel for a couple hours as the storms passed. For dinner we went to another great restaurant, La Marmita, a seafood-focused place where I had the seafood stew. The best part of my meal was the appetizer of guanaco steak tips, which were absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately the main course guanaco steak was out of stock.


The following morning we got taxis to the bus station and boarded a half-empty bus for a ten hour journey to Ushuaia, Argentina. This journey first involved a ride for a couple of hours to the narrowest point on the Strait of Magellan to board a ferry. This would be one of two places where we would be able to buy food during the trip. A small restaurant on the shore before boarding the ferry offered decent hot dogs, and a vendor on the ferry offered not so great hot dogs. We waited about 20 minutes to board the ferry, which took about as long to cross the strait. Due to extreme winds, the ferries sometimes will stop operating, which can add hours to your journey.


Once on the other side, we boarded the bus again for the worst part of the trip: a ride through the steppe on a dirt road. There are very few vehicles traveling through this part of Tierra del Fuego, so most of the roads are not paved, but it looked like they were building a new road that would be paved. We eventually made it to the Chilean border, went through the checkpoint, continued on to the Argentine border, grabbed empanadas after going through their checkpoint (the second food opportunity), and then continued on to Ushuaia. Shortly after crossing the Argentine border the road becomes paved again, and we passed through several towns on the way to Ushuaia. This last leg of the trip was fairly rainy, so I couldn't see much from the bus window. Once we got to near Tolhuin, the rain eased up and we began to see trees and scenery again as the bus climbed through the mountains before arriving in Ushuaia.

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