On Última Esperanza’s eastern shore, Puerto Natales (population 16,978) is 250 kilometers northwest of Punta Arenas  via paved Ruta 9. It is 150 kilometers south of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine , also by Ruta 9, which is paved for 13 kilometers north of the city.
In two decades, Puerto Natales has morphed from a sleepy wool and fishing port on Seno Última Esperanza—“Last Hope Sound”—to a bustling tourist town whose season has lengthened well beyond the summer months of January and February. Its proximity to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, coupled with its status as the southern terminus for the scenic ferry route from Puerto Montt , has placed it on the international travel map and transformed the economy.
While Natales has no knockout attractions in its own right, the waterfront is more presentable than in the past, and it enjoys a magnificent seaside setting, with the snowcapped Cordillera Sarmiento and Campo de Hielo Sur, the southern Patagonian ice cap, visible over the water to the west. It has abundant services, including tour operators and rental equipment, and convenient connections to the Argentine town of El Calafate  and Parque Nacional Los Glaciares .
After Argentina’s economic meltdown of 2001–2002, though, Natales took a triple hit: Retired Chilean coal miners from Río Turbio saw their savings frozen in Argentine banks and their pensions cut by two-thirds because of Argentina’s devaluation and Chile’s own strong peso, even as their own cost of living remained high. Active workers have seen their wages decline. At the same time, local merchants have seen their Argentine business dry up as merchandise is no longer cheaper on the Chilean side. Tourism remains viable, but the strong peso has made Chile more expensive and visitors are spending shorter periods here.
One possible strong point is the possible construction of a 150-meter cruise-ship pier, which would simplify land transfers from both the ferry (which does have an improved dock) and visiting cruisers, but it’s still at the talking stage. Meanwhile, private initiative has built a jetty for local cruises near Puerto Bories, north of town.
By Air: LAN/LanExpress no longer has an office here, but Turismo Comapa (Bulnes 533, tel. 061/414300) handles reservations and tickets.
By Bus: There is frequent bus service to and from Punta Arenas  and Torres del Paine , and regular but less frequent service to the Argentine destinations of Río Turbio, Río Gallegos, and El Calafate .
Carriers serving Punta Arenas (US$5.50, three hours) include Bus Sur (Baquedano 500, tel. 061/411859), Buses Sur (Baquedano 534, tel. 061/411325), Buses Fernández (Ramírez 399, tel. 061/411111), Buses Pacheco (Baquedano and O’Higgins, tel. 061/414513), and Buses Transfer (Bulnes 518, tel. 061/412616). Round-trip tickets offer small discounts but less flexibility. Bus Sur goes to Ushuaia  (Argentina) Tuesday and Friday at 7 a.m.
Services to Torres del Paine  (US$12, two hours) vary seasonally, with frequent turnover among carriers; again, there are small discounts for round-trip fares. Choices include Buses JB (Prat 258, tel. 061/412824), Buses Fortaleza (Prat 234, tel. 061/410595), Buses María José (Bulnes 386, tel. 061/414312), and Bus Sur.
By Sea: Turismo Comapa/Navimag (Bulnes 533, tel. 061/414300, www.navimag.com ) operates the weekly car/passenger ferry MV Magallanes to Puerto Montt . In early season, it’s fairly easy to get a northbound berth, but reservations are advisable toward the end.