Things to Do in Puerto Natales
Not nearly as foreboding as it sounds, the Channel of Las Hope (Ultima Esperanza) is in fact a calm inlet stretching from Eberhard Fjord to Monte Balmaceda. In 1557, Spanish explorer Juan Ladrillero gave the channel its ominous name when he believed navigating it was his last opportunity to reach the Strait of Magellan, though he was met with a dead end.
Boat expeditions up the channel offer stellar views of Balmaceda Mountain and the Serrano Glacier — accessible via a short hike — where visitors walk on the surface of the glacier, visit ice caves or kayak amid ice bergs on Serrano Glacier Lake. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot cormorants, sea lions, dolphins and a variety of shore birds nesting along the banks of the channel.
In 1896, German explorer Eberhard Hermann entered a cave and found strange remains inside, the fur and bones of the extinct Mylodon sloth. Named after the giant ground sloth found within, Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodon) is the largest of several caves within Cueva del Milodon National Monument. But the sloth wasn’t the only inhabitant of the caves. Remains of other extinct species, including a saber-toothed cat and a dwarf horse, as well as evidence of human habitation from as early as 6,000 BC have been found within the caves.
As visitors enter the monument, they’re greeted by a full-size replica of the mylodon sloth, standing 13 feet (4 meters) tall. The mylodon was said to resemble a giant bear, though the mammal was in fact a very large herbivore that went extinct over 10,000 years ago. A viewing point atop the cathedral-sized cave affords visitors views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and the Eberhard fjord.
Located in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Chile’s Grey Glacier flows south into Grey Lake, though warmer temperatures in recent summers have seen the glacier retreat somewhat. A boat trip to see the Grey Glacier up close is one of the most spectacular excursions on offer inside Torres del Paine National Park. Seeing this ancient ice up close brings out its spectrum of colors and unusual shapes, and the sounds of the ice breaking apart are unlike anything else on earth.
Another way to experience Grey Glacier is to take the strenuous day hike from Paine Grande which leads to a lookout point where huge icebergs can be seen floating on the surface of Grey Lake in front of the glacier. The Grey Glacier is one of a few within the national park that visitors can trek across the surface of. Unlike the other glaciers in the park, this glacier has an island of land dividing it in two.
In the early 20th century, Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjold discovered a blue alpine lake that would later be named after him. Located within Torres del Paine National Park, the lake is famous for its beautifully colored waters, as well as its outfall, the Salto Grande waterfall.
While the national park is famous for its multi-day hiking circuits, visitors can make a shorter, easier day hike to Mirador Nordenskjold, an overlook offering stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The trail passes through fields of wildflowers in the spring, and it also brings hikers up close to the Salto Grande waterfall.