One of the sole reasons I wanted to turn to freelancing full-time was my love for seeing the world. My freelance career has allowed a freedom no employer could truly offer me, seeing as sometimes I prefer last minute excursions, extended stays, or locations that take me off the grid completely.
Recently, I took advantage of my freelance freedoms and booked a trip to Patagonia, Chile – Torres Del Paine to be exact.
After returning, I have so many things I want to share, but I’ve narrowed it down to the 5 most important tips for anyone considering a similar trip:
1. Book in Advance
Torres Del Paine is not your typical backpacking adventure, as you may have read before. The hiking here allows for somewhat luxurious backpacking experiences as there are lodges at each campground available (at a price). If you want to rough it a little more, there is the much cheaper option of camping in the campgrounds adjacent to each lodge, which requires you to carry your supplies such as stove, food, tent, etc. Most of the larger campsites even offer reservations for pre-pitched tents and mattresses to help save you the worry of carrying your own (I wish we would have known that before going, it would have saved my back from 15 extra pounds).
If you begin to research accommodations within the park, you’ll soon realize they are somewhat hard to come by. Make sure to book FAR in advance, especially if you plan on traveling during their summer (December-February). For us, I booked exactly 6 months in advance and saw the campsites fill up shortly after I made our own reservations. Also to note – do NOT try camping without a reservation, you will for sure get turned away.
Booking the reservations can be tricky as the park lodges/campgrounds are operated by several different entities. Some are operated through the government agency, CONAF – these are the hardest to come by and the most ‘nature-filled’ experiences with no running water/electricity or availability to rent your own gear.
2. No Need for a Water Filter
I’m super paranoid when it comes to water filtration as I’ve known people personally to have gotten giardia, a sometimes deadly microscopic parasite commonly found in remote waters. I read online that the water is safe to drink out of the Torres Del Paine park, however, I ignored the advice and carried my water filter 3000+ miles across the world anyways.
After we arrived in the park, it became obvious the water truly was safe to drink. Every single person we met was drinking straight from streams, tap water, you name it. We decided to follow suit, and it sure was rewarding; nothing like fresh glacier water.
3. Pack Lightly
My travel companion, Callie, and I weren’t necessarily well-trained in backpacking mountains prior to our trip yet I felt we were both in pretty good shape before the trip. Even so, the hiking got pretty strenuous during certain parts of the trek, largely dependent on weather. Torres Del Paine is known to have unusually bi-polar weather patterns which we were prepared for yet still surprised by the extremity of it all. In one day we experienced sun, clouds, rain, AND snow, all with consistently strong winds.
Because of this, I highly recommend you leave behind everything but the essentials. If you have to, leave some items back with your hostel in Puerto Natales as you hike the park and return for them afterwards. We both had nearly 50 pound packs which definitely took a toll on us on our longest 10 mile day. The trails are very up-and-down with sharp inclines and declines which become much more difficult with a heavy weight on your back.
4. GET A JET BOIL STOVE
I felt all caps was necessary here because this was one of our few downfalls during the trip which I hope none of you ever have to experience. Backpacking in the states I’ve been using a super lightweight, simplistic stove system that can run on de-natured alcohol or 90 proof drinking alcohol. We took this on the trip as I read it would be easy to buy the fuel (which we couldn’t fly with) in Puerto Natales, however, the fuel we bought was very obviously incorrect. The first night we went to use the stove for a hard-earned meal, the fuel burst into a giant flame that nearly gave me a heart attack (Chile is extremely strict with their fire laws which added to my anxiety).
We tried the stove twice more with little luck and continued the rest of our trip with either stolen hot water from the lodges or cold water for our freeze-dried meals. It was not pleasant to say the least.
Many of the campgrounds have designated mess-hall areas to cook with the rest of the campers. Through this, we learned that nearly everyone in the park uses jet boil stoves, which you can find fuel for nearly everywhere in Chile. I would highly recommend investing in one of these for your trip in hopes you’ll have more hot meals than we did!
5. Reward Yourself
I’ll never forget the bottle of wine we drank in a lodge after our longest day of hiking. If you’re a wine drinker like me, you’ll love Chilean wine (and the prices on it). Take the time to try the local food and/or drinks during your trip as it will most likely lead you to connecting with other travelers in the lodge. Torres Del Paine’s beauty draws people from all around the world, most of which share a passion for travel and the outdoors as you probably do if you are there yourself. Push past the exhaustion and take advantage of the social aspects of the park as well.