Friday, April 6, 2018

Puerta Natales, time to experience Patagonia & Torres del Paine.

Towards the end of December 2017 we flew to Chile for two weeks.  After a lovely family Christmas in Santiago we headed south to Patagonia. After landing in Punta Arenas we took a taxi into the city centre to catch a bus to Puerto Natales. What we didn't know at the time as that we could have caught the bus from that airport, still you live and learn. The bus trip on Buses Fernandez took around 3 hours another example of the sheer size of Chile. Both of us were full of excitement as this was pair first trip to Patagonia so the time flew by. On arrival we grabbed a taxi for the short ride to our home for the next couple of days, Hotel If.

Hotel If/ Restaurant Santolla
Situated just a short walk from the centre Hotel If offers basic accommodation, it did the job for us however in all honesty could do with a bit of work to make it feel more comfortable. The big plus is it is next door to Santolla, a fantastic restaurant built in a series of freight containers as you can see above. Owned and run by the family behind Hotel If the atmosphere is fun, the service comes with a smile and the food especially the King Crab is absolutely delicious, a 5 star recommendation.

Exploring the Ultima Esperanza
On our first full day we joined a cruise on the Ultima Esperanza (Channel of Last Hope) booked with a tour company called 21 de Mayo to see the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers. Bearing in mind we were visiting the region in high season the boat was busy however not to the extend that you could't move around. One thing I forgot to mention at the start of this post is come prepared for all seasons when you visit Patagonia as you can experience a mix of weather in one day and when the wind blows its cold....very cold. We had a great time on this well organised cruise, the scenery is spectacular so wrap up warm and enjoy.

Some friendly locals

Balmaceda Glacier 
Serrano Glacier
Whilst you have to view the Balmaceda Glacier from the ship you get a closer view of the Serrano Glacier, the ship docks and you then have a short walk around 1km to the foot of the glacier.

After leading the Serrano Glacier we were treated to a glass of whiskey with ice (supposedly) from the glacier before heading to a nearby ranch for a delicious BBQ lunch.

Lunch stop at the Estancia Perales
Our main reason for visiting Patagonia was to visit the world famous Torres del Paine National Park hoping to see the iconic views of the Torres (Towers). We joined our group for the day full of excitement for what lay ahead. One thing to check if you book a day tour in the park is what are the plans for lunch? You may need to book a table at one of the Lodges so especially in high season it's a good idea to check.

Hidden in the clouds - Torres del Paine

So unfortunately as you can see we chose a cloudy day, luck wasn't with is however we did catch some glimpses of the Torres (Towers) and Cuernos (Horns) just not quite the clear view with blue skies that we hoped for. They are spectacular and have to be seen to really appreciate their sheer size and dominance over the surroundings.

After lunch we drove on to view the Grey Lake and stunning Grey Glacier. This involved a walk of perhaps 2km of which part is very exposed and incredibly windy so wrap up warm and hold onto each other.

Grey Lake & Glacier in the background, see below

Our final stop for the day was the Cueva del Milodon. It comprises a number of caves and a rock formation know as Silla del Diablo (Seat of the Devil) and was the location where a German explorer called Herman Eberhart found the skin of an unidentified animal which was later identified as a Mylodon an extinct animal which died over 10,000 years ago. After the impressive Torres del Paine and the Grey Lake it was if I'm honest a bit underwhelming in comparison.

We had a wonderful time in Puerto Natales exploring the region and the town itself. The town itself is relatively small with a population of around 19,000. There are lots of bars and restaurants, we had lovely meals at Santolla and Afragonia as well as El Bote. If you're looking for somewhere to have a drink and a bite to eat rather than a full meal try Hostel Wild. If you fancy some shopping and want to take home some souvenirs talk a walk to the Pueblo Artesanal just outside the town centre, it's packed full of colourful hand craft. Next stop back to Punta Arenas for a couple of days and to celebrate New Year, time too to visit some penguins.