I knew that when we would visit Patagonia I had to see Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Ever since I had seen pictures of the Torres del Paine lagoon, this place was high on my must-visit list! Torres del Paine is mostly known for its extensive treks, with people spending up to a week in the park, trekking everyday and staying in tents. Being an unexperienced hiker, that seemed a bit over-ambitious and trekking with a tent on my back didn’t seem very desirable either. I therefore did some research about how we could do day treks in Torres del Paine and get to see the most of the park in a short amount of time. We spent two full days in the park and were in awe of the amazing beauty of this place!
We stayed in the nearby town Puerto Natales for three nights (€ 35 per night for a private room, breakfast and shared bathroom). We decided to go low-budget, because we wanted to spend as much time as possible in Torres del Paine and very little in our room. Puerto Natales is a bit of a scruffy and dated town and our hostel was exactly that. The exteriors of the buildings in Puerto Natales are in need of maintenance and our hostel could also use a renovation on the inside. We were a bit shocked when we entered our hostel, but it was clean, warm and safe, so what more can you expect when you don’t want to spend a lot?
Even though Puerto Natales looks atmospheric from afar, it definitely isn’t when you walk through it. Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine are on the expensive side. A simple meal with two drinks easily costs € 40, which is pricy compared to other places we visited in South-America. Our favorite restaurant was Mesita Grande, which we frequented during our stay in Puerto Natales. The pastas especially were a real treat 🙂 We visited Puerto Natales in peak season and were surprised by how full the restaurants and hotels were, trekking seems to be big business over here! The trekking season only lasts for a half year, so the hotels and restaurants seem to have to make a full-year income in only half the time.
We hired a car to make the most of our days, we had to rent the car for three days to be able to go to Torres del Paine for two full days. We rented the car with Magallanes Rent a Car as this was the only company where we could easily bring back our car late on a Sunday night. This definitely was the most expensive car I have ever hired for € 180 for three days. Luckily we had no incidents whatsoever and we had a good experience with this rental company. We payed € 40 for gas, for two days of sightseeing and driving through the park. I think we drove around 500 kms, as it is quite a ride to Torres del Paine. Expect to drive at least 1,5 hours before you can start a hike, which makes hiking in Torres del Paine less comfortable than hiking in El Chalten, where the hikes start right in the city center.
We paid about € 25 entrance fee for Torres del Paine per person. With your ticket you can enter the park for three days, you don’t have to pay extra for your car. We bought our tickets at the bus station of Puerto Natales, where you can use a credit card and you don’t have to stand in line. We noticed long queues for people buying their entrance tickets in the park, so we would not recommend doing that (it just decreases your hiking time). There are some restaurants and shops in Torres del Paine and for most of them you need cash. We experienced some problems taking out cash in Puerto Natales, so we would also recommend bringing Chilean pesos or dollars.
Hiking to the Torres del Paine base
This is the most famous hike in Torres del Paine, which will lead you to the famous viewpoint of a super blue lagoon with the enormous Torres behind it. You have to hike the same way up as down and the average hike takes about 8 hours in total. Apparently we are average hikers now, as this was exactly the time we spent hiking. The hike can be broken down as follows: 2 hours medium hike, 1 hour easy and 1 hour hard. I actually thought the first part was quite hard, it was super sunny during our first few kilometers, so we got super sweaty during ascending. I didn’t calm down until I discovered we were walking right on schedule and that seemed to relax me. You ascend about 500 meters during the first part, some parts were pretty steep so you can imagine how my calves felt. During the second part you would hardly gain any altitude, but the track goes up and down quite a lot, so I kept feeling a bit tired. Everybody warned me about the last part, but I actually quite liked this part. The last part is really rocky and steep, you have to take big steps on a slippery path, but I was really happy about how quickly we were ascending so I got a lot of energy from that. The last part also felt more like climbing a stairway, than ascending a steep mountain, and I felt like I could do this part more easily than a lot of other hikers. During this last part I quickly knew I was going to make the Torres del Paine more easily than I expected so I had a big smile on my face the whole time! Luckily the weather cleared a bit, so we were rewarded with amazing views of the Torres del Paine base! Despite of the hard wind and even hail, I loved taking pictures of the many rocks at the base.
After thirty minutes we decided to descend the mountain again. As the way up was pretty steep, it was still pretty steep when we went down, so we were prepared for muscle sores the next day. It isn’t called Torres del Pain for nothing…
Condor viewpoint hike
The second day in Torres del Paine was a super foggy and rainy day. We therefore waited in the hostel for some time for the weather to clear, before we would drive back to Torres del Paine. This day we had two goals: spotting lupins and condors! We arrived in Puerto Natales by bus from El Calafate and from the bus I spotted some great lupins fields. We decided to drive by the fields when we would have our rental cars, so we could take some cool shots and enjoy the flowers.
Hielke is as big as a condor fan as I am a flower fan, so our next goal was to spot condors. Just as in El Chalten, Torres del Paine has a condor viewpoint which is only a short hike (Mirador Los Condores, less than 90 minutes hiking). In Torres del Paine you can often experience all seasons in one day and this day was exactly that kind of day. The weather can change for the good and the bad within minutes. When we arrived to the Condor viewpoint hike, it felt like there was an autumn storm going on. The condor hike includes a “wind tunnel” that you have to pass. In case you are wondering what a wind tunnel is, you will definitely know when you are passing through it 😉 Just like at every condor viewpoint we had visited in South America, we were lucky again to spot several condors. They didn’t come super close, but often flew by, just in sight of our small camera lens. We waited around at the top of the hike, just long enough until the weather cleared (again), to snap some pictures of our incredible surroundings. On one side of the hike you could see super blue lagoons, while the other side featured a black lake with dead trees, bizar!
What I really liked about this day is that the landscapes where very different than our day at Torres del Paine base. Torres del Paine base is located in the north part of the park, while the condor viewpoint is at the south part. To get to the condor viewpoint you have quite a long drive through the southern part of the park. The vegetation differs greatly between both parts. In the north we spotted several guanacos and rheas (a sort of ostrich), while in the south we spotted lupins and little birds.
Beside this hike you can do many other day hikes in Torres del Paine. It is actually quite easy to do parts of the multiple-day trekkings such as the W-trek, but you will need a car or do some real planning. There is public transport from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine and there is also some public transport in the park (between entrances). However you are very dependent on the limited time schedules of the bus. I don’t like to be rushed, but if you are really confident regarding your hiking skills, taking the bus and doing some planning can be a low budget option to explore Torres del Paine. There are quite some options to do Torres del Paine without multi-day trekkings, as you can stay in some (quite luxurious hotels) or you could opt to stay one night on a camping and do a part of the W-trek.