So you’re going to Patagonia: AWESOME!
This will be a guide for anyone planning their trip to Patagonia. A guide that will try to answer a sufficient amount of questions so you won’t feel completely unprepared during liftoff, like we partly did.
Firstly, on our trip we went to Torres del Paine (TdP). We flew from Stockholm, Sweden via Buenos Aires (stayed for a week) to El Calafate, Argentina and then travelled by bus to Puerto Natales and finally TdP in Chile. Our 2 friends flew in from the US to Buenos Aires, where we met up. That’s the route this guide will take, plus fun things as (make links?): buses, visa, borders, food, what to pack, how to read the map, animals, weather and the occasional complaint.
We went in Dec 2014 — Jan 2015, celebrating New Years by a river with newfound compadres, going to bed around 10pm not caring so much for the count down. However, we had brought some bubbles. This is a great time to travel (link to weather site) when the sun is out for about 17 hours a day.
We did the “Full Circle” hike. There’s also the ”W”. We had and spent 7 days hiking3 to make it. Now follows some Do’s and Don’ts:
HOW TO GET THERE
When planning our trip we had a hard time finding the info we needed. We didn’t know if we’d be able to go all the way to TdP when we left. There’s not 1 website for it all and booking online isn’t available through the companies you’re gonna ride with. There are however tourist agencies that will rip you off if you let them. We decided to go without a booked trip, not really having a plan. And I’m glad to share it now.
We came in from Stockholm via Madrid and stayed a few days in Buenos Aires (BA). If you’re flying onwards directly, be aware there are 2 airports in BA and it’s quite far in between them, about 1 hour. The flight between BA and Calafate (put in cost) takes off from the national airport in the city and takes 3 hours. There are shuttle buses from the airport in Calafate which cost 75 AP per person. We had to pay a fee since our backpacks were too heavy but it was only about 10$ or something.
This is the end station before the adventure of El Chalten for many, but we had our eyes on Chile. El Calafate is a special place. With its pine alley the small town looks like an american mountain paradise from the 80’s. A casino will probably be open by now and the tourist shops are not there for you, they’re there for the money.
Since we were on a tight time schedule and needed to leave to Puerto Natales, Chile the day after, we booked our return bus trip when we arrived at the bus station for 350 AP per person. Cootra was the only bus leaving on a Sunday and it was a “special extra bus”. It was also special because we got the only 4 seats left, #pjuh. When we had the pleasure to experience this, it left at 16:30.
Although we travelled in high season, there were a lot of spartanian/cosy hostels to stay at. We walked a 100m to Hostel Lago Argentino and payed 550 AP for a double room incl. very simple breakie.
There are atm:s in town that potentially will hassle but gave us enough money in the end. A recommendation is to bring a VISA and a MasterCard.
Trivia à Calafate:
- Most shops closed on Sundays. Gear cost about double than in Sweden.
- Pizza cost 150 AP, beer 60 AP.
- There is a nice nature reservoir called Laguna Nimez with a great bird life including Flamingos. Half price on Sundays :) 70 AP per person.
Argentina — Chile
The return bus to Puerto Natales (PN) cost 350 AP per person and takes ca 7 hours. All buses we took had totally ok standard. There are 2 border control stops on the way, one on each side. Your luggage will be scanned and potentially dug through. You’re not allowed to bring certain things (link to rules). We had brought a lot of pre-made, soft-canned food — nemas problemas, as long as it’s sealed and packed professionally.
We arrived at midnight and needed to leave early the day after, again because of our too tight time schedule. The ticket office was still open for us so we booked our open return tickets to TdP for 20 USD per person, leaving 07:30.
PN is completely different then Calafate. It’s real and great. Here is where we’d stock up on food, supply and missing gear, if we hadn’t brought everything already.
We found a hostel and payed 8 000 CP pp for a 4 person room including too simple breakfast (bread and jam). The standard was low. PN is however more of a city for you, compared to Calafate, i.e we bought one “pole tip” for very cheap in at the hostel in PN instead of having to buy a complete new set of poles for double the swedish price in Calafate.
The atm:s are open 24h and we withdrew 150 000 CP per person, which was to last the whole trip in TdP.
NOTE! Important to be on time for the bus since the tickets don’t have designated times. When the bus is full, you need to grab the next one at 14:30.
Trivia à Puerto Natales:
- The dogs! We were safely escorted through the city by 1–5 kind dogs.
- El Living is a veggie restaurant in the center serving great food. We payed 7 000 CP per person including drinks.
- There’s a bear like mammal with a tail called Mylodon which serves as their “city animal”. It’s cool but unfortunately extinguished.
Torres del Paine
When you trek TdP you can basically start in 3 places — Laguna Amarga, Hotel Las Torres or Paine Grande, which you have to travel to by boat from Cafeteria Pudeto. The bus from PN brings you to all these places, starting with Laguna Amarga, where we decided to start. This is where you buy the entrance pass (18 000 CP), get your map and information about TdP.
WHAT TO PACK
We made one major mistake, we packed too heavy, way too heavy. A rule of thumb says one should carry about 20% of your weight, maximum. For a long trek like TdP we’d recommend keeping the load down as much as possible, it will make your trek way more enjoyable.
We invested a lot in long lasting and qualitative gear before this trek, something we definitely didn’t regret when the weather played tricks on us. This is what we brought:
2-person Haglöfs tent, -3 degrees celsius Haglöfs sleeping bag, inflatable sleeping pad, seat cover, Lundhags hiking pants, Lundhags hike boots, Nike Free 3, T-shirts, North Face shell jacket, fleece hoodie, running shorts, (thermal) underclothing, rainwear, beanie, gloves, Patagonia cap, 2 pair of Smartwool socks, socks, underwear, travel towel, walking sticks, flashlight, kitchen (which?) with fuel, cups, plates and sporks, AeroPress coffee maker, manual grinder, 0.75l LifeStraw water purifier/bottle, Stanley flask filled with Fernet, Victorinox clasp knife, first aid kit and a toiletbag containing all around soap, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, necessary pills and other things to keep clean. All packed in a Haglöfs 65 liter backpack.
And oh yeah, the food. What will make your backpack carryable or not. Bring freeze-dried food (link leads to what our companions brought) and/or buy everything in Puerto Natales. There are shops in some of the camps but it’s very limited and not very sexy, unless you wanna try to fill yourself with 3 500 calories by munching noodles, crackers and chocolate, it’s ok. We brought soft canned army food for the whole trek. Man it was good but if we’d done anything different it would’ve been not to pack that heavy.
COSTS (per person, starting in Buenos Aires)
Campsites = 40 USD
Hostels = 144 USD for 4 nights (1 000 AP + 18 000 CP)
Buses = 73 USD
Boat = 22 USD one way
Flights = 365 USD, BA — Calafate
Fees = 38 USD for the TdP pass
TOTAL = 682 USD
Cash brought to TdP = 220 USD (150 000 CP)
Good things to know: There’s fresh water along the whole trek, ready to be scooped by hand or bottle. The trail closes during the days and the times are written on your little pamphlet you get in Laguna Amarga. Those times do not declare when you need to arrive, only the latest time to start. Every pole you pass with a number on, don’t show kilometers, it’s just the number of the pole…
Day 1 — Laguna Amarga to Campamento Séron
The 18 km took us 5.5 hours. The Séron camp costs 15 000 CP for 2. They’ll make you a lunch box for 11 000 CP pp. There are showers. And there are a lot of mosquitoes! The kind that won’t budge for sun, wind, anything.
Day 2 — Séron to Refugio Dickson
A long day of 18 km with beautiful views. Ends with a very steep decline. Camp is 4 300 CP pp. Beer is 3 000 CP and there’s a “ring game” that’ll win you a beer. Ice cold showers and MOSQUITOES, for the last time.
Day 3 — Dickson to Campamento Los Perros
A knee injury caused by the heavy weight made the 11 km hike long. Really nice trek through forest, ending by a lake facing a glacier. The camp is just around the corner so have a bath. Camp is 4 300 CP pp. 2 500 CP for a beer.
Day 4 — Los Perros to Campamento Paso
Only 8 km but the highest climb, peaking at 1 200 m with a view over Glacier Grey. To camp in Paso is free. Basic, no showers. Amazing viewpoint to watch the sun set over the glacier.
Day 5 — Paso via Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande
We decided to do two routes in one day. Kind of had to. So we hiked 16 km from 10:00 to 21:00, just too late for a restaurant dinner. Through this route you’re leaving the fairly empty behind of TdP, starting to meet day hikers. Paine Grande (PG) is a big camp facing the water. It has a hotel, restaurant, bar, a quite well stocked shop, showers and a lot of camp spots. Camping cost 5 300 CP pp. This is where the boat leaves from.
Day 6 — Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano
Because of the heavy trek Day 5 we decided not to do the full circle. In this case we’d be get the opportunity to ride the boat as well. We left one of our bags in PG, making the 2 hour hike to Italiano smooth as nothing before. The trails are under heavy human traffic on this side of the mountain. The camping in Italiano is free.
Day 7 — Italiano to the French Valley and back to Paine Grande
We had bought eggs in PG making the breakfast a feast. We hiked up the French Valley in 2h45m listening to the avalanches break in thunder. Back down took 1h30m and then 1–2h extra to PG. Andreas had carried a bottle of fine wine around the mountain that we finally shared at PG to celebrate his 30th birthday. The hot shower of the hotel was an amazing experience! The night turned out to be the opposite when a storm hit the camp, forcing half of all the tents to the ground. We survived but didn’t sleep and left TdP with broken tent poles.
Day 8 — Paine Grande to Puerto Natales
We took the boat at 12:30 over lake Péhoé for 15 000 CP pp, arriving at Cafeteria Pudeto where we catched the bus going to Puerto Natales. We stayed at Hostel San Augustin for 10 000 CP pp. Next morning we took the bus back to El Calafate.
Wikitravel — http://wikitravel.org/en/Torres_del_Paine_National_Park
Conaf (ESP) — http://www.conaf.cl/parques/parque-nacional-torres-del-paine/
TorresdelPaine.com — http://www.torresdelpaine.com/ingles/
Good luck and have fun!