With endless vistas, towering mountains, and spans of glacial lakes, Patagonia is nothing but stunning scene after stunning scene. The region is one of the most uninhabited areas of our planet and is home to an incredible variety of wildlife and plant life, much of which is endemic to the region. It’s no wonder why the name alone evokes a lure in many adventurers.
However, Patagonia can feel like a difficult place to visit due to the required planning and logistics. We've put together this guide to help you know what to keep in mind when planning your trip!
Patagonia is in South America's southernmost region and spans parts of both Chile and Argentina, stretching from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts.
All international flights to the country go via Santiago. The shortest and most direct route to Punta Arenas, the city with the closest airport to Torres del Paine National Park, is by air, a 3,100-kilometer journey from the Chilean capital.
The nonstop journey with LATAM takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes; the direct flight, with a stopover in Puerto Montt, takes 4 hours 45 minutes. Sky Airlines provides a comparable service, although only on a limited basis.
From Punta Arenas Airport you can take a or rent a car vehicle to Puerto Natales city and from there to Torres del Paine Park.
From Santiago to Puerto Montt:
Travel from Santiago to Puerto Montt via bus or rented car, to later connect with the city of Puerto Natales.
From Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales:
Transportation by bus or rented car to travel the 254 kilometers journey from this city to Puerto Natales.
From Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine Park:
From Puerto Natales, take Route 9 which links to the Sarmiento (112 kilometers) and Laguna Amarga (129 kilometers) entrances of Torres del Paine Park.
From Puerto Natales, take Route Y-290 which connects with the Serrano entrance in Torres del Paine Park (80 kilometers).
Puerto Montt – Puerto Natales can be traveled by sea on a journey of nearly three days.
By boat, you can reach Torres del Paine park through Rio Serrano. You must navigate the fiord of Ultima Esperanza to the Serrano and Balmaceda glaciers and then trace this river.
Coasts, glaciers, mountains, lakes, rivers, grasslands, fjords, rain forests, and more - Patagonia has it all. Because of the dramatic and varying landscapes, hikers can choose from a plethora of day hikes to glacier-fed lagoons, or choose multi-day treks deep into the Andes. Patagonia also offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in both Chilean and Argentinian cultures, making its lure appeal to an array of travelers.
1. The W-Trek
Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes Region, Chile
Distance & time: 45 miles (72 km) | 4 to 6 days
This famed trek is named after the "W" shape of its trail map. Along the winding journey, you'll see glaciers, jagged-edged sedimentary peaks, wildlife, meadows, wind-struck flowers, gorgeous forests, and bright blue lakes on this well-traveled route. This breathtaking climb is popular for a reason, and many consider it to be one of the top hikes in the world.
There are several starting sites (Grey Glacier, Paine Grande refuge, or the Towers' region), but the highlights are the same. Grey Glacier is a part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields, and the W Trek is the best way to get a sense of its massive scale. Continue climbing to reach the spectacular Frenchman Valley, where you'll witness the park's highest peak (Paine Grande), incredible granite peaks (Los Cuernos, the Shark's Fin, and more), and some of Patagonia's most beautiful lakes (Pehoe Lake, Nordenskjold Lake). The trek also encompasses the iconic Towers' Base Lookout walk and an incredible view of the three granite towers that gave the park its name.
2. O – Trek
Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes Region, Chile
Distance & Time: 83 miles (138 km) | 7 days
The route takes you through open meadows, across crystal blue lakes, dense old-growth woods, bridge crossings, and over the incredible John Garner Pass (Paso John Garner) to the park’s largest glacier, Grey Glacier.
If you have the time, energy, and stamina, the extra days completing the entire circuit are well worth the effort. Plus, the route is less congested in the park's backside.
The hike can be planned and completed on your own, but this is only recommended for experienced hikers. Trekking with a guide is recommended for this route.
It's important to train with regular exercise in the months leading up to your trip, especially if you are not a frequent hiker. Jogging, walking on an inclined treadmill, trail running, using an elliptical machine, walking up and down hills, or a step aerobics class are all suggested conditioning exercises for trekking in Patagonia. While biking, rowing, and swimming are all cardiovascular possibilities for the off-season or early phases of your training, make sure that as you approach closer to your expedition, you include spinal-loading cardiovascular exercise.
Patagonia is well-known for its continuously changing weather. Rain, sun, cold, snow, wind, hail, and heat can all occur on the same day, or even within a few hours, so we highly recommend the three-layer rule:
1. Your base layer is the layer closest to your skin and is what keeps you warm by wicking away perspiration.
2. Your mid-layer, or insulating layer, must be able to retain the body heat that you generate. It's best to wear a fleece jacket or a medium-weight sweater as your mid-layer.
3. Your outer layer is to protect you from the elements, particularly wind and rain. It's always a good idea to have a lightweight, waterproof layer on hand.
While it is true that you should "prepare for four seasons," try to pack as light as possible and not overpack. Remember, what you pack is what you carry! Hiking poles and sun protection (at least 30SPF) are highly suggested to make the packing list. You’ll want a sturdy backpack (50 to 80 liters), preferably one that is waterproof, along with at least one dry bag in case of rain.
Seasonal weather is very unpredictable in Patagonia. Summer (December to March) is often better for trekking, with temperatures averaging 43-63 degrees Fahrenheit (6-17 degrees Celsius), and less rain than in other seasons (average of just 4 millimeters each month).
Autumn (April to early June) is an excellent alternative to the major summer trekking season. The Patagonian Steppe has stunning hues – picture delicate yellows, deep oranges, and subdued browns rolling out from the base of the mountains – and fewer hikers. However, there is frequently more rain, and the temperatures drop dramatically at night.
Spring (September to November) is another popular period to trek, but snowfall is a possibility during this time. As a result, you'll need to bring additional layers to keep you warm.
Winter trekking (late June to August) in the Torres del Paine is mostly closed due to snowfall. The day trip to Torres del Paine Base is the only path that is open, however, it is also regularly blocked due to snow.
Though not required, most trekkers choose to hire a guide for their trek. The guides are knowledgeable in the park's flora, fauna, and history, and are eager to share their knowledge with you. They also will take care of all logistical details such as lodging and wayfinding, so all you have to do is relax, enjoy, and take in the breathtaking landscape.
Trekking without a guide is an option for experienced trekkers that enjoy being independent on the trail - and don’t mind a little extra planning! Without a guide, you are free to travel at your own pace and design your own trip. Perhaps the most significant advantage of going self-guided is the decreased cost.
There are two options when it comes to accommodations on the W Trek: Camping or lodges.
Lodges, or “refugios,” must be reserved in advance due to the restricted number of spaces available. They are usually dorm-style rooms for 6-8 people with kitchens, cooks, restrooms, showers, and social spaces.
There are also dedicated campsites with cooking stations, assigned camping areas, and facilities along the route for camping. This is the most cost-effective way to participate in the trek. Many of these campsites are located near lodges with additional amenities and range in size from 50 to 200 tents. Some of the more isolated campsites are free, while others that are closer to hotels require a fee.
Both lodges and campsites are excellent options. Which option is best depends on what type of trekking experience you are looking for.
So there you have it - a short guide to trekking in Patagonia! If you want to share the magic of trekking in Patagonia with like-minded adventurers, check out our unique trip, Patagonia Trek & Yoga with Kenzie for the adventure you won’t want to miss out on!
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