Must-Knows and Basics for Trekking Torres del Paine
- If not coming from Argentina, most people will fly into Punta Arenas airport in the deep south of Chile. From there they will catch a bus to Puerto Natales, and continue onto Torres del Paine via another bus. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time online (there are multiple companies, I used Bus Sur). Leave Puerto Natales on the 7:30 am bus to start your trek early. It takes 2.5 hours to get to Torres del Paine, and then you have to wait in a line to sign in and register!
- Allocate a full day in Puerto Natales before starting your hike, to account for delayed flights, purchasing extra or last-minute supplies, and attending the 11:00 or 3:00 trekking briefings at erratic rock hostel.
- BRING CASH! You will need it for shuttles within the park, and mini-shops at each campsite (not just for treats, but for extra camp fuel or bandages if necessary).
- There are two major treks: the W-trek, which makes a W-shape through the front of the park, and the O-trek (or circuit), which completes a loop around the backside of the park. The W-trek can be done entirely staying at refugios, and modern amenities are much easier to come by, whereas doing the complete circuit is the only way to see some of the stunning sights on the backside of the park. The “Q” combines the middle point of the W with the circuit trek.The circuit trek is only supposed to be done counter-clockwise. I took 7 nights and 8 days to complete the O-trek, a pretty standard, moderate pace with plenty of time to see everything along the trail, but there is SO much to see in the park in addition to these two treks!
- Campsites must be reserved in advance, and make sure you do so early. There are checkpoints in the backside of the park where you must prove that you have reservations for a campsite. (Another reason to allocate a full day in Puerto Natales; you don’t want your reservations to get screwed up!) There are free park-run campsites and two companies operating campsites and refugios within the park. I used a mixture of all three, and splurged for two indoor nights.
- You will encounter all types of weather in Patagonia. I hiked in short sleeves and high 60˚ temperatures, and through high winds and snow atop John Gardner pass. The winds are no joke; they destroyed my tent on the 6th night and nearly knocked me over several times.
- USE SUNSCREEN!
After 30 hours of traveling from Washington, D.C. to Panama City to Santiago to Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, I got a quick rest before heading into Torres del Paine National Park. From landing in Punta Arenas, I took a (somewhat expensive) taxi into the city and caught an inexpensive bus to Puerto Natales. My bus stopped by the airport on the way out of the city, so I probably could have planned that better if I had reserved tickets in advance.
In Puerto Natales I spent the night at Hotel Temauken, which was a bit outside of the main town, but a short walk from Rodoviario Puerto Natales Bus Station. Before leaving the bus station, I bought my tickets to leave for Torres del Paine bright and early next morning. From the hotel it was a little less than a mile to Erratic Rock Hostel, which gives free Patagonia trekking briefings at 11:00 and 3:00. I got in too late to attend one, but wish I had the opportunity. In addition to helping trekkers find travel buddies, they rent equipment and give a rundown on everything you should know before starting your hike:
“Affectionately nick-named ‘the 3 o’clock talk’, the info sessions cover details about Torres del Paine, weather, equipment, trail food, packing, refugios, trekking, climbing, transportation, the catamaran and anything else you can think of for Torres del Paine and trekking in Patagonia. Join our guides everyday at 3pm for a cup of coffee and the facts about how Patagonia is put together. What started as just ‘sit-down’ advice sessions with travellers staying at the hostel, has now turned into a vital 1.5 hour visit to the erratic rock Base Camp.” — erratic rock
I grabbed a quick pizza dinner (my last sit-down meal for awhile!) and of course only realized that the restaurant didn’t accept debit/credit once I was halfway through the pizza. A very kind couple paid for my dinner, and I spent the next eight days trying to pay that forward, sharing my camping supplies and treats with everyone I came across.
After dinner I walked up to the Unimarc grocery store to stock up on last minute snacks, and grabbed some stove fuel from a nearby camping store. A lot of stores were beginning to shut down in the early evening and I got lucky with shopping. In retrospect, I probably should have planned a full day in Puerto Natales to prepare for the trek.
When all was said and done, I managed to prepare myself for my trek with just a couple evening hours in Puerto Natales. At 7:30am the next morning, I was off, and eager to enter the park. The entrance fee was CLP $21.000, thankfully payable by card, but I unfortunately still didn’t have cash to take the shuttle from the entrance (Guarderia Laguna Amarga) to the real start of the trek at Refugio Las Torres. This added another 7! kilometers onto my first day of hiking, and overall wasn’t really necessary. There were of course beautiful views of the park, but the hiking was along a gravel road and all of the shuttle buses kicking dust up into your face wasn’t the most pleasant way to spend the morning.
Even with the stress of rushing into the park, not having cash, and walking an extra 7 km on the first day, I was there! This was my first real solo trip in a non-English-speaking country, and my first backpacking trip, and I was more exhilarated than ever. The next 8 days were definitely life-changing, not just because of the beauty, but because I was woefully out of shape.
Trekking & Lodging