Torres del Paine National Park
Yes… the world famous Torres del Paine National Park – home of hiking… So, we thought about doing the famous ‘W circuit’ in the park – as although we don’t have a tent, there are refugios in the park that you can stay in along the trail….but after a bit of basic research we discovered that it was expensive, tedious, and difficult to organise anything in the park… especially as it was January…
There are two main problems with this park…the first is that it is so famous and popular that it has too many visitors. It has become part of the itineraries of many many overseas tour companies, where it’s part of a Patagonia package – lots of these companies book out the campsites and refugios – in fact, it seems that around FOUR MONTHS notice is required if you want to be sure of getting spots in the refugios around the ‘W walk’ in the summer season. Yes, we should have come in April…
The second thing, is that a lot of the park is actually privately owned, incuding all the refugios and hotels. The park authorities only run a few of the basic campsites, and everything else is in private hands. In fact, most of the trail up to the famous ‘Base de Torres’ mirador is on private farmland. Making it worse, the refugios along the trails are run by different companies, so you can’t even book all your refugios in the same place?! Also, they are pretty expensive for what you get, ($100 AUD for a bunk in a dormitory with no heating and toilet…) and one of the companies requires that you book full board with some of the accommodation… of course, you can just find a tour agency in Puerto Natales that will arrange the whole thing for you… for around $1400 AUD per person for 4 nights/5 days. This covers transport to the park and back, entrance fees, full board and accommodation. If you take off the travel and entrance fees, the cost is around $325 AUD per day, per person – for food and accommodation (in dorm bunk beds)..
Call me cynical, but I think somebody is making a lot of money somewhere……
So, yes, maybe we should have booked 4 months ahead, or maybe we should have rented a tent…but we didn’t… in the end we decided to visit the park on day trips from Puerto Natales. Even this proved to be a pain, as the bus companies all run at the same time, so the only viable morning departure for a day walk to go up to see the Base de Torres mirador is the 7.30am bus from Puerto Natales. This means that around 15 buses full of people arrive at the park entrance at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME… then you all have to get in line to pay the park entrance fee… it can take between 30 minutes and 2 hours to get into the park?! So if it doesn’t go well at the entrance, you could be starting the walk to the Base de las Torres viewpoint at around 11am?! (We managed 10.20am…)
Once you are in the park via the bus, you are actually still 7km from the start of the walk.. down a private road.. so guess what.. you have to get a separate shuttle (run by the hotel) to get down that part of the road (if you are not doing just a day hike, you could just walk the 7km) for another $6 AUD and a bit more delay in getting started…
The walks on the other side of the park require a ferry to get to, and… the buses don’t connect wth the ferry (which is run by a different company…) in a way that means you can get walking before 12pm….
In the end, it kind of felt like the park was a great big money-making machine – a victim of it’s own success and the fact that a lot of it is in private hands…I think that the best way to enjoy this park is to either:
a) have lots of money, rent a car, stay in the hotels inside the park, do day walks
b) have a tent, bring all your own food, camp in the National Park free campsites (no facilities, still requires booking), and hike the trails between the campsites, avoiding the private campsites.
There’s not much of a ‘middle-way’ for folks like us with no tent, no advance reservations, and a small budget 🙂
Also, don’t come between January and March….. 🙂
We did enjoy our 2 day trips to the park, which you can read about later… but we couldn’t help but compare it to our experience in El Chaltén – which in our view is a superior place…! (ARGENTINA 1 – CHILE 0)