The main reason that people spend time in Puerto Natales is to go to Torres del Paine national park. What you don’t realize is that the park is nearly 2 hours from the city by bus each way. There are options to stay in the park but the options are typically extremely basic or extremely high end (with the prices to go with it). Since we wanted something in the middle, we stayed in Puerto Natales which limited what we could do during a day in the park.
Finding the Tour
I was a little over planning things when we hit Patagonia so Andy took over. He came up with options of what we could do. Because of the logistics of catching a bus to the park and relying on shuttle buses once we you’re inside the park, you can really only do 1 hike per day. Plus, if the weather is inclement, you’re stuck outside in the elements all day until the evening when the bus returns to Puerto Natales.
Originally our thought was to rent a car and see the highlights on our own time. This plan didn’t get very far as every single rental car in the city was already rented out on the day that we wanted.
Andy then came across a full day tour through the park. It seemed like the perfect option for us since we could see the highlights, then decide what we might want to visit the following day when we returned to the park.
Booking the Tour
The tour itself was 28,000 or around $40 each. This price was reasonable when you factor in that this covered our transportation to and from Puerto Natales which is 2 hours each way as well as an English speaking guide.
We booked through Patagonia Adventure Hostel, only to find out that Go! was the one hosting the tour. This annoyed us a little bit as had we booked the tour directly through Go! we would have saved a little bit of money. This wasn’t an option for us though as we didn’t see anything about Go! when we looked online for full day tours.
After we booked our tour and realized that it was with Go!, we checked out their website (which currently appears to be under construction). It was then that we realized there were several different day tours through the park. Curious as to which one we had booked, we headed to the Go! office, which was only a few blocks away from the Patagonia Adventure Hostel. The guy that we spoke to was extremely rude, telling us that since we didn’t book the tour through them that he wouldn’t help us. He directed us to speak with the person we booked the tour with to answer any questions that we may have. I then didn’t care about the money anymore. I was glad to pay a few bucks more to book with someone who was polite.
The tour had an option to add lunch for an extra 7,000 pesos or $10 each. Since this seemed quite high for a sandwich, piece of fruit and water we opted to bring our own lunch. We went to the local grocery store to pick up ingredients to make a good turkey and salami sandwich along with an apple, some chips and cookies. We spent a fraction of the cost of what we would have spent to purchase the lunch box option and had leftover food. We were excited to make our own sandwich as most sandwiches in South America are pretty pathetic – 90% bread, 1 thin piece of flavorless cheese and 1-2 paper thin slices of ham.
Our Day at Torres del Paine
The park is massive so naturally our tour was only able to show us the highlights that were easily accessible from the main roads. There is so much more to the park than what we were able to see in the time that we were on the tour (8am – 6pm).
A little after 8am we were picked up at our hotel. There were a few people already on the bus but we had to make a few more stops to pick up the rest of the people on our tour before we headed to the park. The tour was relatively small, with a total of only 17 people. The majority of the tour were 20 and 30 somethings but there was also a family with parents in their 60s. The guide was knowledgeable, really funny and spoke in both English and Spanish.
As we were on the tour, the weather started out pretty decent then got worse and worse as the day went on. Fortunately, most of the stuff that we were interested in seeing was at the beginning of the day.
The stops we made on our tour:
Watching Animals from the Car
As we drove into the park, we saw a number of different animals. There were guanacos (really similar to llamas), rhea (ostriches) and many different birds.
We learned that there were 3 different groups of guanacos:
- Families with babies
- The old and sick
I’m not sure how the guanacos know where to go, but they go to the appropriate groups at their respective ages and health. Obviously, my favorite was the group of families since baby guanacos were really fuzzy and cute.
At one point there was a dead animal that the condors and eagles were eating. Even though condors are a massive bird, we learned that they were lower on the food chain than the eagles, having to wait patiently until the eagles left and they could eat.
Lookout at Laguna Azul
Before we entered the park we made a stop at the lookout at Laguna Azul. The water was extremely blue and the mountains were in the background. If only there weren’t clouds over the mountains our pictures would have been a lot better.
Another stop we made before we entered the park was at the Paine waterfall. It was a relatively small waterfall but was interesting because the waterfall split into 2 different falls. There was a view of the towers, the iconic mountains in the area, but being so far away mixed with the fog covering them it was hard to capture all of it in a photo.
Laguna Amarga Entrance
We then entered the park at the Laguna Amarga entrance. Everyone had to pay a 18,000 peso or $25 per person entry fee which was not included in the tour fee. Since we planned to return the next day we had our tickets stamped. This allowed us admission for a total of 3 consecutive days.
After we paid, Andy ran to the bathroom and headed to the van before taking a picture of the towers. When we started to drive, our guide told us that was the last time that we would see the towers on the tour. We were bummed out because had we known we wouldn’t see them again we would have taken some more pictures, even if it meant everyone in the van had to wait an extra minute or two.
We got our first view of the horns (another iconic mountain) at the Nordenskjold lookout. There was a small lake with the mountain behind it. We took a few pictures here before we hopped back into the van and headed to the next stop.
The English translation for salto grande is big waterfall. We got out of the van then hiked 15 minutes each way to go to the waterfall. While the waterfall was nice, it was hard to get a picture in front of it because of the railings in the area and the angle needed. We had a girl in our tour try and take a picture for us, but as is common with others taking our picture, it didn’t turn out like we wanted it.
Here we had our best view of the horns during our day. We got a few pictures in the crazy wind, freaking out that the guy taking our picture was going to drop the camera. Right when we were done with the pictures the rain started to come down pretty hard. Everyone headed back to the van to get some shelter.
As we left and were back on the road there was this amazing teal colored lake (colored from the minerals from the glacier water) with the mountains in the background. We were bummed out that there was no place for our van to pull over because it was the most beautiful view that we had all day. We were able to get a few pictures of the water, but not with the background that we wanted.
We stopped at Pehoe lake for everyone to eat lunch. It was starting to get really cold and with the wind and rain, we opted to eat in the van instead of picnic. We were happy that we weren’t the only wimps since there was another group that ate in the van with us.
Our last stop in the park was at Grey Lake. This stop required a 30 minute hike. On the hike to the lake we saw a woodpecker with a bright red head on a tree. We stopped to take some pictures before continuing on.
When we left the woods and entered an uncovered area, the weather really started to turn. Not only was it super windy but it also started to hail. The hail hurt our faces as we walked and soaked our clothing, making us both freezing cold and miserable.
Once we got to Grey Lake, we took a few pictures of the lake with large chunks of glacier ice floating in it. The view wasn’t beautiful enough for me to stay too long before I headed back to the van.
The last stop of the day was at the Milodon Cave, a natural cave where a large milodon (essentially a large sloth) skeleton was found. The entry fee was 10,000 pesos or $15 for a quick 20 minute stop. We decided that the price was quite high for a short trip and decided to opt out. We decided that the money could be better spent having a nice dinner in town following the tour.
Those that went showed us their pictures. The cave had a neat opening, but beyond that it wasn’t too interesting. I think we made the right call deciding to skip it.
We spent the majority of our time on the bus, stopping for quick photo stops before getting back on the bus. It wasn’t the perfect scenario in a national park since we didn’t get much time outside, but was the only way that we would be able to see everything in such a condensed period of time.
Our thoughts on Torres del Paine is that it is an amazing park for avid hikers who are into multi-day hikes where you carry all of your gear with you. For day hikers, it is somewhat challenging due to the logistics of getting from Puerto Natales to the park, not to mention the fact that you are stranded there for the entire day, good weather or bad.
After our day tour, Andy and I discussed the next day’s plans over dinner. I was relieved that we were both on the same page, realizing that the weather was something that we couldn’t handle with the clothing and gear that we had packed. We decided that we would rather sleep in and just relax around the city instead. While it wasn’t as exciting as doing a hike in the park, it was the right call for us.
I think that the day tour was the best thing that we could have done during our time in Torres del Paine except possibly renting a car and going at our own pace. The guide was extremely informative and we were able to see everything that was easily accessible. I liked that the tour was smaller, which made everything seem more intimate than a large, full size bus tour.