The Torres del Paine are a symbol of Chilean Patagonia, and perhaps all of Chile. The national park that houses the Torres is home to deep fjords, sputtering waterfalls, and valleys of which majestic glaciers flow. The immaculate beauty can not be described in words, caputed in photos or displayed through video, it can only be felt by standing in its presence. During the high season this national park becomes a mecca for hikers, climbers and travellers alike, and the treacherous beauty of the park does not let any of those who come to pay homage down. Most visitors to the Torres del Paine National park use Puerto Natales as their base for preparation, or their refuge of recovery after a long walk in this magical park.
Where to Stay
There are a number of hostels that cater to backpackers in Puerto Natales. However, if you are looking for the best service and a great environment for your stay, consider staying at the erratic rock. They have all the best information on hiking in the National Park and offer rental equipment as well. It is here that you will find the famous 3 o’clock talk for information on hiking Torres del Paine. Beyond that they provide a great environmental model for the area. For more information on the hostel, check out the article I have written on it at the bottom of the page in the “relevant articles” section.
Where to Eat
If you’re stocking food for your trek in your stomachs this is a very good place to do it as there are a number of great places to grab a meal. Head down to one of the local quick food shops and grab an enourmous churrasco or to one of the pubs on the main plaza where you can get either Argentinean steaks or even good Mexican food.
Getting out of Town
Puerto Natales is fairly well integrated into the public transportation system of Chile, as well as Argentina. There are buses daily to El Calafate, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile. There are also about 4 buses a week that go to Ushuaia via an organized swap onto a bus coming from Punta Arenas.
Torres del Paine National Park
How to Get There and Out
Getting to the National Park by public transpiration is easy and can be arranged through your hostel or hotel. Basically twice a day, once at in the morning and once in the afternoon, a bus makes the rounds in town and takes people on the two to three hour journey to the park. Most people buy round trip tickets giving them a lift out of the park on whatever day they choose to leave.
Hiking the W
The W trek in Torres del Paine National Park is by far the most popular. The trek is usually done in 5 days, but as I proved despite my aching bones and muscles, is possible to do in four days. This is my recommendation for how to go about hiking the W, although there is no real right or wrong way.
You will jump off the bus at the catamaran which will take you across the lake to the starting point of your hike. From here move towards Glacier Grey. Once you get to Albergue y Camping Grey stop and set up your tent or head into the refuge for a bed. After you’ve set up and had a snack, make the hike up to the next campsite where you’ll also get an amazing view of the glacier (you can also camp up here, but as you are returning anyways it makes more sense to do this 2 1/2 hour round trip with out a bag). On day two you will make the hike to Camping Italiano which sits at the mouth of the French Valley. If you are trying to do this in 4 days, set up your tents and head up into the valley without your bags and then back, it is a tough climb but offers amazing views. If you are doing the hike in 5 days, you can take the evening off and relax. On day 3, those who are hiking in 5 days will head into the French Valley in the morning without bags and return to clean up camp. You will then make the short hike to Camping Los Cuernos. Those hiking in 4 days will make the difficult hike all the way from Camping Italiano to Torres del Paine on day 3. The 5 days hikers will make the slightly shorter trip on day 4. Once at Torres del Paine campsite you’ll find that most people relax and wait for morning before making the steep 45 minute hike to the top. However, if its clear in the evening make the hike to the top. You never know if it will still be clear in the morning and you’re likely to have the site nearly all to yourselves. After visiting the Torres in the morning you will make the hike down out of the valley past Hosteleria Las Torres and to the point where the bus will pick you up and whisk you back to modernity.
Most people hike the trail leaving grand torres for last. However, you really should think that you have two shots at it. When the bus rolls by on the first day, if the weather is clear, jump out at the first stop and head directly for the torres as you might not get a chance to see them clear later on. If you do the trek this way follow my previous instructions backwards.
Hiking the Q
Basically the Q is an added 3 or 4 day hike beyond the W. Doing this hike will offer you a much different perspective of the park, and will allow you to see the entire thing without any back serious tracking. The three extra nights hiking the Q can be spent at anyone of the 4 of the backside campsites. Be warned, the weather on the backside of the park can be harsh and even if there is sun and warmth on the W side doesn’t mean that it’s not snowing on the backside. Be prepared before making this long trek.
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