Patagonia is a huge region, spanning the entire southern tip of the South American continent. Taking in parts of Chile and Argentina, it would take numerous trips to explore this astonishing landscape in its entirety. However, if you want to create a trip that includes what are arguably the highlights, consider a route from Puerto Natales to El Chaltén. Located in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia respectively, these Patagonian towns are the gateways to two of the region’s most stunning national parks. Here, we run down what you can find in each of these places and how to get between them.
Puerto Natales: The heart of Chilean Patagonia
This quintessential Patagonian town is a mecca for hiking enthusiasts, as it is an excellent base for the Torres del Paine National Park. In the confines of this nature reserve, you can see some of the most incredible scenery Chile has to offer – including the iconic granite towers. Furthermore, the national park also takes in the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, so you can see stunning glacial formations like the Grey Glacier. Plus, Puerto Natales itself has a friendly, convivial buzz, with plenty to keep you occupied on days off the trail.
El Chaltén: The gateway to Los Glaciares
If Puerto Natales is the adventure capital of Chilean Patagonia, then El Chaltén is its Argentinian rival. Located close to the border between the two nations, El Chaltén is a hub for the dramatic Los Glaciares National Park. Within this reserve is some of Patagonia’s most significant landmarks, including the imposing Perito Moreno Glacier and the mighty Mt. Fitz Roy. Rugged and rustic, this small Patagonian town is the perfect place to get back to nature. However, despite how remote the location is, El Chaltén doesn’t lack creature comforts – there are plenty of bars, restaurants, and comfortable places to stay after a long day’s hike.
Traveling from Puerto Natales to El Chaltén
Despite the popularity of the two locations, there are no direct connections between Puerto Natales and El Chaltén. However, you can travel between the two via the larger Argentinian town of El Calafate by bus. The first leg to El Calafate is 251 miles and takes five hours, operated by bus companies Cootra and Turismo Zaahja. The second stage from El Calafate to El Chaltén is three hours and operated by Chaltén Travel and Taqsa. The whole trip should cost no more than $50, making it an economical and comfortable option.
The most direct way to travel from Puerto Natales to El Chaltén is to hire a car. Although costly it’s a more direct route up Ruta 40, cutting out the detour via El Calafate. In total, this will save you about three hours on the road. Remember you’ll be crossing an international border, so don’t forget your passport!