While Punta Arenas was my entry point to Patagonia (see map for a good visual!), I wasn’t going to spend too much time there – I had places to go in Patagonia! Punta Arenas is known for being very windy but much to my joy, the landing was very smooth.
After a quick lunch at La Luna near the new costanera (“coastal”) avenue (chupe de centolla – a delicious king crab dish) and a failed attempt at using a coffee shop’s wi-fi on Ave. Pedro Montt after buying a coffee (the wi-fi “didn’t” work, something that seems to affect most places in this part of the country who claim to have one…), I walked around town for a couple of hours before I finally left town to head north into the heart of the Chilean Patagonia.
I made a stop at the penguin colony in Otway (I didn’t know I was going to see penguins right off the waterfront in Punta Arenas!). It was fascinating to walk among all the penguin nests on the shores of this body of water (more enclosed than a bay, but not a lake) – you stay on a slightly elevated walkway to avoid mis-stepping onto a penguin nest.
I was beginning to feel the wind and also be slightly disoriented in terms of direction. In Punta Arenas the water was to the east of the town yet somehow my brain thought it would be south and my many months in Chile would make me expect water to the west of land. Going to Otway, the water was to the west again. But my brain had a hard time processing this as I had not studied a map yet. My driver told me everyone from Chile goes through the same disorientation so I felt better.
From Otway, we went back east to the main road again and headed north the remaining 2.5 hrs or so until we got to Puerto Natales, a small town of perhaps 20k inhabitants that tends to serve as the main launching point to explore the Chilean Patagonia. I am assuming El Calafate may serve a slightly similar purpose on the Argentine Patagonia. Puerto Natales does not have necessarily tons of charm but going to the coastal avenue does provide a 180 degree (plus) view of mountains and water that is very nice.
I stayed at a nice hotel called Aquaterra whose staff was very friendly and helpful even if the rooms were somewhat spartan. The best eating experience in Puerto Natales had to be the highly recommended La Picada de Carlitos. I was expecting to eat meat but the waiter recommended the chupe de centolla and, boy, he was right! It was phenomenal and easily beat the one I had at La Luna in Punta Arenas. Here is what it looked like:
Other than this, the only other thing to call out about Puerto Natales that I saw was some of the architecture and some bright coloring of house facades. I found the town to be charming and a great platform to launch into the rest of Patagonia. The views from its waterfront were beautiful.