Patagonia is often thought of as the end of the Earth – and with good reason. Part of what makes Patagonia’s landscape so beautiful and unspoiled is that it is very, very difficult to get to. For instance, in the past, if travelers wanted to hike in the Torres del Paine National Park they had to fly from Buenos Aires or Santiago to Punta Arenas or El Calafate, then take several long bus rides. However, things are changing – in early 2017, Puerto Natales airport opened.
What the new Puerto Natales airport means for the region
Although many will be delighted to hear that Patagonia is becoming more accessible, some may meet the news with trepidation. After all, part of what makes Patagonia so special is how remote the region is. However, those concerned for the environment can breathe a sigh of relief – the airport is still fairly challenging to get to. Chile’s Sky Airline operate flights to Puerto Natales airport just once or twice a week in summer (October–April). Otherwise, Aerovias DAP charter a tiny 9-seat flight which flies from El Calafate and Punta Arenas. They don’t publish a timetable on their website, so it’s best to call them directly to find out the schedule.
Touch down in Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales airport is extremely small – it’s essentially just a small wooden hut like the other buildings in the town. However, it is very convenient, lying just six miles from the center of Puerto Natales. Once you touch down, the town itself is a fantastic welcome to Patagonia. Pretty, chic, and fully ready to cater to holidaymakers, Puerto Natales offers craft beers, wine tastings and great food. For instance, the well-reviewed Argentinian steakhouse Asador Patagónico serves flame grilled lamb with fine wines. All this can be found alongside a wealth of camping shops, where you can get everything you need for a Patagonian adventure.
The gateway to the Torres del Paine
Puerto Natales is known as the gateway to the Torres del Paine. Although the town is certainly charming, most travelers’ final destination is the national park. Famous for the twin granite towers that loom over the landscape, the national park takes in azure lakes, vast forests, beautiful rivers and an awe-inspiring glacier. The park is also home to a wealth of wildlife – you can see guanacos, Andean condors and if you’re very, very lucky, pumas.
Torres del Paine National Park is 70 miles north of Puerto Natales and is accessible by bus. There are several bus companies who operate around four return trips a day. Once you arrive at the park, you pay your entrance fee of 21 Chilean dollars and set off on your adventure. There are several world-renowned routes you can take, such as the W trek and the Circuit trek. These treks are demanding and nothing short of spectacular – however, perhaps one thing that’s useful to know for less intrepid explorers is that you can trek the W without camping. There are a number of stops where you can enjoy a warm bed, hot shower, and toast your day with a glass of Chilean wine.
Your Patagonian adventure is only a flight away…
Thanks to Puerto Natales airport, Patagonia is more accessible than ever. With stunning landscape, beautiful wildlife, and so much fascinating history and culture, everyone should visit Patagonia at least once. You can incorporate a Torres del Paine hiking vacation seamlessly into one of our cruise routes – take a look at our brochure to start planning the adventure of a lifetime.