Patagonia was for us something special as we always knew that it was a gorgeous place, everybody talks about it, specially here in Chile. This wide piece of land being so far away from everything attracted us a lot but the question was, is it worth to go?! As having a traveler’s budget, Patagonia can become very very expensive. Transportation, accommodation, excursions, wow prices go up, is it becoming the new Switzerland of South America?
So during our time in Santiago and Valparaiso, we had time to study the case, specially the transportation as it is not next door but about 3’000km from the capital. Here are the different solutions we found to get down there, towards the end of the world:
- Bus and Boat in Chile via Pt. Montt and then a boat that takes 4 days to reach Puerto Natales going through the pacific coast: price of the Cruise one way/pers 450$
- Bus all the way down to Patagonia through Argentina (Bariloche, ect): less expensive but very long journey (no prices available)
- Hitchhiking: many Chilenos do it here (free!)
- Flying: last minute tickets: 350$/person, Santiago – Punta Arenas – Santiago
Well, now, we can say that after 10 days spent there, we are extremely satisfied and happy to have discovered this part of the world that is beautiful, wild and surprising. Through Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas and Isla Magdalena, here is our adventure with some good tips if you guys decide to travel here sometime, someday 😉
The National Park Torres del Paine
The National Park is located 100km directly north of Puerto Natales, and covers around 181,400 hectares. Puerto Natales has nothing special and is more the gateway for Torres del Paine.
The park is known as being one of the most beautiful national park of South America having some really good trekking facilities. The trails are very well marked and the views are breathtaking ! Between the glacier grey, valleys, mountains and beautiful fauna and flora, the park has a lot to offer. In term of fauna, we saw condors, rabbits, woodpeckers and guanacos. It is also common to see pumas !
The park is also known for having a very fluctuating weather. So no need to look at the weather forecast it can changed any minute !
We made some research of course before going there and it was clear that strong wind, heavy rain and snow could come anytime.
Knowing that we would camp during our journey in the park, we really sent some good energy to the sun to come and shine for us ! Guess what? it worked and we had 5 days of sun with almost no clouds. Apparently it is rare to have such a beautiful weather, we really felt blessed 🙂
So we chose to hike for 5 days in the park. They are couple options but the two most popular trails are the full circuit or called the O and the half circuit called the W. See in the map below.
This trail circles the Paine Massif, at the highest point passing by rivers, lakes and glaciers such as Grey, Dickson and Perros in the north of the park. Duration time: 8 to 10 days of hike, distance 156km.
The ‘W’ is the shorter equivalent, and 4 to 5 days needed to complete it. Distance 76kms. It concentrates on the famous tour Torres, the south of the park towards the lake Nordenskjöld, the lake Pehoe and the lake Grey with its glacier.
We decided to do the “W” as we are not hikers of the extreme and want to take it easy for the first trek of the year!
There are two points where to depart for the W trek which are the “Hosteria las Torres ” or on the west side, “el Refugio Paine Grande “. If we look at the map and the trail W in red, it is possible to start either west or east. The question was then where to start the hike from ?
Some people told us to start directly a Hosteria las Torres if the weather is good on the first day and to keep the beautiful glacier for the end. Then the owner of the hostel where we stayed in Puerto Natales told us to start from the west part as the wind goes from west to east, plus some beautiful views will be in front of us. Well, we followed our instinct and decided to start from the east at the first entrance gate Hosteria las Torres. We also needed to reserve the accommodation as it can get quickly fill up in the refugios or camping spots. We don’t regret our choice as it has been simply AMAZING !
DAY 0 – Preparation day
It is possible to sleep and eat in “refugios” (refuges) in the park but it can get VERY expensive – like 30% to 40% more expensive than normal prices. The food in the few mini marks sell food for triple of more the standard prices. Also the price for a bed in a refugio starts high or around 50€ – not including half or full board. The other alternative is to rent a camping spot and a tent which is a good and not too expensive solution. Otherwise, the most flexible and cheap way of travelling in the park is to use the free camping sites with the condition to have a tent. Camping spots can be reserved at the refugios too. As we don’t have any tent (or the motivation to carry one) we chose to sleep in tents rented in the different camping spots. The advantage is that the tent is reserved and ready when we arrive. So we made the reservation through 2 main agencies that are in charged of the bookings and refugios which are:
Vertice: http://www.verticepatagonia.com and
Fantasticosur: and http://www.fantasticosur.com
Having made this, we also organized our equipment and food for the 5 days. As said previously, the food can get very expensive, and it is much more economical and sometimes tastier to prepare our own food. We rented a small little propane camping stove from the hostel and went to buy the food we needed for the trek. For the equipment and food we made a list of items we took with us, which is at the end of the article.
We kind of struggled to have the less kilos possible. Indeed the less you have, the less you carry!
DAY 1: Puerto Natales – Las Torres – Campamento Chilenos, 6 hours
After having organized the logistics, accommodation and food, we were READY TO GO! 🙂
We headed over the bus station to catch the first bus going to the park from Puerto Natales. We have our backpack on the back, good shoes on but “ouch” the backpack was not that light at all! To be honest after having walked around Asia in flip flops, a 5 days trek with trekking shoes is quite of a challenge for us but we are sure that after a small effort we will get used to it and all will be good.
The first bus stop was “Porteria Laguna Amarga” where we got off to go towards Las Torres after having paid the entrance fees.
We started to walk from the “Hotel Las Torres”. The day was sunny and beautiful, we were very happy to know that no rain was to come that day. It meant we could make our way to “Las Torres” those famous tours that can be seen on every brochure. The way to get up there is stunning going through a small valley. We first dropped off our stuff at our camping spot at the Chilenos before continuing much lighter toward the mirador (lookout). The hike was 2,5 hours from the camp. We had a good rhythm and full of energy and reached the mirador after only 2 hours. Once we got there we were indeed under the charm of those tours. The Mapuches – the Indian colony in Chile -called the park Las Torres del Paine as “Paine” means blue in their language, supposing the tours were touching the sky and/or connected to it.
We had a beautiful evening there. Yes because the sunset is at 10:30 PM here in summer !! We could do so many things in one day, we loved this first day. We then went back to Los Chilenos and took ownership of the tent for the night.
DAY 2: Campamento Chilenos – Campamento Cuernos, 5 hours
The temperature during the day is simply perfect to hike. It was 20 degrees the day before. Nothing to say BUT at night it is damn cold!! When I say cold it is maybe too kind, our night at Los Chilenos was freezing! We may not have the best sleeping bags for such low temperatures that drop down to 2-3 degrees at night. Thankfully, we had our polar jackets and a good breakfast waiting for us before starting the hike to the next camp Los Cuernos.
The way to this next refugio was splendid, going through some small bushes, and lakes next to us like the long lake Nordenskjöld and in front of us the famous Cuernos, some imposing mountains. The contrast of color with the mountains and lakes is beautiful.
This part of the trip has also been great for the easy hike of “only” 5 hours. We got there early at around 2PM to find a comfortable refuge, a wide terrace and a cosy camping site. In addition to this, the staff was friendly and the place clean! It is also the best spot to admire the mountain Los Cuernos. We loved it there, a nice moment of relaxation in the afternoon playing UNO and eating chocolate under the sun. It is in those moments where you realize how happy and lucky you are to be able to do that, to be ok and to be able to enjoy such a nice environment.
DAY 3: Campamento Cuernos via Valle del Francès to Campamento Paine Grande, 8-9 hours with breaks
Again, freezing night but it is getting better as we had our hat on.
We had a good breakfast and started the hike at 9am following the trails. Everything is very well-marked and it is almost impossible to get lost. The signs are clear and visible. We had our first stop at the Italiano, a free camping spot. It is the place where we left our big backpacks to walk towards the Valle del Francès that is the middle of the trek. It was very steep going up to the first mirador in the Valley, then it got flatter. The trail has on the side a small river. Across from it, there were mountains covered of snow and we could hear the snow falling down the rifts. It was quite impressive. We didn’t go to the second lookout that is supposed to give a superb vista on a sort of mountainous amphitheater, we had to head back to the Italiano to continue to our next destination the Paine Grande.
The hike towards the next camp became very windy. This part of the park is known to have strong winds going at times up to 110km/h! We didn’t fly away 😉 and made it there in good shape but exhausted.
DAY 4: Campamento Paine Grande – Campamento Grey
We slept well and were not frozen !! The camp site was nice and big but windy. Thank God we got a good and solid tent that protected us very well from the wind and the cold. We started to feel the tiredness though but were still very motivated to see the most beautiful part is the trip : the Glacier Grey
It took us 3,5 hours to get to the Campamento Grey going through a windy valley and mountains. Half way there, the first lookout gave us a view on the glacier under the sun and no clouds, it was simply stunning.
The second part of the hike was to go closer to the glacier that was another 1,5 hours hike from the campamento. The view was totally worth it. We admired the long stretched glacier surrounded by mountains. For kilometers all you can see is snow and ice, giving us a beautiful show. We got speechless and sat there observing the immensity of the powerful glacier.
DAY 5: the last day from Campamento Grey to Paine Grande back to Puerto Natales
The last day has arrived and we can definitively feel our knees, ankles, muscles and small toes with blisters. The backpack is supposed to get lighter as we eat the food but it’s not that much lighter. Hell, we have 4 hours hike in front of us. We were kindly having fun of people having pains or stiffness but practicing some yoga postures saved us from that. Well it didn’t last for the last day. So after our last breakfast in the park we got back on track with some pains but it was finally ok. It is more psychological as we know, the body reacts but at the end we were all fine.
We arrived at Paine Grande at noon to catch the catamaran at 12:30 going to Pudeto through the lake Pehoe. This boat ride was an amazing outlook on the Torres and Cuernos, again with a beautiful sun.
The National Park Torres is a small gem hidden in Patagonia. We went back to Puerto Natales a bit tired but happy to have done such a beautiful trek throughout the 5 days. We could go back tomorrow !
After that we took some days off to rest, sleep and eat good food to then head towards the south to discover Punta Arenas and the Isla Magdalena that has a colony of penguins ! :-). It is also a must see being in the area of Punta Arenas. The boat to be booked via Comapa leaves from Monday to Satuday at 5 pm. It is a 2 hours boat ride to go and 2 hours to come back. They left us 1 hour on the island to admire the cute colony of penguins. There are called the Magellanic penguins. They are a specie from south America, breeding in coastal Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands. They then migrate to Brazil in winter, north of Rio de Janeiro. There were thousand of them and the island has been estimated to hold 63,000 breeding pairs in 2007. A lot of penguins to observe and admire.. The nature is in a way so touching, and fragile at the same time. This island is thankfully protected and uninhabited.
And you when are you going to Patagonia? In case the article is read by people wanting to discover this amazing part of the world, here are some advice on how, what, when etc to visit the national park Torres del Paine.
When to come in Patagonia:
During summer that is from January to March.
-Bus tickets to book from Puerto Natales to the park : 12’000 pesos/person or more. Departing at 07:15 or 14:30. Those tickets can be bought at the bus station or hostels.
-Park Entrance fees : 18’000 pesos/person
Bus from Porteria Laguna Amarga (entrance of the park) to the hotel Las Torres (starting point for the hike east to west): 3’000 pesos/person
Catamaran fees: 15’000 pesos/person
Where to sleep in the park:
-Refugios and camping to book via Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia:
http://www.verticepatagonia.com and http://www.fantasticosur.com
-Free camping sites are the Italiano, and Campamento Torres
What to bring:
Food and drinks
We mainly had noodle soups to be cooked with hot water for dinner, a lot of snacks, almonds, other various nuts and cheese for the breaks. Mainly tomatoes, avocados, bread and wraps for lunches. The main point is to organize every lunch and dinner. We booked the breakfast at the Refugios though as we wanted to be sure to start the day with something good and consistent. The most tricky part is to carry good but light food!
- Comfortable and waterproof hiking shoes that maintain the ankles
- 1 trekking pant
- 1 t-shirt, 1 pullover, warm sweater and rain jacket for the trek
- 1 pullover and legging for sleeping: it can get extremely cold at night, we had also a warm jacket made out of alpagas that was very useful
- Comfortable hiking socks and underwear
- Sticks for walking
- Good and comfortable backpack
- Hat and gloves
- Another thin and light rain jacket in case of heavy rain
- Sleeping bag (minimum -15 at least)
- Plastic cover for the bagpack in case of rain
- Sunblock as the sun can get very intense
- Repellent (some sites have a lot of Mosquitos)
- Propane stove and a pot
- Small items: forks and knifes, toilet paper, small towel and a first Aid Kit.