How To Plan Your Self-Guided Trek in Patagonia

Patagonia
Part 1: 1 2 3
Part 2: 1 2 3 4 5

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A self guided trek in Patagonia, whether you are trekking the W or the O, requires quite a bit of planning. As I mentioned in my previous post, I started making plans for our November trek of the O as early as February that year just so that I know I have all the camping spots reserved properly. Here are some major questions you need to think about if you want to trek Torres Del Paine of Chilean Patagonia without a guide.

How to get to the park and back? 

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We are pretty far south! How do you get around in this part of the world?

The short answer in Patagonia is flights and buses. Here’s the long answer:

1.Santiago to Punta Arenas: flights. We flew into Santiago and immediately caught a connection flight to Punta Arenas. Our flight landed in Santiago at 720 am and our connecting flight landed in Punta Arenas at 1230 pm. We cleared the customs almost without a hitch until at the last step when Tricia’s bag of trail mix was confiscated. I read about how Chilean government cracked down on bringing nuts into the country (even though they were cooked and salted!), so I intentionally split the trail mix between the two of us. We basically lost half of our trail mix supply that day. $20 loss and a week supply of trail mix win!

2. Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales: bus. (CP 6000 ~ $10) This bus can ONLY be caught from Punta Arenas bus station in town. We stood on the curb of the airport for about an hour and every bus went by were either full or fully reserved. Locals reserve the seats online. If you don’t have a reservation, you won’t make it on the bus. In the end, we took a taxi into town. We got to the bus station at about 2pm and found the next bus wasn’t leaving ‘til 515pm.

Don’t be discouraged, however, Punta Arenas is kind of cool town where you can load up on your camping supplies and get a bite of some good food. We went to a place called Gyro House where I got a sandwich which was the size of my face! Load up them calories for the long trek ahead.

3. Puerto Natales to Torres Del Paine (TDP): bus. There are many buses heading to the park in the morning. However, it is probably wise to get your ticket on the night before when you get to Puerto Natales. We got our 730am bus tickets the evening before and got on the first bus to the park the next morning. Here’s the link for one of the bus companies that is serving this route.

4. To Camp Paine Grande: Lake Pehoe Catamaran: (CP 12,000 ~$20). This boat was scheduled for 12pm which was perfectly timed for people caught the morning bus to the park from Puerto Natales. It’s a 30 minutes boat ride across Lake Pehoe to Camp Paine Grande. Here’s the link to their website for your boat schedule.DSC_0059.jpg

Return from the Park to Puerto Natales:

5.Hotel Las Torres to Puerto Natales: bus. There’s a bus stops right outside this fancy hotel with all glass atrium. There is one more stop at the entrance of the park before its final station at Puerto Natales.

What to pack and where can I get supplies? 

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Some food we picked up in Punta Arenas, some we packed in from home.

I will write about what you need to pack for a self-guided trek in Patagonia in my next post. Here I will talk about where to get supplies. It’s actually pretty simple. Both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales have chain supermarkets with grocery sections. They are convenient and very reasonably priced.

Puerto Natales sees majority of its tourists heading into Torres Del Paine. It is well equipped for trekking supplies. There are shops where you can rent your hiking poles, backpacks, tents and everything else you need for camping. On the other hand, it’s really not that difficult to pack in the essential camping gear of your own for this trip. We ended up getting our groceries in Punta Arenas when we were waiting for our bus. We picked up two MSR fuel canisters in Puerto Natales that evening.

If your trek starts in the W, which almost everyone is, you can actually get some of your supplies from the refugios. They are surprisingly well supplied with stuff. They are way more expensive, of course. But if you found out that you are missing something critical after you get into the park, there is no reason to panic.

Also, most of the hotels in Puerto Natales are able to store a small luggage or a pack of stuff until you return from the Park days or weeks later. We left a garbage bag full of clothing and gear that we didn’t need at the hotel for seven days. It was totally fine.

Where do I stay? Where can I camp? How to reserve camping spots? 

I think this is probably the toughest part to plan for novice trekkers because it is difficult to gauge your pace, bearing weight, until you actually try it. Since you have to camp at designated camping sites, you will have to “guestimate” your speed and make reservations on faith that your body will keep up with that schedule.

TDP campsites

Star: Fantastico Sur; Circle: Vertice; Square: Free, run by CONAF

Two companies managed campsites and refugios when we went in 2016: Fantastico Sur and Vertice. Click on these hyperlinks to their website to make reservations.

Fantastico Sur serves these following sites:

  • Torres Central: Refugio and Camping
  • Torres Norte: Refugio
  • Los Cuernos: Refugio, Cabins, and Camping (required to have meals from their kitchen)
  • El Frances: Domes and Camping
  • El Chileno: Refugio and Camping (required to have meals from their kitchen)
  • Seron: Camping and Domes

Vertice serves these following sites:

  • Paine Grande: Refugio and Camping
  • Grey: Refugio and Camping
  • Dickson: Refugio and Camping
  • Los Perros: Camping

Free Campsites: run by CONAF (first come first serve in Nov 2016, we made reservations for them at the park entrance)

  • Paso
  • Italiano
  • Torres Campsite (1hr from the viewpoint; supposedly most popular and quickest to fill up so advance reservation is advised)

I started making inquiries on campsite reservation as early as Feb, 2016. I didn’t get any response from them for a while. I then heard back from both companies within the same week that they won’t make reservations for that winter until June. So I started making inquiries again in late May and was given an opening date for campsite reservations on their websites. I made reservations on the first day it was open. I got the confirms for all the camps we needed by June.

Here are the email addresses I used to correspond with the staff from the two companies. Hope they are still functional.

Fantastico Sur:

Gabriela Alvarez (super nice, quick to respond to my emails)

T: (56)(612) 614 184

Email: ventas3@fantasticosur.com

Skype: gabyalvarezmansilla

Vertice:

Clariza Low (also very nice and responded to my emails promptly)

T: (56)(612) 412742

Email: ventas@verticepatagonia.cl

Our Planned Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Bus to Pudeto; Catamaran to Camp Paine Grande; day hike to Camp Grey and back (11.5 miles)
  • Day 2: Hike to Camp Italiano, camp (4.75miles); day hike to Mirador Britanico and back (7 miles)
  • Day 3: Hike to El Chileno, camp (14.5 miles)
  • Day 4: Hike up to Mirador Las Torres for sunrise (5 miles); break camp, brunch; Hike to Camp Seron (10 miles)
  • Day 5: Camp Dickson: 11.5 miles
  • Day 6: Camp Los Perro: 5.4 miles
  • Day 7: Camp Grey: 6.5 miles, take lago grey boat from Camp Grey to Hotel Lago Grey.
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Hello Patagonia, here we come!

As I already mentioned in my previous post, we didn’t end up finishing the O. What happened during our trek? Keep on following my posts. I will tell you all the stories.

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