Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales

by Ucman Scher
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Solo Trip Guide to Torres Del Paine & Puerto Natales in Chile

Torres del Paine is the stuff of dreams, honestly! This beautiful national park in the south of Chile is considered one of the natural wonders of the worlds and I can vouch for the title on the way back from this gorgeous place in a bus writing about it.

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The last 2 days I spent in Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales could be best described as a beautiful dream and it is actually painful going away. The national park and the nearest town of Puerto Natales were on my list for quite some time but it needed some careful planning.

Fun Fact: While Torres Del Paine is the most famous national park, it is much smaller than its neighbour Bernardo O’Higgins Park. You can also visit and hike in this park from Puerto Natales.

There is quite a bit of difference once you cross over from Argentinean into the Chilean side. The general living standard drop despite Chile being in a supposedly better economic situation. The landscape is also a bit different on this side of the border but in terms of beauty, it is no less than its neighbour.

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Getting to Torres del Paine

Compared to the Argentinean national parks, getting to Torres del Paine is not so straight forward. The nearest town from the park entrance is Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas. Both these towns have airports.

I travelled from Calafate to Puerto Natales using a bus which takes around 5 hours, it was a comfortable and straight forward journey and the border crossing between Argentina and Chile is quite straight forward.

We left around 5:30pm and I used Bus Sur for this journey because the tickets were available online.

Tip: You need to have a printed ticket for most bus services, they don’t accept digital tickets.

Most of the journey was pretty uneventful with very similar landscape passing through the Patagonian steppe; low mountains with vast open plains with yellow-brown grass and not much else. After roughly 3 and a half hours we arrived at the Argentinean border, they stamped our passports and said Adios and off we went to the Chilean border.

We arrived at the Guillermo Pass and were told to bring our luggage with us along with a customs declaration which I filled out. You cannot bring any food, plant or animal-related products without declaring it. I ate all 3 apples I had to avoid throwing them away, that was fun!

We went through customs check and then we were off again to Puerto Natales which didn’t take long. At 22:30 we were at the bus terminal; it still wasn’t very dark. The bus terminal is at the end of the city and after a 20 minutes walk, I was at my Airbnb accommodation which was a cosy house next to the lakeshore.

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Where to stay for Torres del Paine?

Should I stay in Torres del Paine?

This is another complicated question, you can stay very close to the park or actually in the park but it will cost you an arm and a leg. There is a hostel that is almost always fully booked and a luxury hotel that charges ridiculous prices like a thousand dollars a night or more (I don’t remember but it was ridiculous when I checked). Now I am not one for spending that kind of money on hotels and don’t fancy staying in hostels either so I stayed in Puerto Natales which is the closest biggest city to Torres del Paine.

Staying in Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas?

Punta Arenas is a bigger city than Peurto Natales and it is located further south so if you are coming from the south it makes sense to stay there but in terms of actual distance to the park, it is better to stay in Puerto Natales. It has everything you need for a comfortable stay including travel agencies, a variety of hotels and hostels to suit all tastes.

Loved the cottages

Where to stay in Puerto Natales?

Frankly, it doesn’t matter, I got a place through Airbnb near the lakeshore, it was a cosy place with a beautiful view and very close to the city centre. The city is quite small and you can easily walk from one end to the other in under an hour. If you are looking for a gay-friendly hotel, check Vinnhaus, it is run by a gay couple and it is located right in the city centre.  If you want a more peaceful setting, check out The Singular.

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City Centre is colourful

Food in Torres del Paine

Food in Torres del Paine is pretty okay within the park itself; it is as good as it gets for a touristy spot but it is expensive. A lot of tour companies include lunch for your day tour but for hiking you will need to buy a packed lunch which is quite easily available around.

In Puerto Natales, I found a few good restaurants for a different mood. You can check the recommendations in my Insta stories. You have to try a few things here for sure.

Guanaco – I know it seems weird but guanacos are not endangered and they are hunted for their meat at specific times of the year to keep the numbers in check. It is a delicacy and quite delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

Calafate jam and Calafate sour – These blueberry like berries are the reason for the name of Calafate city. Their jam is absolutely delicious and so are the pisco sours made with them, called Calafate Sour. It is available everywhere in the city.

 

 

 

 

Magallanes lamb (Cordero) – The lamb found here is absolutely delicious, very soft and succulent and the way they roast here is different from the Argentinean side; absolutely divine! I loved the lamb ribs especially.

Mate Tea

 

 

 

 

Mate Tea – This tea is rich in caffeine and it is called the red bull of Patagonia. You will find it with this interesting cup full of leaves, you add the boiled water and then sip it through a metal straw. Keep adding water until you are done, it is quite energizing, especially in the afternoons.

 

When to visit Torres del Paine?

Summer is the best time to visit this part of Patagonia. Mind you, Chilean side is colder than the Argentinean side and windier as well, I am not sure why or maybe that was the case during my 3 days visit. You can do winter visits as well but you need special guides to avoid getting lost and it will be freezing cold everywhere. I visited in December near Christmas time and the weather as beautiful.

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Guanacos

Practical Tips:

Tours for Torres del Paine

There are a lot of agencies that sell tours for Torres del Paine an the most popular option is the one day tour that takes you around the most notable spots in the park. I took this tour and it was fantastic and quite well-paced, I didn’t feel rushed.

Tip: Choose the tours with lunch included, food is not cheap inside the park or bring packed lunch but the quality of food inside the park is still quite good.

The other option is to go trekking with a guide through the park to Torres del Paine or do the famous W or O circuits which take a day or 5 or 7 depending on your hike. I had a bit of flu and already had a gorgeous day to visit the park and the famous Torres (Towers) but it is very doable on your own, you can do the one day hike to Tres Torres on your own. Simply take the bus to the entrance of the park, from there take another shuttle takes you to the starting point. The buses usually leave at 7 from the bus terminal in the town of Puerto Natales and bring you back around 10 pm.

Clothing and Sunscreen

Weather is very unpredictable in the whole area and you must bring warm as well as light clothes. You can hire specialist equipment and clothing from multiple stores in Puerto Natales. Another must is the sunscreen because the sun here is very strong and can harm your skin greatly. Pack accordingly!

Lakeshore at sunset

Boat Tours and Kayaking

A great option to do is to see the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers as well as the Fjords of Chile in the Bernardo O’Higgins National park. You can book the excursion in the city, it is a full day activity.

The bridge at lakeshore

Kayaking is another option although I wasn’t sure because of how windy it can get so I decided to give it a miss and hired a bicycle to go around the beautiful city instead. Cycle hires are also quite easily available.

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2 days Itinerary for Torres del Paine

I kept 2 days for Torres del Paine which in honesty in too short but to make the best of it, I planned to do the full-day tour of TdP and then next day hike to the base of Torres.

Nature had other things in store for me, unfortunately. I wasn’t feeling very well after a bit of recent flu so decided to take the second day easy.

The day I visited the TdP Park was an amazing, beautiful sunny day and we were able to see the beauty of every spot and thoroughly enjoy it which made me feel a bit better.

If you have more time, do check out hiking options like W or O circuits or just the 1-day trek. If you are not a fan of hiking take a boat trip to the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers, it takes half a day

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Things to Do in Puerto Natales

City centre

The city of Puerto Natales and its centre is both very small and you can easily walk from one end to the other in less than an hour. It is quite different from the Argentinean side and the biggest difference I found was the build of the city. On the Argentinean side, houses are cuter, a bit posher, here they are mostly built of metal structure which somehow seem temporary. It is not fancy but it is still very cute and there are plenty of nice cafes, shops and restaurants to keep you entertained.

Lakeshore and Bridge

The shores of the lake are gorgeous with the Andes in the background, there are plenty of cafes for the views and the promenade itself is very beautiful but can be quite windy. There are a couple of bridges including the old bridge of the town which is a bit of a tourist attraction.

Free walking tour

There is a free walking tour that takes you around the city in 2 hours and explains a bit of history and local traditions, it was very informative. It was also great to get a local perspective, who are very friendly.

Spa

The Singular has the most incredible spa in town and while it is quite pricey the service is amazing; the massage was exquisite and I totally felt renewed after some time in the sauna after that amazing massage. I do recommend going in the early evening so you can see the beauty of the views here.

Cycling Adventure

On my second day, I hired a cycle in the evening and followed the cycling track on the lakeshore, the views just keep getting more and more beautiful and before I knew I had covered a great distance but that wasn’t a problem, the sunset just made the way back equally interesting and beautiful. Mind you it was around 10 pm because days are incredibly long here in summer.

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Day Tour of Torres del Paine

The day I spent going around Torres del Paine was one of the most incredible days of my life. I got picked up at 7:30am and after picking a few more people we were on the way from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. It took us roughly an hour and a half with a brief stop at a Guillermo Pass for coffee. We turned towards the park entrance and the road became very patchy with a new one being built alongside.

The scenic drive

Tip: The roads inside the park are very patchy and most of them are still gravel roads.

Soon after we got our first surprise; two lakes before even entering the park and both of them were beautiful.

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Lake Sarmiento

The first one was Lake Sarmiento de Gamboa, we stopped for a little with the gorgeous view of Paine Massif. The lake itself was beautiful but quite far but it was a good introduction to what’s was about to come and stretch our legs. Another 20 minutes and we headed to our second stop.

Fun Fact: The mountain range inside the National Park ‘Paine Massif’ is a relatively newer mountain range and it is not part of Andes mountain range.

Laguna Amarga

This gorgeous lagoon is a bit closer to the mountains and the reflection falls on its pristine waters. We stayed at the Mirador or the viewpoint which displayed its beauty perfectly. You are not allowed to go off the trail and I totally think you should minimise your footsteps here. The water here is a mix of fresh and seawater and not safe to drinks which is not the case for most of the lakes in the park which are freshwater.

Entrance

Soon enough we were at the entrance of Torres del Paine. We purchased our 3-day entrance tickets for 21,000 CLP. You must bring cash and there are no options for less than a day. Our tickets were verified and our passport number and name added to the back to make sure you don’t transfer your ticket to someone else. If you come next day you will need to bring your ID to verify or buy a new ticket so beware.

It was a shortstop and we headed to our next stop, another beautiful lake.

Nordenskjöld Lake

Named after the famous Swede, this is where things got really serious. The waters are a beautiful soapy blue colour and the mountains behind seriously make you wonder if you’re in heaven.

Another half an hour later we started driving towards the outfall of this beautiful lake; a beautiful waterfall…

On the way, I fell in love with this beautiful mountain called The Rock with Horns. This beautiful mountain appears to have three horns and stands out because the horns are a different material from the mountain itself.

my fav mountain with its 3 horns

The drive around Paine Massif was moving away from the three famous towers to more towards the Paine Grande which is the biggest mountain of this range.

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Salto Grande

We stopped at the next spot and a 10 minutes short but ridiculously beautiful walk later we arrived at the outfall of Lake Nordenskjold; Salto Grande or the big waterfall.

This was some seriously beautiful view with Paine Massif at its back and water flowing out of Nordenskjold, we had some time here so I walked all the way near the lake. It almost felt like a dream touching its beautiful water, I drank a little bit, it was slightly bitter.

Tip: It is safe to drink most of the glacial water but you can’t do it too much because of the sediment present in it which can make you sick. This sediment gives the water its light blue, soapy colour and appearance.

At this point I was thinking to myself, what else could this guy possibly show us that could top the beauty of this place and man how wrong was I!

Lake Pehoé

The next stop before lunch was this most beautiful lake of national park! Lake Pehoe was voted by National Geographic members to be the fifth most beautiful place in the world and I kept wondering if the NG members have been here, if they have this would top every other place. The island in the middle is loaded with beautiful flowers with a background to match.

We stayed for half an hour and then headed towards our lunch spot which was another 40 minutes drive inside the park. It was a gravel road but the views were gorgeous, I looked outside and don’t know when I fell asleep. I felt like it was one of those magical car journeys with my parents when I was very young and the world was free of any care beyond exams and homework. The nap was short but energizing, relaxing and powerful, better than any pill you could take.

Grey Glacier, River and Lake

We arrived at the restaurant for some food and we got 90 minutes to eat and enjoy the Grey glacier and its lake and river. The food was quite good, I got myself some green tea and headed down. It was windy and then it got windier and windier.

Winds of 100km/h are common here. It was an open plane with the Paine Massif in the background, the grey glacier in its front at quite some distance. I could barely see it from this distance and then the Grey Lake giving way to River Grey with blue icebergs floating about. The walk to the other side of the lake was crazy windy but I loved every minute of it.

Burnt forest

Not an official stop but this is the sad tale of a tourist who tried to burn his toilet paper but finishing hiking which burnt thousands of hectares of this beautiful forest. It was a sad moment to see this beautiful place to suffer because of the carelessness of one moron. This is why there are strict regulation against smoking inside the park and you can only smoke at designated spots.

No words can describe the loss of this burnt forest

Lake Toro

The second last stop on our tour was the biggest lake in the park; Toro Lake or Bull Lake. The weather had gotten quite windy by now and the lake was frankly nothing special after what we had seen. This stop was short and soon after we headed to the Miladon caves.

Windy Lake Toro

Miladon Caves

These caves are named after an extinct animal that you will see imprinted on all road signs in Puerto Natales. We arrived at the spot for tickets and I decided to skip it. I had read that it wasn’t anything special and the suspicions were soon confirmed by a few fellow tourists who went down to see the caves.

The journey back to Puerto Natales started and after roughly 2 hours we were dropped back to the town.

on the way back

Honestly, this place is so beautiful you could spend a lifetime exploring the two national parks Torres del Paine and Bernardo O’Higgins. Sadly I had limited time. It will always be a very cherished memory and an honour to visit this beautiful place. Hopefully I will visit it again one day.

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