To say that Patagonia is a phenomenal, awe-inspiring place would be the understatement of the day. So if time is on your side, stay awhile and enjoy the great outdoors; however, if you your itinerary only allows for a few days, follow some of the tips below to help optimize your time.
Flights are very limited into and out of Puerto Natales, so try to book this round-trip flight as soon as you book your flight to Chile. Upon arrival to the airport in Puerto Natales, pick up your rental car and make your way to the downtown area–a short drive from the airport. Given day two will be occupied by an eight-hour hike to see the magnificent Torres del Paine, I highly suggest using your first day to gather any last minute supplies. In town, there is a one-man ship called “Kallpa Mayu.” This is a great place to pick up any last minute things, including trekking poles, which the owner rents out at $2500 Chilean Pesos per day. Trust me, you will want these!
From here, head to the local supermarket. If you packed a Camelbak bladder, purchase a large container of water to fill the bladder. The water from the taps in Chile may be okay to drink; however, I would not trust it given the length of the hike. If you do not own/have a camelbak, buy a Lifestraw Go Filter water bottle either online or from a local recreational/sports store prior to your trip to Chile to utilize on the hike. There are spots about two hours into the hike, where you can start to fill your Lifestraw bottle with running water from various streams and mountain springs. Given, however, this location is approximately two hours in, I suggest you purchase a water bottle from the supermarket to hold you over for the first part of the trip. The first two hours are mainly uphill, so you will definitely become quite parched. Additionally, I would suggest buying some snacks to eat along the hike for energy. There is one camp/refugio about two hours into the hike, where they do sell snacks, but depending on the day, the options could be very limited (think: water, sodas, and day-old sandwiches).
Once you have your supplies for the hike, head on over to El Bote for dinner and sample some delicious Patagonian fare. If you dare to be adventurous, try the guanaco (Patagonian camel). If not, the cheeseburger is a great option for the non-adventurous eater. Also, if it’s a cooler night, make sure to try the chicken broth soup with egg–a popular dish found in many of the restaurants in Puerto Natales.
Wake up early and start the hour and a half drive to the Laguna Amarga entrance. The entrance opens around 8:00am, so it is best to leave Puerto Natales relatively early to give you plenty of daylight for your hike. Pro tip: Wear layers as you will experience various temperatures throughout the hike. Also, a hat and gloves are never a bad idea. And lastly, don’t forget the trekking poles! The first two hours are almost completely uphill, as I previously mentioned, so the trekking poles are most beneficial for this section. Additionally, there is no tree cover for the first two hours, so be sure to lather on the sunscreen.
Approximately two hours in, you will reach your first camp/refugio. Feel free to stop to use the bathroom, take a break, and grab a snack if you wish. The next portion of the hike is much more scenic than the first portion of the hike (in my opinion), so keep your camera handy. Additionally, this next segment of the hike should take approximately one hour and is primarily shaded and cooler, so keep your sweater/jacket readily available.
The last part of the hike consists of uphill rock scrambles for approximately 45 minutes to one hour; however, after the scrambles, you will reach the beautiful Torres (finally!). Stop and eat while taking in the exquisite scenery before making the four hour trek back to your starting point.
After the hike, head back to Puerto Natales for a much deserved dinner. Stop in at Parilla Don Jorge if it’s grilled meat you are craving (the lamb is spectacular!) or La Mesita Grande if it’s carbs in the form of pizza that you are looking for. End the night by heading to the local bar, Baguales, for wine or craft beer. Play cards while listening to good music and people watching.
For your last full day, book a glacier tour to see the stunning masses, which are slowly disappearing due to the fact that they are melting. Many of the tour are full-day tours that include a lunch; however, there are some that you can book, which do not include lunch. If you’re staying in Puerto Natales, it is very easy to book a trip through 21 de Mayo, a local tourism group to see Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. Antares, another local tourism group, can also help you organize a trip to Glacier Grey for ice trekking, if that is more your style.
End the the last day of your trip with dinner at La Creperia for an assortment of delicious crepes–both sweet and savory, or Afrigonia, if you are in search of a fine dining option. This higher end choice is a fusion of Zambian and Chilean fare, and is operated by a Zambian-Chilean couple. Both selections are a great way to end your Chilean Patagonia adventure on a high note.
Things to know before leaving:
Currency: The Chilean currency is the Chilean Peso. It would be best to try to exchange currency in advance as credit cards are not widely accepted, and the ATMs charge exorbitant fees for taking out money.
Tipping: In Chile, the majority of the restaurants will add a suggested tip of 10%. You will see it marked on your bill as “Propina Sugerida,” so just let the waiter/waitress know whether or not you want to include this amount when paying–although it’s customary to keep it on there if the service was up to par.
Heads up: Some of the lodging accommodations will allow you to pay for your stay in US Dollars, to avoid an additional fee (which is added if you pay in Chilean Pesos). That being said, these places will only take US bills that are unmarked and completely free of any writing or markings on the bills. Best to go to your local bank before leaving and request new bills to avoid any issues if you would like to pay with US dollars.