Helpful Torres del Paine, Patagonia Travel Tips
If you’re looking to jump straight into details about the treks, you can find information here:
Hiking the “W” Day 1: Paine Grande –>Glacier Grey
I’m about to list some of the more difficult aspects of travel to and from Patagonia, and how to mitigate some of the issues you might experience. Please know that this trip was worth every second of difficulty, and then some. None of the barriers I’m about to discuss should in any way discourage you from visiting this absolutely phenomenal place. I did feel like many travel bloggers I read prior to this trip glossed over some of these issues, and frankly I understand why. Torres del Paine is an amazing place and I would never want anyone to feel like it’s inaccessible or simply not worth the trouble of getting there. In the same breath, I also think you can face travel troubles with a great deal more grace if you simply know what to expect. So here goes!
Flights to Patagonia are really expensive. Budget early, and budget well. We may have spent more than what is typical because we traveled with friends and they had a limited window of time they could travel in, thereby necessitating very specific dates and times we had to plan around. For the record, Patagonia with friends was so much fun and it was well worth the extra cost to be with them. For us, the increase in price was partially offset by visiting in mid-March, which is technically shoulder season. I’m writing this post during the time of COVID-19, when flights are ridiculously cheap. I am not, for even a second, advocating travel during a pandemic. However, if your airline is willing to refund you if you’re unable to use the ticket, now may be the time to buy for January/February as this is the cheapest you’ll likely ever see these flights.
*For those who want to know: we paid roughly $2400.00 USD in early/mid March for 2 round trip economy tickets. This is the most we’ve ever paid for airline tickets to any destination and it was a bitter pill to swallow. We ended up using our precious Chase Sapphire points for most of this bill.
The travel time to Punta Arenas from the U.S. is painfully long. If you have the time and inclination to do so, taking a few days in Santiago or another lay-over city like Buenos Aires will make the trip less exhausting. I won’t go into the details of how we got from our tiny little regional airport –> Dallas –> Punta Arenas, but suffice to say that our total trip duration was 28 hrs and 58 min on the way out and 22 hrs and 41 min on the way back. Friendly reminder- from the American Southwest, it was almost 9.5 hrs down to Santiago and from Santiago to Punta Arenas it was almost 3.5 hrs. Some flights will layover in Mexico City, Lima, or Buenos Aires depending on your departure city and this can be a great way to get some extra travel in while also allowing yourself to rest.
Buy your bus ticket from Punta Arenas to Puerta Natales in advance. This.was.a.disaster (and a totally preventable one). First off, let me give props to the world’s kindest airport staff at the Punta Arenas Airport in Chile who bent over backwards to help us as we jumbled through this whole process. First off, you should be able to purchase a ticket online at https://www.bussur.com from the airport. That was our original intention. However, we could obtain neither cell service nor working internet for any length of time, making a bus ticket impossible to purchase. The only other way to purchase the ticket is at the bus door, which parks in front of the airline check-in counter. The caveat? You can only purchase a ticket if there is actually a ticket to be sold, and despite the 37 degree temps and the half freezing rain, there were still many aggressive backpackers in the same boat we were, ticket-less and jostling for those last few seats.
After 29 hours of travel, with no food for the last 12 hours, all of our luggage lost, and our tenuous grasp of both the Spanish language and our sanity rapidly exiting the premises, we finally scored two bus tickets and got out of the blasted rain. Save yourself.
If you can stretch this trip out, do it. You’re traveling to the ends of the world, after all. We met people who went down to Ushsuaia, folks who traveled by ferry around the tip of southern Chile, and fellow backpackers headed straight to the Falkland Islands and then back to Argentina. We couldn’t do this, as we were just so limited on time. This is a place I’d gladly go back to but it is truly prohibitively expensive and time consuming to reach. If you can combine trips, combine them. In the end, it’s money saved.
I’m going to post more about the ins and outs of our specific hike and some ideas for travel within the park, but for today I’m signing out with this- plan early, budget well, and don’t let anything deter you from seeing with your own eyes the magnificence that is Patagonia.