Visiting Torres Del Paine without booking campsites in advance

Below are our findings about Torres del Paine, including some up to date information about what you can do there since the drastic changes of October 2016, but first: Puerto Natales.

We spent New year in Puerto Natales, a town where there’s absolutely nothing to do 😀 Ok maybe that’s not true as we spent most of our time there on internet working on Loop and Tariefchecker so we didn’t actually visited the little town 🙂 it didn’t look very promising though…
We booked a hostel there to spend NY’s eve, and, just as was the case for Christmas in El Calafate, there was nothing to do at the hostel. The bar Baguales offered as one of the few a NYE specials and we spent a lovely evening with new friends Lucy and Timo. It seems that Patagonia does not like to celebrate Christmas and New Years’ Eve, they even seem to have a law about that …

Anyways, after a couple of days one of the other Patagonian highlights was waiting for us: Torres Del Paine – pronounced [Pajné], not like [pejn] or [Paín] – just saying.

W and O track are fully booked months in advance

TDP offers basically 3 options:

  • The +/- 5 day ‘W-track’ – most famous
  • The +/- 10 day ‘O-track’ or ‘Circuit’
  • Several day hikes along the unpaved road through the southern part of the park.

As there are no stores in the National Park, all multi-day hikers bring their tents and food supplies with them, making the tracks only suited for dedicated hikers. Since October 1st 2016 all campsites on the W- and the O-track need to be booked in advance. The campsites being limited in capacity got fully booked pretty quickly, resulting in waiting lists of 2 months and longer. Arriving at a camp site without booking will result in the rangers sending you back where you came from, regardless of the hour of the day. Wild camping is strictly forbidden.

That left us with only one option: day hikes along the road through the park. Fortunality we have some good news for fellow overlanders: you can sleep for free in your car on all parking lots of the rangers’ stations and info centers, and the campings (and hotels) along the road do not require reservations. So, unless you have made your bookings for the campsites along the W of O track a couple of months in advance, getting in your own or rented car is by far the best way to visit the park.

The dayhikes along the road are the prettiest parts of Torres Del Paine

Of course, doing the W-trek must be magical and stunning. However, the people who work in the national park told us that the most beautiful hikes and views can be done in day-hikes, at the lower part of the park. So eat that, W-track! 🙂

The entrance of the park costs 21.000 CLP pp (+/- 30 EUR) and allows you to stay as long as you want. We stayed for 2 nights, and here are our impressions:

What did we like about Torres del Paine?

  • You can drive in between hiking spots in the most beautiful scenic routes.
  • The vast majority appears to be doing the W or O-circuit, so the day hikes are little crowded.
  • Mountains, mountains everywhere! If you have the luxury to wait until the mist is gone, do it! Clouds and rain are very common in Chile, and it’s quite disappointing when the damn peak is hidden in the clouds after a couple of hours hiking 😉
  • Friendly people along the road. A 3cm stone went right through the tire leaving it totally airless in a couple of seconds and the rim on the gravel. HINT FOR ALL FUTURE OVERLANDERS: check whether your hydraulic jack fits underneath your axle if you have no tire left at all, because ours didn’t and thus was totally useless. Luckily, a Brazilian overlander driving Suzy‘s grandpa (a Toyota Land Cruiser 40 series) stopped by and helped us out with his smaller jack. It was the third time we crossed him that day and I’m sure our friendly “hello’s” made him pull over as soon as he saw we were in trouble. Remember: make friends everywhere and you will be blessed 🙂
  • Two pumas are known to live in the park (North-East and around camping Pehoé) and are spotted from time to time. Chances are small to encounter them as they are night animals, but it stills gives us a thrill knowing these animals are actually here!

What didn’t we like?

  • The whole set up of having to make online reservations for your camp spot to do the W-track like 2 months beforehand, makes it impossible for travelers on the go – like us – to share this hiking experience.
  • Camping reservations are expensive and if you didn’t make any, they will send you back!
    • We heard of one that would require you to have breakfast and dinner at their place, and charge you $100 USD pp for it!

The highlights of day hikes in Torres del Paine

  • Walking down the beach to go see a glacier and drifting ice blocks at Lago Grey. It’s a small and easy hike (1h).
  • Hiking along the Sendero Cuernos lookout – passing by Salto Grande waterfall, different lakes, lots of flowers and dead trees (gorgeous!). You get rewarded by a stunning mountain view at the end of the hike and maybe spotting a fox ( we did!).
    • If you climb the last 50 meters or so you get a 360° view over the bay, do it!
  • Just driving around and enjoy the view.

Where to next?

Logically, Ushuaia would be our next destination, about 1000 km further down South from Torres Del Paine, but we decided not to go. Checking off the ‘destination END OF THE WORLD’ is very tempting, but as human as we are, we are in need of sunshine, better weather and new surroundings. We encountered a lot more overlanders the last couple of weeks, and most are unanimous: Ushuaia offers nothing new, there’s even more wind and it’s very expensive and touristy. So, we decided after our first encounter with Chile in Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine, we’d head back North.

Right now we’re back in El Calafate, ready to start our journey on the Carretera Austral through Chile. Supposedly the best road trip in the world, here we come!

And yes, we do know it will rain most of the time in Chile but we’re “mentally prepared” (uhu) for that! People promised us a lot more sunshine and warm temperatures afterwards 😉


9 Comment

  1. John S says: Reply

    Nothing to do in Natales? and 2 days in the park??? Damn boys, you missed out. Great trip though, you just need to learn how to travel. Enjoy!

  2. Cheyenne says: Reply

    Hello, globalhoneymoon! My partner and I were planning to hike the W trek this December but have run into the fact that many places are booked up or closed (Camp Torres). What is the route you did in your car? Can you drive the roads of the W trek or were you on a different road? Thanks a bunch! -Cheyenne

  3. Louise says: Reply

    Hi, we are planning to visit Torres Del Paine in early Dec too but found out all campsites are fully booked! Was so sad about it but your post brings us some hope!! May i know when did you do the trip? I wander if we can still sleep in our own car and park at the parking lots inside the park- do you know if we park at the hotel parking lots- do we need to inform and register at the hotel? We plan to stay for 4-5 nights and do multiple day trek….

    Thank you!

  4. Nick says: Reply

    We have had the exact same problem with the camp sites being booked out/overpriced, like you we are on a long term travelmoon and now 11 months into it we are becoming used to just turning up and doing things with a days notice…. not in Patagonia! So we have hired a van (was cheaper than a car!) in puerto natales for 4 days 3 nights and plan on doing the day hikes, it would be great to get an idea of your driving / hiking itinerary and which trails you took and where you camped…. we bought all the gear so are going to camp… even if its in a car park! Thanks

  5. Amber says: Reply

    Is it possible for you to post a map of where you stayed and where you hiked during your visit?

  6. Dritan says: Reply

    Hey there, I was wandering if you guys tried entering the park without having reservations or did you assume that you would not be able to get let?

  7. mitch says: Reply

    How did they check your reservations at guard posts? On a computer or just from your printed forms. Did they have a cross reference of reservation numbers?

  8. Darryl says: Reply

    Just found this entry and am looking at doing the same thing
    Just want to clarify though: did you guys stay in the park overnight without any camping reservations or did you have to leave the park each night to stay outside at say the administrative building at the entrance?

    1. Dimitri says: Reply

      Hello Darryl,

      Yes, we slept twice in the parc without reservations 🙂 there’s not an abundance of spots, but at the entrance they’ll tell you where you can camp. I don’t know whether or not this still works though, it’s been a while since we were there…

      Maybe can you update in this comment how you pulled it off?

      Thx and happy travels!

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