Torres del Paine. Chilean Patagonia. The end of the world. For so many people, it’s a once in a lifetime destination which requires significant time both to get there and to enjoy being there. Luckily for us, it’s a bit closer, so we took advantage of a sale on flights and decided to make it into a little weekend getaway.
Perhaps because our trip wasn’t the usual jaunt to Torres del Paine to hike the multi-day W circuit (or even longer O trek), I didn’t find all that much information online from people who’d done something similar. We more or less decided our destination on a whim based purely on the cheap flights and the fact that Rodolfo had previously wanted to go, and all I really did in advance was book our lodging. In the end, we can’t imagine how things could possible have turned out better, and if you ever find yourself with a spare 3 days in Santiago, you too can have a fabulous long weekend in Patagonia.
We flew LAN from Santiago to Punta Arenas with a stop in Puerto Montt (4.5 hours total). There are several flights a day, some of them direct. Sky Airlines also makes the trip.
We rented a car, which was essential for such a short trip. We chose to stay in the national park itself in order to maximize time there, and the first bus leaves Torres del Paine at 2pm each day, which would not have gotten us back to Punta Arenas in time for our flight. By car, it took us 2.5 hours from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales and another 2 hours between Puerto Natales and the Laguna Amarga entrance to the park.
The car cost us $80.000 (US$160) for 2 days because the windshield had a crack in it. It was literally the only car left in Punta Arenas though, and we were actually quite happy to take the crack – which we were told posed no danger of exploding glass into our faces – in exchange for deal on the price. Renting a car isn’t cheap, and if you plan to do it during high season I’d book in advance, but it was what made our trip possible and was well worth it.
We were pretty sure the buses were out due to our flight schedule, but we wanted to check before spending money on a car. The owner of the guest house in Punta Arenas said not to bother going to the bus companies early in the morning since they opened at 9. Lies – the first bus to Puerto Natales leaves at 8, followed by one at 9, and then only Buses Pacheco has an 11am bus while others wait until 1pm. Since you have to get to Puerto Natales, which is a 3 hour trip, by 2:30pm in order to catch the last bus to Torres del Paine, you need to be on one of the earliest buses if you plan to do the entire trip in a day.
We spent our first night at a guest house in Punta Arenas since we arrived at 11:30pm. I made a reservation at a place my in-laws had recommended for its low prices only to be told by the owner that we had no reservation, there were no rooms available, and it wasn’t her fault. We ended up staying next door for twice the price. It was fine, but I’m sure you could do better.
I booked Refugio Las Torres well in advance since a lot of online information warns that the refugios book up during summer, and we wanted to spend two nights in the park in order to have a full day for hiking. I think this may be more for the refugios along the W and O trekking routes since there was plenty of space at Las Torres – we were even moved from the older (cheaper) Torre Norte building to the newer and nicer Torre Central building at no cost.
It’s still ruinously expensive as it’s your only non-hotel/non-camping option – $25.000 (US$50) per person for a shared 6-bunk room – but I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming it was. We also paid for dinner both nights – again, crazy expensive at $10.000 (US$20) each – and were happy to find that it was actually quite delicious. The current chef is on vacation from his normal job working on cruise ships, so we may have gotten lucky.
I’m no Torres del Paine expert after 3 days, but things worked out pretty well for us, and I’m happy to share tips or answer any questions if you’re planning a trip of your own to Chilean Patagonia. And stay tuned for the rest of the week to see some more gorgeous countryside and a very lucky clear view of torres themselves.