If you go to Patagonia, see it all: from Chile to Argentina.
Puerto Natales (the closest town to Torres del Paine National Park) doesn’t have an airport, but you can fly to Punta Arenas and then take a bus to Puerto Natales. We traveled with the company Bus-Sur, the price is around $10 and it takes three hours.
Where to stay: Hostal Cordillera cozy and clean. Good value.
Where to eat: If you decide to spend the night in Punta Arenas I recommend the restaurant La Marmita for dinner. It’s popular so if you can make a reservation, otherwise early around 6.40/7PM is less crowded. Cash only.
We booked a full day tour with Ruta Chile to visit Torres del Paine. The price for the guided tour is $50 per person entrance tickets excluded. You can book online, they request the name of your hotel in the booking form because they come to pick you up with the bus between 7.30/8AM. The tour starts with the Milodon Cave before getting to the park. As the name suggests, it’s a cave where they discovered the rests of a big extinct animal: the Milodon. It’s just a quick stop of around 30 min.
The visit to Torres del Paine starts from the east side (Serrano entrance) where you have to buy the ticket ($30 for adult foreigner). From there the bus takes you to Lago Grey, a long beach where you can admire icebergs floating on the water. The hike takes around one hour including a walk on the beach and back. Then it’s lunchtime in the heart of the park at Pehoe. The restaurant (only one in the park) is good and affordable and they have a fixed menu. If you can book in advance, we found a table but it was crowded. After lunch take a walk around, if you pass the restaurant you’ll see some stairs that will take you to a spectacular viewpoint of the Paine mountain chain (Paine Grande and Cuernos del Paine).
The lunch break is one hour, later the bus takes you to Salto Grande, a windy viewpoint where you can admire powerful waterfalls. It’s REALLY windy so buckle up. The hike is around 30 min return.
The last stop of the tour is Nordenskjold Lookout to see the three torres that give the name to the park. We also saw lamas in the wild there.
Where to stay: Hostal Bulnes located walking distance from shops and restaurants. Nice and clean room.
Where to eat: Aldea for a fancy dinner (creative delicious dishes but pricey), Mesita Grande (homemade pizza and pasta at a big shared table), Angelica’s bakery (they have good lunch options and delicious cakes).
We took a bus to get to El Calafate (the Argentinian side of Patagonia). The bus ride takes around 4 hours. It stops twice: you have to get off for the exit from Chile and for the entrance to Argentina. At the Chilean border, the officer requests the immigration paper they gave you upon arrival at the airport (if you lost it go to the police station in Puerto Natales and they will give you a new one).
The main attraction near El Calafate is the Glacier Perito Moreno. Book the bus one day before the date you plan to go because it’s popular. The bus ride is around one hour and a half and the price is around $30 per person return ticket. We chose departure 9 AM return 4 PM (there is also one that leaves in the afternoon and goes back in the evening). Bring water, a sandwich, and snacks.
At the entrance of the National Park, the bus will stop and two rangers will get on the bus to collect money for the ticket. The price is 330 Pesos and they only accept cash. The bus drops you at the beginning of the blue trail, where there are also cafe, restaurants, and bathrooms. You will be there at 10.30AM and you have to get back to the parking lot at 3.45PM.
There are four trails: blue, yellow, green and red that go around the glacier and they give you the chance to appreciate its massive beauty from different angles.
The best route is: blue, yellow to the primer balcony, red to balcony inferior and back (you can skip the green one that goes into the forest). It takes around 4 hours to do blue, yellow, red and back (counting moments of awe staring, photos and time to eat). Take your time, stare, take photos and enjoy a sandwich looking at the landscape.
Where to stay: Hosteria Los Gnomos fifteen minutes walk from the center, but good value compared to the expensive hotels downtown. The staff is very nice.
Where to eat: Viva La Pepa for delicious crepes, Isabel for dinner (they serve typical cocina al disco, dishes are huge so share one) and Chopen for good easy bar food.
We took a bus with Cal-Tour company from El Calafate to El Chalten. The price is around $25 per person.
El Chalten is a small town, very touristy, full of young people (hikers or wannabe hikers).The two most popular hikes in the area are Laguna Torre and Laguna de Los Tres and they are long.
Laguna Torre is medium difficulty and there are a couple of viewpoints before getting to the Laguna. It takes around 6 hours return so it’s good to start early morning. We didn’t get to Laguna Torre because we started late, we arrived at the 5km of 9km. Honestly, if you are not planning to do it all the viewpoints on the way are not that special.
For the hike to Laguna de Los Tres, you have two choices: you start from El Chalten and return there or you start from Hosteria el Pilar (hotels organize transfers). The first option is mainly uphill, while the second one is mainly flat and downhill. Both are around 8 hours total. We chose the second and loved the scenery. The viewpoint on the way to the Laguna is the beautiful Glacier Piedras Blancas. The last hour of the trail is steep, rocky and uphill. There is a rest area with bathroom and a sign that warns you before you start the steep part. Rest up, eat something and go. If you are a beginner hiker make sure your body is in good condition, take your time because it’s a bit hard. There are a lot of people going up and down and not much space to move. The view is worth it but there are too many people, some of them are also rude and just want to pass without consideration.
El Chalten is cute but very touristy. I think the hikes are too popular and crowded during high season (we were there in January). If you want to avoid tourists, you have to wake up before sunrise (start the hike in the dark) or you should consider another season.
Where to stay: Rancho Grande Hostel tried both shared room and private. Great value for both. We had a great experience also in the shared room and loved the young vibe of the place. Busy night and day, but after 10 PM people are respectful. Book in advance, especially if you want a private room. The staff works tiressly to ensure a good service, especially the cleaners.
Where to eat: Talking about food to get energy for your hikes and fill your stomach after, I recommend: Dulzuras del Chalten for breakfast and light lunch and La Tapera for a fancy dinner (great local meat). The hostel Rancho Grande has a 24h restaurant and it’s a great spot to hang out for a bite.
Patagonia is beautiful and you should definitely add it to your bucket list, but some attractions are overrated, in my opinion.
If you don’t have much time to spend there the must see are Torres del Paine and Glacier Perito Moreno. They are both popular but you can find quiet spots without feeling constantly surrounded by tourists.