Updated August 17th, 2020.
Situated in Patagonia, Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park is a must on many travellers to-do list. Its scenic beauty, glaciers and the imposing Andes mountain’s tempt even the most timid adventurer.
People flock from around the world to complete the infamous 5-day W Trek or the tougher 9-day Circular route. As with any hike, planning for these treks is essential and little should be left to chance. This is all good and easy if you are an experienced and informed hiker. However, for those of us who didn’t do their research and rocked up at Puerto Natales with the notion of seeing this wonder on limited time, it can turn into a daunting situation or a waste of money!
The only way to really see Torres Del Paine is to get off the day tour bus and into start hiking. This is about how we managed to see the highlights of Torres Del Paine in two and a half days with the company of a roast chicken.
Before we dive into the details, here is a little background information on the park. The two main highlights of Torres Del Paine National Park is a spectacular view of Glacier Grey, and watching the sunrise at Torres Del Paine. Easier said than done as these sites are at opposite ends of the park and seeing both in a short time frame is a challenge.
Quest to see Highlight 1 – Sunrise at Torres Del Paine
The starting point for most travellers is Puerto Natales which is a 2-hour bus ride away from Torres National Park.
Buses from Puerto Natales to the park leave twice a day – one morning (07:30) and one afternoon departure (14:30). Once at the park, you have three hop off options 1) the main entrance; 2) Pudeto (Catamaran port), or 3) Laguna Amarga Porter (Administration). The bus will stop at each point both on the inward and homeward bound journey.
Before leaving Puerto Natales, make sure you get a schedule of the buses, ferries and pick up times from the park as this helps you plan your route. Another important thing to remember is that all routes close at night which means you have to be at your campsite before closing time.
Note – If you don’t have any equipment, you can rent anything you need from most youth hostels or camping stores.
Arriving in Puerto Natales
Now back to the story. We got to Puerto Natales ready to see the wonders of Torres Del Paine and after realising that it would be almost impossible on our three day limit, we went against the odds and did it.
After stopping in at a youth hostel to equip ourselves with tents, warm sleeping bags and a ground sheet, we headed to the local shop. With limited time and no planning, we bought some fruit, crackers, salami, nuts, chocolate and a roast chicken with chips and then jumped onto the afternoon bus to Torres and arriving there at 16:30. (On the food situation, you can purchase food in the park at the Refugios (camp sites). But if you’re travelling on a budget, these Refugios are very expensive and should be avoided if possible.)
We stopped at the first bus stop (main entrance) where we started our trek to the first highlight – the three Torres Del Paine peaks. The best time to see these three peaks is at sunrise from the Base Las Torres.
Here the rising run turns these rocks bright red which is reflected on the glacier lake at its base. The trek up to Las Torres Campsite is 3.5 – 4 hours and is quite steep, so should not be underestimated, but with medium fitness levels, we were fine.
Getting to the last campsite is a better option than camping at Refugio Chileno, as it’s only a 45min hike up to the Base of Torres before sunrise, and even that requires an early start. We got into our campsite as the sun set, erected our tents and tucked into our roast chicken while other travellers were cooking pasta on their camping stoves, and staring at us with envy.
The following morning’s hike to the Base of Torres is a steep but a short one. We sat there for two hours watching the spectacular sunrise, seeing the towers turn red in front of us before heading back down the mountain. I do advise taking a sleeping bag to sit in as it’s really cold before sunrise.
Quest to see Highlight 2 – Glacier Grey
From here, we skipped the middle section of the hike and made our way to Glacier Grey, on the other side of the “W”.
With tents all packed away and food stowed in our backpacks, we headed back down the trail to the main entrance of Torres Del Paine National Park.
This is where your bus schedule comes in handy as you can now judge your time to catch the incoming afternoon bus (16:30) and take it to the second stop in the park, the Catamaran port. The Catamaran schedule also coincides with the bus schedule and will only leave once the buses have dropped off their passengers, at 18h:00.
The Catamaran will whisk you across beautiful Lago Pehoe and drop you off at Refugio Paine Grande 30 mins later.
After an early start, a trek back to the main entrance, and a bus ride, across the park, we were ready for some food and sleep. We set up camp, had a nice hot shower, and then a good (but expensive) meal at Refugio Paine Grande, before hitting the sack.
Torres National Park has its nuisances as well, and that comes in the shape of little mice. These critters prowl the camp sites at night searching for food and they will go through anything to get to it. Tents, backpacks and even shoes provide little resistance for these furry creatures. If you are harbouring food, the mice will find it. We had to ignore these little guys as it would be another early morning to hike to the glacier, getting back and catching the last bus home…
The last day was a long but enjoyable hike. Refugio Grey is 11km (3.5hrs) from the Glacier Grey camp site and we had to get there and back to be able to catch the Catamaran at 18:30 across Lago Pehoe followed by the last by at 19:00 from Pudeto (Catamaran port).
That’s a 22km hike and one that’s so scenic, you will be stopping frequently to take pictures. We got to see our first ever iceberg floating in Lago Grey but being in constant shadow of the mountain peaks meant it was a rather chilly trek.
Glacier Grey is amazing. A massive wall of ice towering above the blue waters below and stretching back up the valley to join one of the largest glaciers in the world is well worth the hike. For an up-close view of the glacier, you can walk an extra hour to Campsite Las Guardas. But if you have a day as we did, don’t take that chance and miss your transport.
After taking some awesome photos and admiring the view, we hiked back to the campsite for a drink and snacks and packed up our tent. We caught the Catamaran and finally relaxed on the 19h:00 bus back to Puerto Natales. Sitting on the bus, watching the sun set over the jagged majestic peaks while llamas grazed peacefully on the hillsides, we felt energized, inspired and alive. This was our first proper hike, and we made it, armed with a chicken, some snacks and naive enthusiasm.
Nature changes our perception of the world we live in. It makes you alive and energises your soul. It opens your mind to the possibilities and wonders of the world. Right now the world is changing. Everything has become digital and anything you wanted to know is now a click away. Experiencing the world through endless second hand information isn’t enough, if we want authenticity, we have to get out there and experience it ourselves.
Travis Rice said: “When it comes down to it, it’s pretty simple. Adventure is what you make it. And whether it’s the travel, the discovery or just the feeling of letting go, the only way we will ever find out is to get out there and do it.”
This article was written by Sean Sandiford.