Torres del Paine (Chile): not to be missed
Torres del Paine has been presented to us in many guides and blogs as the dream destination for hikers. Who says “hiking” says “it’s not for us”. Luckily, we decided to dig a little deeper and discovered that it was quite possible to drive there for a day trip.
We have two choices:
(1) Ushuaia -> Puerto Natales. One night in Puerto Natales then day trip the next day. Another night in Puerto Natales before taking the bus to El Calafate (Civitatis link)
(2) Ushuaia -> El Calafate. One night in El Calafate, then day trip from/to El Calafate (Civitatis reservation link)
After calculation, option 2 suits us better (no desire to spend 2 nights in Puerto Natales) even if many would consider our itinerary as “crazy” since there will be 2 border crossings. The excursion from Puerto Natales has just one more stop: Grey glacier; and offers more time to eat, chill out. Financially, both options are equivalent.
Part 1: Travel Diaries
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diaries
We booked 2 days before at South Road. I must say that their advertising poster particularly seduced us, it isn’t every day that we drive in a 4×4 truck version.
At 7:15 am, they pick us up at the hostel. After having verified that we had our passport and money (to pay the entry of the park), they let us go up in this spacious and comfortable bus/truck where each one must put his safety belt because we will make a lot of roads reserved only for the 4×4.
A guide accompanies us throughout the trip and speaks Spanish/English. He begins to explain us our route and the steps to take to cross the Chilean border. It is really the first time that someone takes the time to explain us these steps because all the other bus drivers (Bus-Sur or Taqsa) just show us the border posts… and eventually dictate us what to put on the Chilean form.
Having crossed the Argentina-Chile border 3 times (and had our passport stamped 6 times), we are experts now. Which isn’t the case of our Argentinean friends next door who look quite worried, not knowing what to declare or not (crossing the borders of the enemies must be something! For your information, all the countries bordering Chile hate Chile, because of the different territorial wars that have taken place). Everyone who has an apple has 2 hours to eat it, before crossing the Chilean border. Again this famous bio-security.
We arrive at the park only at noon. The guide comes to collect money to pay the entrance to the park (21 000$CH/person). We make a few photo stops with the Torres del Paine in the background.
The weather is favorable even if an icy wind is following us since the crossing of the Chilean border. We are very lucky, our guide tells us, to see the 3 peaks of the Torres del Paine so clearly.
After having seen this magnificent landscape that is offered to us, we understand better why everyone rushes here for trekking. And that we would have missed something if we hadn’t come here would only be on an excursion to get a good view of it.
There are glaciers all over the mountains, many azure or emerald lakes, a beautiful view of the granite peaks of Torres del Paine or the layered semi-granite (white), semi-magma (black) peaks of Los Cuernos (apparently unique in the world).
The guanacos (from the same family as llamas), graze quietly in the steppe. They cross the roads without rushing, without paying attention to us. We won’t see pumas, their natural predators, which are more and more numerous in the park, but are only seen in the morning or late at night. Nor will we see flamingos today, which are supposed to live near many lakes within the park.
The wind is blowing stronger and stronger, it must reach 40km/h according to the guide. We can’t even walk quietly anymore, I almost fell several times (too light). In these conditions, in spite of the beauty of the 1st cascade of the course, we will land in the bus to have lunch.
What particularly disturbs me in Patagonia isn’t the wind, but the dust raised by the wind. It dries the skin, makes the coats dirty, gets into the mouth… very unpleasant this feeling of being dirty all the time.
We stop then to walk during 1h30 to see a pretty lake and a waterfall. At certain places, the wind jostles us in all the directions. The guide tells us that there is always a light breeze in this park, but a strong wind as today remains exceptional. We must put ourselves 2 by 2 to counter the wind and to advance. All that remains funny because we never had to face such a wind.
Small parenthesis concerning the hike to the park Torres del Paine: I find that there are very few indications in the park, the map of the park is very approximate, the two waterfalls that we liked a lot aren’t indicated above for example. It is really necessary to be deposited where the trek starts because the road to the treks isn’t exceptional and is super long. If you plan to spend a few days there, inquire well beforehand and buy a detailed plan. There are small paths that aren’t on the free map, which you are tempted to take at the risk of getting lost. However, the advantage of the famous trek W in this park is to be able to sleep in real beds and take hot showers.
I also don’t recommend renting a car to explore the park’s paved roads unless I’ve done my homework. You don’t understand the plan and you don’t know where to stop, what there is to see.
In total, we stayed 5 hours in the park, with 8 hours of round trip from El Calafate and 4 border crossings (Chilean and Argentinean). On the way of the outward journey and the return, everybody sleeps, what makes the day less long. If we had to do it all over again, we would have done it all the same.
Part 2: Practical Tips
How to get there
If you prefer to go to Torres del Paine from Chile, you must go through Puerto Natales. To go there you can :
- fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas (144€/person with SkyAirline). And from the airport, take a shuttle to Puerto Natales (10000$CH). If the shuttle isn’t available (especially on Sunday, the day of the Lord), take a shuttle to the Bus-Sur office (5000$CH). Several buses leave for Puerto Natales the same day (6000$CH). Then access the Torres del Paine Park via shuttles (8000$CH) or by taking a day trip (35000$CH).
- from Ushuaia (Argentina) to Puerto Natales (40000$CH). Then access the Torres del Paine Park via shuttles (8000$CH) or by taking a day trip (35000$CH)
From Argentina (El Calafate or El Chalten), there are buses to Puerto Natales (500$AR). To go from El Calafate directly to the Torres del Paine, it is necessary to take excursions like us because it requires a 4×4 (2300$AR); which is much more expensive than making an overnight stop in Puerto Natales.
Exchange rate December 2016: 1€ = 16$AR = 689$CH
You can book this type of excursion on the Civitatis website (link) for 120€/person, the same price as on site
- In Patagonia, border crossings are numerous, always keep a few Chilean and Argentinean pesos with you. Also remember to check how many pages are left on your passport before you leave…
- When you enter Chile, you will be given a small PDI paper, you must absolutely keep it, otherwise it will be difficult for you to leave the country.
- Day trip El Calafate – Torres del Paine: 2300$AR/person, lunch included, park entrance to be planned in addition (Civitatis reservation link)
- Entrance of the park: 21 000$CH/person in cash (you can pay in USD if you don’t have Chilean currency)
- Border crossings: Gratos