After a wonderful few days in Chalten, we headed back to El Calafate to catch the bus to the Chilean border, and on to Puerto Natales. This town on the inland fjord through southern Chile, the Beagle Channel, and was visited by Fitzroy on the HMS Beagle on his first voyage to the area, before the Beagle's more famous second voyage with Darwin plied the Straits of Magellan and Beagle Channel. Nowadays the town is best known as the staging area for travelers to the Torres del Paine National Park, about a two hour bus ride away.
The town is chock-a-block with tourist and guide agencies, gear sales and rental shops, and hostels and restaurants. Unlike El Calafate, though, the town has a gritty, down-to-earth feel, much like towns in Alaska or coastal British Columbia. And perhaps best of all, it has a terrific micro brew pub, Basquales, that became our home away from home for a couple of great evenings!!
We did our homework on possibilities for exploration of Torres del Paine, looking at trekking options in the park. The two most famous treks are the "W", taking about 5 days, and the complete loop, requiring a week or more. We opted to do the "W". Then, there are options to either camp in campsites or stay on beds in the refugios along the way. And then, you can either carry your own food or eat at the refugios. The nice thing about using the refugios is that it lightens your pack, as you don't need to carry tent, pad, stove or food. But the downside is that it's expensive, and costs over $100 usd per person per day. We opted to rent all of the gear in Puerto Natales, and carry it for the 50 mile trip. In addition to saving $$$, it also gave us more flexibility to spend nights at more possible sites than just the offerings at the refugios. In the end, renting the gear cost approximately $300 for the entire trip for the 4 of us. Park admission cost an additional $40 per person.
|Hordes of trekkers waiting for the ferry|
|Sign at a ranger station|
|High winds above|