Puerto Natales, Chile: Rain Oh Beautiful Rain! [Days 62 – 64]

Day 62 | Saturday, December 24, 2016

It is the morning of Christmas Eve and we are climbing on a LATAM Airlines flight and leaving the sunny mid 80s weather of Santiago behind to head for the small town of Puerto Natales in the province of Última Esperanza (Last Hope) in the southernmost part of Chile. Located in the Chilean Patagonia, Puerto Natales is the main launching point for travelers headed to Torres del Paine National Park. For us it will mainly be a break from the big city, a chance to escape to cooler temperatures, and a place to relax over Christmas.

We are flying into Teniente Julio Gallardo Airport just outside of Puerto Natales. It was updated recently, my understanding is that work was finished earlier this year. It is small, a bit like flying into the airport on the TV show Wings. As we are sitting on the tarmac waiting to disembark it begins to rain. Light showers quickly turn to heavier rain and as we walk through the door of the plane onto the rolling staircase into the open air I realize it is only about 60 degrees out and it feels incredible. Other than our luggage sitting out on open transport cars waiting to be shuttled to the terminal I have never been so glad to see rain in my life. Finally it feels like it could be Christmas.

After a bit of a wait luggage finally is making its way onto the carousel and we claim ours. Not sure how we are getting from the airport into town we head for the exit. Usually we take the “official” taxi that has a booth at the airport. There is not an “official” taxi booth at this airport. Weaving our way through friends and families reuniting we spot a gentleman near the exit holding a sign that says transfers. As we approach he inquires if we would like a transfer and Steve replies yes. We follow the gentleman out to a 15 passenger van towing a small enclosed cargo trailer. Steve inquires about the price, provides the driver with our hotel’s name and address, and oversees the loading of our bags. We are waiting in the van with a few other passengers as the driver attempts to snag a few more passengers to fill the remaining seats. Finally we start towards town.

One of the gentleman sitting in the seat behind us obviously has a cold. He is sniffling and snuffing like crazy. I really don’t want to get sick. Fortunately, he is part of the first group we are dropping off. Upon getting back in the van the driver realizes he has driven past our hotel so he circles back around the block to drop us off. The rain has subsided which is nice. After claiming our luggage from the trailer and paying him the $8,000 CLP for the transfer we make our way into the hotel.

Hotels in Puerto Natales tend to run on the high side. I think it is partly because there aren’t a ton of options. When I first booked accommodations through Booking.com I accidentally booked a hotel across the bay from Puerto Natales because I wasn’t paying attention to the options Booking.com was providing and the price was right. Fortunately, I noticed it about a week later and was able to cancel the reservation without any penalty and book a place in Puerto Natales. This hotel, Hotel Lago Sarmiento, only has a two star rating which makes me a little nervous but I am not willing to pay $1,000+ USD for 4 nights of lodging. The hotel has definitely seen better days. The decor is dated and heavily used. In fact one of the chairs in our room is broken. They are suffering from foundation issues, you can tell because there is a decent drop off as you get towards the outer wall of our room. You actually can feel yourself walking down hill. The bathroom is small, when you sit on the toilet you have to be careful tucking your knees under the pedestal sink so you don’t hit them. The cleaning staff leaves a lot to be desired and we are sleeping in 2 twin beds for the next 4 nights. The Wi-Fi isn’t working either.

Steve has headed down to the front desk to see about the Wi-Fi. I am attempting to settle our stuff in the room. Wi-Fi issue is sort of solved. The guy at the front desk just gave Steve the password to their office network.

Now we need to head out to the grocery store. Since it is Christmas Eve and already after 3:00pm in a small town I am nervous that stores may close early and we won’t have a lot of restaurant options the next couple of days. Fortunately, as part of my research earlier this week I located two grocery stores in town. The one, Unimarc, is only an 11 minute walk from our hotel. We are headed there to see what we can get. We brought 2 reusable grocery bags with us on this trip and we haven’t used them yet but Steve thinks we should take them with us to the store just in case.

Unfortunately, everyone that was on the plane with us seems to have had the same idea. This store is a mad house. We don’t have a fridge in this hotel room so we are having to stick to nonperishable items. As we are weaving our way through the crowded aisles it opens up outside and absolutely pours. I mean cats and dogs pours. The store has a metal roof so the pounding of the rain is amplified. I am glad we made it to the store before the pouring rain hit. Now we just have to hopefully wait it out in the store. We have rounded up a decent selection of items now it is time to brave the long register lines. Steve made a good call bringing the reusable grocery bags with us because they don’t provide bags at all at this store. This is the first time we have encountered this since landing in Peru. If grocery stores didn’t bag your groceries in plastic bags in Peru no one would have bags for their garbage.

We are finally on our way back to our room. It is nice that our hotel seems to be located on the main drag of town with all types of retail, a few restaurants, a grocery store and a couple of tour companies on the street. About half way back to our hotel we are stopped by a young gal looking for the grocery store. We point her in the direction but she isn’t excited about Unimarc and unfortunately I only know of one other grocery store that is on the other side of town, about a 30 minute walk away. She thanks us for the information and heads in the direction of Unimarc. As we are nearing our hotel we are stopped by a group of American tourists who want to know if they are heading toward shops and a place to buy wine. Funny enough we paused just slightly before answering and they followed up with, “Speak English?” and some wild gesturing. We smiled and said yes. There are shops and a grocery store strait ahead where you can get wine. Relieved they were heading in the correct direction they hurried on. That is the first time in my life I have been asked if I speak English. The smarty pants side of my wishes I was fluent in some other language and could have played with them a little. On a side note, for the first time in my life I stand out every where we go. I tend to be one of those people that operates in incognito mode usually, most people don’t even realize I am around so it is weird for me to stick out like a soar thumb all the time. Steve on the other hand blends right in. Most people assume that he is from some country in South America and speaks Spanish. They are always so shocked when he fumbles to form a sentence in Spanish.

Finally we are back at our room and it is time to relax for a bit and then make a plan of attack for dinner. I think our restaurant options are going to be slim based on the number of closed restaurants we walked past to and from Unimarc.

I was right about restaurant options being slim. We finally decided on Angelica’s Restaurant which we had scoped out earlier on the way to the grocery store. Thankfully we don’t need reservations to eat here. Reservations seem to be a big thing in Chile and that is just not a habit I am in. I took Juan’s, our guide from Valparaiso, advice and ordered lamb and Steve ordered spaghetti with pesto. The food is decent. I am just thankful we found a place open that would let us in without reservations. 

Now to call it a night. Oh, frozen boots batman it is cold outside. Both our teeth are chattering and we can’t walk fast enough back to the hotel. Well that is a welcome if unexpected change. We can hear the choir practicing at the church for services to be held later tonight as we walk.

While wandering town earlier in the day we happened across a church (Parroquia María Auxiliadora) that is advertising services tonight at 11:00pm. We figure we will head back to our room, catch a quick nap, and get up in time to attend services. 

After waking to the alarm from our nap we hurry to bundle up as we now know how cold it is outside. We hurry to the church only to reach the doors and find them closed and no one around. That is weird. We were certain there was a service tonight. We re-checked the sign on the door to find that the service was at 21:00 or 9:00pm not 11:00pm. Oh well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be. It was a good laugh and it is funny that both Steve and I are good with math and comfortable with 24 hour time but occasionally we still find ourselves making these silly mistakes. Back to the hotel we head to officially call it a night.

Day 63 | Sunday, December 25, 2016

It is the double whammy today, Christmas and Sunday. We anticipate with that combination that very little will be open. We are hoping at least a handful of restaurants will be open so we can eat something other than granola bars, potato chips, avocado, cashews, oranges, and ginger ale. The goal today is to wander the town, get the lay of the land, accumulate steps, and call family back home.

Fortunately, the hotel’s Wi-Fi is decent enough to make FaceTime calls. We have called all the family and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. Now it is time to get ready for the day and rack up some steps.

To at least give us a general direction to head in we are starting by walking to the other grocery store (Super Mix) that is on the other side of town, about a 30 minute walk from our hotel. 

We decide to walk along the water front, finally turning into a neighborhood. We are catching glimpses of Christmas trees and decorations in peoples’ front windows. The smell of roasting meats occasionally wafts through the air as we wandering through the neighborhood. It is nice to see and smell reminders that it is Christmas. Finally we have arrived at Super Mix. This grocery store seems about the size of the Unimarc that we visited yesterday but also carries some housewares. It seems like it might be worth a visit when it reopens after the holiday. From here we continue up the street (Avenida General Carlos Ibáñez) and past a new large housing development. At the edge of town Avenida General Carlos Ibáñez turns left and we follow its course. Eventually intersecting with Avenida España we turn left again walking past a huge new hospital that isn’t even open yet and several other medical facilities. Again wandering through some neighborhoods and to the Terminal Rodoviario (Bus Terminal). The bus terminal is open so we take the opportunity to scope it out and take note of which bus lines depart from it (see the list below for bus lines). Finally we turn onto Manuel Bulnes, the street our hotel is on. Throughout the entirety of our walk we encountered a small handful of people. Along Manuel Bulnes we started to encounter more tourists, you could tell because they were wandering aimlessly much likes us.

Fortunately, there are a small handful of restaurants open today. Among them is Kawesqar Café where we have finally managed to snag a table for two after a brief wait. Given that they are one of a small number of restaurants open today every seat in the house is full. They have a large table at the back of the restaurant that is reserved for a large party that people keep spying, sitting at, and getting dismissed from. Interestingly enough if the wait for a table is going to be more than 15 minutes they simply tell people to leave, in a very polite way of course. Our waiter is great. He is shocked that Steve doesn’t speak Spanish. He even says to Steve, “But you are my countryman, no?”, to which Steve had to respond no. The waiter than guessed that he was Peruvian. Again the answer was no. To which our waiter replied but your Spanish is so good. I am getting great joy out of the exchange. Of course I am obviously not Chilean or Peruvian and he isn’t surprised that I don’t speak Spanish. After a tasty meal we vacated the table as quickly as we could so they could seat one of the waiting parties. Even though they have several parties waiting for a table the wait staff is in no hurry to oust us from our table. In fact they are happy to let us linger as long as we want.

Another peaceful and relaxing day. Now we have a better grasp of the town, accumulated 25,000 steps each, and more of a plan of attack for tomorrow when hopefully shops and tour companies reopen.

Day 64 | Monday, December 26, 2016

Today, the goal is to book at tour of the Torres del Paine National Park for tomorrow. A good number of people come to this area of the Chilean Patagonia region to do 3 or more day treks in Torres del Paine National Park. Since, we are traveling light we aren’t doing any multi-day treks on this trip but we would still like to see the Torres del Paine National Park. There are several tour companies in town that you can book either single day hikes or vehicle tours to see some of the major highlights of the park. 

We decided to start information gathering at the tour company right across the street from our hotel, Vertice Patagonia. They have a hiking tour that will lead you to the viewpoint for the three towers for $57,500 CLP per person or a semi-private (max 10 passengers) vehicle tour which drives you to the Milodón Cave and then around the park to see the highlights for $32,500 per person. They did not have availability for the vehicle tour on Tuesday, December 27. Next, we walked through the door of CarFran Patagonia. They have a vehicle tour which drives you to the Milodón Cave and then around the park to see the highlights for $30,000 per person. They also have a hiking tour that will lead you to the viewpoint for the three towers for $65,000 CLP per person. The guy helping us also offered as a cheaper option which was he could sell us bus tickets to Torres del Paine National Park and we could do the hike to the viewpoint for the three towers on our own. The bus tickets are $15,000 CLP per person. We went ahead and booked only the vehicle tour for Tuesday, December 27. 

We exited the shop and then wandered the surrounding streets a bit. As we went we mulled over our decision to only do the vehicle tour and not do any hiking in the park. We finally decided that we would like to do a hike and to return to the tour company office to see if they would transfer our vehicle tour to Wednesday, December 28 and then sell us bus tickets for Tuesday, December 27.

Fortunately, they were able and willing to transfer our vehicle tour to Wednesday, December 28 and they got us all set up with bus tickets and a basic of idea of what we needed to do to enter the park and complete the hike on our own.

We wrapped the day up purchasing some gloves and snacks for the next couple of days, having dinner at Baguales Brewery + Restaurant and getting our pack ready for the next day’s hike.

Let the Torres del Paine National Park adventure begin!


Puerto Natales Grocery Stores:

Manuel Bulnes 742,
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile
between Manuel Baquedano and Eleuterio Ramirez

Manuel Bulnes 832,
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile

Martinez y Alvarado Ltda.
Manuel Baquedano 358,
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile

Super Mix
Avenida General Carlos Ibáñez 1652,
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile

El Chacha
On Caupolicán between Avenida Libertad and Pedro Aguirre Cerda


Puerto Natales Restaurants:

Angelica’s Restaurant
Manuel Bulnes 501,
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile
between Arturo Prat and Blanco Encalada

Kawesqar Café
Manuel Bulnes 600,
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile

Baguales Brewery + Restaurant
Carlos Bories 430
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile


Puerto Natales Tour Companies:

Vertice Patagonia
Bulnes 100
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile
Phone: +56 612 412 742 & +56 612 415 693
Email: ventas@verticepatagonia.cl

CarFran Patagonia
Arturo Prat 367
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile
Phone: +56 61 413600
Email: contacto@carfranpatagonia.com


Puerto Natales Miscellaneous Places:

Parroquia María Auxiliadora (Parish of Mary Help of Christians)
At the corner of Hermann Eberhard & Arturo Prat on the Plaza de Armas

Terminal Rodoviario (Bus Terminal)
Avenida España 1455,
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile
At the corner of Avenida España & Avenida Santiago Bueras

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