When people think of Patagonia, they typically think of the spectacular hiking & opportunities for glacier viewing in Torres Del Paine National Park of Chile.
Every year between October & April, thousands of tourists travel from all over the globe to attempt to backpack one of the famous routes in Torres Del Paine, “The W.”
As of the October 2016, multi-day trekking in Torres Del Paine is no longer as simple as showing up in Puerto Natales & praying for good weather. As of this season, prior reservations for all campsites & lodges in the park are required.
Most guidebooks are not up-to-date with this information. Like so many travelers I have met, I showed up in Patagonia with only a dream of hiking The W but no camping reservations or plan.
You might be wondering, “what makes the reservation process so difficult?? Can’t I just get reservations when I get there?” Or, if you’re reading this blog post because you’ve tried to make online reservations for several days with no avail, you might be asking, “why is this so confusing & how can I get reservations??”
So why is this process so complicated??
Like all Chilean national parks, Torres Del Paine is regulated by the government organization, CONAF. CONAF runs a few free, basic campsites that are scattered throughout the hike.
There are also two private companies, Fantastico Sur & Vertice, that offer camping, beds in lodges, & even hot meals. From visiting their websites, it would seem that the only option for securing reservations is to book an expensive tour. It also seems that all spaces in the free or cheaper campsites have been booked up for months.
Here are the three websites for reservations:
Unfortunately, the process is very poorly organized & to make 3 or 4 reservations for The W can take several days & be headache-inducing.
So how is it possible that I showed up in Puerto Natales without a plan & was able to begin hiking The W two days later?
From my own experience & from what I have heard from other travelers, it is easiest to get reservations through Fantastico Sur just a few days in advance. I was able to reserve one night of camping at Torres Central (10,000 CLP/$15 USD) just 4 days before I started the trek. This set the plan in motion.
Something to keep in mind is that the Fantastico Sur campsites at Los Cuernos & Chileno do not allow cooking. Although camping can usually be reserved just a few days in advance, this means that you must pay for their meals. The basic campsites cost around $90 USD per night, including the meal package.
I was advised by other travelers to show up in Puerto Natales with my one reservation at Central & attempt the hike without the other reservations by bypassing the guard stations.
After being there, I can see that this is possible. Just to be safe, I advise asking around at hostels & gear rental stores in Puerto Natales. I have heard many stories of other travelers securing reservations for Italiano, the free CONAF site, just by asking.
I stayed at Last Hope Hostel. The staff there made the free reservation at Italiano for me. They also advised me on how to do the entire trek from west to east in 4 days & 4 nights.
To exit the park from the Glacier Gray side (the east side) you must catch a boat. The dock is next to the Vertice campsite, Paine Grande. What is not widely publicized is that the last boat leaves around 6:30pm– add 30 minutes to account for Chilean time. Although there is a guard station on the trail to Paine Grande, they can not deny you entrance to the campsite if you show up after the last boat has left. Camping at Paine Grande costs 10,000 CLP/about $8 USD.
From east to west, my route was as follows:
Central to Los Torres mirador & back, day 1 (6 hours)
Central to Italiano, day 2 (7 hours)
Italiano to Britanico mirador & back, then to Paine Grande, day 3 (8 hours)
Paine Grande to Glacier Grey mirador & back to the boat, day 4 (7 hours)
Park entrance fee – 21,000 CLP
Shuttle from the administration building to the trail head at Los Torres- 3,000 CLP
Round trip bus ticket from Puerto Natales – 15,000 CLP
Boat from Paine Grande – 18,000 CLP
My biggest recommendations
For those who are interested in hiking in Torres Del Paine but who don’t have a clue how to navigate the complicated reservation process– show up, ask the locals, go for it, & savor the experience. If all of that fails, try bribing the guards with cigarettes & fancy chocolate.