Patagonia is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. Even after seeing thousands of photos from social media and fellow bloggers, it was still jaw dropping to see it in person. Since Patagonia is a large region spanning Chile and Argentina, I only scraped the surface by visiting Torres del Paine. But it was still worth every second.
As a first-timer to this famous national park, I had assumed information would be easily accessible and digestible to make trip planning a breeze. But even with the hundreds of blog posts out there, it was still difficult to navigate where to go, where to stay and what to do while we were there. So I put together a guide to help answer some of the same questions I had before my first visit to Torres del Paine.
#1: get to know torres del paine national park
Before diving in to the Google black hole, open up Google Maps and get to know the names of major tourist attractions so you have a sense of how far they are from each other. Swoop Patagonia has a great map (embedded below) that shows some of the key attractions from lodging to trails.
Here are some of the main attractions of the park that I visited in 3 days:
This is the holy grail of hikes in Torres del Paine that takes you to the famous three towers pictured in every post about the national park. If you begin from Refugio Las Torres Central like we did, the hike takes about 7-9 hours, or you can hike up to Refugio Chileno and spend the night. From there, it takes about 3-5 hours and is a popular choice for lodging if you want to do the sunrise hike to the towers.
This beautiful emerald-blue lake glistens as the receding glaciers bob up and down the water. We started this hike from the Rio Pingo restaurant / mini-market and it was an easy 20-minute walk down to the glacier beach. Dress appropriately, as the winds were strong and cold as they whipped our faces.
Mirador Condor was our second hike on the trip, a gorgeous 1 hour summit to the top where you can stare at the majestic condors flying over you as you look out over Lake Pehoe. The hike was steep at times, but eased up just as you thought you couldn’t take it anymore. And the photo opps were endless! Again, this is a VERY windy summit, so don’t wear hats or caps that can easily blow off in the wind.
SALTO GRANDE & CUERNOS DEL PAINE:
Just a short 5-minute drive from Mirador Condor, you’ll find the parking lot for Salto Grande (or, park at Estacion Pudeto and walk up the road to the parking lot). This trail starts off with the roaring Salto Grande, a sight to behold on its own. It then connects with the Mirador Cuernos trail, which goes on for 10km, with the beautiful Cuernos del Paine (horns) mountain in front of you.
LAGUNA AMARGA & LAGUNA AZUL:
Laguna Amarga and Laguna Azul are two popular lagoons just 20 minutes between each other by car, and are great points to stop off at for photos and to get a great view of the Torres del Paine. You can also choose to take the 2.5 hour trail to reach Laguna Azul, where you’ll see guanacos roaming the valleys undisturbed by curious humans.
#2: where to stay in torres del paine
Lodging in Torres del Paine is typically described as “refugios” and are divided into two categories:
Refugios run by officially sanctioned companies such as Fantastico Sur - booked on their website only
Lodges run by private individuals scattered throughout the park - most commonly booked via Booking.com
The most important tip I can give if you’re going to Patagonia is to plan in advance. As you can see above, there are tons of places to visit, and chances are that you will have limited time to do it all. After choosing your “can’t-miss” attractions in the park, you will book lodging based on that.
We booked our stay in August to visit in November, and almost all the lodges were already sold out. If you have a car, you also have the cheaper option to stay in Puerto Natales, the closest town an hour and a half outside the park. But we wanted to make the most of our time and opted to stay inside.
Address: Patagonia Lote A-1B- Sector Rio Serrano, 6170000 Torres del Paine, Chile
This was our favorite place to stay during our three nights in the park - Sati, the caretaker, lives there with his wife and adorable kids, and took care of us like we were his own family. There is free wifi in the main area, and the lodge offers dormitory style housing as well as private 4-person cabins.
The lodge is situated 3km outside the official park entrance, but we’re so happy we had the opportunity to start our trip here. Sati was very helpful in mapping out our destinations for the next few days based on where we were staying.
Hikes & Attractions from Konkashken Lodge:
Lago Grey (30-45 minutes)
Salto Grande (15-30 minutes)
Mirador Condor (1.5-2 hours)
REFUGIO TORRE CENTRAL
Address: Parque Nacional Torres del Paine Pedro Montt 161, Torres del Paine
This mountain lodge is run by the Fantastico Sur company, and should be booked directly on their website. It’s a suitable choice for hikers embarking on the Torres del Paine hike to the three towers, which takes about 7-9 hours.
The lodge itself is at the base of the mountain, and is absolutely stunning. But be aware that they do not have free wifi (costs $10 for 8 hours) and don’t have outlets other than USB chargers for the phone at the reception desk. Additionally, the showers and bathrooms are communal spaces, but are extremely clean and had hot water for their guests.
Hikes from Refugio Torre Central:
Mirador Las Torres (7-8 hours)
Seron Trail (3-5 hours, 13km)
REFUGIO LAGUNA AMARGA
Address: Kl 118, Lote 33 , Torres del Paine Comuna de Cerro Castillo, 6160000 Torres del Paine, Chile
Our stay in Refugio Laguna Amarga was by far the most expensive ($600 for 2 rooms per night), but probably the most scenic stay during our time in Torres del Paine. They were accommodating when we wanted to cook our own food, and even provided help when we needed jumper cables for our car battery. They also had free wifi in the main dining area, and a direct view of the three towers from our bedrooms.
Hikes from Refugio Laguna Amarga:
Laguna Azul (3-5 hours)
Laguna Amarga (stop off point only)
#3: How to get around torres del paine
If you’re traveling in a group, I highly recommend you rent a car, especially if you’re going for a short period of time. There are some buses in, out of, and within the park, but you’ll lose a lot of time depending on their schedules. You can rent a car from the airport in Punta Arenas, and if you book in advance, you should get a fairly good deal.
The roads are paved or well-maintained gravel paths that a regular 4-door sedan can easily handle. You can also stop off along the way for the numerous guanaco and (if you’re lucky) puma sightings.
#4: WHAT TO EAT IN TORRES DEL PAINE
My favorite part of our trip was that we chose to cook our own food rather than pay for the meal options in each of our refugios. Prices for everything in Torres del Paine are very expensive, with breakfast ranging from $12-15, lunch for around the same and dinner for $35 or more. Over the course of a few days, that adds up.
After landing in Punta Arenas and picking up our car at the airport, we drove 20 min into town to the Hiper Lider (Av. Pdte. Eduardo Frei Montalva 01110, Punta Arenas, Región de Magallanes y de la Antártica Chilena) which is Chile’s version of Walmart (and owned by the mega-brand since 2009). This Lider has absolutely everything you can imagine, from produce to clothing to camping supplies.
For 3 days of food between 5 people, we spent $99.000 CLP ($150), which was about $30 a day/person and included wine, snacks, cheese, bread, eggs and ramen. In retrospect, we should have also carried or purchased some disposable cups / silverware but each lodge was kind enough to share their own!
We did have one night to eat out, and chose the Restaurant in Hotel Grey, which I cannot recommend enough. It is the most beautiful space I have ever dined in, and a 5-course meal cost $50, including a glass of wine, tea and coffee. The food was delicious, the service was impeccable and the scenery was out of this world. Even if you can’t stay for a meal, stop by for a drink or just to take in the views after finishing the Lago Grey hike.