From the coastal desert in the North to Patagonian mountains in the South, Chile has a lot to offer to the wandering tourist. For my recent trip to this diverse country I focused my itinerary primarily around hiking in Torres Del Paine, the famed national park on the southern tip of Chile (although it was tempting to extend in order to see the rest of the country).
As I began planning the trip, it quickly occurred to me that I’d be traveling to the Southern hemisphere and thus scheduled for their summer in February. You’ll find in a quick Google search that the best times for Patagonia trekking is between November and March.
Another thing you’ll notice if you’re planning a Torres Del Paine adventure is that they are very up-front about their reservation requirements, even for tent camping. This makes things a bit more interesting if you’re planning the trip without a guide as I did (I personally prefer budget travel and found the guides over-priced). Make certain to book 6 months in advance as that is when reservations will open up and will sell out quickly.
If you’re looking for affordable, I’d suggest flying into Santiago and staying a night or two on either end of your trip. I say this because Santiago has a large International airport likely to have more travel options (and prices) from your home airport. Next, you’ll need to book a flight to southern Chile to either Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, both of which you can book with Latam Airlines.
TIP: I highly recommend flying into Puerto Natales if you can as it will save a lot of travel time getting into the park. I say this because all buses depart early in the morning from Puerto Natales, making it necessary to stay there on either end of your trip into the park for timing reasons.
If you’d like to extend your trip, you can easily take a penguin tour from Punta Arenas, something we regret not doing.
Below is what our itinerary looked like, complete with links to all of our accommodations and transportation. Like I said before, make sure to book the camping reservations far in advance (and before you book anything else). You’ll also want the bus reservations prior to your trip as they will sometimes sell out.
Day 1: Depart from your home airport. Depending on how far you are, you likely will not land in Santiago until the following day/morning.
Day 2: Land and check in at your hotel – we stayed at Hotel Sommelier. If you’re really pinching pennies and land during normal business hours, brave the public transit that departs from the airport every 15 minutes. NOTE: They won’t speak a word of English. If you go this route, make sure to research your bus stop closest to your hotel before leaving on your trip. We got around relatively easily with their bus and metro system.
Day 3: Fly with Latam Airlines to Puerto Natales and check in at your hostel. We loved Hostal Alcázar as it was near to the bus stop and they offered pickup from the tiny airport (you must email them in advance to schedule the transfer).
Day 4: Take a bus from Puerto Natales (bus pickup: Avenida España 01455) to Pudeto within the Torres Del Paine park (7:20am-10:45am). Next, take a Catamaran across beautiful Lake Pehoe (catamaran departs at 11am, you must pay there with $40 worth of Chilean Pesos). Stay at Vertice Paine Grande campground – you may camp with your own supplies, rent a tent/sleeping bag from them to conserve on your backpack weight, or stay in the rather expensive lodge. We decided to carry everything (yikes). Next, drop your packs at the lodge and take a day hike up to Glacier Grey. We only made it halfway due to high winds.
Day 5: Hike 7.6km to Campenado italiano (free to camp here and much more immersed in the wilderness without a lodge), drop your packs and hike up Mirador Brittanico. Seeing as Campenado Italiano fills up quickly, you can also stay a bit further at Campenado El Frances.
Day 7: Hike 5.5km to refugio & campenado el chileno, drop your packs and then day hike to Mirador base (the main attraction of Torres Del Paine). Roundtrip is 8km. El Chileno has the option of staying at the lodge or staying on a ‘Platforma Premium’ meaning a tent, mattress, and sleeping bag are provided for you along with included meals at the lodge.
Day 8: Hike 5.5km back down to Estancia Cerro Paine’s Welcome Center (about a 15 minute walk from Refugio Torre Central) and catch a 2pm shuttle from there to laguna amarga. Laguna Amarga is where you can find your returning bus to Puerto Natales at 2:30pm. We stayed at the same Hostal Alcázar.
Day 9: To save some $ we booked our returning flight to Santiago from Punta Arenas, a 3 hour bus ride from Puerto Natales. Board your bus from Puerto Natales and ride directly to the Punta Arenas airport (last stop). Fly back to Santiago and bus/taxi to your hotel. We stayed again at Hotel Sommelier.
Day 10: We booked a flight late in the day, which left time for a tour to some Chilean wineries. If you have the energy, you could also take a longer trip to hot springs in the mountains before your flight back home!