How would we describe the scenery in Patagonia not to mention the infamous Torres del Paine National Park? It’s nearly impossible to describe. Pure, indescribable beauty. When people say “pictures don’t do it justice”, believe it. It’s 100% true. We had dreamed of going to this magical place at the end of the world, and were not disappointed! Our main objective while in the Patagonia region of Chile was to complete the approximately 70km “W” trek in Torres del Paine National Park.
Our trip started with a flight from the US to Santiago, Chile, where we spent a few days exploring this vibrant city. We stayed with a wonderful woman named Maria at her small B&B, and spent most of our time walking around the city. We spent a day at Concha y Toro Winery, which was beautiful and a nice break from the busy metropolis. After our time in Santiago we flew to Punta Arenas where we booked a bus ride to Puerto Natales, the last stop before heading to the park. We spent one night in Puerto Natales which was just enough time to get our transportation to the park arranged, have a walk along the shore, and a hearty pre-trek meal. The next morning we departed by bus for Torres del Paine National Park.
When researching your route for the W Trek you may find different options in as well as differing opinions on what constitutes the “best” way to do it. East to West? West to East? Camp? Stay in the refugios? We will tell you how we did it and why. We visited the park in late September-the end of Winter in South America. It is definitely “low season” and there were a few options that were not available to us. Camp grounds were not yet open; and let’s get real staying in a tent at the end of winter was not appealing. We stayed in the relatively comfortable refugios, which proved to be quiet and not crowded during the shoulder season. We also did not have access to the ferry at Grey Glacier, which is the end of the trip for many people due to our pre-season trek. None of these things made a difference, we just planned a slightly different hiking schedule than what may otherwise be the norm.
The weather in Patagonia is unpredictable in all seasons. But winter? We were prepared for anything-the torrential rains, the gusting winds (so common that the trees lean!), snow, and often freezing temps. What we got instead: beautiful, clear, blue skies, no wind, and DRY! We started our mornings out in several layers which were ditched after an hour or so of hiking, then added back later in the day. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but that being said, it would have been amazing and so worth it even if we had encountered less desirable conditions.
Our first day in the park started out by registering at the entrance, then a short walk to our first refugio-Lodge Refugio Central. We chose to do the trek East to West. This allowed us to make the hike up the the base of the Torres while we were still fresh and energetic. The hike to see the towers is moderate to difficult, depending on fitness level.
We continued our trek the following morning after a comfortable night at the refugio (and a nice warm shower!)
We chose to bring our own food on the trek. We bought a few items in Punta Arenas before the bus ride to Puerto Natales, but for the most part we ate dehydrated back packing meals, trail mix, and protein or granola bars. We brought our small camp stove which provided us with hot water for making our dehydrated meals, and more importantly…COFFEE! You can get meals provided from the refugios-make sure you book ahead.
When trekking in the park, you don’t need to bring water. The water from the mountains is clean, and 100% drinkable. Just fill up your empty bottles or Camelback, and you’re good to go. And it is the best water we had ever tasted!
A glass of wine at the refugio. And that view!
Taking a break in the French Valley.
Finishing up our trek and headed to the park entrance to catch a bus back to Puerto Natales, where we stayed at a backpacker’s hostel for the night before heading back to Punta Arenas.
Although we never felt deprived while we were hiking, we were suddenly starving when we finished. The thought of “real food” entered our minds and so…..Papas Fritas and beer! It seemed like we deserved it after five days and 70km.
Our trip wrapped up with a bus ride back to Punta Arenas where we stayed overnight before our early morning flight back to Santiago, then a flight home later in the day.