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Puerto Natales OR Punta Arenas

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Puerto Natales OR Punta Arenas

1. Posted by JMPDM (Budding Member 4 posts) 7w

Hello all,I only have 1 week(7 nights),to spend in Southern Patagonia.
I'll be renting a car.
The plan is to spend 2 nights in El Calafate,1 night in El Chalten,and then drive down towards Chile and head for either Puerto Natales(and spend 3 nights there)and drive back to El Calafate(where I have to spend my last night)or drive all the way down to Punta Arenas and spend 3 nights there.
My querry is? which one to choose? Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas?
Thank you all for your much appreciated inputs.

2. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4808 posts) 7w

There's (effectively) nothing of interest in Punta Arenas (I walked most every street of it on my second day in SA, recovering from jetlag), other than a useful airport if you're in Chile and trying to get to Torres del Paine., so given this choice, Puerto Natales is the obvious decision, though really only as the gateway to Torres del Paine, for going hiking there, as the town itself is very much a service town (though a moderately interesting and greatly amusing one; highest concentration of hikers and their very distinctive outdoor fear I've ever seen together - where El Calafate attracts regular tourists who're coming for Perito Morena, Puerto Natales is really only hikers).

I'm assuming here that hiking is your interest in Patagonia. If that's indeed so, I want to make a strong case for not even bothering heading all the way over there. It's not worth your time, given such a short visit. Yes, Torres del Paine is justly famous, and hiking the W is an experience. But then, you're not going to be hiking the W. So, skip out on it, and instead spend 4 nights in El Chaltén. The most amazing hiking ever starts right at its edges (unlike Puerto Natales, which is still 2+ hours away from Torres del Paine), so you can wake up, have breakfast, and set out. There's good viewpoints on the various peaks (on cloud-free days) in 1-3 hours hikes, and absolutely really amazing dayhikes of 6-9 hours (even possible to do a loop at the long end of that). Plus, this way you avoid the border crossing and uncertain amount of time spent waiting there.

Also, If you're just doing El Calafate and El Chaltén, you could skip out on the added cost of renting a car (not cheap from what I recall!), and do it all by bus. Most (?) busses from El Chaltén to El Calafate even stop at the airport (on request?), which means you don't have to spend a wasted night there.

3. Posted by JMPDM (Budding Member 4 posts) 7w

Thank you for your input Sander,much appreciated.
Take care.
Jean-Marc.

4. Posted by Tabithag (Budding Member 52 posts) 7w

Like Sander, I would opt for Puerto Natales over Punta Arenas, but realistically, wouldn't opt to spend almost half of my trip in either of them. It does depend on what you are wishing to to with your time, but the main options around that area are outdoors, hiking etc, so presumably that is the plan.

El Calafate is definitely worth visiting for the Perito Moreno, and like Sander, I would recommend El Chalten. I am not much of a hiker, but happily did the relatively easy walk to the lake for excellent views of Fitzroy. There are lots of other hiking options there, either as day hikes or camping overnight.

Torres del Paine is beautiful to visit, and whilst you can do the W walk, there are other options. When we went we stayed at the Eco Lodge, which was lovely, and with my non-hiking it worked really well. They offer two outings each day, a harder one and an easy one, so I did the easy ones, with less walking etc, while my husband did the harder ones, including to the base of the Torres themselves.

I have nothing against either of the two places you were thinking of, we spent a few days in each, but we were in South America for a year, so it was downtime for us, to catch up with practical stuff etc.

5. Posted by JMPDM (Budding Member 4 posts) 7w

Thank you very much indeed.
Take care.
Jean-Marc.

6. Posted by berner256 (Travel Guru 497 posts) 7w

Sander is right on the mark. I was in all the places mentioned earlier this year. If you're flying into El Calafate, no need to rent a car. There's good public bus transportation that can take you to/from El Chalten, where the hiking if excellent. In El Calafate, there are hikes on the Perito Moreno glacier. You also can take a boat to see the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers. Seven days is too short to visit both the Argentina and Chile parts of Patagonia. Better to concentrate on one. If you're not hiking the W in Torres del Paine NP, then I suggest only visiting El Calafate and El Chalten.

P.S. The buses from El Chalten do stop at the El Calafate airport before heading to town.

7. Posted by JMPDM (Budding Member 4 posts) 7w

Thank you Berner.
Take care.
Jean-Marc

8. Posted by berner256 (Travel Guru 497 posts) 7w

I forgot to mention an important thing. In mountainous areas, such as Patagonia and Ladakh, it's important to consider the season in which to travel. Many places that cater to tourists shut down, or curb service, as cold weather approaches. That includes bus service in places such as Torres del Paine NP. While the park remains open in winter, bus service is limited; making it difficult, if not impossible, to visit the park as a day trip. I was in Puerto Natales in early April and buses to Torres del Paine NP already were on reduced service. So seasonality is something you'll want to consider in planning your trip.

In the mountainous areas of India's Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, seasonality and weather also are factors. Rain can produce landslides and flash floods, closing roads. Our travel from Tabo to Kaza last month was delayed by a day as the Indian Army worked to remove debris from six landslides caused by heavy rain. They also built a bypass for a bridge that was washed away.

[ Edit: Edited on 07-Aug-2016, at 18:34 by berner256 ]