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PATAGONIA & CHILEAN/ARGENTINA LAKE DISTRICT

Torres del Paine National Park

torre

Torres del Paine National Park is in the heart of Patagonia in Southern Chile. It is a must see location if one is in the area.
The park entrance fee is around ~$40 (18,000 pesos) and transportation to the park from Puerto Natales will set you back another $20 – 30 USD and take 2 hours.

Map of the Park:
http://www.torresdelpaine.com/img/portada/mapaPAINE.jpg

The must see locations in Torres Del Paine can be split between the must see day trip and the must see multi day treks.

 

Must See Day Trips

• Boat Ride on Lago Grey (Perfect Day Trip)

The boat trip to Lago Grey is supposedly amazing. You pick up the boat at Hotel Lago Grey and stop at Refugio Grey. Many of the tours will then go for a half-hour to multi-hour hike on the Glacier where you will then return to the boat for your trip back to Hotel Lago Grey. If you simply did the boat ride, it would take 3 hours to complete. The boat leaves at 8:00, 12:00, 15:30, and 18:30. Leaving on the last boat is recommended if want some amazing pictures during the “Golden hour.” The cost is about $80 – $100 dollars (40,000 pesos for RT). It is only 35,000 pesos if just want ride from Refugio Grey to Hotel Lago Grey, which is most likely if you hike on one of the circuits. During the high season, it is considered that you book your tickets in advance. If you don’t want to spend the money, you do have the ability to hike around the lake to Glacier Grey.

One of the vendors:
http://www.turismolagogrey.com/en/navigation-to-grey-glacier/navigation-to-grey-glacier-description.html

• Hike to the base of Las Torres (Perfect Day Trip)

The hike is a total of 18km (return). The hike takes around 5 to 7 hours. At the end of the hike, you will be at the base of Las Torres. You can hike this route without a guide.
Article about someone’s experience:
http://www.worldlynomads.com/index.php/las-torres-base-lookout-trek-torres-del-paine/

Must See Multi-Day Trips

• “W” Circuit for those with 4 Days (Includes Hike on Lago Grey and hike to base of Las Torres)

One of the most popular multi-day hikes in Torres del Paine is the “W” Circuit that takes 4 – 5 days. You can do this multiday hike by yourself or with a tour operator. If you go with a tour operator, you will be spending north of $1K+.
I have highlighted below two different routes

Most people hike from east to west. They arrive from Puerto Natales and start immediately on their hike.

It is increasingly becoming more popular to go from West to East. If you went this route, you could see the sunset and sunrise over the glacier.

Should I stay at camps or refugios in Torres del Paine?

You have the opportunities to stay in refugios that are like a hostel at a cost of $40 – $60 per person per night. This does not include the cost of sheets, pillows, and/or blankets. The alternative option would be to go camping at a cost of about $30 for two people. In short, this means the difference between $30 vs. $80 – $120 for the cost of two.

You can either bring your own tent, rent a tent from an accommodation outside of the park, or rent a tent from one of the refugios. (Note: Not all of the refugios let you rent a tent)

In short, the cost for renting a tent from a refugio would be $120 over four days for two people vs. staying in refugio at a cost of $400 for two people

You can also purchase food at the refugio, which is not that cheap as well. It is roughly $10 for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $20 for dinner. This is the cost of $45 per day per person for food. This would mean a total cost of $180 for food.

In short, it depends on comfort vs. money. If you don’t want to pack a stove, tent, and food, you can stay in refugios and purchase their food, bring everything, or something in between.

The most expensive options of staying in refugios and having them cook you dinner will set you back ~$760 for two people ($380 per person) vs. $120 for two ($60 per person) for those renting tents from refugio and bring your own food.

Most of the refugios are owned by FantasticoSur and Vertice. FantasticoSur owns most of the refugios. It was recommended from several people that it is best to purchase directly from their websites as trying to buy them on site from agents that charge a crazy service fee.

Great article on person hiking “W Circuit:”
http://scorbs.com/2011/01/13/trekking-patagonia-torres-del-paine-and-planning-the-w-circuit/
http://www.worldtravelforcouples.com/the-definitive-guide-to-hiking-torres-del-paine/

• “O” Circuit (aka “Full Circuit) this includes the “W” Circuit

The “O” Circuit takes 7 to 9 days and goes behind Torres del Paine. From my research, it is popular, but it not as popular as the “W” Circuit.
The main attraction beyond the beauty of the landscape is that you are away from all of the crowds.

When is it best to hike in Torres del Paine?
The high season is during the summer from December to March. The national park is open year around but few people travel in the winter

Good article on Torres del Paine:
http://www.besthike.com/southamerica/chile/paine.html
http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/travel/chilean-patagonias-peaks-up-close.html?_r=0

Los Glaciers National Park/ Glaciar Perito Moreno / Mt. Fitz Roy

pontmontt monte

 

 

 

 

 

 

The must see locations in Los Glaciers National Park are Perito Moreno Glacier, which is one of the few glaciers that is advancing and not retreating, and Mount Fitz Roy. Of the two attractions, Perito Moreno Glacier is the most popular and the main attraction if you can only see one. If visiting Perito Moreno Glacier, you will likely be based in El Calafte, which is 80 km or 50 miles away from the Glacier, and if visiting
Mt. Fitz Roy then you will be based in El Chalten. The two towns are about four hours from one another.

The entrance to the park is 130 Argentine peso ($25 USD). The entrance fee will allow you to spend one day in the park without camping. You will need to leave the park by 10 p.m. The boats depart from the Bajo de las Sombras Port.

The most popular activity is to go on a boat ride to see the Perito Moreno Glacier and then a hike on the Glacier. One of the operators most consistently mentioned was Hielo y Aventura. They have one trip called “Mini Trekking” that goes on the ice for one hour and forty minutes and another “Big Ice” that goes on the glacier for 3.5 hours. The “Big Ice” trip costs $100+ per person.

You can also hike within the park to see great views of the Perito Moreno Glacier. The yellow trail was indicated by one traveler as the best of the red, green, and blue trails

Though, I didn’t see it on their website. One other popular activity is the Fernandez Campbell All Glaciers boat tour. I did some people complain that you are on the boat the whole day and only see a couple of glaciers with one being the Perito Moreno Glacier. If limited time, I would probably just do the “Mini Trekking” or “Big Ice” Tour.

If you go further north in the park and base yourself in El Chalten, you can go see Monte Fitz Roy. In the north, it is the most common to go on various treks.

The most popular hike in the region is Laguna de los Tres. It takes anywhere from 7 to 10 hours.

Monte Fitz Roy does look similar to Torres del Paine. If I was limited on time, I would like just see the Perito Moreno Glacier

List of the treks in the park can be found here:
http://elchalten.com/eng/actividades/caminatas.php

Punta Arenas

Most people will travel to Punta Arenas on their journey to Torre Del Paine. From Buenos Aeros, it is one of the cheapest options.

The main attraction in Punta Arenas is a trip to the Otway penguin colony. At the colony, there are hundred of Magellanic Penguins in the spring to give birth. You can take a tour or get a taxi to take you there for $100 USD. The penguin colony is about an hour from Punta Arenas. Some of the recent posts on TripAdvisor indicate that they were disappointed that they did not see more penguins than they saw.

You can take an organized day trip to the place or drive their on your own.

If you want to see a bigger penguin colony then you can travel to Isla Magdalena. Most of the organized tours take about 5 hours. It is 4 on the ferry (Austral Trans Broom) there and back with 1 hour on the island. You can reserve the tickets the same day. One of the operators is Solo Expediciones, but there is mixed reviews about this company. If the weather is windy or not enough people it appears that they will cancel the trip. It will cost about $50 per adult or $25 per child for the ferry ride.

Interesting article on Otway:
http://www.southamerica.cl/Chile/Punta_Arenas/Seno_Otway_Penguins.htm

Ushuaia

The most popular activities in Ushuaia are the following:

• Boat trip in the Beagle Channel (No need for this activity if planning to go to Antartica)

The boat rides in the Beagle Channel are highly recommended in the summer. You will have the opportunity to see whales, sea lions, and penguins on the journey. Most of the boat trips are 4 – 6 hours in length. Patagonia adventure was mentioned by multiple people as a reliable operator.

• Hike in Tierra del Fuego

One of the best hikes is climbing up Cerro Guanaco. It is a 4 km uphill climb where you will be 970 meters above sea level. The view from the top is amazing. It is the hardest hike in the area.

Some of the more moderate hikes would be Hito XXIV, Pampa Alta, and Costera that take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. These trails are mostly flat. Lapataia Bay was also highly rated by a number of individuals.

You could also hike the Glacier Martial, but it will likely be a disappointment compared to the glaciers in Torre Del Paine and Los Glaciers National Park.

Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt

When doing my investigation, there is also an awesome option of getting on a ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt on a ferry (Navimag’s MV Magallanes) allowing you to see the Patagonia fjords.

It is a 4 day / 3 night adventure. The prices vary from $315 for a level C cabin where you share a berth with 20 others to $1960 for a single person in Cabin AAA.

The website is www.comapa.com. You must be on the ferry before 9:00 pm on Monday with the ferry leaving early Tuesday morning. You arrive late Thursday and disembark on Friday.

You can actually then travel from Puerto Montt to the Lake District in 1 or 2 days:
http://www.cruceandino.com/en/home
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g294266-d2228361-r122042900-Cruce_Andino_Puerto_Montt_Bariloche_Day_Tours-Argentina.html

The cost is $280 one-way USD for this trip. People only complained when the weather was not nice and because of the cost.

Itinerary #A – Torre del Paine; Los Glaciers National Park; Buenos Aires; Punta Arenas

Day 1: Leave home and arrive in Buenos Aires
Day 2: Buenos Aires; Fly to El Calafte
Day 3: Perito Moreno Glacier
Day 4: Travel to Torre Del Paine
Day 5 – 8: W Circuit
Day 9: Travel to Punta Arenas
Day 10: Penguin Colony and then back to Buenos Aires

If I had never been to Buenos Aires, I would likely spend at least 2 nights in the city. I would then leave on a flight in the late afternoon to El Calafte to not waste a day traveling.

If I could travel from El Calafte to Torre del Paine and complete 1 day of the circuits that would also be ideal to save another day.
As for Ushuaia, I think it depends if I have gone to Antarctica. I think it makes most sense to travel to Ushuaia when going on your Antarctica adventure.

Itinerary #B – Buenos Aires; Torre del Paine; Los Glaciers National Park; Ferry to Puerto Montt from Punta Natales; Chilean/Argentina Lake District

Day 1 (Friday): Leave home and arrive in Buenos Aires
Day 2: Buenos Aires
Day 3: Buenos Aires; Fly to El Calafte up to El Chalatan
Day 4: Mount Fitz Roy and then back to El Calafte
Day 5: Perito Moreno Glacier
Day 6 (Wed): Travel to Torre Del Paine
Day 7 – 10: W Circuit
Day 11 (Mon): Travel to Punta Natales
Day 12 –Day 14(Thursday): Ferry up to Puerto Montt
Day 15 (Friday): Travel to Argentina Lake District
Day 16: Bariloche
Day 17: Travel back to Buenos Aires and then back home

This is my favorite!!