Puerto Natales meant to be only a quick stop of two nights between our stay in Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina) and Torres del Paine National Park (Chile). In fact we were undecided between staying in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales, since Punta Arenas is a greater city with more life and less tourism. But after checking sleeping options in both cities we found nicer and cheaper options in Puerto Natales.
Leaving Ushuaia early in the morning (7 am!) we had to deal with the strike that persisted for several days. So we had to wait for two hours for them to open the roads for cars to leave the city (it was not too bad… to enter the city it took us four hours!). We drove the entire way back north Argentina and crossed the exact same border in San Sebastian to Chile (around 285 km). After crossing the border and having our car searched by the border police we drove 150 km through routes Y-79 and Y71 until Porvenir, a small town in the middle of nowhere (no way of going to and coming from this city unless by boat or dirt road!). We spent one night in this town because we had to catch the boat to cross the Strait of Magellan (“Estreito de Magalhães”) next day at 8 am. The boat took us around two hours so we had time to watch the sunrise and met another couple from Netherlands and USA traveling around South America (you can see their blog here).
Since from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales was just 247 km (3,5 hours approximately) we decided to explore a little bit of Punta Arenas and have a nice late breakfast (he had ours around 6:30 am so we were hungry!). We took a picture with the Magellan statue at the city main square. We also visited a nice free museum recommend by the tourism office: the Magellan Regional Museum, an opulent mansion that demonstrates the wealth and power of pioneer sheep farmers in the late 19th century in the Patagonian region. Finally we went to the Cerro la Cruz viewpoint, a lookout over the city and the Strait of Magellan (which we just crossed a few hours before).
The scenic road to Puerto Natales allowed us to see several kinds of birds and flamingos. Surrounded by lakes, rivers, sea and mountain it took us a while to arrive since we stopped for several times to take pictures and admire the view.
We finally arrived in Puerto Natales with this initial idea of resting and preparing the next weeks of this trip. And that’s what we did in our cosy and warm bedroom at Hostal Amerindia Patagonia. But while there we read in our travel guidebooks that there were some very good restaurants in the town and we decided to try.
The expectations were not high. In fact they were pretty low for several reasons… Puerto Natales is a small city in the Chilean Patagony and it’s the capital of the province Ultima Esperanza (“last hope”)! It is also the only city in the province and one of the most southern cities in South America with little infrastructures and not so great roads. And let’s be honest: no one would go to a city like this just to have dinner (at least it was what we thought!).
Our first dinner was at Santolla, a fine restaurant in a place made up of several shipping containers! Very original for sure! Inside we found a lovely atmosphere where crab (“santolla”) is the speciality. We chose several tapas to have the chance of tasting almost everything they do in the restaurant and everything was delicious: crab cakes, scallops, crab ceviche and grilled vegetables. While Patagonia lacks a little bit of creativity in their food (more simple and meat and vegetables based), Santolla was clearly a pleasant surprise: creative and tasty. This is a place that would not be out of place in Madrid or London but with better prices both on food and drinks.
Our second dinner was at one of the most famous restaurants in Patagonia and recommended by Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor: Afrigonia. We had to make a reservation to get a table for the next day, which is something really weird in a place like Puerto Natales. Another great choice! Unusual mix of Zambia and Patagonia tastes resulting in exotic tastes. We had the salmon ceviche with mango that was splendours! We also had the scallops with shrimps and vegetables. Another great choice! To drink we had the pisco sour, the typical drink of Peru. We couldn’t leave without a dessert (to share of course!) and we had the chocolate cake with strawberry sauce. It was also very good (although a very small portion).
Fortunately, Puerto Natales was not only a place to rest and prepare the rest of the trip (as we thought!) but also to eat and drink well. And that’s something we really like too!
Next stop: Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)!