When you’re thinking about Patagonia, you’re really thinking about Torres del Paine National Park. Its masterpiece are the three towering granite spires that overlook a turquoise lake but it’s also graced with an abundance of wildlife, ancient mountain ridges, lush and ghost forests, gold brushed fields, and sprawling glaciers.
In this guide to traveling Patagonia that focuses on Torres del Paine, we aren’t shy about going into all of the details, large and small, when it comes to planning a trip here. It’s meant to answer the basics but also the minutiae that is really hard to discover unless you’ve been there already.
Read more about Patagonia
- Complete Review of Hotel Las Torres
- How To Plan 10 Days In Torres del Paine With This Patagonia itinerary
- The Ultimate Patagonia Packing List
- Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Do The W Trek
- Chile Nativo Riverside Camp Review
- Our Best Chile Travel Guide Content
How to get a deal in Torres del Paine?
- For an all-inclusive hotel experience, we recommend Hotel Las Torres and if you book 3 nights or more, get a free 30-minute massage.
- We are currently offering two different offers with the companies we personally worked with in Torres del Paine. With Chile Nativo, if you use Going Awesome Places as a referral, you’ll save 5% off of their available packages.
Here's what we're covering:
- Things to Know Before Going to Torres del Paine in Patagonia
- How To Get To Torres del Paine?
- How Does Torres del Paine Work?
- How To Get Around Torres del Paine
- Best Activities in Torres del Paine
- Safety in Torres del Paine
- Food to Try in Patagonia
- How Can You Save Money in Patagonia?
- What To Pack for Torres del Paine?
- Where To Stay in Torres del Paine
- When is the Best Time to Visit Torres del Paine in Patagonia?
- How Much Time Do You Need in Torres del Paine?
- Trip To Patagonia Costs
- Final Trip Planning Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions
Things to Know Before Going to Torres del Paine in Patagonia
Let’s start with the need-to-know basics of traveling in Chile to see Patagonia and more specifically, Torres del Paine National Park. From here, keep reading as we’ll be jumping into way more detail to make sure you’re the most prepared for the trip of a lifetime.
Keep in mind that we understand that Patagonia spans Chile and Patagonia but since we’re putting an emphasis on Torres del Paine, we’re focusing on Chilean Patagonia.
- Electricity – 220 volts, 50Hz
- Type L (Italy and Chile)
- Type F (most of Europe)
- If you have Type F adapters, these will work fine. No need to invest in Type L.
- Currency – Chilean Peso (CLP)
- $1,000 CLP = $1.089 USD = $1.469 CAD = 1.089€ EUR
- For many, it’ll just be easier to consider 1000 as $1 USD but if you want something more accurate, make sure to print a currency conversion cheat sheet before you go.
- Timezone – GMT -03:00 (all year round). This means it is normally 1 hour ahead of EST (New York, Toronto). However, don’t assume this is always the case as Chilean Patagonia (called Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region) doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time (DST) so in the months of winter (first Saturday of April and ends on the first Saturday of September), it is 2 hours ahead of EST. Another area of confusion is that the rest of Continental Chile (including Santiago) observes DST so in the summer months, the whole country is the same but in the winter, the rest of the country falls behind by an hour. It’s honestly confusing and well-explained in this Wiki but if you’re ever unsure, trust Google (and not Apple which actually tripped me up).
- ATMs – These are relatively easy to find in the towns and cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. The main banks you’ll find are Santander, Banco de Chile, Banco Estado, Scotiabank, and Banco Itau . However, outside of the city centres, you won’t find any banks or ATMs so plan your cash accordingly. We delve into this so make sure to keep reading.
- SIM card – The main cellular companies in Chile are Entel, Wom, Claro, and Movistar. In most countries, we’d recommend whoever is more convenient to buy or who is cheapest. If you are going to Chilean Patagonia, there is no other choice than Entel because they have the best coverage in rural areas. More details in the connectivity section below.
- Alternative data options – eSIM or wifi hotspot are good alternative options. For eSIM, we recommend Airalo (15GB/10 days Chile only for $18 USD) and for hotspots, you can’t beat the price of PokeFi especially with our special offer where GAP23200 saves you $25 USD ($200 USD for the device and extra battery and 5GB, top up of data is 5GB/2 years global coverage for $15 USD).
- Measurement system – Metric scale is used for distance and the Celsius scale for temperature.
- Tipping – Tipping is standard practice in the country. Chile is unique in that at most restaurants, an automatic 10% tip is applied and you can accept, decline, or change. Tip is also recommended for tours that you do in Torres del Paine. Guidelines for these tips provided in the money section.
- Language – The official language is Spanish.
Where is Patagonia?
We would not blame you for thinking that Patagonia is a singular place or one national park. Patagonia is the name of a really massive region that spans the countries of Chile and Argentina.
The map below is one of the best depictions of the area that Patagonia covers and how it’s divided between Chile on the left and Argentina to the right.
By the above, the use of the word “Patagonia” is a bit of a misnomer because let’s be honest, when you search the term on Google, you’re really looking for Torres del Paine and maybe El Chaltén and El Calafate.
Patagonia as a whole starts in the south all the way at the end of the South American continent and stretches north to where the Colorado River crosses in Argentina and south of Temuco in Chile.
For the purposes of this travel guide, we’ll use Patagonia to refer to the entire region but we’ll be focusing on Torres del Paine National Park.
NOTE: There is a Patagonia National Park in Chile but this is actually located in Northern Patagonia as part of the Route of the Parks. This is not to be confused with Torres del Paine National Park which is also located in the region of Patagonia.
Why is it called Patagonia?
Where did the word Patagonia come from? It originated from the word patagón which loosely translates to “land of the bigfeet” but its etymology was more recently understood as a literary character in a Spanish novel of the early 16th century.
Explorer Magellan, used these words in 1520 to describe the Indigenous tribes or the region whom they thought to be giants. He was referring to the Tehuelche people who were certainly much taller than Europeans at the time although stories of tall Patagonians doubling the height of the explorers seem like a bit of an exaggeration.
Where is Torres del Paine?
Torres del Paine National Park is located 112 km (70 mi) north of Puerto Natales and is located in Chile. It is neighbours to Los Glaciares National Park to the north which is part of Argentina and to the west is Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.
The broader area that Torres del Paine belongs to is called the Magallanes Region of Chile.
The national park was established on May 13, 1959 and was given its current name in 1970. Currently it’s one of 11 protected areas that’s in the Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica and this remarkably covers 51% of the land.
Centered by the Paine Massif (Cordillera del Paine), what makes Torres del Paine so alluring is its overwhelming beauty in its mountains, spires, valleys, lakes, glaciers, and wildlife.
What’s worth noting is that Paine Massif is not part the famed Andes mountains. The age of these mountains is 12 million years old whereas the Andes were born 20-30 million years ago.
Why’s it called Torres del Paine?
This natural wonder gets its name from a mix of Spanish and Indigenous language and translates to “blue towers”.
Torres is Spanish for “towers”, and Paine means “blue” in the native Tehuelche (Aonikenk) language.
Here is how you pronounce the name of the park: TORE-res del PIE-neh.
10 Day Patagonia Itinerary in Torres del Paine
Planning a trip to Torres del Paine National Park isn’t easy and if you’re looking to see it without doing the W Trek, this is the itinerary for you.
How To Get To Torres del Paine?
This is one of the most critical steps of your trip planning as part of this Patagonia travel guide. Getting to Torres del Paine is no easy task so it’s good to understand your options and to set your expectations of how complex it can be.
There are also quite a number of components to getting to the national park and we’re going to go through it all.
Why is it hard to get to Torres del Paine? Traveling Patagonia, whether on the Chilean or Argentinian side is difficult to get to because there are no direct flights. Chile is also an incredibly long country so even when you get into Chilean airspace from the north, you’re effectively traveling the width of Canada to get to the end of the South American continent.
Geographically, another interesting fact is that there is no direct land connection between the southern part of Patagonia (including Torres del Paine National Park) with the rest of continental Chile. This further limits the land options.
3 primary methods
There are a 3 main ways for international travelers to get to Torres del Paine that we’ll breakdown. Each of these require multiple hops.
- Fly via Chile – Fly into Santiago, followed by a flight to either Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, then take a bus or transfer to Torres del Paine.
- Fly via Argentina – Fly into Buenos Aires, followed by a flight to El Calafate, then take a bus or transfer to Torres del Paine.
- Fly and ferry via Chile – Fly into Santiago, followed by a flight to Puerto Montt, then hop on a Navimag ferry to Puerto Natales.
1 ) Fly via Chile
This way has you flying in Chile once you leave your home country and is the most common and “easiest”. Those are air quotes because having done this myself, it is still one heck of a long journey.
The primary gateway into Chile is the capital city of Santiago and the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL). All international flights come in through here and there’s no way around it. You’ll land in the international terminal (T2) and then you’ll have to pick up your bags and walk over to the adjacent domestic terminal (T1).
From Santiago, you’ll then fly either to Teniente Julio Gallardo Airport in Puerto Natales (PNT) or Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport in Punta Arenas (PUQ). Between the two, Puerto Natales is closer but there are more flight options to Punta Arenas.
Flight time: 3 hr 25 min to Punta Arenas or 3 hr 17 min to Puerto Natales.
Regardless of which city you land in, you’ll need a land transfer, bus, or car rental to take you into Torres del Paine National Park. From Punta Arenas, it’s 5 hours and from Puerto Natales, it’s 2 hours.
2) Fly via Argentina
While this region is disconnected from the rest of mainland Chile, it is connected by land with Argentina. As a result, an alternative way to get to Torres del Paine is to come in from Chile’s neighbor.
This method works well for those looking to do a reverse U-shaped itinerary where you explore Argentina first and then make your way over to Chilean Patagonia. You could make your way to Torres del Paine directly but it’s less efficient.
Argentina’s main international hub is Buenos Aires and the Ezeiza International Airport (EZE). Another name for this airport is Ministro Pistarini International Airport. Unlike Santiago, all terminals are interconnected here.
Heads up though, some domestic Patagonia flights leave from a separate airport in the city called Aeroparque Internacional Jorge Newbery (AEP).
After making the international to domestic transfer, you’ll catch a flight to El Calafate’s Commandante Armando Tola International Airport (FTE).
Flight time: 3 hr 20 min from EZE, 3 hr 15 min from FTE
From El Calafate, you can take a bus, private transfer, or rent a car.
- Bus – There are not direct buses into Torres del Paine so you have to go to Puerto Natales first (5 hours) and then another bus to Torres del Paine (2.5 hours).
- Car Rental – You’ll start driving on RN40 and continue on Route 9. This takes 6 hours, plus time at the border.
- Private Transfer – Private transfers will follow the same route as driving your own car so 6+ hours.
3) Fly & ferry via Chile
This is perhaps the most unique way to get to Torres del Paine especially for those that have the time.
It works like this. After flying into Santiago, you catch a flight to Puerto Montt’s El Tepual International Airport (PMC).
From Puerto Montt, you’ll board a Navimag ferry. Most of their departures are on Tuesday and it takes 4 days to get to Puerto Natales.
This is a ferry that transports both cargo and passengers where you’ll navigate through channels and fjords that most people never get to see. You’ll also have a chance to see dolphins, sea lions, and wild birds.
Included in the fare are all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
From Puerto Natales, like in option 1, you’ll take a private transfer, bus, or car rental into Torres del Paine National Park.
- The ferry is quite spartan so don’t expect too many amenities. Bring a good book!
- There is no internet connection but you can connect to their entertainment system from your phone to play movies.
- They don’t serve alcohol on board so bring your own.
Flying in Chile
When it comes to the typical Patagonia travel itinerary, this is the most common way and is one that we personally have experience with.
Since there’s a lot to cover, we’ll do it in the form of common questions and we’ll use bullet form to get right into the tips you need to know.
Which cities have direct flights to Santiago?
For most people around the world, you’ll be connecting through one of these airports in order to get to Santiago (SCL).
- USA – New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Dallas (DFW), and Atlanta (ATL)
- Canada – Toronto (YYZ)
- UK – London (LHR)
- Australia – Sydney (SYD)
- New Zealand – Auckland (AKL)
- Spain – Madrid (MAD)
The easiest way is do a quick search of what flight options are available from your home airport.
What are Chile’s pandemic restrictions?
- Masks are no longer mandatory.
- Quarantine is not required.
- When arriving in T1, they supposedly do random testing – You’ll see airport staff putting yellow or red stickers on your shirt before getting to the customs hall. Honestly, this didn’t seem well coordinated as even though I got a red sticker, I was not tested. It’s possible from the red stickers, only some are tested.
- Certificate of vaccination is required – This will be checked by the customs officer.
- If you are not vaccinated – Present a negative PCR test result taken a maximum 48 hours from departure.
- Those under 18 have no travel restrictions which means vaccination is not required.
- Make sure to read Chile’s latest requirements for entering the country.
- If you’re looking for rules specific for your country, Sherpa is a good tool to figure out the latest rules.
What are the current rules for flying into Chile?
- Visa to enter – Check your country to see if a visa is required. There’s a special Transitory Stay Visa for those from Venezuela, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Dominica.
- Tourists can stay for up to 90 days.
- PDI receipt – In addition to stamping your passport, the customs officer will print out a receipt and stamp it as well. This is very important and you must keep this because it will be hotels will scan it when checking in and when leaving Chile, it is mandatory to have it in order to pass through customs. Do not lose this! Take a photo of this immediately in case.
- Declaration form – Passengers 18+ will have to fill this out in the luggage hall to declare animal or plant products.
What do you need to know about SCL?
Santiago’s SCL airport is pretty straightforward once you know the entry rules.
- International flights are in Terminal 2 and domestic flights are in Terminal 1. They are not connected.
- Unless you’re flying with LATAM all the way through to Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, expect to have to pick up your bags and check-in again in Terminal 1.
- From T1, you’ll walk outside and take several moving (flat) escalators. It takes at least 10-15 minutes to get to T2. It is completely covered so you won’t have to worry about rain.
- When booking your flights to Torres del Paine, make sure you have at least a 5 hour transfer window in Santiago.
- When going through security at T1, since it’s domestic, there are no restrictions on liquids so feel free to bring water in your carry on. You won’t need to take your liquids, laptop, or shoes out.
- There are no water fountains in either T1 or T2.
- There are no vendors that sell prepaid SIM cards including the company we recommend, Entel.
- SCL has free wifi. You only need to provide your email, birth year, gender, and country.
- On the ground level of T2 is a Correos de Chile (post office).
- Regardless of the airline, you’ll be using machines to check in. Passport scan almost never worked. Instead, have your reservation code ready. This applies for all airports in Chile.
- Avoid using the ATM at SCL as we’ve heard stories of cards getting copied.
- For American Express Platinum card holders, they no longer provide access to any lounges in Chile.
What do you need to know about PNT?
Ideally, fly into Puerto Natales because it’s much closer to Torres del Paine.
- It’s sometimes harder to find flights to Puerto Natales because they are less frequent and/or more expensive than Punta Arenas.
- The challenge of connecting international flights to PNT is that they leave early in the morning so it only works if you stay in Santiago overnight (we recommend the Hilton Garden Inn Santiago Airport).
- The airport is serviced by LATAM, SKY and JetSmart but depending on the day, there may be a connection in Puerto Montt (PMC). Check Skyscanner to see your options.
- The check-in luggage allowances domestic flights are surprisingly generous so you won’t need to stress too much (for SKY, LATAM, and JetSmart it’s 23kg).
- The carry-on weight limits are 10kg for LATAM and JetSmart, 20kg for SKY.
- Flight availability and frequency is dependent on the time of the year. There are fewer options in the off-season (winter and shoulder season).
- If you connect in Puerto Montt, you will not deplane so you keep your seat. Technically they tell you that you can’t use the bathroom but if you ask the flight attendant nicely, they’ll unlock it for you to use. The connection is 45 minutes.
- There is no wifi at PNT.
- PNT is smaller than PUQ which many explain why there are fewer flight options.
- There is nowhere to buy SIM cards in the airport.
- Be mindful of time changes if there is one.
What do you need to know about PUQ?
While Puerto Natales is preferred, sometimes you don’t have a choice because of logistics, availability, or price. Many of the tips about PNT apply to PUQ but here are a few additional notes about Punta Arenas.
- PUQ is preferred in many cases because there are more direct flights throughout the day with LATAM.
- If you land in Santiago in the morning, there’s a chance to connect because there are afternoon departures to PUQ. Just remember, there’s a long 5 hour drive to Torres del Paine. You may have to stay in Punta Arenas overnight (we recommend La Yegua Loca Boutique Hotel) or plan in your itinerary to see Tierra del Fuego first.
- The airport is serviced by LATAM, and SKY but depending on the day, there may be a connection in Puerto Montt (PMC) or Conception (CCP). Check Skyscanner to see your options.
- When flying out of PUQ, we noticed at security there was a restriction on hiking poles. If you can, check in your poles in Chile.
- There is a Correos de Chile mailbox on the ground level to the left of the stairs/escalator.
- There is no wifi at PUQ.
- There is nowhere to buy SIM cards in the airport.
Which side of the plane should you be on?
- Flying to PUQ or PNT – You should sit on left side of the plane and ideally away from the wings (far back or front).
- Flying back to SCL from PUQ or PNT – You should sit on right side of the plane and ideally away from the wings (far back or front).
How can you save money on flights?
This applies to both Chile and Argentina but there is a significant price difference when you book your flights through the international versus the domestic landing pages for airlines.
For instance, the LATAM website will try to geolocate you and serve you the regional page. In our case, that’s the Canadian page (https://www.latamairlines.com/ca/en).
The local Chilean page is https://www.latamairlines.com/cl/es and when you do a direct comparison of prices, it is much cheaper on this page even after doing all of the currency conversion.
We tested this and we were able to book using international credit cards without issue. Our ticket never got cancelled either so we know for sure this works with LATAM.
You should be able to do this with all airlines but not all will show a significant price difference. Some airlines are also smart enough and either don’t take billing addresses that aren’t in Chile or they ask for a Chile RUT number which only locals have.
Flying in Argentina
Let’s cover things similarly from the Argentinian side.
Which cities have direct flights to Buenos Aires?
- USA – New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Dallas (DFW), and Atlanta (ATL)
- Canada – Toronto (YYZ) – Technically not direct as there’s a layover in Säo Paulo (GRU) but a route that’s built for Canadians to get to Buenos Aires.
- UK – London (LHR)
- Australia – None
- New Zealand – None
- Spain – Madrid (MAD)
Pop into Skyscanner to see which options, direct or indirect will get you to Buenos Aires.
What are Argentina’s pandemic restrictions?
- Masks are no longer mandatory.
- Certificate of vaccination is not required.
What are the current rules for flying into Argentina?
- Visa to enter – Check your country to see if a visa is required. If you are on the list, you’ll need something called an Electronic Travel Authorization (AVE). Make sure you have a printed copy for entry.
- Tourists can stay for up to 3 months.
- Passport is required unless you’re a citizen of a Mercosur country where only an identity card is required (Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia).
- If you’re looking for rules specific for your country, Sherpa is a good tool to figure out the latest rules.
What do you need to know about EZE?
Buenos Aires’ EZE is the main international airport.
- All of the terminals are connected together so you’ll be able to walk from one to another.
- Many domestic flights fly out of AEP which is centrally located in Buenos Aires.
- If changing airlines, account for time to retrieve your bags, re-check in, and security.
- There is free wifi at EZE.
What do you need to know about FTE?
- You can find flights to El Calafate from both EZE and AEP.
- From EZE, you can fly JetSmart, Aerolineas Argentinas, and Flybondi and most are non-stop.
- Carry-on luggage is less for domestic flights (8kg for Aerolineas Argentinas and 6kg for Flybondi).
- Check-in luggage weight limits are also less (15kg for Aerolineas Argentinas and either 12kg or 20kg for Flybondi as an add-in purchase).
- The alternate airport, AEP, is serviced by Aerolineas Argentinas and most are non-stop.
- There is free wifi at FTE.
- El Calafate has the same timezone as Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine.
Taking public transit will be the cheapest way to get to Torres del Paine. We’ll be focusing on how to get to the national park as the return should be easy to figure out once you know which operator you want to work with.
Most operators use the standard coach bus with reclinable chairs, are outfitted with air condition, an emergency washroom, and USB-outlet.
During high season, buses will sell out so it’s recommended to book this as early as possible.
From Punta Arenas
- Length: 3 hours to Puerto Natales
- There are two companies, Bus-Sur (10,000 CLP/$11 USD), and Buses Fernandez (9,800 CLP/$11 USD) that will take you to Puerto Natales.
- Note that they depart from different terminals in the city so double check their address.
- They run all hours of the day with a slight edge to Bus-Sur with more departures.
- They also do pick ups from the airport.
- Bus arrives at Terminal Rodoviario in Puerto Natales.
From Puerto Natales
- Length: 2 hours to get to Laguna Amarga, 3 hours to get to Pudeto, and 4 hour 15 minutes to get to Administration
- There are quite a number of companies that run buses from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine.
- Keep in mind that the services below are for high season. It is significantly reduced March to October.
- All of the bus services are relatively similar so it may just be a matter of which ones have seats available.
|Company||Departure||Arrival (Laguna Amarga)||One-Way Cost||Notes|
|JB Buses||7:00AM||9:00AM||$8,000 CLP|
|Stops at Laguna Amarga and Pudeto|
|Gomez Buses||7:00AM||9:00AM||$10,000 CLP|
|Stops at Laguna Amarga and Pudeto|
|Base Torres (formerly Buses Marie Jose)||7:00AM, 2:15PM||9:00AM, 4:30PM||$10,000 CLP|
|Stops at Laguna Amarga, Pudeto, and CONAF Administration|
|Bus Sur||6:45AM, 7:00AM, 7:15PM, 12:00PM||8:45AM, 9:00AM, 9:15,AM, 2:00PM||$10,000 CLP|
|Stops at Laguna Amarga, Pudeto, Campsite Pehoe, CONAF Administration, and Lago Gray ($15,000 CLP for this stop)|
Not all 4 time slots run every day
From El Calafate
- Length: 5 hours to Puerto Natales
- There are daily bus services from El Calafate to Puerto Natales.
- The 2 main companies are Turismo Zaahj ($24,000 CLP/$29.55 USD) and Bus Sur ($24,000 CLP/$29.55 USD)
- Bus Sur has departures at 8:00AM and 8:30AM (Wed, Fri, Sun) or 4:30PM (Tues, Thurs, Sat)
- Turismo Zaahj has departures at 8:00AM (Tues, Thurs, Sat) or 4:30PM (Mon, Wed, Fri)
- At the border, you’ll need to get off the bus, go through customs, and have your bags (carry-on only) x-rayed.
From Welcome Center
The Welcome Center is most people’s entry into the W Trek or those wanting to do a day hike up to the Base of the Towers but how do you get here if you aren’t with a tour or have your own car?
- Length: 30 minutes
- There is no information about this online which is frustrating but is incredibly helpful to know.
- As part of the Las Torres Reserve, they built a special Welcome Center which should not to be confused with the CONAF visitor center.
- The Las Torres Reserve runs a special shuttle service between the Welcome Center to Laguna Amarga Gate.
- The bus schedule is built to coincide with the buses that come from Puerto Natales and are designed to allow you to catch that bus to Pudeto to take the catamaran, administration office, Hotel Lago Grey, and back to Puerto Natales.
- Currently the bus runs at 8:15AM, 2PM, 4PM, and 7:20PM. The Las Torres reserve is aligned with Bus Sur (they sell tickets in the Welcome Center) and so it’s safe to assume that their schedule aligns with Bus Sur.
- The price is $5 USD (5 EUR or $3,000 CLP) and can only be paid when boarding the bus (cash only). They uniquely accept USD, EUR, and CLP.
- No reservations are required.
If you’re looking to DIY your trip to Torres del Paine or campervan your around, this is certainly a viable option.
Tips on driving in Patagonia
- A 4×4 isn’t mandatory as most of the roads are good condition even if they are gravel roads.
- Expect most cars to be manual transmission. If you require automatic transmission, book as early as possible and expect a higher rate.
- Always make sure you have your documentation available in the car including driver’s license, passport, rental papers, and insurance. When picking up your car, make sure it comes with permiso de circulación (vehicle registration document), revision tecnica (MOT certificate), and seguro de vehiculos automotores (insurance certificate).
- Be very careful with fuel as there are few gas stations in rural areas. Ask your car rental company for a jerry can in order to carry extra fuel. Most gas stations only open during the day time. Also, get into the habit of filling up every time you see a gas station.
- Play it safe and drive under 60 km/h.
- If crossing the border, try to get there early because the line ups get quite long.
- The borders are very strict with agriculture so no fresh fruit, dairy, meat, honey, or animal products. Packaged snacks are fine but don’t have any deli meats, fruits, vegetables, or even baked goods.
- There are other peculiar rules like not being allowed extra fuel in cans going from Argentina to Chile.
- When renting, ask about roadside assistance. This can be very valuable.
Car rental in Chile
In general, renting a car in Chile is cheaper than in Argentina. This will give you freedom to explore at your own pace and also give you the option of driving to Argentina.
- In Chile, technically you should have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) but rental companies don’t check for it. That said, if you get into an accident, they might look for it so it’s best to have it.
- When renting a car in Chile, you are required to have insurance which they build into the cost. They’ll also put a large hold on your credit card for car insurance excess coverage that could be as high as $950,000 CLP ($1,066 USD) since they don’t offer a fully-comprehensive policy.
- Pay attention to the insurance coverage as they will likely have a high deductible. For one quote, we saw a deductible of $700,000 CLP ($785 USD).
- If you plan on driving to Argentina, the car rental company needs to put together special notarized paperwork and insurance. This takes 7-10 days to prepare so you can’t do this last minute. The cost of this could be as low as $35,000 CLP ($39 USD) to $130,000 CLP ($145 USD).
- One-way car rentals from Chile to Argentina aren’t offered by most companies and if it is, is very expensive.
- In both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, you’ll find some of the big companies such as Europcar, Avis, and Hertz but there are hyper local ones as well. The easiest way to find car rentals is to use RentalCars to see all of the available inventory.
- A few hidden smaller companies we found in our research these companies. In Puerto Natales there’s RecaSur Rent A Car, Boulder Natales, and PPU Expeditions. In Punta Arenas, there’s ADEL, Yoer Rent A Car, and Howenh Rent.
- For campervans, there’s Soul Vans, Wicked, and Condor Campers.
Car rental in Argentina
Renting a car in Argentina is similar to Chile but we’ll point out a few additional things and recommend where to rent from.
- Similar to Chile, if you plan on crossing the border, you’ll need special paperwork and insurance.
- Argentina has a law that you need headlights on at all times. This isn’t the case in Chile but it’s a good idea to follow this no matter which side you’re on.
- In Argentina, there’s a law that all cars must have an emergency kit. This includes two warning triangles, a fire extinguisher, a rigid tow bar, a first aid kit, and a red reflective sticker on its bumper. This is worth noting even if renting a car from Chile if you have plans to drive to Argentina.
- In El Calafate, start with RentalCars for a broad search but for the big companies, there’s Hertz, Europcar, Avis, and Sixt but there’ s also local ones like ON Rent A Car, PBA Rent A Car, and Dubrovnik Rent A Car.
- For campervans, check out Full Campers.
There are a ton of options when it comes to private transfers as it seems like every company has this service. The cost can be quite high but the big advantage is that you’ll be able to save a lot of time because it’s door to door.
The types of transfers that can apply for getting to Torres del Paine are:
- Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine – 5 hours
- Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine – 2 hours
- El Calafate to Torres del Paine – 6 hours
You can book these private transfers on your own or find a way to have it built into your tour in Torres del Paine. For instance, if you take a look at our 10 day Patagonia itinerary, you’ll see that Chile Nativo and Hotel Las Torres includes transfers in their packages.
If you’re seeking additional companies for transfer services, you can find either specific transportation companies like Teletrans or reach out to operators for services since everyone can technically offer transfers.
General Transportation Tips
Here are a few additional tips that we learned along the way that will be helpful for those planning a trip to Patagonia.
- Overall, you’ll find that airlines aren’t too strict on the weight of carry-on bags. One time, SKY checked the dimensions of my Shimoda Action X50 backpack and it just fit so they do spot check size. If you have a large backpack, keep it compressed on flights as best you can but don’t worry too much about the weight.
- If the domestic flights have smaller weight allowances, remember to re-adjust your bags when you check-in again.
- Since you can’t always rely on data or wifi, make sure you have available offline your itinerary and flight information. You can have a Google sheet made offline like the trip planning template we recommend or you can simply write a note on your phone with all of your booking references and reservation codes.
- For flights, it’s handy to have your backpack as the cabin bag and small shoulder bag like the Peak Design 6L Sling to have as your handbag under the seat in front of you for quick-access items like your travel documents, camera, charging cables, earphones, etc.
How Does Torres del Paine Work?
This sounds like a weird topic to cover but having been to many national parks in Canada and the United States, you quickly realize that Torres del Paine is fundamentally different in a few ways.
Quirks of ownership
CONAF (The National Forest Corporation) is a Chilean government organization that has manages and are the administrators of national parks including Torres del Paine. This is similar to the National Park Service in the US and Parks Canada in Canada.
The key fundamental difference is that 227,298 hectares of land that’s designated as a national park isn’t completely public. There is a huge chunk of land that’s private and that’s part of the Las Torres Reserve. Hotel Las Torres, Fantastico Sur, and NGO Ama are all part of the Las Torres Reserve brand.
The naming can get confusing because Las Torres translates to “The Towers” and the Base of the Towers viewpoint is also called Mirador Las Torres. Also, the Reserva Cerro Paine is a brand you’ll see along the trail. This is another one of the previous names that is now rebranding to simply Las Torres Reserve.
In this way, Torres del Paine is actually an interesting hybrid of what Kruger National Park is like in South Africa with its national park and private game reserves (i.e. Sabi Sands Game Reserve). What’s different is that the private reserve is within the national park.
Without getting into the nuances of administration and concessions, here is a summary of how this impacts travellers and hikers:
- CONAF are the ones that you’ll deal with at the entrance gates and are the ones that you go to for the entrance fee.
- The park rangers are all part of CONAF.
- Refer to CONAF for the official entry and closing schedules, and latest prices.
- The Las Torres Reserve does a much better job at maintaining their land compared to CONAF and this is clear in the condition of trails and campgrounds. This can be seen by the sustainable trails that they are working on.
- Campgrounds are split between those owned by CONAF, Las Torres Reserve and another private company called Vertice Patagonia.
- CONAF has free campgrounds (i.e. Campamento Italiano, French, El Paso, Perros, etc.) but they are closed until further notice. The honest truth is that these were in poor condition so it’s no surprised that they’re no longer functioning.
- This means that anyone doing the W Trek or O Circuit will be booking campsites with Las Torres Reserve and/or Vertice (more on campsites further below).
- This again reinforces the overall feeling that you have that the private companies do a much better job of maintaining their part of the park.
- There are parts of the park such as Cerro Paine that can only be accessed by Hotel Las Torres because a majority of the trail is on Las Torres Reserve’s private land.
- Along the W Trek and O Circuit, there aren’t any gates or fences that divide private versus public land so it’s relatively seamless going between them. The exception are in areas that are typically reserved for horseback riding in the Las Torres Reserve area and that includes the gate that leads up to Cerro Paine.
- Base of Las Torres aka Base of the Towers is co-maintained and guarded by CONAF and Las Torres Reserve.
TIP: The official English Torres del Paine page is bare bones and unusable. You’re better off going to the park page in Spanish and translating to English. If you’re looking for a map to study ahead of time, CONAF maps are excellent.
Hotel Lago Grey is another interesting situation in that they don’t own the land but with their hotel being in prime location for Lake Grey (Lago Grey), they’ve built up facilities for its access including owning the navigation/cruise that takes you to the glacier, the cafeteria, and the hotel itself.
To the traveller, it may not be obvious but there’s very much a symbiotic relationship between CONAF and the private organizations that either own private land or have concessions to areas that they operate in.
Entrance gates and fees
Both the gates and fees are administered by CONAF.
The territory of Torres del Paine National Park is vast but there are only 3 official gates where you can enter into the park whether you’re driving your own car, taking the bus, or travelling with a tour.
- Laguna Amarga – Eastern entrance on highway Y-156.
- Sarmiento – Eastern entrance on highway Y-150. This gate is smaller than Laguna Amarga.
- Serrano – Southern gate that’s close to Chile Nativo’s Riverside Camp and the shortest distance to Puerto Natales.
These gate are open from 8AM – 7PM.
TIP: Depending on the time, the park rangers don’t always come outside so before you drive through, make sure you show them your pass. Feel free to ask for a park map at the entrance gate.
In order to enter the national park, you’ll need to purchase an entry pass.
There are 2 types of passes:
- Pass good for up to 3 days
- 3+ days pass
For international travelers, the pass prices are as follows:
|Age||3 Days or Less||More than 3 Days|
|12 or under||Free||Free|
|12-17 years old||$18 USD||$49 USD|
|Adults 18+||$35 USD||$49 USD|
|Seniors 60+||$35 USD||$49 USD|
These are 3 continuous days from the date that they’re purchased for and cannot be broken up. If you’re planning on doing the W Trek or O Circuit, you’ll need the 3+ days pass because you’ll be in the park for longer than 3 days.
The tickets come to you in the form of a QR code which the park rangers will scan when entering from one of the gates.
Where can you buy the entrance pass? You can only buy them online (remember to switch to English language). If you work with a tour operator or stay with an all-inclusive hotel, they will purchase this pass for you.
What forms of payment are accepted? If you purchase the passes online, you can pay by credit, debit, or PayPal. If you buy your passes in person, you must pay with CLP cash. Cards and USD are not accepted.
Does the park passes allow for re-entry? Yes, if you exit the park, you may re-enter on the same pass.
Can you still buy park passes at the bus station in Puerto Natales? Many travel guides still mention this but no, this office is now closed.
NOTE: In the past, you used to be able to buy tickets on person at the gate with cash but this is no longer possible. This started as a COVID restriction but will be the case moving forward.
TIP: Since cellular data will be spotty, it’s a good idea to take a screenshot of the QR code on your phone.
There is an administration building close to the south entrance (Serrano Gate) of the park. Not only is this the administrative headquarters but there is also a visitor center.
If you forgot to pick up a map along the way in, you can always come here to grab one and to also ask questions.
This is also one of the stops of many buses.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that there are various ranger stations scattered through out the park. CONAF park rangers are stationed here and these are the ones that are the ones that make sure the rules are being followed, checking for guides on specific trails, doing construction work, and other duties.
In addition to the rangers at the entrance gates, you’ll find them at these locations:
- Paine Grande
- Grey Glacier
- Los Perros
- Laguna Verde
Like every park around the world, we have a responsibility as travellers and those enjoying its natural beauty is to be conscious about keeping it the same way that we encounter it. This is the Leave No Trace principle that we all need to adhere to in order to minimize our impact.
CONAF has listed all of the unauthorized activities in the park but the ones of note are:
- No fires and smoking allowed – With the devastating fires of 2005 and 2011 and having seen the damage in person, I am not surprised that the fine is up to $2,000,000 or three years in prison.
- Bring out garbage with you – This carries a $200,000 CLP Fine.
- No pets allowed – This is very much about protecting the wildlife and introducing disease.
- No drones – They are very strict about this so don’t even try.
- Swimming is prohibited – As enticing as they might be in the summer, swimming isn’t allowed in any lagoons, lakes, and rivers.
- Don’t feed wildlife – Just don’t.
- Cycling prohibited – You can do this outside of the park but in the park, it isn’t allowed for safety reasons because pumas can mistaken cyclists for prey.
How To Get Around Torres del Paine
Getting into Torres del Paine is one thing but how do you actually see the wonders of the national park.
As a complete newbie when I planed the 10 days in Torres del Paine, it seemed like there was only one way to see the national park but there are actually several options, making it accessible for everyone.
1. Trek it
The W Trek is ranked among the best in the world so we wouldn’t blame you for thinking about this first. This hike is extremely popular (and busy), covering 80 km (50 mi) through the southern base of the Paine Massif in the shape of a W, cross crossing with rivers, passing through glaciers, and following ridges.
The more complete version is called the O Circuit which encompasses what the W covers but goes around the entire mountain range in the shape of, you guessed it, an O. This is a 130 km (80 mi) loop that is much more challenging and takes typically 7-8 days to do. You’ll also see this called the “Paine Circuit”.
Between the two, the W is certainly more popular but the downside is that it’s packed in the high season. The O is not for everyone because it has more difficult mountain passes but you get to see a much quieter part of the park with stunning views.
For both treks, you can use Chile Nativo to help put this together (both independent or with a guide), or you can do it yourself.
2. Book a tour package
There are many companies that offer specialized tours that cover a broader range of sights and activities in Torres del Paine National Park.
This is a majority of how we travelled where they were responsible for essentially stringing multiple day trips while staying in one location.
The nice thing about a complete package is that it makes it so much easier to plan and with an expert guide, you’ll have so much knowledge and experience at your finger tips.
Through Chile Nativo’s Multisport tour, we stayed at their Riverside Camp while we hiked one section of the W trail including the Base of the Towers, tracked pumas, kayaked Lake Grey, and saw Indigenous cave paintings.
3. Stay in a hotel inside the national park
This is definitely the more luxurious way to see Torres del Paine in Patagonia but even then, there’s quite a range.
With hotels, you have the option of staying with them as just an accommodation, you can do an all-inclusive experience which includes all tours and meals, or you can find something in between (full or half board).
On the luxury end, Hotel Las Torres can’t be beat with its proximity to the Towers, exclusive access to Cerro Paine, and horseback riding experiences. There are also the ultra-luxury properties such as Explora and Tierra Patagonia. Hotels in between are Rio Serrano Hotel & Spa, and Pampa Lodge.
For those that want something a bit more rustic and unique, check out EcoCamp which has sustainable domes located on the Las Torres Reserve. There’s also Patagonia Camp which has Mongolian-style yurts perched above Toro Lake with views of the Paine Massif.
This option can blend also with booking a tour package. In Chile Nativo’s case, you can also opt to stay in a hotel instead of Riverside Camp.
4. Rent a car and explore on your own
The beauty of having your own rental car is that you’ll have the freedom to explore as you please.
This can be an affordable option because you won’t have to pay for a guided experience or tips but it’ll put the onus on you to figure out all the details of which viewpoints and trails to visit and also figuring out the logistics and safety.
This is ideal for large groups that can split the cost of the vehicle.
Since cars book quickly in high season, make sure you secure this ASAP.
Keep in mind that you’ll still have to figure out your accommodation options so that could be staying at one of the hotels mentioned above, staying in Puerto Natales as you’ll see below, or find a campsite.
5. Stay in Puerto Natales and do day tours
Last but not least is to stay in the closest town, Puerto Natales. Accommodations are significantly cheaper here with plenty of hotels and hostels to choose from. In addition, there are tons of restaurants here compared to inside the national park.
You can use your car rental to explore or you can book day trips with companies that bring you inside Torres del Paine or even attractions outside of the park.
The prices of day trips are quite reasonable and here are a few that we recommend.
Inside the park
- Full Day Torres Del Paine + Milodon Cave
- Base of Torres del Paine Hike
- Half Day Wildlife Trail & Rock Paintings
Outside of the park
The downside is that the days will be longer because of the 2 hour commute each way to get in and out of the park. As a result, there are some activities that will be out of reach because of time restrictions.
Best Activities in Torres del Paine
There are so many epic highlights on a trip to Torres del Paine, it’s hard to list them all. From a trip planning perspective, we understand the value of picking out some of the best things to do to make the most of your time.
Instead of describing each one in detail, we’ll list out our favourites and include a short description so you can start making your shortlist of must-do’s.
- Hike to the Base of the Towers – This hike is totally worth it for its challenging journey and also its iconic view that even photos don’t do justice.
- Go puma tracking – Your chances of seeing pumas are the highest in the world here.
- Go on a boat excursion to Grey Glacier – A fun cruise where you’ll get to see the glacier up close
- Kayak the Gray Lake – Even better is to get on the water in a sea kayak and paddle amongst giant icebergs.
- Hike the French Valley – Another iconic viewpoint that is worth the hike.
- Go Horseback riding – Horses are an integral part of Torres del Paine and they get you access to areas that are more difficult to get to otherwise. They’re also so well-mannered and a joy to ride. This is coming from someone that isn’t that big on horseback riding.
- Learn about Baqueanos and Gauchos – It’s worth spending time to get to know such an important part of Patagonian culture.
- Summit Cerro Paine – Ridiculously memorable views at the summit that combines hiking and horseback riding.
Safety in Torres del Paine
Patagonia and Torres del Paine is incredibly safe at multiple levels – crime, health, and nature.
As a result, whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or in a larger group, there really isn’t too much to worry about. That being said, there are still ways to travel smart and make sure you’re protected.
There is little to no crime in Torres del Paine National Park and it’s because of a few things:
- Torres del Paine is in quite a remote area from both the perspective of Patagonia and also Chile.
- The region is nowhere close to the largest urban center of Santiago.
- The park is 2 hours from the nearest town of Puerto Natales which is also known to be safe.
- Patagonia and Torres del Paine is not cheap to get to which is strong a deterrence for unsavoury types.
Food for thought: If someone wanted to steal your bag on a hiking trail, they’d have to have to carry it all the way out. Most hikers are trying to shed weight and not add more on their back!
Overall, you could say that the type of people that the park attracts are the opposite of what would lead to crime.
This is why, you should feel safe leaving items in your tent or placing your backpack on the ground along the trail. There are also little to no instances of car break-ins.
When it comes to your safety with eating food, drinking water, and diseases, there’s nothing to worry about either.
The water you’ll find in Patagonia is fed from natural springs and glaciers. The water here is pure and will not have organic issues such as bacteria or viruses.
The only consideration to make is that the water will have higher mineral content than you might be used to but it is nowhere close to being risky as compared to the Atacama Desert in Chile. Of course, don’t drink fresh water near the base of trails where they could be risk of runoff from livestock.
- Tap water – This is safe to drink.
- Water on trails – Fed straight from glacial melt, this is some of the freshest water you’ll have. Of course, refill your bottles when you’re away from campgrounds and when you’re higher up on the mountain.
Our guides called the glacier water “mountain juice” and during my 10 days in Torres del Paine, did not have an issue with water once.
TIP: Collapsible and re-useable bottle like the Hydrapak SkyFlask are super handy for quick refills on the trail.
Other than the requirements entry into the country, there’s no need for any specialized medication.
We’ll cover this below but you don’t need to worry about West Nile, Yellow Fever, Dengue, or Malaria in Patagonia.
With clean water, cool climate, and food that’s made with the utmost care, the chances of catching traveler’s diarrhea are low so it’s not necessary to get Dukoral.
Also, since Torres del Paine is close to sea level, there are no issues with altitude either so you won’t need to grab Diamox before you come.
The vast wilderness, geography, and isolation of Torres del Paine provides a unique set of variables that can be a pro and can when it comes to safety.
Patagonia is your playground here and as such you’ll be doing a variety of activities that will have inherent risk. From kayaking, biking, hiking, horseback riding, and more, you’ll be pushing your own limits. When you don’t respect those limits or conduct these activities in a safe way, things could go wrong.
The good thing is that most activities are guided. From our experience with Chile Nativo, all the guides come well-prepared with first aid, are highly trained, and always make sure that activities are conducted safely.
We talked about why you don’t need to do the W Trek, but the advantage of it being so packed with people is that there’ll always be people to help you if something happens. It also helps that all of the trails in Torres del Paine are incredibly well marked and defined. It’s pretty hard to get lost.
The last note is to know your limits. Don’t push your body beyond what it can handle and risk injury. Re-arrange your activities if you know you won’t be able to make that hike or take a break. Don’t let peer pressure get to you either.
If your knees are an issue, make sure to invest in good lightweight hiking poles or find a way to rent them in Puerto Natales.
Lastly, there are no helicopter airlifts available in Torres del Paine so if you get stuck somewhere, you’re still going to have to hike your way out.
Special Discount with Chile Nativo
Chile Nativo was the main operator I used for my trip to Torres del Paine and they are the leaders in helping organize independent W and O treks but also do incredible guided experiences in the park.
We have your back! We’ve negotiated a special 5% promotion with Chile Nativo. This applies to existing packages that they offer but not add-ons & upgrades or fully customized tours.
How? Type in “Going Awesome Places” under “Referral discount”. Simple as that!
It sounds a little outrageous but the weather in Torres del Paine can be a little crazy. There’s a local saying that says that you can see all 4 seasons in a day here and that’s because it can change on a dime.
Temperature is one thing, but one of the more dangerous elements is wind which can reach speeds high enough to flip a bus over. With wind speeds climbing to 100km/h (62mph) or higher, rocks can get picked up and flung your direction.
Rain can also come in when you least expect it.
In these scenarios, you want to make sure you pack the right gear for the trip and seek shelter if things get ugly.
Chile’s geography is quite interesting because it’s practically protected on all sides. To the west, you have the Pacific Ocean. To the east, there’s a massive mountain barrier in the Andes. To the north, you have the dry desert plains of Atacama. To the south, there’s Antarctica and the end of the world.
From an evolutionary standpoint, there’s just not a natural way for invasive species to make their way in. Furthermore, with this region being less populated and travelled, humans also haven’t brought them in.
The good news is that mosquitoes don’t like the dry, cold, or wind. Torres del Paine has both and so these pesky blood suckers don’t bloom to crazy levels as they do elsewhere in the world.
There are more mosquitoes in the summer especially after a wet spell but it’s always quite manageable.
What’s more important is that mosquitoes here don’t carry any diseases such as West Nile, Dengue, or Yellow Fever, or Malaria.
I asked our local guides about ticks and while they might exist, they don’t carry disease for the reasons we mentioned earlier. Lyme disease is not an issue here.
With the incredible opportunities to go puma tracking in Torres del Paine, it’s natural to wonder whether they are a source of danger while in the park.
The myth is that pumas will attack humans but it’s simply not true. By their nature, pumas are quite skittish.
During puma tracking, you’ll learn that pumas have started to thrive because of the increase in hunting grounds and sources of food (i.e. guanacos). They’ve also gotten used to seeing humans and you’ll often hear stories of tracking groups seeing pumas literally walk right in front of them.
The risk is certainly not non-zero as there is a chance that they might mistake a cyclist or runner for prey but the likelihood of that is very low.
Beyond the puma, there aren’t any other apex predators.
Is Patagonia safe to travel alone?
If you’re planning on going to Torres del Paine by yourself, it’s natural to feel some hesitation but there’s honestly nothing to be worried about from a safety perspective.
Torres del Paine is the kind of place where there are plenty of people that do the W Trek, O Circuit, or day hikes on their own.
You’ll be bound to meet other solo backpackers along the way, whether it’s on the trail, at camp, or in the town of Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas. It’ll be quite easy to join forces with others you meet along the way if that’s something you’d like to do.
There are so many support services in the form of refugios, guides, and tour companies. Everyone in Chile is so friendly so don’t be shy to ask for help.
Be safe just in case
When traveling Patagonia, it goes without saying that you always want to travel smart, not be reckless, and practice sound safety principles.
Here are a couple of tips that you can keep at the back of your mind to make sure nothing happens:
- Pack a first aid kit – Even if you’re in a group, it’s a good idea to have your own mini first aid kit. If you’re prone to blisters, make sure to pack moleskin and other remedies.
- Track your hike – The likelihood of getting lost here is low but having an offline map of the area on your phone, smartwatch, or on paper is a good idea. The ones we recommend are AllTrails and Gaia GPS. The Apple Watch Ultra even has a backtrack feature that can help if you’re going off trail.
- Pack lots of water – You never want to be out of water. As a general guideline, you’ll want at least 2L of water per day. Also keep in mind that you can fill water along the way at streams and waterfalls. We highly recommend a hydration bladder system to make the water accessible at all times.
- Listen to the rangers – Park rangers are constantly monitoring trail and weather conditions. If a trail or section is closed, don’t try to sneak in. There’s probably a good reason why it’s closed.
- Stay on trail – If you’re on your own, the worst idea is to go off on your own without a guide.
- Keep your valuables on you – Theft isn’t an issue but it’s a smart idea to have your cash and passport with you at all times.
- Use a lock – If you’re camping and leaving things inside, lock your zippers up. In the case of Chile Nativo’s Riverside Camp, you can also lock up the tent entrance.
- Stay connected – Let your friends and family know your itinerary. If you’re doing something on your own while staying at a hotel like Hotel Las Torres, let them know if you’re doing something potentially more strenuous. Lastly, have a local Entel SIM to get access to cellular data when it’s available.
- Have travel insurance – With the amount of outdoor activities you’re doing, we highly encourage you to have insurance in case sh*t happens. A medical evacuation back home, trips to the hospital, and other health emergencies, you’ll want to make sure you’re protected.
For adventure sports coverage as a Canadian, Allianz has a really good custom plan that you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re in Canada, check RATESDOTCA to make sure you get the best rates. If you’re anywhere else in the world including the United States, World Nomads is a popular provider.
Spanish is the official spoken language in Chile and when you’re in Torres del Paine, it definitely helps to be able to speak it.
That said, comparing our Patagonia experience in 10 days versus the 6 day Atacama itinerary and Easter Island (itinerary coming soon), it was not as detrimental not knowing any Spanish here.
You are able to get by with just English in the park because:
- Torres del Paine is very tourist friendly.
- Most signs in the park and region have English and Spanish.
- If you come here and go with something like an inclusive stay Hotel Las Torres or book a tour with Chile Nativo, you’ll be with a guide that’s fluent with English so you don’t need to worry about interacting with the park rangers which might be the only interaction you need to have in the park.
- Speaking with the park rangers might be the only time you’ll need Spanish. Other establishments such as refugios, hotels, the Las Torres Welcome Center, and boat navigations usually will have English-speaking staff on hand.
What about other languages? Outside of English, tour operators and hotels have guides that can speak Portuguese, German, and French although likely pending availability. Languages other than English may require an extra fee and needs to be requested in advance.
TIP: Before you go, download Google Translate and make the Spanish language pack offline. The app has several handy features including taking a photo of something and having it translated plus a nifty conversation feature that can translate back and forth between say, Spanish and English.
Exclusive Deal with Hotel Las Torres
Friends of Going Awesome Places will also receive a complimentary 30min back or leg massage (value: $75 USD) if you book 3 or more all-inclusive nights between now and March 31.
How to get the discount? Type in “GoingAwesomePlaces” under “Promo code” or “Remarks and notes” when filling out the contact form.
Wait there’s more! If you take a look at their Offers page, you’ll see that from March 15 – April 30, 2023, get an extra night free if you book a 3 or 4 night all-inclusive.
Food to Try in Patagonia
You can learn a lot about a culture through its cuisine and Chilean Patagonia is no different.
What’s interesting about most people’s experience in Torres del Paine is that the food is included as part of the program. This means that in some ways, you won’t have as much choice in where or what you eat but we guarantee that the meals will all be amazing whether camping or staying at a nice hotel.
As an example, with Chile Nativo, the Riverside Camp has a rotation of dishes every day so you don’t really get to pick off a menu. With Hotel Las Torres, they have two restaurants with a mix of pub and casual dining that have a range of international and local food.
These are the dishes and beverages to look out for while you’re in Torres del Paine.
Traditional Patagonian BBQ
Traveling Patagonia and not having this would surely be a travesty!
Over an open wood fire, a full lamb is stretched out on an iron cross and roasted to perfection. If Patagonia was its own country, this would surely be its national dish.
In addition to spit roast lamb, they also grill an assortment of other meats including beef, chicken, sausages, and possibly guanaco. It’s a full out feast that’ll have you breaking out the meat sweats.
Where can you have this? The full BBQ experience is done by Hotel Las Torres and is part of the all-inclusive program. Chile Nativo’s Riverside Camp also treated us to the BBQ on the last day of our tour.
Beef and Lamb
If you don’t have an opportunity to do the full BBQ experience, any beef or lamb dish that’s on the menu is worth having because of how high quality they are.
Chileans sure know how to grill and spice their meats.
Where can you have this? This is probably the easiest thing to find on any menu so you’ll be sure to see this everywhere.
Light, crispy, puffy orange bread is a staple in Chile but we’d argue that the best is found in Patagonia.
Pumpkin is what gives these pillowy circles its distinctive color and then briefly fried. What comes out is something that’s better that you’ll ruin your appetite over.
Sopaipilla is best when served fresh and piping hot and accompanied with pebre which is a type of salsa with chili pepper, onion, garlic, and coriander.
Where can you have this? Throughout Chile, sopaipilla is a complimentary appetizer that’s offered at restaurants, similar to bread in Western restaurants. You can order it separately as well. In Chile Nativo’s case at Riverside Camp which we reveal in our full review, this was often provided as a snack during the briefing meeting.
You’d think we’d put pisco sour here but better yet is when they add a splash of a sweet juice of calafate that gives the traditional drink a scrumptious twist.
Calafate berries are found all over southern Patagonia in troves which is why you’ll find that it’s used in a lot of cocktails and dishes as well.
Trust us, you won’t find this once you leave the Patagonia region so drink LOTS.
Where can you have this? Practically every bar and restaurant will have this in Patagonia. Who does it best is Federico at Bar Pionero in Hotel Las Torres where his imagination and creativity takes his drinks to the next level.
Carmenere Red Wine
The legend is that Chileans always thought they were making Merlot wine until scientists analyzed the grape and discovered that this was in fact a variety of grape thought to be extinct in France.
Carmenere grapes now thrive in Chile and creates a wine that is a deep ruby red color with a soft and fruity touch that is perfect for those that don’t like wine too bitter (tannins). They are said to have the aroma of sour cherry, raspberry sauce, and spicy earth notes.
Where can you have this? While not as common outside of Chile, carmenere is a standard offering at all restaurants so you won’t have trouble drinking one, two, or more glasses of this Chilean speciality.
I’d be remiss to not include mate in this list. Originally from Argentina, this is the drink of choice for Patagonians on either side of the border, over coffee.
You may have recently seen yerba mate used as an ingredient in energy drinks. This is in fact a herbal tea and is commonly known simply as mate (pronounced maté).
A big part of gaucho culture in Patagonia is the social drinking of mate. Served in a small gourd cup wrapped in leather with a metal straw, mate is shared amongst a group with the same mate and straw. The communal nature of mate is a symbol friendship, respect, and camaraderie.
Where can you have this? Restaurants will serve mate if you ask but it’s not something commonly found on the menu. You’ll find that mate is something that locals will drink and you’ll get a chance to try it if you’re comfortable in asking to try or you do an immersive experience where you get to learn about the culture. For instance, Hotel Las Torres offers a baqueano cultural tour where you’ll have a chance to share mate.
One of the beauties of Torres del Paine and Patagonia is the chance to disconnect from the urban grind and being able to reconnect with nature. With that, expect to not have great connectivity, but if you really need it, there are ways to access it.
Here’s a breakdown of how you can get internet access in Torres del Paine.
The truth is, wifi access is quite limited in the park. There aren’t any free access points in the park or even in the towns of Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas.
Even premium camping sites like Chile Nativo’s Riverside Camp don’t have wifi access.
Where can you get free wifi? Technically not free but if you stay at a hotel, they’ll have wifi. We saw this in person with Hotel Lago Grey, Hotel Las Torres, and Rio Serrano Hotel + Spa. In most cases, there’s a login required.
Do the refugios have wifi? Yes, there are a select number of refugios that have paid wifi. An example rate is $10 USD for 8 hours. This is effectively cellular internet shared with all guests and is only on when powered so it does cut off at night.
- Central Refugio (by Las Torres Reserve)
- Paine Grande Refugio (by Vertice)
- Grey Refugio (by Vertice)
How fast is the wifi? The speed is decent at hotels is quite fast (Hotel Las Torres measured at 11 Mbps) but wifi in refugios can be painfully slow.
If you want to have additional connectivity beyond limited wifi, you’ll want to have cellular data through your smartphone.
Local SIM Card
This is the cheapest and most reliable way to get data service.
In Chile, the providers with prepaid SIM cards for tourists are Entel, Wom, Claro, and Movistar but the only one you should consider getting is Entel.
Entel is the only cellular provider that has good coverage in rural areas including Patagonia and Torres del Paine. There’s basically no point in considering any of the others.
One thing you’ll love about Entel is that specific music, social media, and message apps are unlimited and don’t use data. This includes Spotify, Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Where can you buy an Entel SIM card? Oddly enough, there are no stores in Santiago, Puerto Natales, or Punta Arenas airports so you have to grab one in town. It’s $2,500 CLP for a SIM card that’s loaded with 1GB and 30 minutes and you’ll find these in most local pharmacies or convenient stores. You don’t need to go to an Entel store.
Is it easy to activate the Entel SIM card? It’s quite easy but since the SMS instructions come in Spanish and require you complete steps in Spanish over a number you dial, you might want to ask a local to help you out. Activation takes 2 minutes.
Is it easy to recharge the Entel SIM card? You can load more data to your plan by going to a pharmacy or convenient store. The easier way to do it is through the Entel app. You first have to load money into your account. With that money, you’ll purchase a data and minutes plan ($8,000 CLP = 20GB, $5,000 CLP = 10GB).
TIP: Many of your credit cards have two-factor authentication enabled on international purchases where it’ll send you a text message with a code. This won’t work because your phone will be using the Entel SIM. There’s not much you can do about that but there’s bound to be a credit card that doesn’t do this so we recommend that you bring as many credit cards as you can on the trip. Worst case, you’ll have to ask a local to help by using their local bank (thanks Jorge!).
How is Entel’s coverage in the park? In the more populated parts of Torres del Paine such as Serrano Village (Riverside Camp, Rio Serrano Hotel + Spa), Hotel Lago Grey, near some refugios, and at the main gates of the park, you’ll see 3G bars. You’ll find that there are random pockets of the park will get signal. For example, around Windy Pass of the W Trek, full bars will pop up. Oddly, there is no signal near Hotel Las Torres.
Are you going to Argentina? Something to consider is that if you’re travelling between Chile and Argentina, you might have to look at getting another local SIM for Argentina or rely on the other options that can seamlessly switch between countries.
NOTE: This only works if your phone is unlocked.
Advantage – The cheapest method and ensures you are connected to Entel.
Disadvantage – Buying a SIM card may not be as convenient and may require a local Chilean to help with activating and recharging.
Home SIM Card
The no-nonsense way of connecting to cellular data is to roam with your cellular plan from your home country.
This may be expensive compared to the other methods but it’ll require no additional work. Your home SIM card will just roam onto the local carrier.
Anecdotally, the people I travelled with that roamed seem to have worse data speeds when compared to my local SIM so it’s possible that some carriers can’t roam onto Entel.
TIP: Make sure your plan has international roaming enabled. This is usually done from your carrier’s online portal or you can call in.
Advantage – Requires no additional work.
Disadvantage – Easily the most expensive method of connecting and may not reliably connect to Entel.
If you already own a wifi hotspot device, this may be a good option for you. These are pocket devices that you load up with data and can roam onto local 3G and 4G signal and converts them to wifi signal that you and your family/friends can connect to.
There are many companies that sell these devices and plans including Solis and PokeFi.
PokeFi is the most affordable where plans are $15 USD for 5GB. The device itself is $200 USD and ships from Hong Kong and is secretly what many pilots and flight attendants use.
Advantage – You can share the connection with multiple people and it can work globally.
Disadvantage – Hotspot device needs to be charged and it is not as cheap as a local SIM. There’s also a risk that the device you have doesn’t connect to Entel.
The newest method of connecting to cellular data while travelling is through eSIM technology. If your smartphone has this capability, you can definitely consider this option.
eSIMs aren’t physical cards but something that can be activated by software on your phone.
The biggest player in the eSIM market for travelers is Airalo. With them, you have the option to purchase an eSIM that can work globally or be specific for a country.
Here are their sample rates:
- Local Chile eSIM – 20GB for $23 USD (valid for 30 days)
- Global eSIM – 5GB for $35 USD (valid for 30 days)
Notice how the prices vary quite a bit between the two. Depending on your trip and whether you’ll be hopping to different countries, you can choose what makes sense.
Advantage – Relatively convenient solution that is completely digital and can be done from home. The prices are also reasonable.
Disadvantage – Airalo has limited validity days unless you purchase the larger packages. The prices are definitely higher than wifi hotspots and local SIMs.
PokeFi Exclusive Promotion
Are you an avid traveler and could use an affordable wifi hotspot system? Invest in a PokeFi and take advantage of our special promo code.
Use the code GAP23200 to get $200 HKD or $25 USD off the starter package which comes with an extra battery and 5GB built in.
The local currency in Chile is the Chilean Peso or CLP.
Banknotes come in the denomination of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos. Coins come in 10, 50, 100, and 500 pesos.
For Torres del Paine in Patagonia, having cash planned out will be critical because you won’t be able to get any once you enter the park.
While Chile has its own currency, you’ll find that most companies will quote a US Dollar (USD) versus a CLP. This doesn’t mean that they only accept USD but is often done to make it easier to understand the cost.
In most cases, businesses still prefer Chilean Pesos even though prices are quoted in USD. The exception is when businesses want you to pay before arriving, in which case it’s expected that you pay in USD even if you’re not from the United States.
The VAT tax in Chile is 19% but in the case of hotels, international travelers are exempt only if they pay in USD. This is the only time when the tax can be avoided. Otherwise, the 19% is built-in.
When will you need to spend cash?
To figure out how much cash you need when traveling Patagonia, it’s a good idea to sit down and figure out in what scenarios you’ll need cash – whether it be USD or CLP.
Here are a few common scenarios in Patagonia:
- Remaining balances that require you to pay in person
- Food, drinks, and supplies in refugio and camping sites
- Catamaran ferry in Pudeto
- SIM card and recharging
- Tips for transfers, guides, restaurants, and housekeeping
Something to keep in mind is that since this is the kind trip where there are huge amounts still owed in person for tour packages, it may not make sense to bring all that cash into Chile for practical and safety reasons.
The good news is that credit card is widely accepted so you should be able pay most of those off with your card. In the case of tour packages, you should double check with them what forms of payments they accept.
Chile Nativo example: You actually don’t need to bring as much cash as you think for Torres del Paine because 25% is paid as a deposit and the remaining 75% is due 60 days before your trip. Payment is in USD but there’s an additional fee of 2.9% for credit cards (3.9% if AMEX). No fees are required if paying via wire transfer from a US bank.
From the above list, this means that you’ll want cash mainly for tips. This amount sounds small but quickly adds up if you’re doing multiple days with a tour company.
Further down in our guide, we’ll be breaking down trip costs and how much you should expect to pay in tips. We also share our exact costs in the 10 day Patagonia itinerary.
Where can you get Chilean pesos?
There are 4 ways travellers can get Chilean pesos:
- Money changer in your home country
- Large bank in your home country that has an exchange office
- Withdraw from an ATM in Chile
- Money changer in Chile
Why change money at home? Depending on your itinerary, you may not have time to exchange money right after you land in Chile. Take the stress away by getting all or a large chunk of the CLP you’ll need by getting it at home. CLP is a bit of a specialized currency so you may need to put in a special order but it is definitely possible.
Is it safe to withdraw from ATMs in Chile? For the most part. ATMs that are inside banks are safe but avoid standalone ATMs out in the open. We heard from one traveller that their card got cloned after using an ATM in the Santiago Airport’s T2 (international) terminal.
Do ATMs in Chile charge a fee?
This took a bit of investigation but we managed to try a number of ATMs in Santiago to figure out what their withdrawal fees were for international debit cards:
- Scotiabank – $7,000 CLP ($200,000 CLP limit)
- Santander – $7,000 CLP ($200,000 CLP limit)
- BancoEstado – $5,500 CLP (no posted limit)
- BCI – $8,000 CLP ($200,000 CLP limit)
- Banco de Chile – $8,500 CLP ($200,000 CLP limit)
- Banco Falabella – Could not withdraw for some reason
There are no banks in Chile that have free ATM withdrawals and keep in mind that most have a withdrawal limit with the exception of BancoEstado. The limit for most is roughly $200 USD.
Note that your bank might also charge an international withdrawal fee. It will show up as a “PLUS” transaction. In our case, this was $5 CAD.
Is it a good idea to use money changers in Chile? They are not known to scam travelers but the rates offered by the ones at airports are typically worse. Ones in the city offer better rates but they are often not much better than the rate you get from withdrawing at an ATM.
What other currency should you carry?
The only other currency worth carrying in Chile is the US Dollar. Some places may take the currency as an alternate form of payment but this is typically limited to tour operators.
You can also pay tips in USD but I’m pretty sure they would prefer CLP. It works in a pinch though.
USD is also what you’ll need to get a favourable conversion at money changers if that’s how you plan to get CLP.
Overall, it’s a good idea to have at least $200-$300 in USD for emergency use.
Credit card fees
Your life will be much easier if you are okay to use your credit card throughout Chile. This alleviates how much cash you have to bring.
Foreign Conversion Mark-Up
By using your international credit card, just remember that you’ll be charged an additional 2.5% on the currency conversion. It’s a hidden fee that’s embedded into the rate that’s used to convert to your home currency.
The exception of course are special credit cards that don’t have no foreign transaction fees (0% fx) such as the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card in Canada.
Point of Sales (POS) Credit Card Machine Fee
From Transbank (a majority of POS credit card machines), it looks like their machines added a new fee for cards issued abroad for the Mastercard and VISA brands starting February 1, 2021. We started noticing this in Santiago, Atacama, and Easter Island but would certainly apply to Patagonia.
To a consumer in Chile, this is incredibly frustrating unless you know this rule because it’s hard to tell which POS machines are Transbank. As a result, it’ll feel quite random.
In our case, the RBC MasterCard kept popping up a prompt about an extra fee but at the time, I didn’t know about the Transbank fees. Eventually we realized that there were never any fees for American Express. This shows up as Recargo tarjeta extranjera on the receipt and was always $347 CLP.
According to Transbank these are the current surcharges but they are based off of a USD fee so it will change according to the exchange rate. This is supposed to be adjusted annually.
|Purchase Amount||Surcharge in CLP|
|$0 – $1 USD||$0 CLP|
|>$1 – $20 USD||$347 CLP|
|>$20 – $80 USD||$1,227 CLP|
|>$80 USD||$2,677 CLP|
Our recommendation: This feels counterintuitive to say but American Express is the way to go in Chile.
FUN FACT: The backside of the 1,000 CLP bill is Torres del Paine. It’s a bit of an unrealistic photo of the Towers with guanacos in the foreground but makes a great souvenir. The closest you can get to a view like that is by hiking the Cerro Paine that can only be done with Hotel Las Torres.
What you’ll hear in many Patagonia travel guides is that tipping is not essential but is appreciated. The truth is that tipping is expected but what you’ll appreciate about Chile is that it’s never aggressive.
The expectations are quite reasonable and it helps to know what they are, so it takes the awkward guesswork away.
These are the standard tips for Chilean tourism services:
- Guides – $10 – $15 USD per person, per day, given directly to your guides
- Restaurant Staff – 10% of your restaurant bill
- Housekeeping – $5 USD per room, per night
- Drivers – $5 USD per person per day, given directly to your drivers
Of course, adjust your tipping based on actual service received.
On the restaurant side of things, Chile has the standard of automatically adding a 10% tip, called propina, to the final bill. You have the choice of changing this when you pay by cash or use the credit card machine. Knowing that wait staff are generally paid quite poorly in Chile, we were totally fine with the 10%.
TIP: If your group is up for it, you can combine your tips in one envelope so you can effectively tip anonymously.
How Can You Save Money in Patagonia?
If you’ve looked at the cost section of the 10 day Patagonia itinerary, you’ll see that trips aren’t necessarily the cheapest.
There are ways to save money in Patagonia with a bit of smart planning and decisions on how to build your adventure.
Pack food and snacks from home
When planning a trip to Torres del Paine, you’ll likely be limited on time to stock up on supplies, and when you do, you realize how expensive some things are.
If you have space in your luggage and you know you’ll need those supplies for camping, trekking, or full meals, you can totally buy them at home and bring them in.
Here are a few ideas:
- Granola bars
- Energy gels
- Trail mix
- Cup noodles
It’s also a good idea to bring a re-useable water bottle and hydration bladder to reduce the use of plastic bottles.
Book flights on the Chilean website
We wrote about this above but this is a reminder to make your flight bookings in the local Chilean version of airline websites and translate the Spanish using a browser such as Chrome.
With LATAM, we saw a significant price difference between what was quoted on the US and Canadian version of their website versus what was quoted for local Chileans. In our test, we literally saw half the price in CLP compared to USD.
We did not see any difference for SKY so we can’t say that this applies to all airlines.
MYTH BUSTED: We tried to make bookings via VPN to Chile and in incognito browser but noticed it had no effect on the price that we were seeing.
This’ll be counter to much of what we say in why you shouldn’t do the W Trek, but the truth of the matter is that it is much cheaper to do your own self-guided hiking trip.
Those on a small budget can book individual campsites, bring your own camping gear, and cook your own food.
You can incrementally improve your camping situation but looking at fully equipped campsites, premium camping, and meal plans. From there, there are also refugios and specialized mountain cabins in certain locations.
On both ends of the trip, if you do the local buses and hostels in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales, you can keep costs at a minimum.
Ultimately, the big cost in Torres del Paine are in hotels and guided tours but we still say you’d be missing out on quite a bit by only focusing on the W Trek.
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE
If you’re thinking about the W Trek, find out why you might want to consider something else.
Save on foreign transaction fees
Based on the money section above, you’ll know to avoid using VISA and MasterCard but another part of is minimizing foreign transactions charges.
All credit cards apply a hidden 2.5% rate mark up on the exchange rate without you knowing unless you have a card like the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card.
There are other cards that do this too. Look for “no foreign transaction fee” credit cards which don’t charge foreign transaction fees. As an example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a good one in the USA.
When using credit cards, choose CLP
When paying by credit card, some machines will give you a choice to have the charge in CLP or your home currency. Always select CLP.
The reason is because the rate they use to convert to your home currency will never be favourable and will most likely include an undisclosed foreign exchange fee.
By selecting CLP, you allow your bank to determine the exchange rate which should be better.
Take advantage of Going Awesome Places partnerships
Deals are hard to come by when it comes to trips to Torres del Paine so we’ve worked hard to partner with businesses we believe in to offer our audience special promotions.
The two that we have are:
- Chile Nativo – Book with referral “Going Awesome Places” to save 5% on their tour packages.
- Hotel Las Torres – Book with promo code “GoingAwesomePlaces” to get a free 30-min massage with a 3 night (or more) all-inclusive package.
What To Pack for Torres del Paine?
With so much we learned about the type of gear you need for a trip to Torres del Paine, we put together an entire guide on what you need to pack for a trip to Patagonia.
Read the entire Patagonia packing list to make sure you don’t miss a thing. Take advantage of our bounty of insider knowledge and lessons learned from our trip.
Common packing mistakes
- It’s colder than you think – Even if you’re coming in the summer, it never gets as warm as a typical summer elsewhere. Be prepare for wild swings in temperature. Layering is key. Also factor in where you’ll be staying. If you’re in a tent, you might need warmer layers at night.
- Don’t forget the wind – It’s easy to underestimate how strong the wind is. Have right outer shell, headwear, and gloves.
- Bring your own gear – Yes, you can rent but if you want to the best gear that will be lightweight and compact, it’s a good idea to have your own such as hiking poles.
- Trails can get wet – This is more of an issue in shoulder season but trails can get flooded from melt and if you don’t have waterproof shoes, things could get unpleasant.
Where To Stay in Torres del Paine
What’s different about Torres del Paine is that where you stay will very much depend on the style of trip that you’re doing.
Doing one of the big treks (W Trek or O Circuit)? You’ll be staying at campgrounds, refugios, or special mountain cabins.
Looking for something that’s a step above camping? There are glamping-like sites and domes in the park that offer tour experiences.
Want to stay at a hotel and interested in an all-inclusive experience? There are a few beautiful properties that are worth checking out.
Maybe you’re looking to do day trips from Puerto Natales? There are a mix of high-end, budget, and everything in between in town.
Based on research and experience, the below are our recommendations for the best places in Torres del Paine and surrounding area.
If you’re thinking about the famed W Trek or the lengthier O Circuit, you’re going to be camping, staying at a refugio (mountain hostel), or a mix of both.
NEW: The Las Torres Reserve also came out with a new class of accommodations on the trail called “Mountain Cabins” in near Cuernos Refugio, giving even more options for travelers.
The campsites in Torres del Paine are run by 3 organizations:
- Las Torres Reserve (previously called Fantastico Sur) – Francés, Cuernos, Chileno, Serón, and Central.
- Vertice Patagonia – Grey, Paine Grande, Los Perros, and Dickson.
- CONAF – The administrative organization for the national park but as their free camping sites have gone into disarray, they’ve all been closed. Even their booking page just refers to the others.
There are designated camping/lodge sites all along the O-Circuit (includes W Trek trail) and most have a combination of traditional camp sites and refugios.
When planning your W Trek or O Circuit, you can either book all the pieces yourself or you can work with a company like Chile Nativo to book it all for you.
If you’re booking it on your own, we recommend you check out a nifty tool called Torres Hike which allows you to search availability of all campgrounds and refugios between companies. You can also book directly with them.
TIP: If you check the booking systems on your own, you might notice that most dates are completely sold out. What might be happening is that companies have already made mass reservations so contact different operators selling trekking packages.
This is the quintessential way to do the W Trek and O Circuit in Torres del Paine.
- Basic individual campsite – These are designated campsites with wooden platforms. You have to bring your own gear but you’ll have access to bathroom faciltiies with hot showers.
- Fully equipped campsite – Everything is provided and set up when you arrive (tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat).
- Premium campsite – These are tents on special camping platforms on stilts. Here, you’ll get better quality tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat.
For those camping, you can by individual meals or pay for meal plans (full board or half board).
A-la-carte camping gear rentals are also available.
At the campsite (available for refugio guests as well) are designated cooking areas, backpack storage service and paid internet service. There is no power outlets specifically for camping guests but it may be possible to find a spare outlet in one of the communal buildings or the reception desk.
Also called mountain hostels, these are lodges in Torres del Paine located in the same areas as the campsites except you get a comfy bed in a fixed structure.
These refugios have their rate for a single bed in a shared room. There are two styles of structure – shelters and French Domes. Both are mixed dormitory rooms with bunk beds with shared bathrooms, and hot showers. The shelter has 6 beds while the French Domes have 8 beds.
The options in addition are:
- Meal plans – full board or half board
- Individual meals
- There’s an a-la-carte bar on-site
Refugios also have common areas for lounging and relaxing.
New to Las Torres Reserve is the Mountain Cabin in Cuernos. These are premium wood cabins that have a cottage feel to them with firewood heaters, room for 2-3 people, full beds (not bunk beds), and shared bathrooms with hot water. This option is great for couples that don’t want to share a room with others.
Whether camping or staying in a refugio, the overall feedback is that the food by Las Torres Reserve is much better than what’s offered by Vertice Patagonia.
Electricity is available in the dorms and living spaces between specific hours that the generators are running (not overnight). At Las Torres Reserve refugios, there are USB outlets next to every bed.
This is a generalized class of properties that sit between camping and the dorm-style refugios but might not be as fancy as a nice hotel.
There are quite a number of unique stays that can be found in and near Torres del Paine that are looking for something a little nicer.
Lotus Tents: Riverside Camp
Primarily operated by Chile Nativo and used for all of their tour packages, these are private large-sized tents with inflatable queen-sized beds and shared bathrooms. They have a private dining lodge which also serves as a dining lodge. Make sure to read our full Riverside Camp review.
Remember, if you book a Chile Nativo tour with “Going Awesome Places” under referral discount, save 5% instantly.
Sustainable Domes: EcoCamp
On the private Las Torres Reserve are cozy and eco-friendly geodesic domes that are beautifully decorated and have amazing views of the landscape. There are several classes of domes with the higher end ones equipped with heating and private bathrooms. Stays are part of specific tour packages where meals are included as well. You can also book them individually.
Mongolian Yurts: Patagonia Camp
Within the ancient forests of Torres del Paine, stay in luxury Mongolian yurts with central heating, an ensuite bathroom, and handcraft furniture and textiles. Their program is all-inclusive and ranges from 2-5 nights and is full board with a wide selection of excursions. The yurts, dining hall, and boardwalks are all built in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. This is technically outside of Torres del Paine on the edge of Lago del Toro (Lake Bull).
There are a limited number of hotels that are available inside Torres del Paine National Park or right outside of the gate. These are 4 of our favourite.
Ultra Luxury: Explora Patagonia
Explora is a well-known luxury brand in South America with exclusive properties on Easter Island, in Atacama Desert, Machu Picchu, El Chaltén, and finally Patagonia. Explora Patagonia has an iconic nautical design that features private hot tubs that line the shore of Lake Pehoe. Their all-inclusive program features superb food, a focus on horseback riding, and expertly led excursions throughout the park.
Luxury: Hotel Las Torres
This is the OG of hotel properties in Torres del Paine, pioneering its development and playing a big role in its future as well. Hotel Las Torres is an excellent choice for stays within the park because of their captivating selection of excursions, first-class dining, and best of all, has the best location.
Remember, if you book a 3 night or more all-inclusive with the “GoingAwesomePlaces” promo code, get a free 30 minute massage.
Don’t forget to read our full review of Hotel Las Torres.
Luxury: Rio Serrano Hotel & Spa
If you’re looking for a more traditional hotel, Rio Serrano will be an easy choice to make. What will blow you away is the view you’ll have from your room. Being able to see Paine Massif every sunrise and sunset is something special. With this property, you have your choice of whether you want to participate in their all-inclusive program or just book a room for some flexibility.
Budget to Midrange: Pampa Lodge
Simple, modern, and elegant, Pampa Lodge was built for the adventurer wanting to explore on their own. They also have an all-inclusive program although not as extensive as others. They also have a focus on horseback riding.
Uniquely, they also have the Pampa Refugio which is essentially a hostel built for backpackers. These are 14 rooms for 3 or 4 where you book individual beds. Bathrooms are shared. The best part is that breakfast is included with all stays.
For those thinking of seeing Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales or needing a place to stay before or after your time in the national park, these are 3 great hotels.
Luxury: Hotel Costaustralis
A large and modern hotel property in Puerto Natales with a a prime location by the waterfront. We had an opportunity to stayed here and enjoyed the modern decor and recent renovation. The included buffet breakfast is also superb.
Midrange: Hotel Vendaval
A hip, modern, and clean hotel featuring a restaurant, bar, a shared lounge, and garden that’s centrally located. Breakfast is included.
Budget: Kau Lodge
A cozy, lodge inspired hotel with rooms featuring bunk, twin, and double beds. It’s only a 5-minute walk from the main square, private parking is free, and breakfast is included.
When is the Best Time to Visit Torres del Paine in Patagonia?
The weather is notoriously fickle and unpredictable in Torres del Paine National Park throughout the entire year but your best chances for weather are in the southern hemisphere’s summer from November to March.
That said, the real secret is to go during the shoulder season which we’ll explain.
High Season (November – March)
Remember that Chile and Patagonia is located in the southern hemisphere. As a result, high season coincides with their summer which is November to March.
In the summer months, it can get to a high of 20°C (68°F) and at night drop down to 5°C (41°F). From this, you can see that it doesn’t get particularly hot.
While these are the warmest days of the year where you might get lucky to have things heat up to the high twenties, summer is known for insanely strong windgusts.
As a high season, this is when all of the tourists descend on Patagonia. Everything books out months in advance and it can get quite crowded on the W Trek. It’s been referred to being like a shopping mall.
- Nov – All Saint’s Day
- Dec – Immaculate Conception Day, Christmas Day
- Jan – New Year’s Day
Shoulder Season (April – May, September – October)
For those in the know, this is easily the best times to go to Torres del Paine. More specifically, May is fabulous because of the fall colors when the leaves turn into an explosion of fiery hues.
In the shoulder season, it can get to a high of 14°C (57.2°F) and at night drop down to 3°C (37.4°F). It definitely gets cold and it could drop below freezing but it’s still manageable with the right layers in the Patagonia packing list. The weather can still be unpredictable but it’s actually less windy and can be more calm than those wild summer days.
Beyond the fall colours, it’s a great time to come because you can get snow-capped mountains, otherworldly sunrises, significantly fewer crowds on the trail, and lower prices.
It’s worth noting that while the W Trek is open throughout the year but starting May 1 to September 13, you’ll need a guide. The O Circuit fully closes May 1 and opens back up November 1.
Hotel Las Torres closes in May and reopens in September. Others have varying schedules in terms of off-season.
- April – Holy Saturday
- May – Labour Day
- May – Navy Day
- September – Independence Day
- September – Day of the Glories of the Chilean Army
- October – Meeting of the Worlds
- October – Reformation Day
Low Season (June – August)
While winter can be quite magical if you’re lucky, the truth is that it’s unlikely that you’ll come to Patagonia and visit Torres del Paine when you won’t be able to do it with the same freedom as other times of the year and snow or ice can shut down areas at any time.
This time of the year are for the serious adventurers and those that want to see the national park in the winter specifically.
If you’re looking for that winter mood, your best bet is to go in June and July, which many are billing as the “secret season”.
Again, remember that you can only do the W Trek in the winter is by going with a certified guide. Also, expect reduced or cancelled services in this season (i.e. Grey Glacier Navigation is 2 times a week vs 3 times a day)
Another thing to keep in mind that most refugios and hotels close in the off season. Explora and Hotel Lago Grey are exceptions.
- Jun – Indigenous People’s Day
- Jun – Saint Peter and Saint Paul Day
- Jul – Our Lady of Mount Carmel
- Aug – Assumption Day
When planning a trip, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the things that happen at specific time of the year beyond weather and crowds. This list just happens to be mostly focused on wildlife.
These aren’t necessarily specific to Torres del Paine but apply to broader Patagonia region overall
- Whale watching – December to March.
- Magdalena Island – The ferry only runs from November to March.
- Penguin egg hatching – December to January.
- Guanaco mating – Mating happens between early December and early January with a gestation period of 11.5 months so expect baby guanacos in November and later.
Pumas don’t have a specific mating season.
In the sections above, holidays are mentioned. While they don’t necessarily impact the opening or closure of Torres del Paine, local services and shops may close and tourist places might get more busy because of locals traveling.
How Much Time Do You Need in Torres del Paine?
This is a tough question to answer because there’s the ideal number and then there’s the realistic.
If you have all the time in the world, 10 days in Torres del Paine alone is a great choice. This allows you to potentially do the W Trek and add more activities to balance out your itinerary. Alternatively, with our Patagonia itinerary, you’ll have more than enough things to fill your calendar.
There’s that much to see.
If you are going from the perspective of seeing Chile in 3 weeks that also includes the Atacama Desert, Easter Island, and Santiago as well (full itineraries coming soon), you quickly realize that you have 1 week or less in Patagonia.
With more limited time, you’ll want 5-7 days in Torres del Paine.
If you’re extremely short on time, where perhaps you want to fit in Argentinian Patagonia (El Chaltén and El Calafate), 4-5 days would be tight but could work.
Trip To Patagonia Costs
The costs for a trip to Torres del Paine will vary quite drastically depending on your style of trip.
If you’ve read our itinerary on how to see Torres del Paine in 10 days, we provide a breakdown of costs and also comparing with other ways of exploring the national park.
Let’s look at the per-day cost cost per person (USD). Our itinerary is in bold.
- Independent W Trek (5 days) with gear rental in town and cooking own food – $44/day
- Independent W Trek (5 days) with equipment rented at each campsite – $60/day
- Independent all-inclusive W Trek (5 days) in refugios – $319/day
- Guided all-inclusive W Trek (5 days) in refugios – $479/day
- Guided O Circuit all-inclusive (7 days) – $414/day
- G Adventures O Circuit (11 days) – $320/day
- Intrepid Trek Patagonia (10 days) – $398/day
- EcoCamp Multisport (6 days) – $778/day
- Chile Nativo Multisport + Hotel Las Torres (10 days) – $706/day
- Quasar Patagonia Revealed (9 days) self-guided – $789
- Explora Torres del Paine all-inclusive (9 days) – $2,471
- Tierra Patagonia all-inclusive (10 days) – $2,597
In a different view, here’s how most of your costs are allocated in a trip to Torres del Paine. A majority of the costs fall on the tour that you’re with and this makes sense because it is partially or entirely all-inclusive. You might need an additional hotel stays, and after that it’s the gratuities. Your food and cellular data costs should be quite low.
Torres del Paine and Patagonia overall can get pretty expensive because of the tours.
The best comparable was our trip to Egypt where it was $204 USD/day per person. Even French Polynesia was only $178 USD/day per person. The reason why there’s a dramatic difference is because we didn’t do Torres del Paine fully independently.
Final Trip Planning Tips
To round out the this guide to travelling Torres del Paine in Patagonia, we’ve got a number of tips that we picked up along the way that are worth knowing.
When putting together your itinerary, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Can’t do it all – You won’t be able to do everything. As much as you’ll want to see and do everything, it just won’t be possible.
- Plan for the unexpected – Bad weather can happen anytime in Patagonia and Torres del Paine. It’s good to have buffer days in case you need to shift things around.
- WhatsApp heavy – Business is done on WhatsApp. We recommend that in many cases, you go straight to WhatsApp if they list their phone number versus using e-mail. It’s awkward and sketchy at first but you’ll get responses a lot faster this way. It’s also quite common to use the voice message feature.
- Websites don’t work – We noticed that there were plenty of websites across Chile they didn’t work or had a lot of issues. This was more prevalent in Easter Island but when in doubt, WhatsApp them.
- Prepare tips in envelopes – It’s easy to lose track of how much cash you have during your trip. Save yourself the hassle and plan out your tips ahead of time.
- Plan early – If you’re looking to go in Patagonia’s summer months, best to start looking 6-9 months out because dates will start selling out fast.
Good luck with planning a trip to Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile!
Frequently Asked Questions
No, pets are not allowed in the park.
The two popular shops to rent equipment are Yaghan House and Lili Patagonico’s. These are hostels but also offer camping equipment rental.
Torres del Paine National Park is very safe given its remoteness and high cost to travel there.
Yes, the tap water is safe to drink.
In Torres del Paine, you’ll have a chance to see guanacos, pumas, small birds including owls, flamingos, the Andean grey fox, rhea (small ostrich) and if you’re lucky, the elusive huemel deer.
You need to book 6-9 months in advance.
The easiest way to get to Torres del Paine is by flying direct from Santiago to Puerto Natales and then taking a transfer or bus into the national park.
The best time to visit Torres del Paine and the rest of Patagonia is during the fall colours which is in April to May. There will also be smaller crowds and the prices are cheaper.
You’ll find toilets at the entrance gates, visitor center, welcome center, refugios/campsites, and at hotels.
Torres del Paine National Park is near sea level so you won’t have any issues with altitude.
When doing a booking with say Hotel Las Torres or their campsites/refugios, deposits for foreign guests are in USD. Other companies may have different policies so it’s always worth clarifying.
Thinking of traveling Patagonia but have a specific unanswered question? Drop a comment down below!
What you should read next
Hi William, Your guide is by far the most detailed and useful! Thank you so much. I am planning to go in October but I’m not a big hiker. My plan is to rent a car in Punta Arenas, stay in Puerto Natales hotel and do a day trip by car in the park. I can’t seem to find any suggested route for driving inside the park, like which entrance gate to enter/exit, what viewpoints to stop first etc. Do you have knowledge of this that you can share?
William Tang says
Hey! Thanks for stopping by! I can totally understand because you expect there to be a well laid out route like national parks we have back at home but you could say that it’s a little less developed. After you get there, you realize that’s one of the draws of TDP in that it’s just a bit more raw and authentic. If you’re planning on doing day trip drives from Puerto Natales, the gate you’ll likely come into is the southern gate (Serrano gate). This is where we entered in from the Chile Nativo Riverside Camp. As a day trip, you can drive out to Lago Grey. You can take in the views from the hotel there and join the boat tour. If you pass the hotel and go all the way to the end of the road, you’ll reach another part of the property where you can cross a bridge and get on the sandy flat. This is also the route you’d need to take to board the boat. The other road you can take is north on Y-150. This will take you past a scenic view that has Hosteria Pehoe in frame, a way to get close to Salto Grande waterfall, and as you continue you’ll pass by views of Lake Nordenskjold. Take the left fork to get up to the Amarga Gate or right to Sarmiento Gate. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of guanacos and maybe even pumas. This’ll take you out of the park and you’ll take the road back down home to Puerto Natales. You can break that up in a bunch of different ways and you can also book individual tours that’ll get you to do various activities in the park (which probably include pick up from Puerto Natales). So at the end of the day, it’s really driving the main roads in the park and stopping to take photos especially if you’re not doing any hikes. I hope that helps!