After the experience I had diving deep into logistics of a complex trip, I decided it was time to share the knowledge so others can benefit.
In March 2018, we headed to South America for 19 days. After searching various adventure travel company sites, obtaining a couple quotes and reading a few blogs, I decided to plan the logistics and book all the travel myself. A huge thanks to our friends Sean and Sarah Janelle who graciously shared all their trip planning documents from their South America adventure a couple years back.
Here’s the scoop. We flew into Buenos Aires, Argentina. We booked an Airbnb apartment for our time in BA. It was super lovely in a great part of the city with easy access to public transportation. We spent 3 days there exploring the culture of the city before taking a flight on LATAM airlines down to Calafate, Argentina. We booked this flight through orbitz.com.
Here’s where things start to get a bit complex.
We pre-booked Las Lengas shuttles to pick us up at Calafate airport for a drive up to El Chalten, Argentina. The drive was about 3 hours and we were dropped off in the town center at the Eco Domes Patagonia office. We then hopped on another shuttle at the Eco Domes office and were taken to our private Eco Dome at the foot of Mt. Fitz Roy. We spent two cold, but cozy nights there (more on that in a separate post) and hiked a route to Fitz Roy that left straight from our Eco Dome. Pretty convenient!
A couple days later, Las Lengas picked us BACK UP in El Chalten at 11 AM to take us back to Calafate where we transferred onto Bus Sur. There are several bus companies available. BUT the reason I chose Bus Sur is that their website is super user-friendly and offers online booking. So I was able to pre-book all our tickets and seats. Bus Sur took us across the Argentina/Chile border ultimately landing us in Puerto Natales, Chile at 9:30 pm. We walked 15 minutes from the bus station to our accommodation for the night, Wild Hostel.
The following morning, we caught the 11:30 Bus Sur to Torres del Paine Laguna Amarga port. This is where we began the trek of the popular W Circuit in TDP. Next I'll cover the logistics/booking of that portion of the trip specifically. But one thing I'll go ahead and note - the night AFTER completing the W Circuit, we actually stayed at Wild Hostel again. This was really important for us because it meant we were able to leave a bag locked up with them for a super small charge while we were in TDP so that we could hike a tad lighter while in the park for 6 days.
Booking the Torres del Paine W Circuit
Tip of the Day: All the refugios and campsites inside Torres Del Paine can be self-booked online. This will save you around $450 in service fees per person vs. going through an agency.
Half of the refugios/sites are managed by Fantastico Sur and half are managed by Vertice Patagonia. Vertice just opened online self-booking at the end of 2017. You used to have to email them to request your dates and it could take time to coordinate plus there were no guarantees. Now, you can do it all yourself online and get an immediate confirmation! Note: you must print out that confirmation to take with you to get into the park.
Important Notes before you book: Make sure you have all your dates lined up. Pull up both Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia at the same time so you can ensure your dates align. Be sure you book in the order you are trekking the route. It does not matter which direction you go, our trip was booked just on personal preference of our options available.
We chose to book refugios instead of camping for several reasons (but everyone will have their own preferences of course!):
1. Ability to pack lighter – IE no need to carry a tent, sleeping bag, stove, or food. The folks we met on the trail that camped the entire time and packed food in were so exhausted by the weight of their packs.
2. Weather conditions can be pretty harsh and unpredictable in Torres Del Paine (think super high winds and rain). So getting to a refugio at the end of each day and getting a warm shower sounded pretty great for us!
3. We’ve done hut trips in the past, and they’ve always been a blast. You meet so many great people in the dining halls and hear incredible stories every night from your fellow trekkers.
4. We were able to choose full made bed and FULL BOARD if we stayed at the refugios instead of camping.
5. The price was still quite reasonable for the benefits given.
Of course, camping is going to be your cheapest option, but count your opportunity costs.