Here Are Five Ways To Do Patagonia’s Torres Del Paine On The Cheap

Sunday, January 18, 2015

1

Going on a multi-day trek through Patagonia is on a lot of people’s bucket list. Who doesn’t want to visit the Straights of Magellan, Patagonia and some of the most photogenic landscapes in the world? But if you look online the expense seems, shall we say, unfortunate. Okay, not unfortunate, nosebleed expensive.

Saying that you can visit Torres del Paine National Park on the cheap is a lie. You just can’t. It’s incredibly far away, Chile is an expensive country and Chilean Patagonia is even more so. If you look online, flights and tours alone can easily run in excess of $5,000 per person.

While a trip to Torres del Paine will likely never be categorized as cheap, there are a couple of easy things you can do to cut the cost of a trip almost in half.

2

1) Fly on Miles

A round-trip flight from New York to Punta Arenas will run you over $1,500 — which is about the same as five full-priced Virgin America round-trip tickets from New York to San Francisco. Or, at current Star Alliance prices, you can fly round-trip to Santiago for 60,000 miles with a $10 co-pay. Flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas run regularly and can be purchased from Sky Airlines or LAN and usually cost just a couple hundred bucks.

Don’t have a ton of miles lying around? There are a few clever ways for normal people to accrue tons of miles without being a corporate flier or super wealthy. I’m dead broke and haven’t paid for a flight in years, mostly because I follow The Points Guy like a disciple.

3

2) Don’t Take a Tour

If you Google “Torres del Paine tour,” you’ll get a seemingly endless number of tour operators eager to send you on an amazing, one-of-a-kind, trekking adventure. You’ll get to “sail up to the face of a towering valley glacier” and “hike above the ice of Grey Glacier” while listening to “the sound of ice calving off hanging mountain glaciers.” Sounds pretty intense — except that it’s all a huge rip-off.

Literally everything they’re offering on most of these tours is available to the general public at much lower prices when you arrive in Chile. The transportation, the accommodation, the food: it’s all the exact same thing you’d be doing if you just showed up and did it yourself.

It’s kind of like if you started a website in Mandarin Chinese that offered an “Amazing Manhattan Adventure,” Then for $2,000 you offered to take some poor sap on the Staten Island Ferry and up to the top of the Empire State Building. But that’s not all, you’ll also make sure to take care of their lunch at Ray’s Pizza and book them a room a Hostelling International — tidy profit margin.

When I was looking to go to Torres del Paine I found this well SEOed 4-day tour of the park marked for $1,950 a person. The price doesn’t include a flight and assumes you can get yourself to Puerto Natales, even though the closest airport to Puerto Natales is fours hours south. Check out what they’re offering:

“Day 1: Puerto Natales. Grey Boat. Hike Grey-Pehoe. Camp Pehoe.” That means you’ll take a $20 bus, get on a $30 ferry, walk on well-marked trails and camp in rented gear at a campsite that charges about $7.50 a night.

“Day 2: Hike Pehoe to Cuernos. Camp Cuernos.” You basically walk from one campsite to another and stay in another campsite that costs about $7.50 a night. The horrible thing is that this itinerary actually has you walking past a free campsite that’s way nicer. It also has you walking right past the French Valley, which is one the most impressive parts of the entire park.

“Day 3: Hike Cuernos to Chileno. Night refugio Chileno.” Like the day before, you’ll walk from one campsite to another, and then stay in a hostel that costs $40 a night.

“Day 4: Hike to base of Towers. Transfer to Puerto Natales.” You walk up a hill, look at the Torres Towers and then take a $20 bus back to Puerto Natales. Presumably you’re on your own to get back to the airport in Punta Arenas.

Total Value: $121.50. To be fair, the tour also includes food (about $130 a day if purchased in the park), park entrance ($40), rented camping gear ($200), an English-speaking guide and porters to take care of your bags.

That means you could do the same thing for $881.50 and still have $1,068 left over to hire some guy to show you around incredibly well-marked trails. Or you could use it to buy a flight.

4

3) Camp

There are a series of hostels, or refugios in Torres del Paine parlance, set up around the park. They’re big, modern and warm, and have all the amenities of a hostel in a city. They also have considerable downsides. They’re expensive, they book up months in advance, and they are packed full of the sort of people who took that $2,000 tour.

The park has several absolutely free and very well maintained campgrounds. There are other campgrounds that charge a couple of dollars and offer all sorts of amenities. I’m talking about hot water showers, clean flushing toilets, electrical outlets and access to small stores.

5

4) Bring Your Own Food/Booze

You can, and many people do, purchase all your food while you’re inside the park. For about $130 a day the refugios offer a full day’s food, and from what I could tell, it looked pretty good. But for much cheaper, there’s a large, modern grocery store outside the park in Puerta Natales. They have a good selection of camping-appropriate foods and a decent booze selection.

Speaking of booze, there are bars at the refugios inside the park, but prices are extortionary — they know you’ll be thirsty for a strong drink after a long hike. Think ahead and grab a bottle of something stiff in Puerta Natales. I highly recommend packing in a bottle of whiskey for its high alcohol-to-weight ratio. Not only will you be the most relaxed person at the campsite, you’ll also be the most popular.

5) Rent Your Gear

Because Torres del Paine is such a remote destination, it attracts a lot of campers with deep pockets. These campers then go hog-wild at their local gear store buying some beautiful equipment that’s complete overkill.

I watched one French octogenarian spend about an hour trying to figure out how to set up a brand new $700 tent that I’m guessing will spend the rest of its life in an attic. Once he figure out how to get the tent up, he then spent the next half hour putting together $600 worth of super lightweight trekking cots for him and his wife. While I’ll admit a certain amount of gear jealousy, it seemed like a bit absurd.

If you go trekking all the time and have gear, awesome. But for the rest of us, there’s no need to drop several thousand dollars at Eastern Mountain Sports before leaving home.

Just outside the park in Puerta Natales there are tons of places that will rent you everything you’ll need for about $50 a day. The gear they’re offering is chosen specifically for the needs of hiking in Torres del Paine: light, wind-resistant and warm.

*

The fact of the matter is that taking on Torres del Paine will never be cheap. That said, it can be done far cheaper than you’d expect. And, regardless whether you pay $800 or $8,000 for the trip, your pictures will be just as beautiful. Take that extra cash and tack on some time enjoying Santiago or the incredible street art of Valparaiso before heading back to the States.

TheExpeditioner

By Anthony Sodd / Anthony Sodd Twitter Anthony Sodd Google+

Anthony Sodd Bio PictureYou’ll likely find Anthony traveling, hiking, cooking or horribly mangling photos in Photoshop. When that doesn’t work, he drinks whiskey. Anthony used to cover city news, business and politics for DCinno in Washington D.C., but left to explore South America. Now you’ll find him drinking whiskey on the beach.

  • Frank

    SOOO do you recommend reservations for Torres Circuit campgrounds?

  • Klemen Grum Toni

    I am also wondering about the reservation requirement? Is it true that you also need it even if you just camp? Thank you for your response, regards Klemen

  • Sr P

    We like to camp, but we are wondering about reservations. Is is true that the Torres park rangers won’t let you in the park unless you have a reservation (even for camping)? We like to end our day whenever we feel like it. Is the reservation requirement true?

  • anteres N

    Very Useful thank you. Lets not forget that with a guide, they tell you when to leave, when to stop to rest, how long you get to spend at the top (I’m speaking from experience) and then they nag you about everything. Thanks but no thanks.

  • wonderful thanks your very much

  • Nacho

    Hi Anthony, thank you very much for the information.

    My girlfriend and I want to trek W Circuit (3 days / 2 nights) in Torres del Paine on December (high season) with guide. Do you know if it is recomended to book a tour by Internet because of high season?, or is possible to book it the day before start the trek?.

    Thank you very much.

  • Awesome information :-)! Thank you!!

  • Ruby Papadaki

    is anybody interested in getting a cheap tour during the first week of September? Looking for advice and company

    • Katie East

      Hey – I’m gonna be in Chile all of Sept and probably heading down to Torres del Paine on the 19th-24th Sept. Interested in a cheap tour/DIY travel and company too.

    • Ilmo Niittymäki

      I’ll be in Patagonia from the 14th until the 24. I’m traveling by myself and adventure company is always well appreciated.

  • Julie

    VERY HELPFUL. Thank you!

  • constantTraveller

    The best option I can suggest is to fly to El Calafate, Argentina (Aerolineas Argentinas fly directly to/from Miami/El Calafate, and they have pretty good prices too for early November..too late for this year I am afraid), you can use Skymiles for Aerolineas flights. Rent a car in El Calafate (we went with the local Agency like Localiza rather than Hertz or Avis, because it was lot less expensive and for us Localiza was reliable and even gave us a Toyota compact model). From El Calafate one can drive south on Ruta 40 (it is beautifully paved) to Cerro Castillo (one has to make sure one has as much gasoline in the tank as possible..ALL the time, last filling station is at Cerro castillo, THRE ARE NO filling stations in Torres del Paine), the road towards the park leaves Routa 40 near cerro castillo..from here the road is NOT paved, first, the road reaches the border between Argentina and Chle, here, one needs to exit from Argentina (see below about the RECIPROCRACY), then drive several kilometers to reach entry point for Chile (there is no visa fee to Chile for US or Canadian passports at this border crossing at the time of writing), the border officer will give a tourist card (small bill like thing..this needs to be kept safe, because it is needed for exiting Chile on the way back), now, one has entered Chile, if needed Chilean Pesos can be obtained at the tourist shop here, continue to drive on and the road will reach the park gates, the entry fee as of Nov 2015 is 18,000 Chilean pesos or about 30 US $ (only currencies accepted as far the author is aware), one is now in the National Park Torres del Paine Chile..there are many down loadable maps of the park in the web..one can park and hike in various places. The refugios along the multi day treks need to be pre-booked and is an extra cost..also, one can just do a single very long day sight seeing tour of the park with opportunity to get exceptional pictures if one is not into muti-day treks.
    In addition to Torres del pain Parque Nacional Los Glaciares offer many extraordinary trekking/sight seeing opportunities, for eg. Perito Moreno Glacier or Monte Fitzroy and Cerro Torre Peaks.., drivable distance from El Calafate and easy to look up on the web. Or, one can stay in El Chaltan and do the easy or difficult treks of Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Torre
    Reciprocracy: Argentina Immigration web site details entry requirements for different Nationalities/passports..for US and Canada passports one need to obtain a Reciprocracy (cost 92 US$) online BEFORE one leaves US/Canada, and a PRINTED copy of the reciprocracy is needed at boarding flights to Argentina, and entering Argentina.
    Above is a very brief and rough guide to doing Patagonia on a budget, as we did, to illustrate Patagonia is accessible than most people think, and author accepts no liabilities.

    • D. Heaton

      Update:
      US citizens are exempt from paying the reciprocity fee by Presidencial Decree No. 959/2016, published on August 23, 2016.

      The reciprocity fee still applies to Australian and Canadian passport holders.

  • I’m starting a bike tour from Nicaragua to Patagonia this week. I know that by the time I’m down there, my funds will be quite shallow. I’ll definitely be camping, and there’s no way I’d ever pay for a tour! The best experiences are the ones that are unexpected, which tours don’t offer.

  • Everything you said I agree of. That’s exactly what I and my traveling buddy(ies) do because it does lessen our expenses.. especially on food; we always cook our food.. go to the local markets, because we also love markets, and that way we could learn a lot about the locals.

© 2017 TheExpeditioner.com
CLOSE
CLOSE