Puerto Natales is best known as the gateway town for Torres del Paine National Park, a world-renowned hiking and trekking destination about 2.5 hours away. In addition, the town also serves as the final destination for the popular and scenic ferry route from Puerto Montt.
In the last few year Natales has seen a blast of international recognition and is going through fast and big changes. Every season the improvements and growth are noticeable. Puerto Natales has 19,000 permanent inhabitants, but many more in the summer season due to tourism. The town sits under the shadow of the Dorotea mountain Range, and on the shore of the Ultima Esperanza Fjord. Snow-covered mountains and glaciers pouring directly into the fjord can be seen from town. The town still retains a feel of yester-year, which this region of Chile is famous for, yet the new wave of tourism has managed to soften the town around the edges, giving it a fresher, more welcoming atmosphere.
The town was settled mostly by rich European ranchers in 1911 to serve as a port for the export of wool and mutton. As the sheep industry declined during the second half of the 20th century, many residents of Puerto Natales worked in the coal mines of nearby RÃo Turbio in Argentina. Now, the economy of Puerto Natales is dependent upon tourism, which is expected to increase during the upcoming years as the popularity of trekking and outdoor sports continues to grow worldwide. The sheep and fishing industries can still be seen if you look close enough, but the town is mostly about trekking, kayaking, climbing and horseback riding, just to name the biggies.
Since becoming the gateway to Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales has developed quite a solid tourist infrastructure. For its size, the town offers visitors a surprisingly good variety of restaurants, cafÃ©s, hotels and tour companies to choose from, as well as some interesting museums and day-trip options to nearby attractions in wild Patagonia. All types of services and tours for every budget can be found, as long as you have at least one full day in town to plan and shop. Most programs and activities are based around Torres del Paine.