Torres del Paine Camping and Hiking Guide
If you think that traveling to Patagonia is prohibitively expensive, I wouldn't blame you. Every year travel companies turn a ridiculous profit by jacking up prices for trips to this remote region. Just go ahead and take a look at this packaged tour from Adventure Life: Classic W Trek. What they don't want you to know is the same trip can be done for just a fraction of the cost!
Although they draw you in with the "reasonable" price of just $1,850, if you look a little closer you'll notice that to do the same trip when the weather is best (in the high season), you'll have to shell out over $3,000! But what if I told you a five day hiking trip through Torres del Paine National Park actually costs less than $200?
You could take the same photos, hike on the same trails, and have the same wondrous experience in nature, all while saving thousands of dollars and removing the shackles of a group tour. Here is just a taste of what to expect:
Let's start by taking a look at what's actually included in the private tour. Outside of a tour guide, it basically boils down to accommodation and meals. They don't even provide round-trip flights for getting to and from Santiago and Punta Arenas! If you're comfortable camping and preparing your own food, you can save thousands of dollars by planning this type of trip yourself. Here's how to do it:
1. Purchase or Rent Camping Gear
Torres del Paine has long been world-renowned for its beauty and is Chile's most popular national park, which means it also has top-notch infrastructure. The W trek, a classic 5-day adventure, consists of two free campsites and two paid ones (each costs just $7000 Chilean Pesos/$10 US Dollars).
To be prepared for sleeping under the stars you'll need a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, and cooking gear. There are three options here: bring your own from home (best quality), buy your own in Chile or Argentina (cheapest option), or rent some in Puerto Natales just before setting off for your hike (easiest option). Whatever you choose, travel knowing that you'll have a cheap and comfortable place to rest your head after a long day of hiking.
On the other hand, if you're not comfortable camping yet still committed to visiting Torres del Paine, you'll have to shell out upwards of $60 US Dollars for a dorm bed in one of the refugios along the trail. These shelters provide warmth, shelter, and even can provide you with breakfast, boxed lunches, and dinner, but they don't come cheap. Expect to pay around $100 a day for full room and board.
In Patagonia On A Budget, I've also detailed the ultimate list of everything you'll need for an independent backpacking adventure in South America.
2. Stock Up on Food
If you've never carried your entire provisions on your back for multiple days in the wilderness, this might be a daunting task. It sure was for me! I was up until 1AM the night before the trek, packing and re-packing until I fell asleep in a heap of exhaustion.
The best way to pack for Torres del Paine is to select food that is calorically dense; items that will provide a lot of energy and nutrients without taking up too much space or weighing down your back. The best bets are oatmeal, pasta, trail mix, and dehydrated vegetables.
Once you arrive in Puerto Natales, two locations are mandatory to prepare for your trip to Torres del Paine: Erratic Rock Hostel and the Unimarc. Erratic Rock hosts a daily 3pm information session which answers all of your last minute questions, and the Unimarc is a grocery store which contains all the essentials you'll need for the trip.
Still have questions? Want detailed information about what exactly you need to pack? In Patagonia On A Budget, there's a special bonus section with specific instructions for camping, hiking, and cooking on long hiking trips. Pick up your copy on Amazon.com: Patagonia On A Budget
3. Reserve your Campsites
Starting in 2016 there are new rules for the campsites within Torres del Paine. For the first time the national park service, CONAF, has introduced an online booking system. Make your reservations in advance by following the instructions here www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl/en
4. Prepare Your Budget
Here are all of the costs you'll incur for a 5 day hike on the W (all prices in Chilean Pesos).
Bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine: $15,000 round trip
Catamaran across the lake: $15,000 one way
Entrance Fee: $21,000
Campsites: $7,000 each - 2 free campsites and 2 paid campsites on the W , 3 free campsites and 4 paid campsites on the O
Average cost of food per day: $6,000 (includes 3 meals, drinks, and snacks)
If you follow all of this advice, your total cost for the W trek will be less than $100,000 CLP, which is about $150 US Dollars. Plus if you've got some extra time, you can make the most of your entrance fee by tackling the 8 day "O Trek", which is even more fantastic and remote.
Even after taking into account the cost of renting or purchasing additional gear, you'll still have thousands leftover compared to a packge tour. Now the only question is: what will you choose to do with all that extra money? Hopefully continue exploring Patagonia! Check out some more advice below.