Warning!!! YOU NEED RESERVATIONS FOR EVERYTHING, IT HAS TO BE DONE MONTHS IN ADVANCE, AND BOOKING IS COMPLICATED AS FUCK AS IT IS DONE THROUGH THREE DIFFERENT WEBSITES!!!
As for why one of Chile’s most prized national parks is so dysfunctional is beyond me. It can be confusing and frustrating to say the least, but totally worth the effort for the beautiful vistas and world class trekking.
Planning Your Trip
I won’t be covering how to plan your route, as I found plenty of resources already out there (I’ve listed a few below). Instead, I will give you the information needed to plan a successful adventure.
How to hike the W in Torres del Paine, Chile (Trekking Guide)
Trekking Guide: How to hike the Circuit in Torres del Paine, Patagonia (Chile)
It is easy to buy food in both Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams, since both cities have a Unimarc and plenty of food and booze to choose from. Once you’re inside the park, everything is expensive, and options can be limited.
Be sure to bring plenty of pesos with you as many of the tiendas and refugios in the park are cash only! Additionally, should you need to take the boat from Pudeto to Paine Grande (or vice versa) you will need 18.000 CLP per way (exception of two way tickets at discount).
For some reason Latam Airlines seems to be losing a lot of people’s luggage, so wearing your hiking boots and rain jacket on the flight might not be a bad idea. This ended up working out in my favor, after I met one unfortunate fellow that couldn’t complete his trek. He was also kind enough to give me his reservations, allowing me to complete the “O”... Thanks Dallas McClendon from Mississippi!
Reservations in the park are really tricky, and hard to get outside of booking online months in advance. However, if you find yourself here without them and want to see if it is possible, you can go Fantastico Sur or Vertice offices in Puerto Natales. They may be able to help you out… or at least explore your options.
Owns most of the campsites on the eastern side of the park with the exception of a few CONAF campsites.
Cost: $15.000 CLP p/p
Locations: Frances, Los Cuernos, Los Torres “Central”, Chileno, and Serón
Additional Information: While Fantastico Sur has some of the nicest campsites in the park (Los Cuernos & Frances), some with platforms for your tent, they are also the most expensive. They also have refugios where you can buy (with reservations) any meal of the day. As for adult beverages and snacks, you won’t need anything but money, but be prepared to pay a premium! For a real local treat, head to the bar at the hotel where they make their own beer, it is supposed to be super tasty! For those on a budget, you can buy a liter of wine for $5.000 CLP (the cheapest way to get hammered in the park).
Owns most of the campsites on the western side of the park with the exception of CONAF’s Camp Paso
Cost: $5.000 CLP p/p
Locations: Paine Grande, Grey, Los Perros, and Dickson
Additional Information: Vertice campgrounds are large fields with small or non-existent refugios. The price is reflected in the facilities and staff, a bit run down, and often jerry-rigged features. At Paine Grande and Grey it can be rather windy too, and I watched more than a few tents flatten out or break under the extreme pressure. Additionally, many of the tiendas don’t sell the boxes of wine, so you might have to sober up.
CONAF maintains several FREE campsites throughout the park, but since it is free the sites get booked out months in advance. In my experience, many people don’t end up keeping their reservations at these camps. Without cost or repercussion for not keep a reservation, it’s a fucking joke, and most wouldn’t think to bother cancelling if and when they realize they won’t be keeping their reservations.
Locations: Italiano, Torres, and Paso
Additional Information: These campsites are pretty-well kept, but without the luxuries of tiendas or showers. However, the locations are the best in the park. Camp Italiano is the best place to stage a day hike into valley Frances, Camp Torres is best for the Torres del Paine Mirador, and Paso is a beautiful spot close to John Gardner Pass with some of the best views of Grey Glacier just a few minutes outside of camp.
I hope this helps with some of the confusion going on in the park next year, as the season is half over, and likely mostly booked at this point.