I have now published several posts on Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Park. However, this post where I cover tips for visiting Patagonia may be the most important post that I have published on this remote yet absolutely breathtaking part of the world. These tips are derived from my observations during my trip to Patagonia as well as lessons learned, before the trip as I was planning it, during the trip and after the trip (hindsight is 20/20 they say!). I hope you will find these tips useful!
1. Plan Early as Possible
My number one tip for visiting Patagonia is to start planning early. This is especially important if you are hiking the O circuit or the W trek. I cover how to plan a trip to Patagonia and the sequence of steps to follow in great detail in the post below. Even if you don’t check out any of my other posts, this tips for visiting Patagonia post and the planning post are the two that I would recommend checking out.
2. Book Accommodation Early
This is another one of my top tips for visiting Patagonia. Check out my post on booking accommodation in Patagonia, especially Torres del Paine National Park. My biggest tip here is to stay inside the park or as close as possible even if you are not doing the W trek or O circuit but are still visiting the park over multiple days for day hikes.
3. Rent a Car Early
If you are not doing the O circuit or the W trek, you may want to rent a car to get around. Renting a car during the duration of the O circuit or W trek is a waste of money in my option, as the vehicle will just sit idle. You can always take the bus to and from Puerto Natales to the start or end of the hike.
You may not have any luck finding a car from the more established rental car companies or rental car websites. Most of the car rentals in Patagonia in Chile are run by local companies. I have suggested a few companies in my planning article. You can also search for rental car companies on Google Maps in Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas and try to find contact details that way as well. Generally cars are cheaper in Punta Arenas than in Puerto Natales. However, Punta Arena is about 3 hours south of Puerto Natales.
4. Guides and Guided Tours
You don’t really need a guide for any of the treks and hikes in Patagonia. All of it is completely doable on your own, except if you are trying to hike the W off season, where you will need to go with a guide. You may think of contacting a tour company to book all your accommodations and plan your W or O treks but you really are paying a premium for something you can do on your own (unless you can’t be bothered and don’t mind paying the price). No one will actually accompany you on the trail and as I said, it’s completely safe to do on your own.
5. Buy the Park Ticket in Advance
Back in the day, you could buy the park ticket at the gate, but today, you have to buy it in advance HERE.
6. Bring Food and Snacks
Food is limited and expensive inside the park! Bring lots of snacks.
7. Drive with Caution
The roads in Patagonia, especially, Torres del Paine are not the greatest. They are winding, hilly, unpaved and gravel. Tire punctures and chipped/cracked windscreens are common. It is not a bad idea to have a inflator with you. Trust me I speak from experience! There is absolutely no emergency services or any sort place that can provide help if there is an emergency inside Torres del Paine. The roads are deserted most of the time. There is also no cell service. Drive slowly, keep to the speed limit and keep to your side of the road. It’s sometimes hard to see the road ahead on a hilly stretch.
8. Fill Up on Fuel in Puerto Natales
There are no gas stations anywhere on the drive to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales or inside the park. Fill up your fuel tank in Puerto Natales and also fill a can if you think you may run out. Most people don’t need to unless they are planning on driving a lot inside the park.
9. Remember Hotel Rio Serrano
Hotel Rio Serrano in the village of Serrano, a few kilometers from the main gate of Torres del Paine has a mechanic who can repair tires and other small vehicle related jobs. I have heard they sometimes may sell gas for a premium but do not count on it. Fill up in Puerto Natales!
10. Be Prepared for All Sorts of Weather
This is another top tip for visiting Patagonia. I experienced sunshine, rain, snow, sleet and hail all within minutes in Patagonia (in the summer mind you). However, the craziest element to watch out for is the wind! I read about the crazy winds of Patagonia before I visited but I never in my wildest dreams imagined how insane the winds would be. These winds can cause disruptions in the park, from trail closures to ferry delays but the craziest is damage to property and injury to people. Not only did the wind knock me over from behind one time, causing me to fall flat it also shattered a passenger window of my car. You need to be careful when you open doors and make sure you always press or pull the parking break. I even saw grown men get knocked around for the wind!
The weather apps are not always good at predicting the weather in Patagonia. Prepare for everything and manage your expectations. There is a possibility you may have bad weather, even in the summer but you may have to roll with the punches.
11. Download Google Maps
Download offline Google maps. There is no reception in Torres del Paine or even anywhere outside of Puerto Natales but offline maps work well!
12. Know About the Ferry Before You Go
It is important to know about the passenger ferry in Torres del Paine that goes from the Pudeto Ferry Station to Paine Grande. This ferry will be taken by day hikers to either Glacier Grey or the French Valley, all hikers of the W trek (either at the start or the end) and some hikers of the O circuit. The Ferry only runs a handful of times per day. Mostly early morning and in the evening. It unfortunately does not run during the day. Bad weather like rain and wind can cause severe delays and throw the ferry schedule off. The worst part is that there is only 1 ferry! If you are standing in line and don’t make the cut, then you have to wait until it does the return trip.
- Bring cash. It is USD $30 one way or CLP $25 and cash only
- It is first comes first served even if you have advanced tickets
- Arrive at Pudeto early, especially if you are doing a day trip
13. Different Trails Close at Various Times
Different trails and sections have closing times. Look these up when you are planning. As long as you start a hike early morning, you should be ok.
14. Learn Spanish
This is true for all of Chile but especially Patagonia and Torres del Paine. Not a lot of people speak English. Learning a few words and phrases can go a long way.
15. Pack for All Weather
As I mentioned above, the weather in Patagonia is every changing. It goes from hot to cold and sunny to raining within minutes. Pack for winter even in the summer. See below for a full list.
My bonus tip for visiting Patagonia is to be flexible. If you only have a plan A, you may need to think of plan B, C and D. Like I said, the weather can wreck havoc. Be flexible and manage your expectations.
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