Puerto Natales. Preparations for the hike in Torres de Paine national park. (28 – 30 January)

Our flight from Calama to Punta Arenas had a 4-hour layover in Santiago. We met one local guy at the airport who was also flying to Punta Arenas for work. He was sharing some tips what to do in Santiago because we planned to stay there a few days after our hike. He saved us tons of time doing the research on our own. First impression of Chilean people was really good 😊

The first and most important thing you need to do before to go to Torres del Paine to pre-book your campsites or dorm place in the refugees and this is probably the most complicated part. During high season the campsites get fully booked so you might plan and book several months in ahead. We booked the campsites 2.5 months ahead and could not get the W track middle part campsite anymore. Also, there is no central system for booking the campsites. The sites are managed by 2 or 3 different companies and you have to go directly through them to arrange the bookings. When you buy the ticket for the entrance to the park they also check if you have the bookings for the campsites. However, we read from other blogs and also heard that from one person on the track that once you are already in the park they allow you to instantly crash a campsite and just pay there. This is probably because the campsites are managed by different companies than the park itself. You can get to the park by saying that you are just doing a day trip and return in the evening. In this case, makes sure you do not show them your huge backpack. It seems that nobody will track how long you stay there actually or if you actually return the same evening. Having said that, we still recommend to plan ahead and prebook the campsites for good order sake. We even did not book our flight tickets until we were sure we have the campsite bookings for the planned dates. If you plan to scam, you never know if you will get caught or not and this would ruin the whole experience. The park rangers are said to be very strict and any misbehaves will be handled by throwing you out from the park and even from the country.

We landed on Punta Arenas airport on the morning of 28 February and took a bus from the airport to Puerto Natales. This is the town where you need to go if you want to visit Torres del Paine national park. There are several buses and companies running this route and several times a day. Main 2 companies are Bus Sur and Bus Fernandez. We had not booked any tickets in advance, but luckily there was still enough space for us on the first bus to Puerto Natales.

Everything went smoothly and a couple of hours later we arrived. We had an Airbnb place booked. We basically booked the cheapest one and the comments about the place were not promising but we thought that it is only going to be a few nights. And for the one night after the hike, we had anyway a better place booked. Apparently, Chile is quite expensive and especially the remote parts. It was difficult to find accommodation under 25 euros per night in the whole Puerto Natales.

When we arrived at our hostel, there was no host to welcome us and we couldn’t get in. Finally, other guests let us in. Later in the evening, a brother of the host came and apparently he had no idea that we were coming. Anyway, in the afternoon, we got our room ready and everything was fine.

So for the next 3 days, we had to buy food for the hike, rent some gear and arrange tickets for the entrance of the park and a bus.

Since we wanted to be sure we get the necessary gear we started with that. We needed to rent a tent, sleeping mats, and hiking poles. The sleeping bags we already had. By doing research we found that many people mentioned the place called Erratic hostel. Besides hostel, they also rent camping gear and with a very competitive price. We went there to check with them and we got a good discount and made a deal right away. We needed to pick up the gear the evening before the beginning of the rental period. The same hostel also hosts free Torres del Paine briefings every day at 3 o’clock. They explain the different treks you can do in the park and also share the latest information about campsites and all sort of other useful stuff. They provide complimentary coffee and tea so defiantly well spent one hour. They also have a free stuff box there so you may get lucky and get half full gas cartridge there like we did or plastic bags to wrap your clothes watertight in the bag. This box is filled by other hikers who don’t need the stuff anymore after the hike.

Next, we went hunting the food. There is one big supermarket in the town called … and every-time we went there it was just so crowded – we spent half an hour minutes just standing in the queue. However, it is the cheapest store and it got the widest selection thereby it is the most convenient choice. It is good to know that there are many smaller shops as well but be prepared to visit a couple of them to ensure you get everything you need. If you need fruits, there was one very good fruit shop on … street with good prices and wide selection.

Now to the food we bought. The easiest is to make a shopping list by how many breakfast, lunch, and dinners you need. Once you have all your meals, take some snacks and better take a lot of them because they probably won’t take much room in the bag nor weigh much. We went for chocolate, candies, dried fruits and granola bars, dried rice cakes and jam (marmalade). They sold the jam in plastic bags with a cap and we found this very convenient. It does not weigh as much a glass jar and can be resealed and you get a lot of energy out from there. Snacks will be like a buffer food to keep you going between the big food breaks and help to keep your energy levels stable all day long. The snack list seems already quite long so you probably wonder what else we took.

The most difficult for us was to find breakfast. This was because all the instant oat meals were sold in the bulky plastic cups instead of small bags. Alternatively, we could buy just a big bag of oat meal and milk powder but this all seemed too excessive. So took the easy way and listened to the recommendations we heard from the Erratic hostel guide and bought instant soups and some fruits. Tough, after a second day, we realized we don’t get enough energy from breakfast so we strongly recommend something more nutritious. Luckily, we had enough snacks to compensate this.

For lunch, we wanted something we can eat basically on the way. Also, it is not allowed to cook food just in the middle of the trail so cooking the lunch was not an option anyway. You can only cook at the campsites in the designated area. So we decided we will make sandwiches for lunch. At the briefing however the speaker gave a really good idea. Instead of sandwiches, he likes to make tortillas. This is because they don’t fall apart so easily and also takes less room. So we bought some salami and cheese and cream-cheese and made 5 tortillas for each day. We pre-made half of those and did another half in the campsites. Does not seem much but together with snacks it was actually enough.

On previous hikes, we have also bought a lot of canned tuna and other canned food but this time we did not feel like it. So we only bought a few as a backup food this time. Considering it is a long hike, we tried to take as much dry food as possible. Because water is no problem in Patagonia. There are numerous streams and rivers in the trail which get their water from the mountains and glaciers and is suitable to drink and of course for the cooking as well. We did the whole 4 days only with one water bottle by just filling it up again from the streams.

For the dinner, we bought fast instant pastas, risotto, and cuscus. If you feel like to have more meat in your food then consider buying one or few salami or other sausages which don’t come with a bulky package. You can have this as a snack or just add to the dinner.

Regarding water if you do the W or O trail you are fine to do with just one water bottle because there are plenty of streams but if you consider finishing with the Q as we did then please bear in mind that there was only one stream on the second half of the track.

You probably need gas for your gas cooker as well. We got a used gas cartridge from the Erratic hostel free stuff box but just in case we bought a full cartridge as well. However, if we would have known that at the campsites they also sell gas and actually the price is the same or even bit cheaper than in Puerto Natales. So we actually would not have needed to carry two cartridges with us for the first 2 days. Also, food and snacks are sold in the campsites but this is more expensive than in town so if you do a budget hike buy everything you need in town, except maybe gas.

We also recommend booking bus tickets to and from the park. Actually, you need to if you want to guarantee a space during the high season. A day or two prior departure is fine and this way you ensure you get there as planned and you avoid the queues in the morning of the departure – the bus station will be crowded because all the bus companies depart pretty much on the same time. If you are already at the bus station, make sure to also buy the entrance ticket to the park. Then you can skip the queue at the entrance of the park. You can buy the ticket at the bus station at the CONAF desk. We think it made a huge difference to pre-buy bus and entrance ticket because everything went so smoothly on the first day and we got to proceed to the park right away after we arrived. For the record, there are about five to seven buses arriving at the entrance of the park at the same time so you can imagine how long the queues can get.

Regarding clothes. You don’t want to carry all your wardrobe with you. Since Patagonia weather is unpredictable and mostly rainy and always windy then you are almost guaranteed to get wet. Thereby it is wise to take 2 sets of everything – hiking clothes and campsite clothes. The campsite clothes you keep always dry and most probably the hiking clothes will still be bit wet in the morning but you get rain anyway so doesn’t matter. And when it is sunny and windy your clothes will dry out very quickly because the sun is very intense there. You definitely need good wind-stopper, gloves, scarf or buff, and a hat. Sunglasses and sunscreen are also a must! Raincoat or poncho is good for protecting from the rain but the negative side is that it does not breath and this is not comfortable for a longer period. So pack carefully so you do not need to carry excess weight!

So now you have heard how we got our camping gear, clothing, food, bus ticket and entrance to the park.

If you are still unsure or hesitating how to arrange everything then do not worry. Just go to the free briefing session in Erratic hostel and you will get all the information and help from there.

Puerto Natales itself is a small town and everything is in walking distance. It is also possible to do all this with one day but we decided to take it easy and spread all those tasks over 3 days. Just keep in mind that from 2 to 4 o’clock there is some sort of siesta thing and most of the stores are closed. So this would be a good time to catch a lunch because some of the cafeterias and restaurants were still open. Besides planning we also had some time to explore around the town. We visited the world’s southernmost distillery in the world where they make great GIN. We had nice cocktails before getting out to the woods. This is probably all we had time for besides the planning in Puerto Natales.

From our next post, you can already how the hike itself actually went and whether we prepared well enough.

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