Chile is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve traveled to.  Its beauty extends beyond the Patagonia region I explored.  Chile is also home of the Atacama Desert, Easter Islands, and the Lakes District.  To properly visit Patagonia requires a fair amount of hiking.  I’d never been on a multi-day hike, so my first step was to secure a travel partner, even though I often travel alone. My work friend was up for the challenge and interested in exploring Southern South America.

When we first started researching this trip, we wanted to cram the Atacama Desert and Bolivian salt flats into a very intense two week itinerary. In reality, Chile is a very long country, and it’s more than 3000km from Northern Chile (Atacama) to Southern Chile (Patagonia). We decided to concentrate our time in the southern areas of Chile and Argentina over two weeks.  January and February are the peak travel months for a decent shot at good weather in Patagonia.  I say decent because the weather in this region is notoriously unpredictable, you could easily experience all four seasons in one day.

In the end, we spend a few days in Santiago with a day trip to Valparaiso, and 5 days trekking around Torres del Paine National Park, before crossing the border to explore Argentina.

THE PLAN
Day 0: overnight flight from New York to Santiago
Day 1: explore Santiago solo, overnight in Santiago
Day 2: explore Santiago solo, overnight in Santiago
Day 3: travel partner arrives, explore Santiago together, overnight in Santiago
Day 4: full day trip to Valparaiso, overnight in Santiago
Day 5: early flight to Punto Arenas, bus to Puerto Natales, overnight in Puerto Natales
Day 6: early bus to Torres del Paine National Park, explore outer park areas, overnight in park (Refugio Torres Central)
Day 7: hike from Torres Central to Mirador Torres, overnight in park (Refugio Chileno)
Day 8: hike from Refugio Chileno to French Valley, overnight in park (Domo Frances)
Day 9: hike from French Valley to Lake Pehoe, overnight in park (Refugio Paine Grande)
Day 10: ferry across Lake Pehoe, explore outer park areas, bus to El Calafate in Argentina

FLIGHTS
LAN (business): JFK-SCL
I used 45k Alaskan miles for this flight.  I actually slept for most of the flight and arrived in Santiago ready to explore, so it was worth the extra miles for business class.

HOTELS
Bellavista Apartments, Santiago – moderate
I chose this building solely due to its location and good reviews online.  I wanted to be in Bellavista for the nearby nightlife and walking distance to points of interest.
Recommend: Yes

Hostal Guanaco Blanco, Puerto Natales – basic +
Recommend: Yes

Refugio Torres Central, Refugio Chileno, Domo Frances, and Refugio Paine Grande, Torres del Paine National Park

Recommend: Yes

There are three options for accommodations at Torres del Paine National Park: refugios, luxury hotels and ecocamps, and camping.  If you are interested in doing the main W trek, refugios are the most practical.  Luxury hotels provide day hikes that cover most sections of the W. We were not interested in adding camping gear to our 25lb backpacks.

The refugios are large cabins with shared sleeping and dining facilities.  Our rooms ranged from six to eight bunk beds.  At Refugio Paine Grande, we were luckily assigned a private room. The food is good considering how much effort it takes to transport food to the park.

HIGHLIGHTS
Salto Grande, Torres del Paine National Park
The waterfall is impressive, but the area also offers amazing views of Los Cuernos and Lago Nordenskjöld. Due to scheduling, we visited this area twice and had amazingly clear, blue skies both times.

Mirador Pehoe, Torres del Paine National Park
This viewpoint is not part of the popular W trek or the O circuit.  It would only be covered along the Q circuit.  But the viewpoint is an hour from Refugio Paine Grande along Lake Pehoe, so we visited it in the later afternoon after arriving at the refugio.

Bellavista neighborhood, Santiago

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