Trip Report: Torres del Paine National Park


Level 2 Member
Imagine a land at the edge of the world where you drink from unspoiled mountain streams. Guanacos roam freely on the plain, and pumas reveal themselves to the keen eye. Glaciers extend for hundreds of miles to form the 3rd largest icefield in the world. The weather can go from freezing with snow to warm and sunny in minutes, and 70 MPH winds are common. This is wilderness. This is Torres del Paine National Park, crown jewel of Chilean Southern Patagonia, 2 hours of bus ride from the nearest town (which then is 3 hours from the nearest airport).

It's possible to enjoy this beauty in luxury, but most able hikers trek the W, O, or Q - parts of the main trail shaped like the corresponding letter. To do any of the aforementioned one-way hikes means either camping or staying in refugios (dorm/hostel), carrying all your belongings the whole time, and always prepared for the erratic weather. In other words, not my usual recipe of comfy king bed and oversized bathtub in a suite. This is backpacking. I had no experience in backpacking, but I knew how to research.

I hiked the W, the easiest of the 3, which takes 4-6 days. The O and Q are significantly longer and expose more wilderness best left to experienced backpackers. I stayed in refugio each day, eating dinner there. I brought enough food for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Most people were in bed by 9pm, exhausted from the day's hike. If you weren't on the trail by 8am next morning, you found yourself one of the last to arrive at the next refugio, potentially missing the 5pm deadline for dinner reservation (not applicable if you prepaid). As a matter of practicality, you will find no lock on your room door. No need for protection where there is no threat.

No words can do justice to the awesome scenery, which, as you hike, ranges from massive glaciers and turquoise lakes to rolling hills and snow-capped peaks to lush forests. The erratic weather brings a different perspective to the sights every day, and whatever appears before you, take pleasure in it because it was a unique combination of natural conditions that made it possible. You are hiking up a rugged hill and suddenly the path turns into--not next to, into--a stream surrounded by lush greenery. It's snowing where you are, but in the distance you can see a blue sky piercing through the thick clouds, revealing the brilliant turqouise of that gorgeous lake. It's the perfect moment. And I think, it's why we explore the world.

I would like to thank @KennyBSAT, without whom this great beauty would not have been on my radar. It was one of my most fulfilling trips ever. The trek was challenging, while the natural beauty was raw and more than a feast for the eye. Also, here I interacted with random travelers more than my last 30 trips combined, an experience I enjoyed immensely. I expect that I will have more trips of this kind going forward.

Please enjoy the forthcoming trip report. Here are a few of my photos to pique your interest.

(click on each image for full size)



Level 2 Member
We visited Torres del Paine many years ago. It is stunningly beautiful. We drove from Punta Arenas, stopped at a penguin colony enroute, and kept driving. There are hours of flat terrain and then suddenly the mountain peaks arise. Fabulous place for hikers and non hikers alike.


Level 2 Member
This trip was refreshing for this miles and points junkie. The sacred duty of maximizing (hotel) redemption for comfort was set aside (there was no [planned] hotel redemption on this trip). This trip was about challenging myself. Hiking 10 miles a day in rugged terrain with a 20 lb backpack amid occasional 50 MPH wind for 6 days aside, there was airport sleeping (multiple times), ice cold shower on a cold day, and having my belongings stolen. Authentic backpacker experience, eh?

PRELUDE - Getting to Torres del Paine

It took 3 days to get to TDP through just about the fastest route. On the air redemption side, it was 62.5k x 2 for AA F round trip, though outbound downgraded to J when they changed aircraft. I flew AA business class 787 from Dallas to Santiago. It was my first time taking an American airline in a long haul premium class. The legendary Bland Service (TM) was delivered without flaw--I even got semi-yelled at by a crew for the first time. The hard product was surprisingly competitive. I felt my seat in 6L was possibly more spacious than the reverse herringbone on CX and EVA. However, be cautious that there are some very bad seats on this configuration. Read up on it and choose carefully.

[file]TDP1|Pomegranate tree in Santiago[/file]

I had the whole day in Santiago before the 2am flight continuing onto Punta Arenas (PUQ), the nearest airport to TDP. This is day 1. I walked around city center, amused by the pervasiveness of friendly and sleepy stray dogs. I spent a chunk of time at Plaza de Armas, an outdoor area with benches and several landmarks of interest such as Correo Central (old post office), whose architecture I admired. Having some cheap street food along the way, I found myself climbing the cobblestones of Cerro Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia Hill), the birthplace of Santiago. I felt like I was suddenly in Spain. It's also a romantic hotspot, as every 2 minutes or so I found myself awkwardly placed in front of a couple engaging in PDA. This was my favorite place in Santiago.

[file]TDP2|none|Sleepy dog[/file]

[file]TDP3|none|Correo Central inside[/file]

[file]TDP4|none|the imposing Correo Central[/file]

[file]tdp5|none|'national drink' of Chile - peaches and wheat[/file]

[file]tdp6|none|Cerro Santa Lucia[/file]

[file]tdp7|none|Cerro Santa Lucia[/file]

I took the convenient bus back to the airport. Little did I know, I would be taking it unplanned many more times before the trip is over...

Arriving at the airport with ample time before the 2am flight, I was ready for a shower in the lounge after a day in the heat. To my surprise, the LAN agent said domestic check-in is not available until T-2 hours. The lounge would be closed by then. It seemed strange, since SCL is LAN's biggest hub, but I didn't push back. Had I, I think there's a decent chance I could have gotten in early (the agent might have been wrong). But I settled for a nap on a few chairs. Showerless airport sleeping experience #1.

The LAN SCL-PUQ flight was interesting. It's an all-Y cabin. Even though it's a 2-5am flight, food was served about THREE times with the lights on. On arrival, I noticed a Priority Pass lounge. I went in to have a look. There were apples. That's it for food. Granted, it was around 5:30am, but the airport was already busy. So while OMAAT thinks a certain lounge in China is the worst ever, this one takes the cake for the scarcity of food.

I took the first bus to Puerto Natales (PN), the nearest town to TDP. With relaxing music in my ear, I slept like a baby for the 3 hour ride. I stayed in an awesome hostel in PN (Hostel El Patagonico). It was converted from a house with only a few rooms and highly communal, which I loved. A pair of backpackers from Australia were helping out, and I got some great advice from them. They came here last year, loved it and decided to stay for a while. I saw the horror on their faces when I revealed my intention to bring all belongings for this trip to TDP and go home straight from there. "Nobody brings all their stuff to a 5 day hike," they lectured, underscoring what I had read online: that seasoned backpackers bring only 2 sets of clothes - one for hiking and one for resting. They wear the same thing every day. The rest of the clothes for the rest of the trip are left at the hostel in PN and picked up after done with TDP. As someone who brings multiple changes of clothes just for flights, it was my turn to be horrified, but their experience earned my trust. They also encouraged me to bring more food. So extra clothes out, extra food in.

[file]tdp8|none|stray dogs of Puerto Natales[/file]

[file]tdp9|none|Change of scenery - Colorful houses of Puerto Natales[/file]

I had a fantastic dinner at Espacio Nandu. Banana drink and a hearty seafood soup. This was no ordinary seafood soup. It had at least half a pound of seafood, if not more, including several pieces of snow crab legs. It took me an hour just to finish the soup! And everything together only set me back 10 US bucks. Score! Back at the hostel, everyone congregated at the dinner table sharing their travel experience and aspirations. Great time.

[file]tdp10|none|Great seafood soup + banana milk[/file]

All looked good for the next day ride to TDP, so I thought. My alarm app apparently had a different opinion and didn't do its job. The roommate woke me up and it was late. I hurried for the bus, thankfully making it. Note by this point I hadn't really met anyone going to the park, as in I hadn't introduced myself to anyone. The people at my hostel were either working there or had already been to the park. That's when a young woman sat next to me. We start chatting and click immediately. She is Kari from Norway, a medical student who loves traveling. She is a real sweetheart with a zest for life. I showed her my Norway bucket list, which revealed to her some new places in her country. We chat about everything from travel to politics to love. She has traveled throughout South America including the Bolivian salt flats, which is high on my bucket list. We learn that we are opposites when it comes to travel planning: she likes spontaneity while I like firm plans. We talk about how it would be fun to travel together and use each other's strength. We are now connected on Facebook, and her travels continued into Brazil, Galapagos, and Cuba. I sent my envies.

[file]tdp11|none|We are near![/file]

As we talk, herds of guanacos (ancetor of llama) appear on the side of road. We watch them eat and run. Beautiful creatures. Soon majestic mountains appear on the horizon, and we know we are near. Sky is a bit cloudy but otherwise good weather for Patagonia. We are ready to hike! When we arrive at the park, I learn that Kari's group would be hiking east to west, the opposite of my plan. I found it sad to say goodbye. That's when you know you met someone special. She is definitely someone I would like to see again. We part ways, and the bus drops me off at Pudeto, a catamaran ride away from the W. In TDP, the road and the W/O circuits are separated by lakes, meaning once on the W, the only way out is by walking. Here at Pudeto I got the first taste of the notorious Patagonian wind, raging across the lake, picking up water with it.

[file]tdp12|none|wild guanacos[/file]



This is day 3 and I'm finally at TDP, merely a catamaran ride away from the legendary W. Next, find out how I did on my first hike.

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Level 2 Member
I'm behind on the TR - surprise surprise. I do want to finish it, if only to capture it for myself. I do think it's one of my top 2-3 trips ever.

Meanwhile, here are a few more videos of the experience.