South America Travel Tips

Torres del Paine (Chile): the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Coming from Tierra del Fuego and with my plan being travelling towards the North of Chile, I just couldn’t NOT go to Torres del Paine. I really enjoyed trekking in Argentina, and Torres is definitely the hot spot for this activity in Chile.

Although, I find it hard not to pronounce “Paine” in the English way: “pain”. This park was a huge pain indeed!

Punta Arenas & Puerto Natales – not Chile’s best towns (apart from the cheesecake)!

Just to get there was an adventure. From Ushuaia (Argentina), I took a 12 hours bus to Punta Arenas. As I arrived at 8pm I decided to spend the night in hostel and go to Puerto Natales the day after, from which another bus connection would have taken me to my Torres del Paine hostel. The accommodation I picked via was in Cerro Castillo, a 20-houses town in the middle of nowhere at no more than 60km from the park entrance, with regular buses leaving in the morning and coming back at night. Going from Puerto Natales and back everyday would have added another hour each way, so I experimented with this remote living thing.

Unfortunately after my 3hrs bus to Puerto Natales, the guys at the bus station had no clue where my hostel was, as the address on was partially wrong. And so they told me there was no bus. When I found the right address by using the WiFi of a local office, another person told me all the buses to Cerro Castillo had then gone. After a few minutes (communication skills are not the best in the South of Chile I must say) I then found out there was one connection, but that I just missed it!

Well, another day wasted and so I spent the night in Puerto Natales, got some grocery shopping done for no apparent reason (it would come sooooooo handy, literally, for the next few days – sometimes things happen for a reason), and then finally arrived to Cerro Castillo the day after, the 31st of December!

Well, I found out everything (and with everything I mean the minimarket and the cafe) was closed without knowing if they’d ever reopen or if they were closed down, so I had to arrange some dinner with the stuff I had from Puerto Natales. The kitchen stove (yep, no gas or electricity down there) had to be lit 1hr earlier. I was alone for New Year’s eve, cooking pasta with tuna on a woodfired stove! Do I deserve a HUG or not????????

Also, the lovely hostel owners advised me that at half past midnight the electricity gets cut off in the whole town until 6am, so the population can save on power generation costs. In fairness, who needs electricity while you sleep?

Torres del Paine – Day #1

Well, anyway, I got ready for the morning of New Year’s, with the plan being going to the park. I made a few sandwiches with some non-refrigerated ham and cheese, packed some layers and at 8.15 I caught the bus.

After 45 minutes you get to the Park, and you go through registration, an educational video about safety, and pay the equivalent of €30 for a 3 day entrance.

Torres del Paine is a popular multi-day trek & camp destination, the favourite option chosen by hundreds of thousands of tourists – instead I decided to stay outside the park, save some budget and go on single-day hikes for 2 days in a row. At the end I was super happy with my choice, as I had good sleeps, a warm and comfy bed, a very clean bathroom and nice breakfasts. Yes, basically alone, in the middle of nowhere, with no shops around and no electricity at night – but sure I’m in the middle of an adventure, right?

The first day was forecasted rain so opted for a secondary hike, while leaving the one to the “las Torres” (the towers) for the following day. I took another bus ride inside the park to get to Pudeto, where a catamaran takes people to the other side of the lake, where the French valley hike starts. Unfortunately, after unsuccessfully gathering information from various people, I found out that the boat trip was not included in the park ticket (50€ return!) and also that given that it was the 1st of January, the cafeteria was closed and the catamaran wasn’t happening until 2pm. Would have been great to get this sort of information at the Park entrance, instead of watching a useless video 🙂

So I took the map, asked some direct questions to a few bus drivers who were waiting nearby, and replanned my day. And wow, wasn’t I glad for this last minute change (another proof – when stuff happens, it’s for a very specific reason).

First, I walked 1hr from the catamaran port to the Mirador los Cuernos. You go through a wonderful dead/burned wood forest, a lovely waterfall (excluding Iguazú, the best I’ve seen) and colourful hills. The hike is very pleasant and at the end you get to appreciate an incredible view of the Nordenskjöld lake, the Paine Grande and the los Cuernos. Contrast, colours, silence and landscapes are just what makes this park one of the most visited and photographed areas of South America.

I managed to squeeze a 10k walk overall: after having lunch on a lake, I also hiked the Mirador de los Condores, an apparently “easy” 45 min hike (that’s what the map said). Wow, it was a really tough one, super steep at times, so I did the first real sweating of the day.

Once on top, the view was pretty amazing – and for the first time I was alone all the way through. I took some nice photos, headed back to the bus and then home for another wood fired pasta with tuna. The shops in town, once again, were completely closed so thankfully I had some food with me!

Torres del Paine – Day #2

On day 2 I rinsed and repeated, got the 8:15 bus in the morning and this time I went on the proper 8hrs, 10k hike to the glacial lake at the base of the towers (Torres).

Unsurprisingly, the bus that takes you from the park entrance to the Hotel Las Torres, where the hike starts, wasn’t free either. 5km and the equivalent of 5€ after I started hiking.

The first section is pretty tough as it goes up without a break. Then, the usual Patagonian trail starts: a series of uphills and downhills that hurts twice – first, because you know on the way back it won’t just be downhill and second, because if you go down that much on the way up you know you’ll find a steep uphill at some stage…

Anyway, I made it to the Refugio before the very last 45mins uphill stretch. As in Fitz Roy, this was pretty tough, slippery and full of rocks/stones. Also, it started raining, so it was even more challenging.

Many people had a few breaks to rest, but I didn’t want to – I usually prefer to get to the top first and then take it easy on the way down.

Unfortunately the top was covered in clouds, so I couldn’t see much to be honest. Sure, I knew this was not as nice as Fitz Roy, so I enjoyed my sandwiches and a short siesta before heading back down. The descent was tough, it even started to hail and there was a lot of “traffic”, with many people going slow due to wet conditions. As I already feared, the trail had many, many uphill sections as well… (I’m writing this right now while I’m literally laying down on a cafe bench while waiting for the bus).

Overall, I enjoyed my 2 days here, even if 1 would have been sufficient.

The park is very expensive and unless you do the big 4-day or 10-day hike it’s probably not worth the investment, mostly if you’ve already seen the Perito Moreno glacier, hiked the Fitz Roy and seen the lakes area in the Argentinian Patagonia.

Now that Torres del Paine had been ticked off, I had to decide what to do to reach the northern areas of Chile: a 36hr bus… or a 2hr plane?

Well, you get my point this time, don’t you 🙂

Despite the huge difference in price, I opted for the most logical choice.

So, Puerto Montt airport it is, and now I’m ready to continue wandering throughout the North of Chile. Which, my friends, is just beautiful.