I’ll fast forward through the summer to get to the meat of this post. It was a magical dahlia blur. We planted. We harvested. We drove weekend after weekend from NYC to Western Mass and back. A killing frost happened. And then we went on a two-week vacation to Patagonia.
We liked Patagonia a lot. So much so that I’ve been talking endlessly about my time there and convinced a few friends to do the trip. One of them asked for my itinerary and since I’ve written her a very long email about it, it would also make sense to share it with my readers. If I can convince one of you, it would be a small victory. I won’t kid that some physical fitness was/is needed; I did a fair amount of conditioning in the two months leading up to the trip.
Most days we hiked devastating long trails with heavy backpacks but our days always ended beer, local wine and/or Austral beer and a hot shower. There was an early morning thrown in there for a spectacular photo opportunity. Otherwise since we pre-arranged our lodging, we took our time everyday to enjoy the scenery and take an endless amount of selfies that I won’t be sharing here.
Itinerary. Our basic route was this:
- There: New York - Santiago - Punta Arena - Puerto Natales - El Calafate - El Chalten
- And Back: El Calafate - El Chalten - Puerto Natales - Punta Arena - Santiago - New York
While in Chile, we hiked the W trek, starting from west to east. People prefer doing west to east as their packs get lighter and the last day of the trek was the hardest.
Days 1-3: Mainly for traveling, logistics and getting sorted out (can likely head out to the park on the morning of Day 3 if you’re short on time)
- Day 1: Overnight flight from New York to Santiago (8pm flight arriving at 7:35am)
- Day 2: Transfer from Santiago to Punta Arena (10:35am flight arriving at 1:35pm), then took 5:15pm bus from Punta Arena airport to Puerto Natales and arrived at 8:15pm to check into our hotel
- Day 3: Hung around Puerto Natales to pick up supplies and catch a 3pm daily talk about the W trek at the Erratic Rock, mainly to get additional information
Days 4-8: W trek (I may have the mileage wrong, so double check on other sources please)
- Day 4: Lake Pehoe Catamaran - Refugio Paine Grande - Refugio Grey/Glacier Grey. Total route: about 3.5 hours, 11km and really windy. Took 7am bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park; bus makes three stops in the park and we got off at Lago Pehoe to catch a catamaran to begin our trek. Catamaran runs two stops daily, and we caught the 12pm departure. Catamaran dropped us off at Refugio Paine Grande and then hiked to Refugio Grey where we spent the night.
- Day 5: Refugio Grey / Glacier Grey - Hanging Bridge (optional) - Refugio Paine Grande. Total route with the detour to Hanging Bridge: about 5.5-7.5 hours, 11+ km and really windy. Got up early and hiked back to Refugio Paine Grande where we stayed the night; in hindsight, I should have hiked to the Hanging Bridge which I think was another 1-2 hours north of Refugio Grey and then head towards Refugio Paine Grande because the walk back is so short and we just spent the afternoon drinking beer, eating Pringles and staring at each other.
- Day 6: Refugio Paine Grande - Campamento Italiano - Mirador Britanico - Refugio Cuernos. Total route: about 8.5-9 hours, 24.1km. This is a big, long day. Not as windy as Days 4 and 5. Dramatic change in scenery, great views and very challenging. Once you reach Campamento Italiano, you can leave your big backpack by the ranger station (put in a garbage bad or cover it with a rain cover in case it rains) and pack a smaller pack with lunch, camera, flashlight and rain jacket and head up to the French Valley to the first mirador, or viewpoint. If you have the energy, go beyond the first mirador to Britanico (last 30 minutes is somewhat steep). From that viewpoint you get an awesome view of the valley, the mountain tops and all the glacial lakes. Head back down to Refugio Cuernos where you’ll stay the night. There are flush toilets at Campamento Italiano, but bring toilet paper and Purell.
- Day 7: Refugio Cuernos - Refugio Chileno. Total route: about 4-5 hours, 16.5km. Nothing really remarkable about this side of the trek; I felt like it was mainly going from Point A to Point B. However, there isn’t much water at the beginning of the trek so fill up your bottle before you leave. Go to bed early as you’ll need to get up at 3:30am for sunrise at the las Torres. Alternatively, you can get free camping at Campamento Torres which puts you within 45-60 minutes of the base of las Torres; staying at Chileno would extend your hike by another 1.5 hours but it’s fairly easy walking. However, you’ll need to get to Campamento Torres early to reserve a camp site. Some people also recommend that you hike up to the base on this day in case bad weather is scheduled for the next day so that you can see las Torres at least once. We did not.
- Day 8: Refugio Chileno - Mirador Base las Torres - Hotel Torre. Total route: about 5 hours, 10.5km. So we got up at 3:30am to catch sunrise. The route takes 2.5 hours from Refugio Chileno to the base of las Torres. It’s easy hiking until the last 45 minutes and it gets pretty steep and you’ll have to scramble over boulders. I’m not going to lie: this part is really effing hard. But it was so worth it. You should pack a light backpack but bring snacks with you to eat while you watch the granite towers glow red from the early morning sun. It lasts literally for 15-25 minutes and then you head back down and get some breakfast at Refugio Chileno, hang out a bit, pack up the rest of your stuff and then head to Hotel Torre. At Hotel Torre, go get some lunch and order the lamb. SO GOOD! You then catch a shuttle bus that takes you back to where you entered the park, find the bus you have tickets for and head back to Puerto Natales. Once you back at Puerto Natales, stay the night.
Day 9: Back to NYC or to Argentinian Patagonia via El Calafate to El Chalten. In the morning, you can catch a bus for El Calafate, Argentina or back to Punta Arenas for the airport if you’re ending your trip. We went to El Calafate with the end goal of being in El Chalten by the end of Day 9. El Calafate is ok; we thought it would make some sense to spend an afternoon to get money and get something to eat. Getting money there was pointless since all the ATMs ran out of cash :( and food was expensive. We also read reviews to leave Calafate ASAP, with which we kind of agreed. There was nothing to do.
Day 10: El Chalten. Laguna del Los Tres. Total route: 8-9 hours, 20km. The town is situated at the base of the all the hiking trails, so no car rental is necessary. We hiked the Lago del Los Tres trail, which was generally pretty easy except for the first 1.5 km which is uphill since you need to get over a ridge, but then up to km 9 the trail is relatively flat and then 9-10 is straight uphill and as challenging as going to the base of las Torres. Again worth it and look for the blue lake. BTW, if in the morning it looks like a cloud front is coming in, leave this trail for another day otherwise the clouds will spoil the view.
Day 11: El Chalten. Laguna Torre. Total route: 8-9 hours, 20km. Much easier hike than Laguna del Los Tres. Pretty views, but we had cloud cover on our day there.
Day 12: El Chalten. Chorrillo del Salto. Total route: 2 hours, don’t know the distance. Very easy hike after the other two trails and my knees needed a break. Waterfall at the end.
Day 13: El Chalten - El Calafate - Perito Moreno Glacier. Got up early to catch a 7:30am bus to El Calafate. At the bus station, we got tickets to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. If you never seen a glacier I suggest going. Maybe take a boat cruise or a guided glacier trek. We didn’t do that and the experience was ok but pricey. We stayed in El Calafate that night.
Day 14: El Calafate - Puerto Natales. Caught a bus back to Puerto Natales, nothing special about this day other than relaxing, sending postcards and buying souvenirs.
Day 15: Puerto Natales - Punta Arenas - Santiago - New York. Traveled home
- Puerto Natales: Singing Lamb Hostel ($80/night; request bedroom on second floor) and expensive option is Hotel Singular
- W Trek - Refugio Grey and Refugio Paine Grande: www.verticepatagonia.com; can either choose camping or dorm style room (shared with strangers, bathrooms are all shared)
- W Trek - Refugio Cuernos and Refugio Chileno: http://www.fantasticosur.co
- El Chalten: Chalten Suites or Hosteria Senderos. I really liked Chalten Suites
- El Calafate: Hosteria Miyazato Inn which was inexpensive and good; they were kind enough to make breakfast for us at 5am!
- Puerto Natales: Cafe Kaiken, Cangrejo Rojo, Angelica’s, Picada de Carlitos (local diner) and I hear that Afrigonia and the restaurant at the Singular are supposed to be excellent
- El Chalten: La Tapera, La Vineria, Don Guerra
- El Calafate: nothing memorable, sorry!
- Chile: www.bussur.com
- Argentina: http://www.plataforma10.com/ar/en/bus-tickets
- Steak (particularly lomo a lo pobre, which is an egg with sauteed onions over filet mignon (lomo) and comes with potatoes)
- Centolla (crab from that region)
I was not a huge fan of (sorry to offend, but just my preferences):
- Pizza no matter how much they tell you it’s good, it’s terrible for us New Yorkers
- Bread no matter how freshly baked was always dry