Exploring Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. A hub for rock climbing and trekking enthusiasts, this small coastal town on the shoreline of fjords was the third stop on our Patagonia tour.
When we first arrived after our five hour bus ride from El Calafate, it was cold, cloudy and damp. Our first impression was that Puerto Natales was one of those quiet, eerie coastal towns. Once we got our bearings though, we quickly discovered the town and people to be so warm and welcoming.
Since we just crossed the border into Chile, we did not have any Chilean pesos to take a taxi to our hosteria. Luckily the hosteria was only a few blocks away. After a quick navigation on Google maps, we hoofed it the five blocks to our hosteria, Big Bang Patagonia.
The hosteria was no frills, but homey and comfortable. A common area off the reception reminded me of a small rustic lodge with a big stone fire place and a comfy couch. There was a kitchen where we could store and prepare food which came in handy.
After checking in and dropping our bags, we set out towards the center of town to find lunch. We walked through the neighborhood streets until we started to pass more stores and restaurants. We followed the little map the woman at the hosteria had given us with directions to Baguales Brewery. We passed through Plaza de Mayo, the town centro, and a few blocks away saw water glinting in the sunlight that would break out from behind the clouds. I made a mental note to walk down to the waterfront after lunch.
We had an all day tour scheduled through Torres del Paine the following day, so after lunch we spent our first day in Puerto Natales just roaming the town and waterfront. With absolutely no plans we explored on foot, turning down any street that looked remotely interesting.
We found a darling shop with a few local treasures to take home – an alpaca shawl and a small painting of Torres del Paine by the shop owner’s granddaughter. We loved chatting with the owner and meeting his granddaughter. We popped into a hotel with a beautiful restaurant overlooking the waterfront for a glass of rosato. We walked along the waterfront in constant awe of our southern latitude. Sometimes these spontaneous afternoons are my favorite. Here are some of our discoveries from Puerto Natales!
Top Restaurants in Puerto Natales
Located in a restored cabin-like house, Baguales Brewery is a lively microbrewery that instantly warms you up the minute you walk through the doors. The brewery sits along Plaza de Armas, a few blocks from the waterfront. We loved the atmosphere, great cervezas and excellent pub food. The brewery felt just a tad bit American (after all one of the owners is American), but I’ll admit Scott and I were both thrilled when we saw carnitas tacos on the menu. The tacos and a pitcher of blonde cerveza were just what we needed to rejuvenate. We loved Baguales Brewery so much we came back here again after our long day in Torres del Paine.
We asked our friendly waiter at Baguales Brewery if he had any restaurant recommendations for dinner, which is how we learned about Santolla. Thoughtfully arranged shipping containers create a cozy restaurant space that was easy to miss from the outside. As we walked inside we were met with a small welcoming bar and a handful of rustic wood dining tables. The restaurant was busy and the smells coming from the kitchen upstairs were a delicate mix of fresh seafood and spice.
The restaurant’s name Santolla means southern king crab. We learned that santolla was also the restaurant’s special. At $65 US the santolla was expensive in comparison to everything else on the menu but we splurged and went for it. Scott loves mussels, so we couldn’t pass up the steamed mussels in a wine broth with chorizo as an appetizer. They were absolutely delicious. I tried the Calafate Sour cocktail made with local calafate berry. It was perfectly balanced and one of the best cocktails I had in South America.
When the santolla arrived at our table we both laughed out of sheer shock of its size. Everything feels bigger in Patagonia and this crab was no exception. The waitstaff actually moved us to a larger table because it was so big and they wanted to give us more room to enjoy our meal. So nice. The waitstaff at Santolla were so friendly and accommodating.
The crab was served with three different sauces, and two pairs of scissors to cut off the shell. We never thought in a million years that we would finish that crab, but we took our time and had a lovely dinner that lasted hours. The santolla was much lighter in comparison to Alaskan king crab. Perhaps it has something to do with the mix of fresh water with salt water in the fjords where the santolla lives.
We topped off our meal with a Chilean digestif called Araunaco. We were the last to leave the restaurant that night around 1 AM.
Walk along the fjords
The dramatic waterfront along the fjords in Puerto Natales are worth a stroll. Mountains and valleys all along the horizon, we could hardly tell where the water was coming from or going. The landscape was formed by glaciers moving through the Andes thousands of years ago, and the maze of mountains and water seemed endless.
The day we arrived was cloudy, but it made for the most dynamic landscape with the sun constantly popping out from behind the clouds. The glittering waterfront put on a show for us, along with the kids riding their bikes and skateboards on a large halfpipe that was built into the walkway. Naturally I loved the statues along the waterfront near the skate park, and had to snap a few shots goofing off with them. That afternoon those flying statues mirrored the feeling in my soul.