The W is the major draw for visitors to the Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia… but whether you don’t have the time, the money or just don’t want to, we’re happy to say you can do a pretty amazing one-day trip to see the most spectacular of the sights in the park: the Mirador Las Torres.
Be warned: it’s a long day. We woke up at 6am and didn’t arrive back at our hostel in Puerto Natales until gone 10pm. But ultimately it’s worth it. Detailed costs per person are at the bottom of this post.
We bought our bus to the park through the Niko’s II Hostel. Our ticket was with Buses Gomez but there’s 5/6 other providers doing the same route. The journey is about 1h45m, so it’s best to set off as early as possible to get to the park reception before the masses – and believe us, there are masses. The park and all the trails have become hugely popular in the past couple of years. We got the 7:20am bus from the main bus station in town. Don’t forget your passport and plenty of cash!
Once we registered at the front reception – a strange process requiring you to fill in a form and visit two desks, plus pay the far higher foreigner entry fee – we had a choice. You can either set off walking towards Centro de Bienvenida (2 hour walk) and the start of the Mirador route, or you can get the shuttle bus (15 minutes). What we weren’t told, or in any way informed of by any sign of any type, is how the shuttle operates and what it costs. FYI – it’s 3000 pesos (or the equivalent in Dollars/Euros) each way. We also had to locate the single member of staff selling the tickets (cash only) within the throng of people milling about looking confused. There’s a nice viewpoint at least.
So we arrived at Centro, and found we had to register again. Fine. We also bought a (pretty good) coffee here and took a moment to get our bearings before starting the journey. All in all, it was just before 10am when we began our ascent.
It’s worth telling the park officials on both forms that you plan on staying in the park for 2/3 days even if you don’t. That way, you’ll be able to join the queue to get a stamp in your passport that says you can come back the next day and do another trek if you fancy. They might have some way of tracking this via the two paper forms you submit but… it’s Chile so maybe not!
The walk starts off easily. Really easily. It’s a stroll through someone’s back garden, past the swanky Hotel de las Torres, over some babbling brooks. Really English-countryside kind of pleasant.
About 20 minutes in we started going uphill and it became a little more difficult pretty quickly, with the trail giving way to lose rocky paths and slippery areas. Still, there’s plenty of places to rest for a moment. In about an hour, we hit the top of this section and the edge of a cliff. The views here are really good, enough to make us wonder what we were walking another 3 hours for. The next hour of the walk down to the Refugio Chileno is really nice and super easy, although it gets pretty windy up there. We also got a chance to refill our water bottles from small waterfalls, which was nice.
Wooden bridges mark your arrival into Chileno, where there’s plenty of people hanging around having a coffee or beer. We were somewhat envious of the people able to split their trek into sections here and stay the night! But we carried on, into the woods and the start of the tougher section of the climb. The trees helped keep the sun off at least, but the constant uphill climb gets pretty hard on the legs. Nevermind, an hour later and we made it to the final official pitstop where ‘Campamento Torres’ used to be. Then the really hard work started.
The final ascent is a battle. First, a final stretch in the woods. Then, a fight against slipping up a sandy cliff-side path. Finally, a rock-climb across a barely marked trail. But the scenery is absolutely incredible up there, with snowcaps in the background and the peaks of the Torres just visible to motivate you forward.
A final hour later, now pretty sweaty, we made it. And it’s glorious. The Torres themselves are bigger than expected, but it’s the setting that makes it so good. The crystal clear glacial pool, the snowcaps on either side, the endless sky behind. It really is worth it.
The way down is vastly easier by comparison, but still takes a long time. We had a coffee pit-stop at Refugio Chileno, celebrating our success and in the same moment forgetting we still had a 2 hour descent. We were exhausted by this point, legs a little like jelly on the final stretch, but we made it back to the Hotel Torres with time to spare for a well deserved pint and pisco sour.
Starting our hike at 10am, we arrived back at the shuttle bus around 6pm. That included total pit stops (Chileno, Lunch at the Torres, beer at Hotel Torres) of around an hour. The shuttle bus then dropped us back to the park entrance where we waited for our bus back to Puerto Natales. The shuttles get pretty busy so even though there’s nothing at the entrance, you’re better off just heading there as soon as you can. Chilean buses don’t keep to a schedule! In total, it was around 7 hours hiking – it’s difficult, but very doable!
Total costs per person:
Bus to the park: 15000 pesos
Entrance fee: 21000 pesos
Shuttle bus within the park: 6000 pesos return
Coffee: 3000 pesos
Celebratory beer: 6000 pesos
Total: 51000 pesos per person (about £55 at the time of writing)