“Where’s Patagonia?” Embarassingly, that was the first thing that came to mind when Chris said Patagonia was at the top of his bucket list. After a little research, our first big nonrev adventure through Torres Del Paine National Park was planned for January 2016.
Many friends have inquired about the logistics of our trek, so I wrote a brief overview on our itinerary and some random things I thought would be good to know to prepare for your own trek along the “W.”
We planned our trip for the last two weeks of January. We flew from ATL to Santiago, Chile. We booked a $90 (each way) flight from SCL to PUQ, Punta Arenas, on Sky airlines. Once we landed in Punta Arenas (PA) we took a cab to the bus station in town. From there, we bought round trip bus tickets to Puerto Natales (PN), the main town outside of Torres Del Paine National Park. It was a very long day of travel, but we had read that there wasn’t a ton to do in Punta Arenas so we wanted to get up to PN as soon as possible to start the trek.
We stayed in a hostel that first night in PN, but most were sold out so once we finally found one with vacancy, the quality wasn’t the best. I would recommend booking one in advance for that first night. While we were in PN, we booked an ice hike with Bigfoot Patagonia on Glacier Grey along the W trek. This cost maybe $100 USD and was worth every penny.
To begin the trek from PN you take another bus to the Torres Del Paine park entrance. Once you check in, pay your permit, and watch a video on rules and regs, you are free to start your trek. We wanted to begin the W on the west side and trek from West to East, as we heard the wind would come more from behind us if we trekked in that direction. In the end, we were very happy with our choice. But people go from both directions. We took another bus from the park entrance to the lake, and bought a ticket for a catamaran ride to the west side. I highly recommend doing this, as the views are absolutely spectacular. My favorite photos from the trip are from this catamaran which happened to be on day 1.
I looked online for various hikers’ itineraries of the W and found the maps in this post to be very helpful. We eventually did 7 days and 6 nights. With the intensity and unpredictability of Patagonian weather, I would suggest setting up this amount of time for the trek, but most hikers we talked to did it in 5 nights. We could have shortened it down to 5 nights, but we wanted to see the sunrise over the Three Towers at the end of our trek, which added extra time for us (side note: Damir and Chris were the only ones with enough energy to actually get up and hike in total darkness to see sunrise. Once Chris left for the hike my tired and shivering self climbed into his quality sleeping bag and slept soundly in its warmth).
Back to logistics–Some campsites are free, while others you pay. But it’s only around $10 a night per person. There are refugios (little cabins you share with other hikers with actual beds vs camping) at many of the campsites, but those had been booked way in advance. Since we had flexible travel plans (#nonrevlife) we didn’t book any of them. It was no problem getting down to SCL, so if you’re confident in travel dates, booking a refugio for a night or 2 would be really nice, especially after a long day of hiking.
Most campsites had hot showers, but only in designated times and lines got long, so hot water wasn’t guaranteed. There also were mini stores/markets where you could buy supplies, candy, wine, beer etc. Most of our money was spent on food and drinks because after hiking all day we wanted to reward ourselves. The food in town isn’t spectacular, but the pisco sours are?. While camping we kept it simple and brought mostly camping meals from REI where you just add boiling water.
There is an extremely nice hotel you will come to before you start your trek up to the Three Towers. Here we indulged in amazing food and drinks and bought wifi. We stayed in the campsite nearby, and were definitely underdressed, but we took advantage of its facilities and paid for a nice meal before completing our trek up the mountain.
The weather varies immensely. One day I was hiking in a tank top and shorts, and on another I had on every piece of clothing I brought. Layers are key here. We brought our own tent (which Chris carried the whole time) but we eventually regretted bringing our own. Patagonia’s winds are no joke and our tent couldn’t withstand them one night and ripped. Unless you have a high quality tent, I suggest renting a tent in PN. My friend rented his straight from our hostel and had no problems. Speaking of hostels, most will let you keep any items that you don’t need while on the trek in a locked room while you are on the W. That way you don’t have to carry extra weight around. Once you return you can pick up your things.
After our W trek, we bussed back to PA from PN and booked a day cruise to Penguin Island. This place is magical and is inhabited by thousands of Magellan penguins. It’s a great place for photos and such a unique experience.There also is a very old cemetery in PA which we found pretty interesting.
I hope you find these tips helpful. I had no idea what to expect on this trip, and it completely blew me away.