Discover the wonders of Patagonia: Getting to the Torres del Paine

Getting to the Torres del Paine National Park

Getting to the Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia, isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. The national park is home to two bucket-list worthy multi day hikes: the W trek and the longer O trek.

The most popular hiking trail in the park is the 5 day W trek. But the Torres del Paine national park has many outdoor pursuits to suit every traveller including kayaking, mountain bike riding and horse riding.

The Torres del Paine welcomes 252,000 visitors each year, over half of which are international visitors. It’s also remote, so getting to the Torres del Paine requires a bit of planning. If you’re one of the 100, 0000+ foreign visitors to the national park each year, your journey begins in Punta Arenas….

What will you do after getting to the Torres del Paine? Read on:

Getting to the Torres del Paine national park, Patagonia

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Getting to the Torres del Paine National Park…

DAY 1: Punta Arenas airport to Puerto Natales

Distance: 155 mile/ 254 km; 2 hours by bus

International visitors travelling to the region, start their journey at the nearest airport in Punta Arenas (Chile). From the airport, travel to Puerto Natales, the closest city to the national park. Most people stay overnight in Peurto Natales before their trek. It is a 155 mile / 250km journey between Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales and takes approximately 2-3 hours by bus.

Please note that Punta Arenas airport only had one ATM at the time of writing and we weren’t able to exchange money there, so it might pay to bring some Chilean pesos with you.

trail into refugio day 4 Atlas Introspective

Getting to the Torres del Paine: Transport

From the airport take a bus or taxi to Punta Arenas city centre (20minutes away). At the time of writing, buses only stopped at the airport if passengers had pre-booked

The easiest and cheapest means of travel between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales is by bus, but car hire is also an option. There are 2 bus companies that do the journey:

Buses Fernandez
Bus Sur

The ticketing offices for bus services are in the Punta Arenas city centre, but it’s best to book your bus ticket online before you go. We didn’t and the next two scheduled buses were booked out, so there was a bit of waiting around. Taxi drivers are familiar with the location of each bus service.

Peurto Natales Atlas Introspective

Puerto Natales

Most people coming to the region spend a night in Puerto Natales. Buses only depart Puerto Natales for Torres del Paine twice a day in the high season (morning and afternoon) and the journey takes 2 hours.

We stayed at the NOI Indigo hotel before and after our trek. They offer an airport shuttle for an additional fee. It was a great base to explore Puerto Natales and the hotel offers all the creature comforts.

Puerto Natales is a great city to explore and stock up on supplies before getting to the Torres del Paine and starting your hike. You can buy food and camping essentials in the national park, but you’ll pay a premium (I forked out $10AU for a tube of Pringles). Everything you could want or need for camping, hiking and outdoor pursuits can be found in Puerto Natales. Buy as much food as you can carry for your trek in Puerto Natales, it will save you a fortune.

DAY 2: Puerto Natales to Refugio Grey

Itinerary: Puerto Natales – Administrative HQ & Visitors Centre – Pudeto cafeteria – Catamaran to Paine Grande – Glacier Grey

Transport: bus – catamaran – hike

Distance: 3 hour bus journey to the National Park; 30 minute boat ride; 3.5 hour hike

Highlights Turquoise waters of Pehoé Lake; views from the catamaran; Glacier Grey

Getting to the Torres del Paine national park involves an early start as there is only one morning bus. Ours departed at 7.30am. It’s a good idea purchase a return ticket to ensure you have a seat on the bus at the end of your trek.

We let our hotel know we were leaving early and they packed us a lunch in lieu of breakfast. Then we caught a taxi to the Puerto Natales bus terminal (most taxi’s around Puerto Natales are only a few US dollars).

Getting to the Torres del Paine Administration Headquarters and Visitors Centre

The bus journey from Puerto Natales to the Pudeta Cafe & jetty (within the National Park) takes 3 hours. As you enter the national park the bus stops briefly at the Administration HQ and Visitors centre to sign in. You must present your passport and pay an entrance fee (foreigners pay slightly more than Chileans), so make sure to have your passport on you.

Safety Briefing

Patagonia ferry Atlas Introspective

After getting to the Torres del Paine and signing in with the ranger, visitors are asked to watch a video with some rules of the park. The main takeaway: no camp stove use outside of designated areas. This is taken extremely seriously as a tourist started a fire in 2011 which destroyed 16 000 hectares and caused permanent environmental damage to the park. The effects were still visible during my visit in 2017. Campsites have designated areas for camp stove use. Use of camp cookers and stoves outside of designated areas is punishable by fines and prison time.

Hikers are advised not to walk after sunset because of the risk of falls and potential disturbance to nocturnal animals. Puma’s are in the park and can be dangerous. If you see one, stay calm and back away slowly.

Hikers are advised to stick to the designated trail. Almost all fatalities in the national park have occurred off the designated trail.

It’s unlikely that you will have phone reception whilst in the national park. For a small fee you can pay for wifi at some of the refugio’s. In case of an emergency, staff at the refugio’s have radio access.

The trail is well established and there are orange markers to direct hikers. In the event of an emergency, there are lots of staffed campsites, Rangers and refugio’s throughout the W trek.

Pudeto Cafeteria

The picturesque drive from the visitors centre to the Pudeto Cafe takes about 45 mintutes, and we arrived around 10.30am.

Torres del Paine Catamaran

Getting to the Torres del Paine trail for the W trek involves a water crossing. The Pudeto Jetty is a short walk on a dirt track from the Pudeto Cafeteria. Bring some Chilean Peso’s with you and pay for your fare onboard. There’s a fantastic viewing deck upstairs to take in the turquoise waters of Lago Pehoe.

The catamaran makes the return journey between Pudeto Jetty and Refugio Paine Grande five times per day.

view of TDP Atlas Introspective

The catamaran journey takes 30 minutes and docks at Refugio Paine Grande. After getting to the Torres del Paine trail, it’s time for the adventure to begin! Read on for a 5 day itinerary hiking the W trek