Another long bus trip with a border crossing from Argentina in to Chile, from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales. Who would have thought, I would encounter the fruit police as my welcome to Chile?
Our 11 nights/12 days stay in Ushuaia could of been longer but with the ski season around the corner, this region would have been prohibitively expensive. No doubt it will be a great snow season this year as snow came early in April during our stay.
Travel – first attempt
Awoke at 04:15hrs to catch the 05:20hrs, 15-hour bus trip to Puerto Natales, via Punta Arenas.
Annoyingly, our booked taxi didn’t arrive until 06:15hrs, so missed the bus and lost the cost of the bus ticket (AR$240) as Cootra would not refund even a portion of the fare. I tried hard to get something back and left in disgust, but it wasn’t the company’s fault really.
Another night in Ushuaia, another fare with another company (AR$210 with Pacheco), another try for the next day, starting another hour later…sh*t happens! Not that I mind staying in Ushuaia for an extra night, but I do mind throwing money away, when it isn’t our fault.
Finally, on our way to Puerto Natales (Pt. Natales) today after yesterday’s drama.
The start of the trip was dark, icy, with winding roads on Route 3, but eventually opened up to flat plains with tuffs of shrub once more, as we made our way north-west across to Pt. Natales.
You cross into a different time zone when crossing from Argentina to Chile, with Chile being an hour behind.
The bus stopped at Punta Arenas first, as advised. Although we had a scheduled hour and a half wait until the next leg, we managed to change our tickets for free at the office, for the bus already waiting at Punta Arenas. So, didn’t have a long wait at all – it’s a win sometimes.
The change of bus time meant that we were lucky enough to arrive in Pt. Natales earlier than scheduled and in daylight, which is always great when you’re trying to find your accommodation, lugging big backpacks.
Fruit Police – Chilean border
Make sure you eat all your fruit, especially bananas, before getting to the Chilean border, otherwise, you’ll lose the lot. I’m told that checks are only randomly carried out only occasionally – today is my lucky day.
The somewhat rotund female Customs Officer was very insistent on taking my bananas from me and wouldn’t let us eat not even one, at the border. Instead of throwing the bananas in the provided Customs’ bins, the officer gingerly placed the fruit on the counter beside her, no doubt to take home after her shift. Quelle surprise!
Not sure how long we will stay in this quaint port city, on the Señoret Channel in Chile’s southern Patagonia region.
The main reason for stopping here is to research and catch the Navimag Ferry from here, up through to Puerto Montt, via the Southern Patagonian Fjords. I’ve heard it is a spectacular 4-day journey, but pricy.
Juan Ladrillero, a Spanish explorer looking for the Strait of Magellan’s western passage back in 1557, first discovered the area in which the city is located. As his last chance of finding the Strait of Magellan, Ladrillero named the area Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope). This area was originally inhabited by the Kaweskar and Tehuelche tribes. There are a couple of museums in town if you would like to know more about this history.
Originally inhabited by the Kaweskar and Tehuelche tribes, Puerto Natales was officially “discovered” by European sailor Juan Ladrilleros in 1557. He named the area Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope) because it was his last chance to find the Strait of Magellan, after exploring the warren of watery channels that snake into Patagonia’s interior from the ocean.
Easily accessible by foot, we explored Pt. Natales, walking past its colourful houses on the first day, which would become a familiar walk each day whilst checking on the Navimag Ferry.
Walk through the town, you’ll come across many shops, tour agencies, outdoor clothing and adventure stores, and pricey supermarkets. You’ll also find a few second-hand stores where you can pick up good snow gear for a third of the new price. It’s not long before you stumble upon loads of coffee shops, restaurants, and friendly locals. This city is definitely geared up for tourists.
A wander down to the picturesque waterfront is definitely worth a photo shoot of this changeable vista.
Depending on the season, travellers visit this city mainly to take various ferries to various destinations through Southern Patagonia. Pt. Natales is also the gateway to the stunning Torres Del Paine National Park, which is famous for its beauty and trekking.
As we have to wait for the Navimag Ferry, we decided on a side trip to El Calafate to visit Perito Moreno, before returning back to Puerto Natales to do the Torres Del Paine National Park tour. Pt. Natales is only about a 5-hour bus trip away from El Calafate.
Whilst in Pt. Natales, it would be rude not to at least do a day tour to the Torres Del Paine National Park, especially whilst waiting for the Navimag Ferry.
Booked a minibus tour through the Lili Patagonicas hostel, which includes a guide.
Although you can catch a daily bus to the park from Pt. Natales, there isn’t much public transportation within the park, which spans 447,000 acres (181,000 hectares).
Spanish for “Towers of Paine, where Paine is the old indigenous name for the colour blue”, the Torres del Paine are three massive rock towers, with the park’s name.
You don’t do any really serious trekking on a day tour but, you do see spectacular scenery. So far, everywhere seems to be a feast for one’s eyes and camera in Southern Patagonia.
The air-conditioned mini bus picks you up early from your hostel at 07:00hrs for the long and packed day ahead, which is scheduled to return at 19:00hrs. So, prepare yourself for a good 12-hour day, if everything goes to plan.
Although a very long day, the tour is brilliant as the mini bus ferries you between the park’s main landmarks, which I doubt you can see in one day, if you didn’t have your own transport. The day went something like this…
The first stop is the gorgeous Sarmiento Lake, which is simply stunning and where you can view the three towers from a distance. Also witness some wildlife such as the Guanaco here, which is a Camelid native to South America and quite peculiar in its mannerisms, but fun to watch and photograph.
Salto Grande Waterfall
Walking along the iridescent waters of the Nordenskjold Lake, you eventually reach the dramatic Salto Grande waterfall, which roars past you with powerful force and noise.
This impossibly azure-coloured lake hosts a rustic hotel (Hosteria Pehoe) on its pretty islet, and linked only to the mainland by a footbridge. The panoramas from the hotel must be stunning, any time of year. Sadly, as our minibus was on a tight schedule, we didn’t get to walk to this hotel. One of the pitfalls of being on a tour bus.
Las Torres del Paine
One of the main reasons for visiting this park is to see the famous three towers that stand proud and the park’s landmark. You’ve probably seen loads of postcards of these three rocks?
The dramatic shores of the glacially fed Grey Lake provide a very different vista to the other lakes in Torres Del Paine. The stunning 30-metre-high glacier, boasts how diverse and how special this park really is…I hope that the park will be looked after for future generations and does not succumb to the mighty dollar.
Milodón Cave Natural Monument
The actual cave is huge and beautiful but I feel that the life-size replicas of a prehistoric giant sloth and other animals are a bit tacky. Prehistoric tribes used this cave, evidenced by the discovery in 1895 of bones, skin, and parts of a giant ground sloth (Mylodon), which is extinct today.
The views walking up to this cave are glorious as is this whole park.
At the end of this very long but brilliant day, the minibus trip back from the park to Pt. Natales is not itself, without spectacular scenery – this whole region is incredible! A wonderfully memorable day and great to have a guide to explain everything along the way.
Arriving at the Pt. Natales’ bus station, walked a few blocks to Yagan House (CH$22,500 Double).
A small and cosy room, but the night spent here proved awful!
The owners were minding 5 small puppies, which lived under the hostel. This resulted in the puppies sleeping directly under our floorboards. The yelping and barking all night long was not only infuriating and grating, but also made for no sleep at all. Felt as if the puppies were sleeping in our bed!
Tired and annoyed, this morning we let the owners know about our woes, and were advised that the dogs would be collected today. We agreed if the puppies were not collected today, then we would move upstairs to another room, which hopefully would be quieter. It’s always a risk when you pre-book accommodation in advance, in any country.
Returned to Yagan House to find the puppies still under our floor and advised that we can’t “move to another part of the house”, as our new promised room is booked out; only our current room is available. Annoyed, we collected our packs, by which time it was 20:30hrs, walked down the road to Lilli Patagonicas.
The owners of Yagan House were very apologetic, didn’t charge us for the previous night’s accommodation, and also offered to phone around for a new place. Very sweet, but in Pt. Natales, the walk is not long before bumping into another hostel to make your home. The town is full of available hostels, hotels, and homes to accommodate any purse.
The hostel boasts a well-equipped communal kitchen and the most comfortable beds in South America, so far. The friendly staff definitely look after you and the hostel is in a good location to town.
The thing I really enjoyed about this hostel is that we met so many friendly travellers in the hostel’s lounge and kitchen. Many a night was spent cooking meals together, drinking wonderful Chilean wine, laughing, and just chatting about our common passions – travelling and exploring. It’s wonderful to share experiences with like-minded and sometimes not so like-minded people of all ages and a great way to also pick up tips for destinations.
This hostel is great value-for-money and I do recommend this place. In the end, something very positive eventuated from the puppy house as we found this hostel.
Leaving Puerto Natales for El Calafate
As it is going to be almost a week’s wait for the ferry trip through the Patagonian Fjords and there is not much to do in Pt. Natales, decided on a side trip to El Calafate. This town is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, which is where Perito Moreno resides.