Torres del Paine meaning Towers of Blue is a national park in the Magallenas area of Chile and the Chilean Antarctica. Only 3% of the park is open to the public with roughly 250,000 visitors a year. Compare that to the 6,000 visitors Machu Picchu receives a day and you’ll feel pretty lucky. There are two main routes the W and the longer route the O. It is mandatory to book the refugios when you do multiple day hikes. It is however possible to do day trips to the park. To do the full W it takes roughly 5 days and the O takes around 8 days. These refugios are open between September and April. We only had time to do a partial W route which we did in 3 days. Therefore I will only be covering that route in this post.
How to get there:
The closest airport is Puntas Arenas. From there you can get a bus to Puerto Natales which takes roughly 3 hours. To get from Puerto Natales to the park you can get the bus from the same terminal which takes under 2 hours. The bus company we took was Bus Sur but there are other providers and we booked on the day. We went to TDP in October however I cannot guarantee on the day options when going to the park in busier periods.
Once in the Park:
The bus takes you to the entrance where you by your ticket into the park. The fee is 21,000 pesos for Foreign visitors, rounded to £24. Then depending on which way you want to start the route the bus takes you onto that point. As we wanted to start at Paine Grande the bus took us to the Catamaran and then we crossed the water to that refugio. Although there are small kiosks in the refugios it is a very good idea to bring your own food, even more so if you are camping (which we weren’t). The park has a policy of what you bring you take back so you will need to carry your rubbish. Do not expect to get signal and the WiFi at the refugios may or may not work and if it does you need to pay for it, 8 hours cost 10usd.
Day 1 – We only stayed in two of the refugios on the W route, the ones in bold at the bottom. Once we arrived after the boat trip we dumped our stuff and headed straight to the Grey Glacier lookout point. We just did an out and back but if you carried on you would end up at the Grey refugio. The walk took us a few hours altogether and was well worth looking out onto my first glacier. All the walks in the park have a start and end time, so you have to ensure that you have finished the walk within those times. They are all marked on the start of the walk and on the maps. If you are unsure just ask at the park huts or refugios. We then spent the evening at Paine Grande refugio where dinner was served at 7:30pm and we were starving. The refugio is a little cold and I don’t think the showers were warm so we didn’t bother. You may also need to hire a sleeping bag as our bed only had a thin sheet.
Day 2 – Our refugio provided breakfast and a packed lunch to take with us. We let them know in advance that we were veggie. The sandwich was palm hearts, green beans and cream cheese, a very interesting mix. We then walked towards Los Cuernos via the French camp. The walk was pretty and followed the lake. It was fairly up and down but not hugely steep. We hadn’t realised we had actually booked the twin cabin at this refugio, however we were super excited by this accidental booking. If the cabins are too pricey there is the option to camp or sleep in the hostel. The cabin was basic but perfect, with a little wood burner and shared bathroom. Again very cold water so no showers for us.
Day 3 – Up and out at around 8am with our bellies full and a packed lunch again. We headed to the end of the W to get our bus back to the enterance to then get our bus to Puerto Natales. What we realised once we got there is that we could have walked day 2 and 3 in one day and then used our last day to do the towers themselves. It was one of those times that you have to do something to realise your options and by then it was too late. We were very lucky with the weather which is probably a factor, however TDP is notorious for high speed winds and quick changing weather. It a real shame we didn’t get up to the towers up close themselves but you do see them as you walk around and it was just one of those things. The park is stunning and no we didn’t see any pumas! It is actually rather rare to see them.
Refugio Grey, Paine Grande, French Camp, Los Cuernos, Chileano, Torres Central and Torres Norte.
What to bring:
Food – things to snack on to keep you going.
Reusable water bottle – the water from the streams is safe to drink, you can’t get fresher than that!
Walking Poles – optional but useful.
Layers – no cotton.
Water & wind proof trousers & jacket.
Gloves, hat and hand warmers if you get cold like me.
Walking Boots – essential, ideally ones that go to the ankle.