The best ways to travel between San Pedro de Atacama and Puerto Natales are by plane or bus. The distance of 2,634 miles (4,240 km) is best covered with a flight. You can take a shuttle to the Calama Airport (CJC) and then a 6.5-hour flight to Puerto Natales. From the Puerto Natales Airport (PNT), it only takes ten minutes to get to the city center by taxi or private transfer.
Bus travel, on the other hand, can take almost three days, due to several stops and transfers along the way. Another option includes a combination of both a plane and bus commute.
Renting and driving a car is also an option, and this is the ideal choice if you plan on taking a several-day journey through Chile, as it takes up to seven with overnight stays and stops. This a great option for those seeking an adventure along the way. However, before leaving San Pedro de Atacama, consider this 4-day itinerary in the Atacama Desert.
By Plane & Private Transfer
Duration: 7.5 hours
Traveling by plane from San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Natales is straightforward. First, take the one-hour shuttle to CJC, and from there, fly to Puerto Natales. From, here it's only 6 miles (10 km) to the center, and there are usually taxis available, as well as buses. A third option is a pre-booked private transfer.
There is also a flight to Punta Arenas from Calama, which takes approximately 6 hours and 20 minutes, then a three-hour bus from Punta Arenas Airport (PUQ) to Puerto Natales. Alternatively, you can take the bus to Punta Arenas city, instead, and spend some time here, and then take a later bus or transfer to Puerto Natales.
Duration: 3 days
Taking the bus all the way from San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Natales will take you through Argentina, with a total duration of almost three days. You will first arrive in the mountain town of San Salvador de Jujuy after 7 hours on the bus. Stop here to do a bit of sightseeing, and then get on the next bus, or just make a quick rest stop in the center. However, buses usually only run twice daily, so you may be able to explore the city further, either way.
If you decide to stay longer, you can rent a car and drive to Quebrada de Humahuaca—a scenic mountain valley that makes for a great hike and accompanying photos. The drive to the valley takes about 2.5 hours.
From San Salvador de Jujuy, expect a two-day journey. The bus will make several stops—a few shorter ones and a few longer ones—where you can get some fresh air and buy some food or snacks. You'll then arrive in the quaint town of Río Gallegos, and from here, it will take 5 hours to reach Puerto Natales.
Duration: 6-7 days
Renting a car lets you visit places such as Valparaíso, Santiago, and the Osorno Volcano just to mention a few. In a week you'll get the best of both worlds—Argentina and Chile with many places to tick off your bucket list.
The journey from San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Natales begins by driving on Route 5. From here you'll drive for around nine hours until you get to Copiapó—spend the night in the city and visit Ojos del Salado which is the worlds' highest active volcano. Continue your trip towards Valparaíso and Vina del Mar to spend the night.
The next day, drive to Santiago, spend a few hours in the city and then drive for six hours to Temuco where you can rest and get some food. From Temuco, continue to Osorno, visit the Osorno Volcano, and spend the night here. Take the opportunity to detour to Puerto Montt the upcoming day and then drive back to get to San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina in four hours. Continue to the famous El Calafate, hike in Torres del Paine, and lastly arrive in Puerto Natales.