7 Best Sights in Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine, Chile, Southern Chilean Patagonia

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Fodor's choice

About 12 million years ago, lava flows pushed up through the thick sedimentary crust that covered the southwestern coast of South America, cooling to form a granite mass. Glaciers then swept through the region, grinding away all but the twisted ash-gray spire, the "towers" of Paine (pronounced "pie-nay"; it's the old Tehuelche word for "blue"), which rise over the landscape to create one of the world's most beautiful natural phenomena, now the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. The park was established in 1959. Rock formations, windswept trees, and waterfalls dazzle at every turn of road, and the sunset views are spectacular. The 2,420-square-km (934-square-mile) park's most astonishing attractions are its lakes of turquoise, aquamarine, and emerald waters; its magnificent Grey Glacier; and the Cuernos del Paine ("Paine Horns"), the geological showpiece of the immense granite massif.

Another draw is the park's wildlife; creatures like the guanaco and the ñandú abound. They are acclimated to visitors and don't seem to be bothered by approaching cars and people with cameras. Predators like the gray fox make less frequent appearances. You may also spot the dramatic aerobatics of falcons and the graceful soaring of endangered condors. The beautiful puma, the apex predator of the ecosystem here, is an especially elusive cat, but sightings have grown more common.

The vast majority of visitors come during the summer months of January and February, which means the trails can get congested. Early spring, when wildflowers add flashes of color to the meadows, can be an ideal time to visit because the crowds have not yet arrived. In summer, the winds can be incredibly fierce, but the days are also incredibly longer (in December, there's light for almost 20 hours). During the wintertime of June to September, the days are sunnier yet colder (averaging around freezing) and shorter, but the winds all but disappear and wildlife sightings become more frequent. The park is open all year, but some trails are not accessible in winter. Storms can hit without warning, so be prepared for sudden rain at any time of year. The sight of the Paine peaks in clear weather is stunning; if you have any flexibility in your itinerary, visit the park on the first clear day.

Buy Tickets Now

Erratic Rock

For anyone seriously contemplating trekking the W or the full Circuit around Torres del Paine, the Erratic Rock hostel in Puerto Natales offers a free seminar on how best to make the journey. Rustyn Mesdag, the hostel's Oregonian co-owner, is a rambunctious, opinionated guide who gives the not-to-be-missed "Three O'Clock Talk" describing all the routes, tips, and tricks you need to complete one of South America's most challenging treks. His hour-long presentation to a room full of eager hikers starts promptly at 3 pm every day of the high season, and is full of advice on camping, equipment, food, and provisions, including the latest reports on weather and trail conditions inside the park. It's a great introduction to possible trekking partners, as CONAF doesn't allow you to complete the walk on your own. The irrepressible Mr. Mesdag also publishes the ubiquitous Black Sheep newspaper in English.

Estancia Bahía Esperanza

Just outside of Puerto Natales is a new, private nature park on former ranch lands called Estancia Bahía Esperanza. The park makes for a great day trip for biking, hiking, and bird-watching along the seven short and mostly easy trails covering more than 20 kilometers of peatlands, forests, lagunas, hills, and coastline. Some of the trails offer panoramic views of the fjords and bays in the area. Accessible only by boat, for 35,000 pesos you get access to the park and a round-trip ticket on a short, 15-minute ride on a speedboat that departs from Muelle Natalis (Natales Pier) at Puerto Bories, located 7 km (4 miles) from Puerto Natales. The park also offers guided excursions (including e-bikes and horseback rides) for a special rate and has a café that offers lunch, snacks, and drinks. 

Recommended Fodor's Video

Iglesia Parroquial

Across from the Plaza de Armas is the squat, little Iglesia Parroquial. The ornate altarpiece in this church depicts the town's founders, Indigenous peoples, and the Virgin Mary all in front of the Torres del Paine.

Arturo Prat and Eberhard, Puerto Natales, 6160000, Chile

Monumento Natural Cueva de Milodón

In 1896, Hermann Eberhard stumbled upon a gaping cave that extended 200 meters (650 feet) into the earth. Venturing inside, he discovered the bones and dried pieces of hide (with deep red fur) of an animal he could not identify. It was later determined that what Eberhard had discovered were the extraordinarily well-preserved remains of a prehistoric herbivorous mammal, mylodon darwini, about twice the height of a man, which they called a milodón. The discovery of a stone wall in the cave, and of neatly cut grass stalks in the animal's feces led researchers to conclude that 15,000 years ago the extinct beast inhabited this place and that an ancient tribe of Tehuelches likely captured the animal there. The cave at the Monumento Natural Cueva de Milodón is an impressive, cathedral-size space carved out of a solid rock wall by rising waters. It makes for an interesting stop for anyone fascinated by paleontology, or for fans of Bruce Chatwin's legendary travel book, In Patagonia, which centers in part on Chatwin's quest to find the origins of the remnant of mylodon skin he saw in his grandmother's home as a boy that she had told him came from a “brontosaurus."

Museo Histórico Municipal

A highlight in the small but interesting Museo Historico Municipal is a room filled with antique prints of Aonikenk and Kawéskar peoples. Another room is devoted to the exploits of Hermann Eberhard, a German explorer considered the region's first settler. Check out his celebrated collapsible boat. In an adjacent room you will find some vestiges of the old Bories sheep plant, which processed the meat and wool of more than 300,000 sheep a year.

Av. Bulnes 285, Puerto Natales, 6160000, Chile
Sight Details
Rate Includes: 1,000 pesos, Closed Sun.

Plaza de Armas

A few blocks east of the waterfront overlooking Seno Última Esperanza is the Plaza de Armas. This well-manicured, open square with gardens and a fountain is one of the town's pride and joys. An old church and several shops and restaurants surround the plaza, making it a pleasant spot to spend some time.

Arturo Prat at Eberhard, Puerto Natales, 6160000, Chile