BEFORE AND AFTER SHOTS
Start from the beginning of our Patagonian adventure.
So that's it — 16 days, two national parks, a glacier trek and a whole lot of fun.
But before we get back to blogging about Buenos Aires life, we have a few final thoughts about Patagonia, and Torres del Paine in particular. In general we loved it. We ate good food, traveled with only what we could carry on our backs and enjoyed spectacular views all along the way.
There's a lot we didn't see — we didn't go down to the southernmost tip at Ushuaia, or up to the lakes district near Bariloche and Osorno. But we did hit two of the best national parks, Parque Nacional de Los Glacieres and Torres del Paine, which is one of the premier destinations in all of South America. Plenty of people fly thousands of miles, and spend thousands of dollars, just to visit Torres del Paine. The park was full of Germans, Australians, Brits, and most of all, Israelis.
In retrospect, I wouldn't plan our trip any differently, but nonetheless, I'm not convinced that Torres del Paine deserves all the hype. About halfway between Camping Las Torres and Refugios Los Cuernos, sitting on a rock, looking out over a vast lake, we realized we preferred the hiking near El Chalten. Here's why:
- Torres del Paine is much more commercialized and expensive. You have to pay for a bus to the park, and the park entrance free, and then for a shuttle within the park. Most of the campsites are run by private companies, who charge you about $10 pp/night just to set up your tent. If you're willing to spend $100+ pp/day, you can even hike the whole "W" without carrying a tent or any food. In contrast, El Chalten offers no amenities other than pit toilets. It's also completely free.
- There's a lot of backtracking and you have to carry your heavy pack almost all the time (see our recommendation for how to avoid this). One of the best things about El Chalten was that you could set up camp, ditch your pack and see the best sights carrying just a daypack. Torres del Paine just isn't set up to do that.
- The views don't change as much along the way. There's a moment or two each day when you say "wow look at that." But then you're looking at the same thing for several more hours. As I said in this post, in El Chalten, there are a few really beautiful moments (Laguna de los Tres, the views of Mount Fitz Roy), but there are a million smaller breathtaking views all along the way.
- The treks in Torres del Paine feel very cookie-cutter. Most people are hiking either the "W" or the Circuit, and the campsites are set up so that you pretty much have to cover certain distances on certain days. That can make it feel like you're doing the same exact thing as the other 50 people at your campsite. It takes away from the satisfying feeling of being out on your own in the woods.
- Case in point: There's a useful information session at the Erratic Rock Base Camp in Puerto Natales every day that many hikers attend before setting out. It's great for knowing what's closed in the park, how much money you need, etc. But it also means that everyone is receiving the same exact advice. So when the guide suggests "hiking up to see the Torres in the dark, and then snuggling into your sleeping bag with a warm coffee while you watch the sunrise on the towers," it sounds like an awesome idea. But then everyone you run into for the rest of the trip will be parroting that advice verbatim. It no longer sounds so awesome, and becomes more of a cliché.