Patagonia is a sparsely populated region in the southern part of South America that is shared by Argentina and Chile. The region has a multitude of stunning climates, including the Andes mountains, deserts, grasslands and two coastlines; the western one towards the Pacific Ocean and an eastern one towards the Atlantic Ocean. The Colorado and Barrancas rivers are commonly considered the northern limit of Argentine Patagonia. There are several major tourist attractions in Patagonia, including the Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres de Paine National Park, the Valdés Peninsula, the Argentine Lake District and Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. Much of Patagonia looks like a postcard- soaring mountains, electric-blue icebergs, golden grasslands, quaint villages and crystal lakes. Read on for tips on the best way to enjoy your time in this wonderland from local, Trisha!
THE LOCAL: TRISHA
WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST HER: This will be Trisha’s fourth season living and guiding with Antares in Patagonia. Originally from Milwaukie, Oregon, she spent her childhood in the Pacific Northwest camping, wakeboarding, snowboarding and hiking. She has spent the past ten years traveling and working around the world, bouncing from Europe to Asia and North America to South America. During her time in Patagonia, she has worked for various hotels and guiding outfitters exploring Torres del Paine and its surround areas both foot and on horseback. She is a graduate from Santa Clara University in California with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Spanish Studies and is WFR (Wilderness First Responder) and CPR certified through NOLS.
1. How and where do you recommend people travel in order to hike the W trek or the Circuit trek?
To get to Puerto Natales, fly into Punta Arenas and from there it’s a three hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. In December of this year, the construction on the Puerto Natales airport should be finished, so there will be direct flights available through LAN (now LATAM) or SKY. Flights can be pretty expensive getting to Patagonia, so it’s worth it to check several sites, including Plataforma 10, before you book, to compare prices. To get to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales, you’ll have to rent a car (a two hour drive) or there are public buses available two times per day to get to the park. Tickets can be bought at the bus station.*
2. What kind of fitness level or hiking experience should people have if they’re planning to do a trek?
It’s always good to be as prepared as possible physically, but I’ve done the trek with many people who have done zero prep prior to five days of hiking and they still made it!
3. Packing: what are things that people bring that are unnecessary and what are things people often forget to bring that are integral?
You really only need two pairs of clothes- one pair for hiking and another to wear after hiking. It’s always good to have some plastic ziplock bags in case things get wet, as well as an extra pair of crocs or sandals to wear when you’re not hiking. Plus, several layers, including one fleece layer, and all rain gear protection just in case. As always, the lights the better for your pack, so only bring the necessary toiletries! Don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and water bottles- the foldable kind are great because they save space and weigh almost nothing when they’re empty! If you are planning to buy a backpack, check out this site, which compares several sizes and types depending on your size, the length of your trek and where you’re going.
While it’s smart to pack most things before you arrive, in the base town of Puerto Natales you can purchase most things you may have forgotten. Erratic Rock is a hostel in Puerto Natales that rents some camping and hiking equipment for a daily rate, if you’d prefer not to pack certain items. Erratic Rock also hosts a free 3pm talk every day to provide pertinent information about hiking in the park and to educate visitors on ethical and environmentally-friendly trekking. Plus, their pub serves pizza and beer!
4. If travelers have a few extra travel days after the hike, where would you recommend they go?
There are so many beautiful places in the area that people can check out! I would recommend hiking or riding on the Dorotea Hill (also called Cerro Dorotea) right outside Puerto Natales, horseback riding in Pingo Salvaje in Laguna Sofia, the Milodon Cave, the Peninsula Antonio Varas or Sierra Baguales. Most people go for the normal route of heading to Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate and afterwards, hiking Fitz Roy in El Chalten.
5. What is the ideal trip length for travelers to Patagonia who want to hike the W**? Or, what’s the MINIMUM length of time you recommend?
Most outfitters sell a four night & five day W trek, although you could do it in three days easily if you’re in good shape. I would recommend at least a week in the area so that you have time to explore places outside of the park. Know that hiking season runs from September through April (which is the summer in South America). In years past, the months of January and February were considered ‘high season’, but as of late, it’s expanded and is now November through March. During high season, the trails will be more crowded and your treks and accommodation may be more expensive. This year, I was surprised to see the amount of people still around in March! It did not used to be like that in the past. The shoulder months of October and April are good, if people want to visit when its not so crowded, and things are still open and functioning.
*Directions From the Punta Arenas airport:
The Punta Arenas airport is approximately 20 minutes from downtown Punta Arenas. Taxis and transfers are available to bring you to the center where you can buy a bus ticket for around $10 USD one way. There are a few bus companies that drive between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales multiple times per day. All of the buses drop off at the main bus terminal in Puerto Natales.
Buses Punta Arenas:
•Buses Fernandez- Armando Sanhueza 745, Punta Arenas, phone: +56 (61) 221429
•Bus Sur- José Menéndez 552, Punta Arenas, phone: +56 (61) 2614224
•Buses Pacheco- Avenida Colon 900, Punta Arenas, 56 (61) 2242174
** The “W” Hike in Torres Del Paine National Park is the most popular route, but there are several others you can do, including the O and Q. Each of these hikes letter refers to the overall shape the trail takes. While the W can be hiked in as few as three days, the O and the Q take longer- many hikers say it takes between 8-12 days, depending on your pace and where you stay for the night.
Are you a Patagonia local? Did we miss any can’t-miss spots? If so, comment below!