Torres del Paine National Park bus tour
Originally we planned our trip to Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia in order to complete the W trek. This 4 day hike is the most popular attraction to the park and takes you through all the main sites along the way. However, after finishing the Inca Trail I knew this is something I did NOT want to do. There are mini hotels and refugios along the way to stay in and restaurants that serve meals as well- but these are EXTREMELY overpriced. Think over $100 a night for 2 people and $60 for a meal for 2 people. Pablo and I were going to opt for packing and carrying our own food for the 4 days and cooking at campsites along the way while sleeping in our tent each night as well. But I quickly decided that carrying all of that weight for 4 days straight was not going to be fun to me whatsoever. So we ditched that idea.
I still wanted to do the hike to Las Torres, the main attraction in the park so we planned to camp for one night in the park and do that hike in a day (around 8 hours total). But there was so much more to the park that I wanted to see and so we decided to book a one day bus tour. I could not recommend it more!!!!!!! It was absolutely perfect for what we were looking for and I arranged with the tour company for us to be dropped off near our campsite at the end rather than going back to town with the rest of the group.
The full day bus tour is offered at the same price at every tour company that we found. We booked through Patagonia Adventure (http://apatagonia.com/en) and Jorge was great to work with, always very responsive to my millions of questions. Their office is located right on the main square in Puerto Natales so super easy to find them too and they have tons of tour options. It was 25,000 CLP per person (approximately $35). This included pick up and drop off from your hotel and a stop at the Milodon Cave as well. There is another option to include a BBQ lunch as well, but it was expensive and we opted to grocery shop and bring sack lunch ingredients with us instead. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Puerto Natales to the park and since we wanted to hike the next morning there, I asked the company to drop us off at the park entrance on their way out. They were happy to oblige.
Pick up was between 8:00-8:30am and I think the tour was set to return around 6:30 or 7:00pm. Our first stop was at the Milodon Cave where an ancient giant bear (the Milodon) supposedly lived. They found bones there a long time ago but I wasn’t completely convinced it was for real (sounded more like a myth to me). You do have to pay a separate entrance fee for the cave which was another 5,000 CLP each. Pablo and I decided to skip it and instead just hung out and walked around for the 30-45 minutes everyone else was exploring the cave. No regrets.
From there we continued on our journey, stopping at Lago Azul along the way. The entire area is just incredibly beautiful and my favorite part of this tour was that it just kept getting better and better with each stop along the way. As we got closer to the park we saw ostrich looking birds, called ñandú, and llama looking creatures, called guanaco. We stopped for a few photos before continuing on our way. Good thing too because while the guanaco were everywhere in the park we didn’t see anymore ñandú after that. The really lucky people may have a puma spotting while in the park but we weren’t so fortunate.
Getting closer to the park entrance was Cascada Rio Paine. This was off to the right, a bit off the road, and I would never have known about it without the tour bus taking the detour. If you decide to rent a car and do the drive yourself, I definitely recommend stopping to see it though have no idea how you would find it! I was sleeping on the bus at the time so there could have been a sign that I missed. It’s beautiful!
We stopped at Laguna Armaga, the park entrance, to pay our entrance fees of 18,000 CLP per person (approximately $25). This is where we were dropped back off at the end of the tour and this is where you can catch the park transfer bus over to Las Torres campsites, hotel and refugios. After a quick bathroom break we headed on to Lago Nordenskjöld, our next big stop in the park. The lake is just beautiful and the color is such a bright blue.
From there we headed on to Lago Pehoe which was the brightest blue in the whole park! As we approached the lake we took a fork off to the right for another short hike, which again I’m not sure how you would know about on your own. It was probably 30-45 minutes round trip and very easy so another one I would definitely recommend. There was another waterfall to see, but the main point was just the view of Los Cuernos peaks, which means “the horns”. The view here was my favorite in the whole park!
We drove around the lake and stopped for lunch at the restaurant on the other side, right next to the campsites. Eating lunch right down by the beautiful water was great! It was really warm at this point, and we were shedding layers a lot. You never know what the weather will be like in Patagonia and it changes quickly so layers are a must! I was wishing I had brought shorts and a t-shirt with me.
Our last stop of the day was at Lago Grey. At the far end of the lake is Grey Glacier and we could just see the tip of it far in the distance. But this was such a cool spot because of the icebergs floating right near the beach! It was super, super windy at this point but it was so beautiful and we got to touch some of the glacier ice that had floated up to shore. We had a little over an hour here at this stop to hike out to the beach, walk around and head back. This hike wasn’t difficult at all either.
Really these photos can speak for themselves. I have never been to a place this beautiful in my entire life. It was absolutely incredible and I would highly recommend the bus tour as a must do on your list for anyone traveling down to the Patagonia area of Chile.