Travel Guide - Patagonia Travel Tips

By Matt & Jody Pritchard

Please Note: It's been about 4 years since we wrote this guide. Since then it's been viewed a few thousand times, and we have received a lot of positive feedback. Much of the information is still relevant, but we've made no substantial efforts to keep it updated. At the very least, the prices are probably out of whack. Keep this in mind as you plan your trip. We hope you enjoy Patagonia.

Puerto Natales Continued

How to Get There - The main way to get to Puerto Natales is by bus from Punta Arenas. There are several companies that run daily buses between both towns. Buses Fernandez runs a regular bus during the summer months and has departures from both towns several times each day. The ride is about 3-4 hours long and generally costs between 3,000 to 5,000 CLP ($5 - $8 USD) each way. In Punta Arenas, Buses Fernandez is located at Armando Sanhueza 745. In Puerto Natales, Buses Fernandez is located at Eberhard 555. A much cooler, albeit more expensive and time consuming, way to get to Puerto Natales is aboard the Navimag ship, which runs regular 3-day cruises between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt. We spoke to several people that were going to take the trip, but none that had yet, so we can't report on experience. Navimag has an informative website with rates and schedules at www.navimag.cl Yet a third alternative exists by air. Puerto Natales does have a small airport that is reportedly serviced by some form of airline, although we don't know which one. A bit of research may yield some results here (try either Lan Chile or Sky Airline).

Where to Stay - Like Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales has a variety of options for accommodations. We noticed more hospedajes in Puerto Natales, which are a good option if you're on a budget and aren't too picky about where you stay. We spent one night at Hospedaje Laury, which is located at Bulnes 222. The best thing that Hospedaje Laury has going for it is the price, and the very friendly family that runs it. One night cost us 10,000 CLP ($16 USD). The rooms are small, relatively clean, but they do not have private bathrooms. There is a common kitchen area for use by guests. The owner can also book cheap roundtrip bus fare to Torres del Paine. A more upscale option exists across the street at Aqua Terra. We stayed here on our first night back from Torres del Paine and we really appreciated the clean, comfortable rooms. There is a great restaurant downstairs and massages and tour packages are available. It might not be the most authentic place to stay in Puerto Natales, but it is a great option for anyone craving a little bit of "home" after coming out of the parks. The nightly rate for a double room at Aqua Terra is $80 USD. It is located at Bulnes 299 and their phone number is 056-61-412239. They also have a nice website at www.aquaterrapatagonia.com

Where to Eat - Again, the food was a mixed bag in Puerto Natales, but there are several cafe-style places that serve sandwiches and burgers, along with more traditional Chilean fare. Aqua Terra, as mentioned above, has a very nice restaurant, with familiar favorites - steak, seafood, fajitas, etc. It is definitely more expensive than most places in Puerto Natales, but there is more quality there too. If you are hungry and looking for a hearty and authentic local meal, go into almost any cafe and order up the Lomo Pobre. You'll get a thick slab of steak next to a stack of french fries and onions, topped with two fried eggs. It's a heart attack on a plate, but if you're hungry, it might be just what you are looking for. Make sure to order up an Austral (the local brew) to wash it all down. If you ask for schop, you'll gain instant cred and get a draught rather than a bottle. When ordering schop, just remember to say "Sí" and give them the thumbs up when they ask if you want the "litro".

Shopping, Etc. - Puerto Natales has a wide variety of stores, where you can find groceries, souvenirs, medicine, and trekking supplies (including white gas). Every other storefront in Puerto Natales seems to be some type of tour company or travel agency, so there are any number of ways to spend your money. If you are coming out of either park with that "not so fresh" feeling, there is a great laundry place called Servilaundry on Bulnes. We were able to get 2-3 loads of laundry cleaned, dried and folded in 2 hours for about $12 USD. The owner also sells film, maps, and a fairly random assortment of other stuff that might catch the eye of the passing traveler.

El Calafate, Argentina

El Calafate is the gateway town to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina. The town seemed a bit out of place to us as first. It's an odd juxtaposition of dusty outpost and swanky mountain town. The place definitely caters to the passing traveler with the best selection of stores, restaurants, and hotels that we saw anywhere in Patagonia. El Calafate is located on the southern shore of Lago Argentino, near the southern portion of PN Los Glaciares. The name Calafate comes from a native berry that grows in the area. Local lore states that a visitor who eats a Calafate berry will return to the town soon. More than likely, if there coming back it's for the food and the shopping.

How to Get There - There are probably more options for getting to El Calafate than we know about - most likely a variety of options coming down Ruta 40 from the north. However, we came to El Calafate via Puerto Natales. There are several bus companies that run daily trips between the two towns. The one way trip was 15,000 CLP ($25 USD). The ride itself is on the long side at close to 5 hours, an hour of which is spent at the two border control stations. All buses arrive at the central bus terminal in town which is one block up from the main street - Ave Libertador. There is a small airport a few km outside of town, but again, we aren't sure what airlines, if any, service the airport (try either Lan Chile or Sky Airline).

Where to Stay - We found there to be better values for lodging in Calafate than in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales - not necessarily cheaper, but more for your money. Again, there is a big range of accommodations here. We had a difficult time finding a room when we got into town and finally decided to check out Hospedaje Sir Thomas. It is a very nice hospedaje (better than some of the hotels we stayed at) and it is run by a friendly, young couple that clearly knows how to make you feel at home. The room was clean and comfortable and had a private bathroom. We really enjoyed our stay here. The rate was 105 AGP ($34 USD) per night. We highly recommend this place to all but the most discerning travelers. Hospedaje Sir Thomas is located at Espora 247, about two blocks from the main street in town with several excellent restaurants and shops within a 5 minute walk.

Where to Eat - The food in El Calafate is fantastic. We were totally blown away by the quality and the price. Argentine beef if recognized around the world for its excellence and the reputation is well deserved. Three nice restaurants that we can recommend are Mi Viejo (Libertador 1111), Casimiro (Libertador 963), and Sancho (25 de Mayo at Gregores). All three are upscale places with large menus (eat the steak) and great wine selections. We really can't say enough about the food in this town. If you're looking for more casual dining, check out Casablanca Pizzeria at Libertador 1202. They have good pizza, empanadas and beer. The best ice cream in town (and we tried it all) can be found across the street at Acquarela.

Shopping, Etc. - There are plenty of ways to spend your money in El Calafate. The main street through town, Libertador, has a wide selection of stores selling a variety of handmade crafts, jewelry, and woolen goods. Some are more pricey than others. There are at least two good sized grocery stores along Libertador. A large ferreteria is located on Moyano. There are also several farmacias (pharmacies) throughout town. You should be able to find just about anything you need in this town if you look hard enough.

El Chalten, Argentina

El Chalten is either a very small town or a very large trailhead, we can't decide. In either case, it is a pleasant outpost and base of operations for anyone planning to spend time in the Fitz Roy sector of PN Los Glaciares. It is also one of the newest towns in Argentina, having been established in the mid-1980's. The town is actually located inside of the park and there are views of Fitz Roy from the center of town (weather permitting). Prices and selection of goods are not a good as El Calafate, so we advise purchasing most of your supplies and getting cash before making the trip to El Chalten. That being said, the people in this town are very warm and friendly, so please do what you can to support the local economy. The town itself has a very informative and complete website with both English and Spanish versions - www.elchalten.com

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