Puerto Natales and around

From Punta Arenas, a good paved road runs 247 km north to Puerto Natales through forests of southern beech and prime pastureland; this is the best area for cattle- and sheep-raising in Chile. Nandúes and guanacos can often be seen en route. Puerto Natales lies between Cerro Dorotea (which rises behind the town) and the eastern shore of the Seno Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope Sound), over which there are fine views, weather permitting, to the Peninsula Antonio Varas and the jagged peaks and receding glaciers of the Parque Nacional Bernardo O'Higgins beyond. Founded in 1911, the town grew as an industrial centre and, until recent years, the town's prosperity was based upon employment in the coal mines of Río Turbio, Argentina. Today, Puerto Natales is the starting point for trips to the magnificent O'Higgins and Torres del Paine national parks, and tourism is one of its most important industries; the town centre has a prosperous if somewhat touristy atmosphere.

Getting there

Puerto Natales is easily reached by many daily buses from Punta Arenas, as well as by buses from Río Turbio (Argentina) and El Calafate (two to four daily). There are also two buses weekly from Río Gallegos. The town is the terminus of the
Navimag
ship to Puerto Montt. In summer, there are flights from Santiago via Puerto Montt. If driving between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, make sure you have enough fuel. Note that buses from Argentina invariably arrive late. In theory buses from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales will pick passengers up at Punta Arenas airport as long as reservations have been made with advance payment through an agency in Puerto Natales. In practice though they are often unreliable.

Getting around

Puerto Natales is small; taxis needed only for journeys out of town.

Sights

The
Museo histórico municipal
, houses a small collection of archaeological and native artefacts as well as exhibits on late-19th-century European colonization. Reasonable descriptions in English.

South of the town centre past the end of calle Baquedano is the
Museo de Fauna Patagónica
. It houses a collection of around 350 stuffed animals from the region.

The colourful old steam train in the main square was once used to take workers to the the meat-packing factory at
Puerto Bories
, 5 km north of town. It is a pleasant hour-long walk along the shore to Bories (US$4 by taxi), with glimpses of the Balmaceda Glacier across the sound. In its heyday the plant was the biggest of its kind in Chile with a capacity for 250,000 sheep. Bankrupted in the early 1990s, much of the plant was dismantled in 1993. Belatedly the plant was given National Monument status and is slowly being restored. The remaining buildings and machine rooms can be visited.
Museo Frigorífico
Puerto Bories
, www.museopuertobories.cl
.

The slab-like
Cerro Dorotea
dominates the town, with superb views of the whole Seno Ultima Esperanza. It can be reached on foot or by any Río Turbio bus or taxi (recommended, as the hill is further away than it seems). The trail entrance is marked by a sign that reads 'Mirador Cerro Dorotea'. Expect to be charged US$5-8 in one of the local houses, where you will be given a broomstick handle which makes a surprisingly good walking stick. It is a 1½-hour trek up to the 600-m lookout along a well-marked trail. In theory you can continue along the top of the hill to get better views to the north, but the incredibly strong winds often make this dangerous.

Around Puerto NatalesMonumento Nacional Cueva Milodón

This is the end point of Bruce Chatwin's travelogue
In Patagonia
. The cave, a massive 70 m wide, 220 m deep and 30 m high, contains a plastic model of the prehistoric ground-sloth whose remains were found there in 1895. The remains are now in London, although there is talk of returning them to the site. Evidence has also been found here of occupation by Patagonians some 11,000 years ago. Nearby, a visitor centre has summaries in English. There's also a good restaurant and handicraft store.

Parque Nacional Bernardo O'Higgins

Often referred to as the Parque Nacional Monte Balmaceda, this park covers much of the Campo de Hielo Sur, plus the fjords and offshore islands further west. A three-hour boat trip from Puerto Natales up the Seno de Ultima Esperanza takes you to the southernmost section, passing the Balmaceda Glacier, which drops from the eastern slopes of Monte Balmaceda (2035 m). The glacier is retreating; in 1986 its foot was at sea level. The boat docks further north at Puerto Toro, from where it is a kilometre walk to the base of the Serrano Glacier on the north slope of Monte Balmaceda. On the trip, dolphins, sea lions (in season), black-necked swans, flightless steamer ducks and cormorants can often be seen. Take warm clothes, including a hat and gloves.

There is a route from Puerto Toro on the eastern side of the Río Serrano for 35 km to the Torres del Paine administration centre ; guided tours are available on foot or on horseback. It is also possible to travel to the Paine administration centre along the river by boat or zodiac.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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