TORRES DEL PAINE, CHILE
A true wild beauty of Patagonian Chile, Torres del Paine stands out as one of the most remarkable and accessible destinations for trekkers, climbers, and travelers looking for memories that will last a lifetime.
My journey through Patagonia began in November of last year on November 13, 2018. During which, I spent 5 weeks exploring the southern regions of Patagonian Chile and Argentina. The below is a trip report of my time spent in one of the more popular destinations known as Torres del Paine National Park, and the neighboring city of Puerto Natales. To be honest the only real planning one needs to work out before visiting is the area’s campsite reservation system. Other than that, don’t plan, don’t stress, and explore one of the most incredible regions of the world. In this article I go over my travel itinerary, some trip planning tips and tricks, and a walk through of what you can expect on trekking through the park.
Day 1 - November 12, 2018: [Travel Day: Los Angeles, CA (LAX) —> Santiago, Chile (SCL) —> Puerto Natales, Chile (PNT)]
The first long travel day that involved the majority of it sitting in an airplane seat or airport. Since I am based in San Diego, CA, it made sense to travel from LAX due to the wide availability of international flights despite the craziness that is LAX. I booked the flight I was on about 6 months out after browsing around and landed on LATAM Airlines. The baseline ticket for coach included a carry on (under 8 kg) and one checked bag (under 23 kg). It was a one way ticket and ran approximately $860 with all fees included and involved a 4 hour layover at Santiago International before continuing on to my final destination of Puerto Natales.
The flight was 11.5 hours from LAX to SCL, and though it was long, LATAM’s plane was extremely luxurious for coach. There were absolutely zero issues with seating, cleanliness, and overall service, and I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking. The layover in SCL was 4 hours, which gave plenty of time to find some good food in the airport. If you decide to stay in the terminals there are some options, but I highly recommend exiting the gates and going to the main hub in the airport, which is full of amazing restaurants with plenty of food and drink options. During your time at SCL or even prior to you should take advantage of accessible ATM’s to obtain Chilean pesos. The exchange rate is on average 0.0015 CP : 1.00 USD though a lot of places will accept the USD, I wanted to reserve the $200 on me for emergencies only. I withdrew $400 USD worth of CP for taxis, hostels, camp sites, etc., which basically covered my time in Chile with the occasional use of an international credit/debit card when needed.
Day 2 - November 13, 2018: [Travel Day: Arrival to Puerto Natales, Chile and AirBnB Check-In]
Landing in Puerto Natales the first thing you will notice is how massive the area feels with the surrounding Andes and beautiful countryside. The airport PNT is very small by most standards and it took not 5 minutes from walking off the plane to get through to luggage claim. The airport itself is a good 15-20 minute ride to town via taxi or shuttle, and you would definitely not want to walk there, as hitch hiking from there will be difficult with all the cars already full of passengers. I opted for a taxi, which is not expensive but can be if you get duped by the taxi driver into paying more. I saw some groups take a taxi for 23 mil (~$34 USD) while my travel partner and I paid 14 mil after haggling and making friends with our driver (even a little bit of terrible Spanish can go a long way). The ride itself was great because the driver was obviously a local, and he gave us the low down on some good restaurants and places to grab some well earned cervesas.
We landed at around 10:00 AM and were dropped off across the street from our AirBnB around 12:00 PM, which was a quaint little guest house located behind a video game store a couple blocks away from the city’s center. A lot of the places have dedicated WiFi for the hostels, restaurants, or bus stations along the way, but there was nothing for the Airport in PNT. Again we had no issue finding the place or getting there even without cell phones (as we had not yet gotten SIM cards to swap into our phones for that region, more on this later). We checked in, dropped our bags off, showered off the full day of travel funk, took a quick siesta and proceeded into town.
The main objective of that day was to simply walk around the town and maybe figure out how to get our phones working down there, but we were in an excited state, so responsibilities were left for the next day while we explored the city streets, checked out some local markets and gear supply stores, and eventually tried some of the local cuisine per our Taxi driver’s recommendation.
The restaurant was, Restaurante el Bote Cerveza Natales and was specifically recommended to us because we were looking for local seafood and of course beer. We indulged a little, getting the sampler platter, which had almost every type of seafood you could want. Scallops, crab, calamari, muscles, octopus, and shrimp, along with some house beer, which was all phenomenal. The service was great, ambiance was great, so I highly recommend to anyone visiting to pay this place a visit. It did get quite packed shortly after opening, but plan ahead, get there when it opens and enjoy! We settled in early that night to combat the time change (+5 hours to PST) and fell asleep between some Argentinian Malbecs, T.V., and the pattering of Patagonian winds and rain giving us a seemingly proper welcome to the region.
Day 3 - November 14, 2018: [Explore & Supply Day: Figuring Out Transportation, Obtaining Cell Phone/SIM Card, and Food & Supplies]
On the second day or first full day spent in Puerto Natales, we had several objectives that we needed to take care of prior to beginning the long trek in Torres del Paine. First off was fuel, which so happened was relatively easy to find. Isobutane or pretty much any other standard fuel for that matter was in abundance in a few of the shops (mostly hardware shops), though we purchased from a small hardware store in the main center of town, a lot of the guiding/gear shops did not have fuel available for purchase.
The second stop was figuring out how we were going to get cell phones to work without getting charged a ton of international roaming from our US-based service providers. The best bit of advice we can give on that, is get prepaid SIM card loaded with an app plan that supports social media like (Instagram, Facebook, etc.) and most importantly WhatsApp. Whatsapp is very much the main form of communication in the area, and is very very useful. It is a little tricky setting it up, so either learn how to do so prior to going, or discuss the setup with who you purchase it from. We bought ours at a pharmacy, and had them up and running in a couple minutes. Reloading them is as simple as using their online portal, or going into another vendor and having them recharge your account. I personally used Movistar, and recommend looking them up or even setting one up prior to your visit.
Also on the list was obtaining transportation to the entrance of Torres del Paine, and to do so we simply stopped at one of the many tour bus locations in Puerto Natales. The main bus station, is just a little out of the city center, but can also provide transportation services to access other parts of the country as well. We utilized JB Buses for a one-way fair 8 mil ($12) that departed at 7 AM daily from the main bus terminal. Lastly was gather some final food supplies and snacks and we were ready to start exploring.
After accomplishing our objectives we wandered the city exploring the beautiful cemetery, the waterfront, and some more local cuisine. The city is very much walk-able from end to end, but once you start adventuring around you see just how endearing Puerto Natales is. It had a certain charm to it, that eventually brought us back for a night to recoup following our next adventure, the 9 day O-Circuit trek through Torres del Paine National Park.
Day 4 - November 15, 2018: [O-Circuit Day 1: Puerto Natales —> Torres del Paine Main —> Campamento Serron]
We woke up around 5:30 AM with plenty of time to cook breakfast and have coffee before walking to the bus terminals about 15 minutes away. It was a chilly morning, but excitement took over and the weather in typical Patagonian fashion continued to change by the minute. We arrived at the bus station, loaded up our bags, punched our tickets and were on our way to a place I have always dreamed about going, Torres del Paine National Park. As a photographer I have seen photos of this area for years now, and as a recent climber, my eyes further widened with every glimpse at this wondrous place. A fairly easy, and insanely beautiful 2 hour drive took us from Natales to the TDP park entrance at Laguna Amarga where we had to disembark the bus and check in with the park officials. There the rangers supplied maps and any necessary information regarding the area, wildlife sightings, etc. We walked out to the overview that looked into the back of the Torres and breathed in the sun filled air. It was already late in the morning, and we had a schedule to keep (more or less) in order for us to make it to our camp that evening. The driver rallied his patrons, and we followed suit back aboard the buss for another 30 minutes down a dirt road that let us off at a stop that was not our intended. The first hiccup in our so-far perfectly executed trip. It was undoubtedly a minor hiccup, though I was initially stressing out a little on the time as I wanted to make camp before nightfall, which turned out to be around 9 PM that time of year. This hiccup led to an incredible hitchhike ride back to Campamento Central/Refugio de Los Torres in the back of a pickup where we grinned all the way passed the guanacos and light rain to the start of our trek.
The first section, Sección de Serón,
Day 5 - November 16, 2018
Day 6 - November 17, 2018
Day 7 - November 18, 2018
Day 8 - November 19, 2018
Day 9 - November 20, 2018
Day 10 - November 21, 2018
Day 11 - November 22, 2018
Day 12 - November 23, 2018