Warning: This is an exceptionally long post. You may wish to pop on the kettle.
Just over 2 hours from Punta Arenas, passed a desolate, windswept landscape at first and then snowy mountains jutting out in the distance, you’ll find yourself in a new province, Ultima Esperanza. We travelled with Bus-Sur ($6,000CP) who dropped us off at Rodoviario bus terminal, about a 15 minute walk from the town centre. We stayed at Erratic Rock ($30,000 for double room) which was the most perfect place – homely, warm and welcoming; and a great breakfast. There’s not too much to do in Puerto Natales proper, it’s really just a spot to organise yourself for a trip to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Erratic Rock is right next door to Base Camp, a pub which organises a free information session every day at 3pm where you can learn about Torres del Paine (treks to do, gear to bring, you can also rent gear or take free stuff from recently returned trekkers from the pub). We found a lovely café down by the water, The Coffeemaker, which has an open fireplace, good tea and banana cake, and a great view. We had fantastic pizza at Mesita Grande – king crab on a pizza? Yes please!
Torres del Paine
We booked tickets at our lovely, homely hostel, Erratic Rock, for the 7.50am bus ($15,000CP open return with ‘Via Paine’) heading from Puerto Natales’ Rodivario bus station to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (TDP). I’d recommend getting tickets for the 7.30am bus to the park as the 7.50am was full when we got there so we had to wait another 15 minutes for them to put on another bus – which is fine but if you want to camp for free then you need to sign up at the park’s entrance point and everything was booked up by the time we arrived. Actually, if you can then you should try to book your bus tickets with ‘Buses Gómez’ – they seemed a lot more professional than Via Paine. The journey from Puerto Natales to TDP took a little over 2 hours including a 15 minute café stop along the way (delicious homemade cakes).
The entrance point to the park is called ‘Portería Laguna Amarga’ and once you’re here you’ll have to fill out a form (they have pens) and you’ll need to go to a desk to pay your park entrance fee ($18,000CP). You’ll then need to bring this form to the next desk to get stamped in and they’ll provide you with a map to the park. If you want to camp for free at Camp de Torres you’ll need to queue up again and register. You’re then obliged to watch a 3 minute safety video before hopping on a waiting shuttle bus ($2,800CP) to take you to one of the trek starting points. We decided to start our trek at Hotel Las Torres.
Most people who visit Torres del Paine do a trek called the ‘W’ which brings you round some of the highlights of the park and usually takes around 5 days. There’s another trek called the ‘Circuit’ which brings you all around the back of the park, and includes the W and can be done in around 9 days. There’s another, longer trek called the ‘Q’ which takes around 10 days. We decided to do a bit of an ‘O’ shape – the back of the circuit and most of the W, excluding a little bit in the middle, in 6 days.
On arrival at the campsite of Hotel Las Torres ($8,500CP per person. Yes, that’s $34 to fricking camp!!) we organised the tent and then started a one day trek to the Base de Las Torres, probably TDP’s most infamous site – three towering granite mountains overlooking a beautiful turquoise lagoon.
This is a mostly uphill slog that took us about 8 hours return. It was definitely difficult (it’s very rocky so I’d definitely recommend hiking boots) but once you get there you forget all about it. We took a little toe-dip into the glacial water – the perfect recovery for aching feet!
Day 2 was a 4 hour walk in the park! We took a few breaks and met a lovely German chap who we ran in to everywhere for the next few days. We passed lots of fields of something along the lines of wheat (??) and many, many horses. Campamento Serón ($8,500 per person) was possibly the windiest place on the earth to try to get a tent up. We’re becoming pros now though 😊 You can actually get meals here AND they use Kerrygold butter so they could only be great, right?
Day 3 was 6 hours from Campamento Serón to Refugio y Campamento Dickson. This was a little bit difficult at the start of the day (damn climbing. John’s now a convert and no longer seems to enjoy climbing. Thank Jesus!) but once we got up a hill overlooking Lago Paine we were treated to a stunning view of the lake along with all the wind in Patagonia. Not joking – I could hardly walk with the wind pushing against me! Onwards and upwards and we landed at Coirón, a ranger station where you have to register and then on through a lot of windy forest and pass some beautiful rivers until you get a view of the a beautiful glacier and you just pray that the lodge you’re looking down on with horses in the grounds is your campsite…and it is!! Joyful! A quick descent landed us into the lakeside Campamento Dickson ($4,300CP per person). There were cold showers here and a little mini-market (they had Twix!) too. As this place is beside a lake it’s teeming with mosquitoes – aggressive little feckers too so definitely bring repellent.
This was a relatively easy 4 hour hike from Refugio y Campamento Dickson to Campamento Los Perros (camping was $4,300 per person at Los Perros). It was mainly a walk though hilly forest with a couple of viewpoints until you reach a small but still very impressive glacier, Glacier Los Perros. It’s just 10 minutes from the glacier to the camp so we set up shop and wandered back to the lake by the glacier to chill (quite literally) by some gigantic icebergs.
We started at Campamento Los Perros and had a 2 hour uphill slog to Paso John Gardner, 1,200m in the air. Have to say neither of us were enjoying this John Gardner chap. Once you get to the top you forget all the blister and muscle pain though – you’re overlooking the 28km long Grey’s Glacier – probably one of the most spectacular vistas either of us have ever seen. It’s a very steep descent from here for another 2 hours to Campamento Paso. We made lunch at Campamento Paso and continued on for the 4 hour trek alongside the glacier to Refugio y Campamento Grey. This walk was mostly through forest and we spotted a working woodpecker which was awesome. There were some seriously fun suspension bridge crossings thrown in on this leg of the journey too. High up and windy = great combination! Although it was the longest of our days it was probably the most enjoyable – I don’t think I can do the scenery justice with words and pictures.
Grey’s camp had great facilities; piping hot showers (from 7pm to 10pm), a mini-market and indoor cooking facilities – a real treat! We met a lovely American couple here on their honeymoon so had a great evening chatting over pasta. Camping here was $4,300CP per person.
Day 6 started with an early morning wake up call and 3.5 hour trek in the rain. We’ve had the most amazing weather for the whole trip so a little rain didn’t dampen our spirits at all. A river crossing over jagged rocks wasn’t ideal though…
We caught the 12.30pm ferry from Refugio Paine Grande ($15,000CP) across the most beautiful turquoise Lago Pehoé (30 minutes) and took a waiting bus back to Puerto Natales for some time indoors. Such an amazing experience.
Next stop: El Calafate, Argentina