Excursions near Puerto Natales
Cueva de Milodon -- In 1896, explorer Hermann Eberhard found a scrap of hairy skin and a few bones in a large cave near his property north of Puerto Natales that were later determined to be from a Milodon, a prehistoric, giant ground sloth. The story of the Milodon was popularized by Bruce Chatwin's travelogue In Patagonia. Although the Milodon is depicted in a full-size replica at the cave's entrance, most of the Milodon's remains were shipped off to London, which means the real attraction is the 30m high (98-ft.), 200m deep (656-ft.) cave itself, which has a weird, shaggy roof and is surrounded by interesting conglomerate rock formations. There's an interpretative center with a few Milodon bones and a display showing the geological formation of the cave, as well as a historical display of the Indians who inhabited this and nearby caves as far back as 12,000 years ago. Its modern restaurant was designed to reflect the shape of the cave. While not too touristy, this attraction is recommended only if it's on your route, if you are interested in paleo-fauna, or if you've run out of things to do in Puerto Natales.
The cave is located 24km (15 miles) north of Puerto Natales, so you'll need your own car or a tour to get here. To get here, take the road to Torres del Paine; at 20km (12 miles), turn left, and then drive for 4km (2 1/2 miles) to the cave's turnoff. The site is managed by Conaf and is open daily from 10am to 7pm; admission is $5 (£3.30) adults, $2.50 (£1.70) children (tel. 61/411843 in Puerto Natales).
Sailing to Parque Nacional Bernardo O'Higgins -- This national park, tremendous in its size, is largely unreachable except for boat tours to the glaciers Balmaceda and Serrano, tours that involve kayaking, and the Skorpios journey to the grand Pio XI glacier. A low-key, traditional day trip takes travelers to the Serrano and Balmaceda glaciers, with a stop at the Monte Balmaceda Hostel and a short walk along the glacier and its iceberg-studded bay. The ride kicks off with a trip past the old mutton-canning factory, an estancia, and a cormorant nesting site, among other sites of interest. The return trip is a straight shot back to Natales -- which can be repetitive, so bring a book in the event of boredom or bad weather. The trip is dull except for the glacier visits, and visitors are prone to being herded about.
Turismo 21 de Mayo, Eberhard 560 (tel. 61/411176; www.turismo21demayo.cl), has a cutter and a yacht, and leaves daily (weather permitting) November through March and every Sunday from April to October (other days dependent on demand). The trip leaves at 8am, arriving at Serrano Glacier at 11:30am, where it stays for 1 1/2 hours, returning at 5:30pm. They also offer custom-made charter rides for groups. Nueva Galicia, Eberhard 169 (tel. 61/412352; email@example.com), takes visitors along a similar route aboard its wooden yacht of the same name, leaving at 7:45am and arriving at Serrano Glacier at 11am for a half-hour, then across the adjoining river to its lodge, the Hostería Monte Balmaceda. There visitors can take a walk around the self-guided nature trail, have lunch in the restaurant, and reboard, arriving at Puerto Natales at 5:30pm. Please note that the restaurant here serves tough, tasteless food, so you should bring a picnic, especially if the weather is pleasant. The luxury cruise company Skorpios, Agosto Leguia Norte 118 (tel. 2/477-1900 or 305/484-5357 in North America; www.skorpios.cl), has an all-inclusive 6-day journey from Puerto Natales to Pio XI Glacier, the largest and only "advancing" (some scientists call it "stable") glacier in the Southern Hemisphere. This glacier measures an astounding 6km (3 3/4 miles) in length and peaks in height at 75m (246 ft.); it is also the least-visited glacier, and this alone makes a visit all the more special. The size of the Pio XI simply dwarfs other glaciers, such as Glacier Grey in Torres del Paine. I recommend this journey for travelers who are not very physically active and who don't want to miss a visit to Torres del Paine but wish to add on a special journey to an out-of-the-way destination. Active travelers might get bored on a 6-day tour.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.