The Top Things to See and Do in Puerto Natales, Chile

The Glacier Grey tumbles down into Lago Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park
The Glacier Grey tumbles down into Lago Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park | © Kathleen Featherstone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alex Robinson
14 July 2021

Push deeper into southern Chile and you’ll happen up landscapes that leave you speechless and reaching for your camera. This is most definitely the case when it comes to the humble town of Puerto Natales, lodged between the border with Argentina and the interconnecting inlets and bays that encompass this fascinating region. Yes, we know you’re here for the poster-fabulous Torres del Paine National Park, but don’t miss a date with Puerto Natales.

Admire the Monumento de la Mano

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Monumento de la Mano, Puerto Natales, Chile
© Mark Green / Alamy Stock Photo

Backdropped by the distant snow-capped peaks of the Cerro Monumento Moore, this monument is a photogenic curiosity – great for selfies. Resembling the fingertips of a subterranean giant bursting through the Earth’s crust beside the Gulf of Admiral Montt, this huge concrete hand was designed by sculptor Juan Andrade and built with the help of the local community. It’s an easy ten minutes’ walk from the centre of town.

Municipal History Museum

Museum
Map View
When the first Europeans sailed past the coast and fjords of southern Patagonia, it glimmered with bonfires built by the Kawesqar and Aónikenk people to ward off the cold. The Europeans named the area after them – the Tierra del Fuego or Land of Fire. While many of the indigenous people were abducted or infected with smallpox, a handful remain today, mostly in Argentina. This small museum sheds light on the Tierra del Fuego’s indigenous history, with artefacts and engaging information panels.

Glacier Grey

Natural Feature
Map View
Grey Glacier,Patagonia, Chile - a glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Cordillera del Paine
© Ionut David / Alamy Stock Photo

Cascading down a valley from rugged granite mountains, crumbling into icebergs that drop into a turquoise lake, Glacier Grey is one of southern Patagonia’s most spectacular natural sights. The glacier – part of one of the largest ice fields beyond the poles – covers swathes of the mountains in Torres del Paine National Park and those adjecent. Tours are easy to organise through any of the agencies that operate in the park, or through local hotels.

Milodon Cave

Natural Feature
Map View
Cave at Cueva del Milodon Natural Monument, Chile, South america
© Dennis Frates / Alamy Stock Photo

The half-moon entrance of the vast Milodon Cave overlooks rocky desert, half an hour’s drive from central Puerto Natales. It takes its name from the desiccated remains of a giant sloth – bigger than a grizzly bear – found deep within a cavern in 1896. The animal may have been killed by Stone Age hunters who lived in Milodon. It is thought to have become extinct some 10,000 years ago, although an impressive replica welcomes you inside the cave today.

Channel of Last Hope

Natural Feature
Map View

This glacier-carved fjord, framed by jagged, snowy mountains, lies just outside Puerto Natales harbour. It can be visited on a full-day boat trip and as well as the beautiful landscapes you will have the chance to glimpse sea lions, albatrosses and whales. The channel was named La Canal de Ultima Esperanza – the Channel of Last Hope – in the 16th century by Spanish navigator Juan Ladrillero, who believed that it was his final chance of finding passage through the Tierra del Fuego islands to the Magellan Strait.

Torres del Paine National Park

Park
Map View
© Yuen Man Cheung / Alamy Stock Photo
You’ll know it from pictures: giant granite pyramids over a turquoise lake and jagged ridges of gunmetal-grey mountains. When you get here though, there’s much more to see: glaciers, rushing rivers, savannahs stalked by pumas and condors circling. Torres del Paine is a highlight of any southern Chile trip. Numerous tours run from hotels: think jeep drives to flamingo-filled lakes; short walks, full-day hikes and even mountaineering ascents of the high peaks.

Mirador Cerro Dorotea

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail
Map View

There are wonderful views from this flat-topped rock set in the hill above Puerto Natales: the Patagonian plains below your feet stretch to the winding straits of the Gulf of Admiral Montt and the distant snowy mountains of southern Patagonia. To get to Cerro Dorotea, follow Highway 9 beyond town for 10km (6mi) to the Mirador Dorotea trailhead, an hour’s steep walk from the lookout. It’s invariably a wind-blasted experience, so bring a warm coat.

Condor’s Nest

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) in flight, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
© Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Southern Patagonia is the best place in the world to observe Andean condors. Enquire at hotels about organised guided walks, which begin in a local estancia. It’s a steep two-hour climb, but the views are worth it as you observe condors riding the thermals over the plains around Puerto Natales. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a close-up with the creatures as they settle on the cliff edge less than 100m (328ft) away.

Bernardo O’Higgins National Park

Natural Feature, Park, Forest
Map View
Dominated by mountains scored by deep fjords, this vast, rugged national park is far more remote than Torres del Paine and receives a fraction of the visitors. But the landscapes are magnificent – make a date with the giant Brüggen and Pius XI glaciers; see mountains clad in subpolar forests and the icy summits of Mount Fitzroy, Balmaceda and Lautaro volcano. The park is remote but trips can be organised through Blue Green Adventures.

Plaza de Armas Arturo Prat

Park, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Clock tower
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

In Puerto Natales’ central park you’ll find a small square tinkling with fountains overlooked by mock Tudor houses and a wooden church. It’s the ideal place to while away an hour or so with a paperback (when it’s warm) as sparrows flit through the trees overhead. The park is often busy with local skateboarders, so the people-watching is good. Check out the restored steam train positioned here: it once pulled wagonloads of cattle across the Patagonian plains.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Will Lees.

These recommendations were updated on July 14, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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