Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales – five days exploring Chilean Patagonia 

Punta Arenas is the gateway city to Chilean Patagonia.  The city is the southernmost in Chile, and is the capital of the Magellanes district.  It has the only airport in the region, making it the first stop for anyone flying into Chilean Patagonia. Puerto Natales is a much smaller town located just north of Punta Arenas, and is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park and the rest of the trekking opportunities in Chilean Patagonia.

I arrived in Punta Arenas  after a three hour flight from Puerto Montt.  Getting to my hostel, Hostal 53 Sur, was easy with the cheap transfer bus at the airport.  The staff was really friendly and the hostel was wonderfully warm – much unlike the cold and windy weather outside.  Since it was late, I cooked dinner and went to bed early, as I planned to see the city the following morning before heading to Puerto Natales.
I was pleasantly surprised by a pancake breakfast in the morning, apparently included in the hostel fee for the night.  I also met up with a French girl who was also staying in the hostel and we ended up touring the city together.  After we bought our bus tickets to Puerto Natales, we first headed toward the viewpoint of the city.  We ended up missing the main viewpoint, but found a different one that was still really nice.  From here we walked toward the cemetery, stopping in a cathedral along the way (where we accidentally let some stray dogs inside).
Downtown Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas is known for its interesting cemetery, which has a wide variety of families located inside.  Interestingly, the main gate is closed permanently at the request of the woman who financed the cemetery – she wanted to be the last one to enter it when she died, so there is a side entrance now.  Since the city was heavily populated with people from all over Europe, the names on the gravestones are extremely varied.

Colorful gravestones in the cemetery
After the cemetery we went toward the seashore to walk along the coastal sidewalk.  The wind was really intense there and was almost strong enough to hold you up if you fell into it.  We walked along the water toward the city centre, where we went to escape the crazy wind and to see the last part of the city.  The centre is a really nice area, with many statues and memorials scattered throughout its many plazas.  The centerpiece of the Plaza de Armas is a large statue of Ferdinand Magellan, who the region was named after.  I walked back to the hostel from here to make lunch, splitting from my friend who went to buy some food, and ended up finding the actual mirador along the way.  The view was really nice as it was aligned with the streets, giving a better view of the buildings and the ocean.  In the late afternoon, I caught the bus to Puerto Natales, located 3 hours to the north.

Monument along the seashore

Monument of Magellan in the Plaza de Armas

Punta Arenas from the mirador
I made it to Puerto Natales fairly late in the evening and walked to my hostel, The Singing Lamb.  The place was pretty empty the entire time I was there, which was kinda weird but the hostel was really nice so it was fine.  The next day I set out to explore the town.  There really isn’t much to it, other than the main plaza and the seaside walk.  Most of the stores and hostels were closed for the off season, making it seem very dead during my entire visit.  The waterfront, however, was absolutely stunning and worth spending a day there just to see.  The wind was really strong (as in all of Patagonia) so the waves were quite large.  The water is overshadowed by large snow-capped mountains and the ever changing sky.  I spent hours along the water listening to music and relaxing, at least until I froze from the wind.  Later in the afternoon, I managed to run into the German guys who were on my Salar de Uyuni tour in Bolivia a few weeks earlier – they were staying in the same hostel as the French girl from Punta Arenas, which was crazy. I ended up spending the evening having dinner at their hostel and chatting until fairly late.

Ship docked in the waters off Puerto Natales

Broken ship on shore outside of town

The old dock in Puerto Natales

Gorgeous sunset along the ocean
Early the next morning I took a day tour to Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most famous places in Patagonia. Unfortunately, just before my hostel pickup came, I had a catastrophic incident with my camera which left it unusable (in case you didn’t already know: DSLR + water = bad time for everyone).   It wasn’t a very great weather day to visit TdP, so while the tour was incredible and the landscape gorgeous, I was only able to see the famous towers for about 5 minutes of the whole day we were there.  The waterfalls and glacial ice were really great though, and the place we stopped to eat lunch had a  spectacular view of a lake and the mountains.  On the way out of the park we went to Mylodon Cave, which is a giant cave where they found remnants of the Mylodon (a giant sloth like creature that lived in Patagonia until about 10,000 years ago), as well as evidence of prehistoric human occupation in the region.  The stop wasn’t too long but it was quite interesting nonetheless.  As soon as we arrived back in Puerto Natales, I made supper and then had an intense conversation about archaeology, anthropology, and everything else with a girl from Germany – which is exactly one of the reasons I love traveling so much.

Waterfall on Rio Paine

Torres del Paine

Suspension bridge on the trail to Lago Grey

Ice from Glacier Grey in Lago Grey

Mylodon cave

Mylodon statue in the cave
The following day I had planned on leaving to Argentina, but due to bus scheduling problems (i.e. there are no Sunday buses), I ended up doing nothing but rest and catching up on things like blog posts for the entire day.  I had to book a tour to Perito Moreno glacier from Puerto Natales rather than taking the normal bus due to this problem, leaving me with an extra day and nothing to do (especially since literally everything else was closed since it was Sunday).  It all worked out though, and the next morning I was on the bus to El Calafate, Argentina!

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