Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina

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17 January 2014

This morning the only thing I needed to do was have a good meal before my 5.5hr bus ride, and obtain Argentinian pesos.

lu burjuba puerto natales

I was advised that you get a better rate if you withdraw Chilean pesos from an ATM and go to a normal Cambio / Forex agency to change it for Argentinian pesos, than withdrawing pesos at the official exchange rate at an Argentinian ATM or by exchanging US dollars for Argentinian Pesos in El Calafate.

I took a final stroll through the flat Patagonian town that morning, checking out the shops and tourist agencies.

tourist agency puerto natales

This is a tiny town and it’s easy to get around on foot.

puerto natales map

I then returned to Yagan House to collect my luggage and chill a little. I found this informative article in a newspaper in the reception area. I thought it may help people interested in trekking in Chilean Patagonia.

puerto natales and torres del paine faq advice

About 15 minutes before departure I arrived at the bus station which was 2km’s away on foot.

bus station puerto natales

I left Puerto Natales for El Calafate on the 2pm bus (14000 pesos). At 14:25, a young girl with tears in her eyes goes to the bus driver and asks him to stop the bus. I was not sure why until about 15 minutes later when a taxi pulled up alongside the bus, with her purse which she had forgotten at the bus station. Close call!

We then resumed the journey for 1 hour until we stopped at the Chilean Border control.

Border Control Chile toward Argentina

It’s much easier and faster when you leave Chile (versus entering). The border control agent was alternating between going through my passport and scrolling through Facebook while listening to Bruno Mars on his iPhone.

After a 20 minute journey through “no man’s land” we pull up to a small “village”.

patagonia argentina

Four farm houses, some barns, sheep grazing in the meadow and a small Argentinian border control office where the border control agents were processing passports in a room that lacked any electric lighting. Seriously!

chile to argentina border control

An hour later we stopped to fill up fuel and the bus driver let us out to get snacks (or in my case Hot Chocolate).

petrol station argentina patagonia

In the kiosk shop at the petrol station I was recognised by the New Yorker from Refugio Torres Central. Apparently we were on the same bus, headed for El Calafate. She was heading there to meet her husband.

By 06:15pm I arrived in El Calafate. I had a quick look at the bus timetable and prices to El Chalten at the bus station before heading for Hospedaje Lautaro, my accommodation in this city. My encounter with the couple running this B&B was exactly as Tripadvisor reviewers had described them – extremely warm and friendly.

That night I took a walk to see some of the shops on the main street.

tourist kiosks el calafate

I love these directional signposts.

signpost in el calafate

There’s plenty of tourist shops and agencies offering trips to Perito Moreno Glacier and El Chalten.

el calafate downtown tourist agency

I watched a newlywed couple drive by twice in their motor parade waving and hooting.

wedding couple al calafate

I also tried to get better views of the amazing sunset (which is hard to is in a flat city with so many buildings obstructing the view).

sunset el calafate

For supper I ate a pizza and headed back to Hospedaje Lautaro. Later that night while I was sitting in the lounge, 2 girls entered and said “Hey, it’s you, remember us jumping in Torres Del Paine!”. It was the 2 German girls that I met in Torres Del Paine. That’s the great thing about backpacking through Patagonia. If you’re traveling in a consistent style (e.g. backpacking) on a logical route, you’re bound to keep meeting the same people across vast distances. We chatted briefly before I headed for bed.

Zaid is an intrepid traveler from South Africa that has traveled to all 7 continents. He loves to explore new destinations, experience new activities and go off the beaten path.

14 thoughts on “Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina

  1. which bus company did you take Ziad?

    Cootra Buses has just quoted me AR$ 480 for El Calafate to Puerto Natales. This seems a lot higher than your bus.

    1. Hi. I booked with Turismo Zaahj – http://www.turismozaahj.co.cl/turismozaahjenglish/new-page-5/new-page.html
      The Argentinian peso has devalued by about 30% to the Chilean peso since I visited so the fare should be up to AR$195 one way.

      Also, remember that USD is king in Argentina (try to convert USD to AR$ in Buenos Aires if you are stopping there – on the blue market. Official rate for USD to AR$ is currently 8.78 but on the blue market (see http://www.dolarblue.net/ ) you’ll get +-12 AR$ – a big difference

          1. I took brand new 100 USD notes.
            However I did have some smaller denominations (USD 20) that were old and this was accepted

  2. hi Zaid. i am planning to visit Torris Del Paine and go to Calafate from there. just wondering how did you get to Torris del paine from Santiago. is there any local bus or train??? is there any worth places for overnight stop in between if i decided to take bus down???

    1. Hi David
      I did what you’re trying in a reverse direction (starting in Ushuaia, Argentina at the bottom of the continent and headed North as far as Calafate).
      If you’re travelling south from Santiago there are definitely some interesting places to stop at (most notably the Lake Districts which I missed).
      Possible route for you:

      Santiago to Puerto Montt, Chile (Lakes District): 11 h 27 min (1 046,5 km)
      Consider the Bus and Lake Crossing tours from Puerto Montt, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina (I believe it can be an overnight trip. See http://www.lakescrossing.com.ar/ )

      Bariloche, Argentina to El Chalten, Argentina (Argentinian Patagonia with Mont Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre) – 17 h 36 min (1 386,2 km)

      El Chalten to El Calafate, Argentina – (Check out the Perito Moreno Glacier) – 3,5 hours by bus

      El Calafate to Puerto Natales (Gateway To Torres Del Paine)
      Puerto Natales to / from TdP

      Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas (there’s a penguin colony here but I skipped it. You can fly out from here) – 3hr bus trip
      You can fly out from here to Santiago / Buenos Aires…

      Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (in Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina) – this is where the boats leave to Antarctica. I think my bus trip took at least 9 hours (through the Andes Mountains, plus we crossed the Strait of Magellan by ferry with the bus)
      You can fly out from here to Santiago / Buenos Aires…

  3. Interesting. 4000 Chilean Peso was equivalent to 28 USD at the time this blog was written. Now the same company quoted me 37 USD for going from El Calafate to Puerto Natales. so assuming if an increase of 9 Usd over 2 years time is reasonable then this 37 USD must be caclulated based on blue rate

  4. Hi,

    Are there any late evening buses available from Puerto Natales to El Calafate and vice versa? I plan to take the 2.30 pm bus from the Paines National park to Puerto Natales, and will probably reach Puerto Natales by 4.30/5.00 pm. I am hoping to save a day of travelling, as I plan to go to El Chalten next day.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi

      To my knowledge there is no bus to El Calafate from Puerto Natales after 1430.

      I checked the schedules of these 2 operators:

      http://www.turismozaahj.co.cl/turismozaahjenglish/new-page-5/nles-calafate.html

      http://www.bussur.com/opensite/index.php?page=international-frequency

      Another option which I haven’t tried is to take a bus directly from Torres del Paine to El Calafate with
      http://www.alwaysglaciers.com

      Email them to find out (I believe their price is quite high, but if it saves you a night of accommodation and a day of precious vacation time it may be worth it)

  5. Hi Zaid, do you happen to know if there is a early bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, so we could make it in one day up to El Chalten? I.e. Puerto Natales – El Chalten, via El Calafate.

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