Hiking in Torres Del Paine National Park – How to prepare

In November 2016, we hiked the 5-day W trek in Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile. It’s an amazing trekking experience in a national park which has seen its visitors grown year by year. There are lots of possibilities to prepare yourself for this trek: accommodation, transport, … and of course, lots of facts (e.g. weather) which will impact your challenge. Therefore, we have put together some useful information on various aspects of hiking in Torres del Paine, fully up to date (hiking season 2016-2017). If you still have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask us.

1) How to get to Puerto Natales?

Puerto Natales will be your base camp for preparing your Torres del Paine hike, as well as for celebrating the successful completion of your victorious trekking.

If you’re coming from the north, you’re highly likely arriving from El Calafate, Argentina. This is a 5-6h bus journey (depending on immigration). There are several bus companies offering this service (Cootra, Bus Sur, Zaaj) on a daily basis or certain days of the week (Nov. 2016, 560 ARS). Usually buses leave at 8.30AM, Cootra has an extra bus on Sundays at 16.30PM. In high season, be sure to book your ticket upfront (approx. a week).
If you’re coming from the south, you’re most likely arriving from Punta Arenas, Chile. This is a major transport hub in this part of Chile, as it both hosts an airport (e.g. flights from Puerto Montt or Santiago) and a harbour (4-day Navimag cruise from Puerto Montt). There are several buses per day (Bus Sur), covering this 3h journey (Nov. 2016, 6000 CLP one way).
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Typical 5-day W trek

2) How to get to Torres Del Paine National Park?

National park Torres Del Pain is situated approx. 112km north of the Puerto Natales. There are regular transfers between the bus terminal and the park. Bus companies are Gomez, JB, Fernandez, Maria José, Jose Ojeda or Bus Sur.
The easiest way to buy tickets (if you know your starting date) is directly buying it in the bus terminal once you arrive in Puerto Natales. Prices for return tickets are 15,000 CLP (Nov. 2016), no matter which company. The return ticket will be open ended, so you can choose which day to return from the park (e.g. enlarging or shortening your hike).
Hostels in Puerto Natales will also offer bus tickets from the above mentioned companies, yet prices could differ. Our first hostel offered tickets at 13,000CLP, others at 15,000CLP and even others at 18,000CLP.
To the park
Buses leave Puerto Natales at 7:30 AM or 2:30 PM. It takes approx. 1h30min to 1h45min to reach the park entrance (Laguna Amara). There are 2 other stops afterwards inside the park: Pudeto an hour later, where you can catch the boat to Paine Grande (see 3) and Administration (not of importance) 2 hours later.
Return from the park
 
Depending on your end time of hiking and your choice of hiking direction (East to West or West to East), there are 2 options at the same bus stops (Administration, Pudeto, Entrance):
  • The early bus leaves from the Administration at 1PM, from Pudeto at 1.30PM and from the entrance at 2.30PM.
  • The late bus leaves from the Administration at 6PM, from Pudeto at 7PM and from the entrance (Laguna Amarga) at 8PM.
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If the weather is nice, views are amazing

3) Transportation inside Torres Del Paine?

For those imaging horseback rides instead of walking, unfortunately, they don’t exist. We only noticed one available (expensive) service, where you could use a “horse taxi” for carrying your gear, from Las Torres to Los Cuernos (and vice versa) or from Las Torres to Chileno (and vice versa), at 60,000CLP (Nov. 2016).
Transportation inside the park perfectly matches the transportation going to or going away from the park.
Either direction you’re hiking the W trek, you’ll always need the boat service connecting Pudeto and campsite Paine Grande. The boat leaves at 11AM and 6PM (Pudeto to Paine Grande), taking about 30 minutes in total. The other way (Paine Grande to Pudeto), it leaves at 12.30PM (bus connection) or 6.30PM (bus connection). Catamaran tickets are bought inside the boat and cost 18,000 CLP one way. An open return ticket costs 30,000 CLP (Nov. 2016).
Between the park entrance (Laguna Amarga) and the start of the actual hiking trail (Hotel Las Torres), there’s a dusty grind road of approx. 7km (1,5h). If your starting your hike, or ending your hike at Las Torres, there is a shuttle service available, covering the entire distance. We highly advise taking this bus, as it only costs 3,000 CLP (Nov. 2016) and leaves out an unnecessary extra hiking section. Shuttle buses from the entrance to Las Torres leave at 9.30AM and 4.30PM. The other way, from Las Torres to park entrance, buses leave at 2PM or 7.30PM. The journey only takes about 15-20 minutes.

4) Which accommodation in Torres del Paine?

If you’re travelling on a budget and if you want the full experience of trekking in Torres Del Paine, choose the camping option. However, camping is not for everybody, so we will also discuss other accommodation options.

A. Camping

There are free campsites and paid campsites in the park.
Free campsites
 
These campsites are so called CONAF campsites, since CONAF is in charge of them. There are only a few in the park, and be aware: these campsites only offer the basics for camping. This means: a shelter for cooking, toilets (i.e. a small house with one hole in the ground) and camping spots for tents. Water is available from neighbouring streams. There’s absolutely nothing else. These free campsites are not the largest, so especially in high season, they can get full quite easily.
Since hiking season 2016-2017, reservation is MANDATORY via the online reservation system of CONAF. If you choose to stay at the free campsites and if your planning is quite fixed, we advise you to book the campsites minimum 1-2 weeks upfront, since they fill up fast (especially Torres). When we were planning our W trek (just a few days before), both Italiano and Torres were full for the next 2 weeks. Going to the CONAF office in Puerto Natales won’t help a lot, as they will refer you to the online reservation system.

The free campsites are:
– Campamento Torres (W trek)

– Campamento Italiano (W trek)

– Campamento Paso (O circuit only)

You’ll find also Britanico (within French Valley) and Japones (beyond mirador Torres), but these are for licensed climbers only.

Always take your garbage with you, only cook at the designated cooking areas and clean your dishes away from water streams.

Small fact: while we were hiking the W trek, we did not stay at free campsites (fully booked), though we did pass Italiano and Torres. We had the feeling there was no real registration nor check of the booking. Other hikers also camped at these sites just by showing up without a reservation. This MAY BE possible, yet be aware: if the campsite is full, you will have to hike to the next one.

Paid campsites

There are 2 companies operating the paid campsites: Vertice and Fantastico Sur. The campsites could be next to a refugio or just plain campsites.

The advantage of choosing for paid campsites are the available facilities: toilets, hot showers, (large) cooking areas. Those close to a refugio often offer a mini market, use of restaurant, large indoor seating spots or places to charge camera/phone. (The disadvantage: you need to pay)

If you don’t have your own gear, there’s also the possibility to rent tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, … However, we noticed the prices of a full set of equipment were even higher than a bed in a refugio (see below). Choose wisely before starting the trek!

As with the free campsites, it’s also important to book the paid campsites upfront:

  • you are certain of your camping spot
  • some campsites charge an extra cost (could be 20% to 50%) if you did not book upfront
Reserving for the paid campsites can be done online or at the offices of both companies in Puerto Natales. We had some issues with internet in Patagonia + the websites easily indicate a campsite is “not available”. We learned this does not mean the campsite is full. Just a minor glitch in their online reservation system. We booked everything at the Puerto Natales’ offices. Prices are per person.
W Trek
  • Refugio Grey and Campsite. 5,000 CLP Operated by Vertice. Small cooking area. No options for charging. Cash only. Mini market. Hot showers and toilets. Possible to have a drink / relax indoor at the refugio. Campsite is within a small forest and offers a lot of camping spots. Choose your spot in the forest, so you will be more covered from the wind/rain
  • Refugio Paine Grande and Campsite. 6,000 CLPOperated by Vertice. Large indoor cooking area. Possible to charge. Credit cards available. Mini market. Hot showers and toilets. Large indoor area at the refugio. Campsite is next to Paine mountain. Try to camp as close as possible to the mountain. Look for shelter from bushes or other tents, as this campsite can get very windy. Best campsite along the trail.
  • Campsite Frances. 8,500 CLP. Operated by Fantastico Sur. Small cooking area (close to toilets/showers). No options for charging. Cash only. Hot showers and toilets. Possible to have a drink / buy some snacks at Domos Frances (300 meters from campsite). Brand new campsite with camping spots on wooden platforms. Within a forest, so better against wind and rain.
  • Refugio Los Cuernos. Operated by Fantastico Sur. IMPORTANT. There is no cooking available, so you are only allowed to camp if you choose for full board in the refugio. In total: 8,500 CLP for camping, approx. 33,000 CLP for full board. Cash or cards. Small bar. Not advisable if on camping and on a budget.
  • Refugio Chileno: exactly the same as Refugio Los Cuernos!
  • Refugio and campsite Las Torres. 8,500 CLP. Operated by Fantastico Sur. No cooking area (just outside on tables). No options for charging. Cash or cards. Toilets. Hot showers at Refugio. Possible to have a drink / buy some snacks at Refugio. Huge campsite, possible to find a nice camping spot with shelter.
Circle circuit
– Campsite Serón. 8,500 CLP. Operated by Fantastico Sur.
– Refugio Dickson. 6,000 CLP. Operated by Vertice
– Campsite Los Perros. 6,000 CLP. Operated by CONAF/Vertice
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Paine Grande Campsite

B. Refugios & Domes

For the non-camping crowd, there are the paid refugios or domes. These are operated by the same two companies. You always need to reserve, and it is highly advisable to do this quite some time upfront in high season. A bed will be around 30-60 USD in a dorm. If you choose for full board, add another 28,000-33,000 CLP per day.

Small fact: if you really need Wifi during those 5 days trekking, some refugios offer Wifi. Be aware, this is not cheap (4,000 CLP for 30 minutes) and you are in Patagonia: wifi is very slow and not stable at all. Just enjoy the views and the feeling of being off the grid for some days :). 

5) Which gear to take?

a) Tent
You can bring your own tent or choose to rent one (plenty of shops in Puerto Natales). Besides being light weight, the tent should have aluminium poles due to the strong winds in the park. You can always use some rocks to fix your tent even more!

b) Backpack
Large one, since you will need to carry: tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, clothing, food. Put everything in plastic bags. Your fancy backpack rain cover may fly away with just one wind gust, or act as a parachute. So food, clothing, sleeping bag: use some plastic bags or garbage bags. After the trek, you can give them to other hikers (Think about the environment)

c) Cooking

Cooking stove, one or 2 pots, cup, bowl, spoon/fork, fuel, matches or a lighter. For 5 days hiking, 1 gas can if 1 person, 1,5 can if 2 persons. Swiss army knife is advisable.

d) Clothing

The weather in the park can be crazy. Rain, wind, snow, sunshine: it’s all possible in just one day (see below). Take one set of hiking clothes and one set of dry clothes (during campsite). Thermal underwear can be necessary, as it may get cold during nights (even in summer time). Windproof jacket is advisable. Winter hat (especially for cold nights) and gloves.

e) Extra

Nothing can stop you of taking extra stuff: this depends from person to person. If you are used to hiking with trekking poles: take them. There are some rough uphill or downhill parts along the way.

A small power bank is a good option for charging your phone/camera. We saw some people with a small set of solar cells. Your own choice.

If you don’t have your own gear, don’t worry: there are plenty of rental shops in Puerto Natales. Average prices per rental day: tent = 4,000 CLP , Sleeping bag = 3,000 CLP , Sleeping mat = 1,000 CLP , Cooking set (stove, pots, bowls) = 3,500 CLP , one time fuel = 3,000 CLP per can. Don’t forget these rental prices are much cheaper than the campsites inside the park!

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Example of cooking gear

 6) Which weather to expect?

Expect the unexpected!

No, seriously, first thing is the season you’re hiking. Most people hike between October and end of April, so from early spring until late fall. Even though the weather will be slightly better/warmer in summer time, there’s absolutely no guarantee on good weather. Summer season still gets temperatures below 0 degrees C.
To give you a small example: on day 1, we set off in Puerto Natales: rain. We arrived at the park entrance (Laguna Amara): dry, cloudy and wind. While waiting for the catamaran in Pudeto: huge wind gusts with rain. Hiking towards Refugio Grey: small snow blizzard. Setting up our tent at Grey campsite: sunshine and blue sky. Patagonia weather BINGO. And that’s just in one day.
The wind is the most important factor, as you’ll sometimes think you or your tent will be practically blown away. It’s possible to check weather forecasts, but bear in mind even though these won’t be 100% accurate.
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We still found plenty of snow at Britanico

 7) How about food?

Since you will be hiking a lot of kilometres per day and carrying a backpack, your body definitely needs enough fuel. Choose things you actually like. If you’re not an oatmeal fan, don’t bother to take it on the trek: you won’t start to like it.
Breakfast:
We had approx. 70g oatmeal per person. To make it a little more tastier, we also had some dried fruits to mix with it (there are some great shops in Puerto Natales). The first 2 days, we had some sandwiches which we pre-made in our hostel. You can also opt to take bread or bread rolls for the entire hike. Take some tea or instant coffee to have a nice hot beverage in the early morning.
Lunch:
There’s no real lunch time. During your hike, it’s better to have some snacks from time to time. After an uphill section, arriving at a major viewpoint, etc.
We pre made daily “snack bags”, to be sure we would just eat our daily portion. This included: 2 cereal bars pp, a mixed portion of nuts (50g), 1 or 2 packs of cookies, a chocolate bar or 2 snickers
Dinner:
Think easy and fast. You only have one or two pots and a small cooking stove.
We had 150g of pasta pp, 2 tomato sauce packs and 1 sauce powder. We also had some wiener sausages and 1 dried sausages to add some meat to the dish. Some cheese can do miracles to the taste! We also prepared one dinner (for day 1) in our hostel (rice and veggies), so we just needed to heat it. There’s people who prefer rice to pasta, or maybe just some soup powders: all up to your own choice.
As we already mentioned earlier, there are mini markets in the refugios, so don’t be afraid if you would really run out of food. Just be aware that prices are high, so take enough cash.

How about drinks? There’s plenty of water in Torres Del Paine, you literally pass by a stream every half an hour. Take your refill bottle and just have some nice fresh water.

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Our meat was in the fridge 🙂

8) How much cash to take?

Torres Del Paine National Park is truly amazing. The beautiful hike covers a lot of different scenery, so it’s famous amongst the world. Very famous. This also leads to the following cash needs (Nov. 2016):

  • Entrance fee to the park is 21,000 CLP for foreigners
  • Catamaran one way Pudeto to Paine Grande is 18,000 CLP
  • Mini shuttle Las Torres to Park entrance is 3,000 CLP
  • beer at refugios is 3,500 CLP, small bottle wine is 8,000 CLP, large bottle 15,000 CLP
  • soft drinks at refugios or mini markets are 2,500 CLP
  • any other food (chocolate, chips, …) is between 1,500 – 3,000 CLP
  • crappy Wifi is 4,000 CLP per 30 minutes

Don’t forget you already reserved your campsites (see above) and your bus ticket (15,000 CLP).

How it’s like to hike the W trek? More on that in our other post!

Enjoy the park and the hike!

Did you do the W or Circuit? How did you prepare for it? Share your story or questions below.

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Experience an adventure of a life time

2 reacties

    1. Thanks, we tried to describe everything as clear as possible!

      Yeah, it’s one of the best multi day treks we did in our travels. Really lives up to it.

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