Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Patagonia: Conclusions

April 9, 2012
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.
And as for our next adventure? We have our eye on Mendoza.

- Steph

7 comments:

  1. Hi there Steph and Ben,
    Thanks so much for all your valuable information.
    We plan to arrive in Torres Del Paine in Mid September this year, 2013.
    While the "w" trek is probably a little ambitous for us as a family (as we have two young boys 8yo and 6yo), we thought we could do day treks, or overnights staying in refugios.
    Do you have any suggestions etc.
    Keeping in mind we have travelled the world with our boys since they were 3 months old. They are fit and love walking. But of course, they are still children and we would never put them at risk.
    Kindest regards
    jo
    (sydney)

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  2. We actually saw a lot of families with young kids hiking at Torres del Paine, which was nice. I don't know what they were doing for lodging though. I know there were also a lot of older people doing day hikes from the Camping Las Torres area (staying at the lodge there). Sorry, I don't have more specific recommendations, but the kids we saw definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves.

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  3. Hi Stef,
    my husband and I are planning on hiking Tdp this december 2013 and wanted to either camp or stay in the refugio. The website for fantastico sur and vertice show some campsites open or some lodges but not either or for all 5 days we want to stay. Did you book your campsites ahead of time? Or do you think we can squeeze ins some where? Also we are thinking of just hiking through the first day and skip las torres and go straight to chileno-is that doable in one day? or will we miss something in las torres? thanks a bunch

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    Replies
    1. We didn't book our campsites, but it wasn't peak season when we were there. I believe the free campsites (like Italiano) are all first-come, first-serve but that others like Chileno can be booked in advance (http://sales.fantasticosur.com/index2.php?ENG=English).

      There is some useful information in the comments on this post: Map: How to Hike the "W" in Torres del Paine

      Personally, the Torres are one of the parts I would least want to skip. The area at the base of the Torres is a great spot to hang out (if the weather is good) and the view is of course incredible. That said, it totally depends on what appeals to you (we weren't that worried about skipping Glacier Grey because we had just visited Perito Moreno in El Calafate -- other people might not have made that same choice).

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  4. Hi Stef,

    Thank you for your response. We have decided to hike and camp much like what you did and will take your advice on not skipping las torres. Could you clarify the difference between Camping Las Torres and a Campamento Las Torres. it doesn't show the different locations of the two campsites on my map i downloaded from experiencechile or any i could find online. Also what is the distance between the entrance, I am assuming that is where the bus drop off near laguna amarga to campamento las torres. Also are the campsites right near the refugios? does the campsite fees include hot showers, bathrooms? Can you make your own fire? thanks..

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  5. GREAT blog with so much helpful info for future Patagonia explorers like me!

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  6. Nice post! Great observations about cliché actions.I would like run out of this. So maybe is better focus on El Chaten, it seems more into the woods and out of clichés. I will read your post about El Chatén now.

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