Patagonia (or Bust): Staying There

Getting Ready for Patagonia Means Figuring Out Where to Stay

Once we’ve reached Patagonia, the logistical challenges do not end. One might be tempted the think that you can just show up with a backpack and hike. The temptation is false; you can’t just show up and hike either the ‘W’ or the full Torres Del Paine circuit. In fact, complete reservations for every stop on the way are required. Attempting to wing this hike in peak season is likely to end in great disappointment.

This brings us into the same paradox we faced when planning for the Tour du Mont Blanc…namely, you can prepare ahead of time and be certain, but then be locked into a rigid itinerary that falls to pieces if things go awry. Or, you can wing it, and risk everything being booked up.

In the case of the ‘W’ trek, it’s very difficult to wing it nowadays. Reservations are required, and the park is apparently enforcing this quite stringently; if you don’t have bookings and the camps ahead are full, you’re not allowed to hike. In years past many people showed up in Puerto Natales without a clue, hoping to muddle through somehow. This is still possible, especially in the shoulder seasons, but you need to be VERY flexible with your itinerary and willing to possibly hike a longer distance than desired to get to the next campsite.

Our previous expeditions in South America, like the Santa Cruz Trek, were logistically complex. But they Patagonia is much more challenging.

If one had a lot of time to hang around the park, the ‘show up and hike’ option might in fact still be preferably. But for Brian and Sylvia, whose time will be tightly budgeted on this expedition, this is not an attractive option. Like with the TMB, we will make our bookings in advance and deal with the fallout that comes of it.

Fortunately, the bookings are easy, straightforward and simple to make. Right? 😊

This was not the case on the TMB, and it is not the case on the ‘W’. In Torres Del Paine NP, multiple vendors handle the accommodations; the webpages are not all well designed, not necessarily intuitive, not always working, and often rendered in an earnest muddle of English and Spanish.

Things may be easier in Fitz Roy. Not only is this park much less visited, but there is on one particular itinerary everyone is trying to do. Many of the hikes are in fact doable right out of El Chalten. So it boils down to a simpler question of getting bookings in that increasingly popular portal town.

B.I.T.’s Minister of Expedition Planning sat down last night in an attempt to make some advanced booking for the ‘W. Brian figured that, there being some evidence he can make use of a computer attached to that there inter-webby (he is a Cyber Security Engineer) how hard could it possibly be?

Among his findings…

Booking for the National Park Facilities are run by CONAF, the Chilean National Forest Corporation, described by its own website as “…a private law entity under the Ministry of Agriculture, whose main task is to administer Chile’s forestry policy and promote the development of the sector.”

So much for privatization improving efficiency…Their web page is colorful, attractive, and highly resistant to any attempt at puzzling it out. Links to the English web page are in fact landing paged in English that take one back to the Spanish page. Every link seems to take one back to the page for purchasing ticket to the park (yup you need to pay admission too.)

Fishing Boats in Puerto Natales with Paine in the background. By Anne Sophie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
El Chaltén
El Chalten on the Argentinian side is so close to the mountains you can hike right out of town. By David – The City of El Chaltén, CC BY 2.0,

When Brian finally did find the link for reservations, it led to a page with a welcome message, a promising picture of the Towers of Paine on it…and nothing else. 😊

Inform yourself with CONAF’s reservation site. You are Welcome, certainly…but not able to make reservations.

The parks other vendors – Fantastico Sur (“The Fantastic South!”) and Vertice — must have an actual webmaster working for them…their sites are slightly more intuitive. However, in both cases it is impossible to make bookings further ahead than May…then end of the 2018/2019 season, in other words. Fantastico!

One thing we have learned is that when travelling in South America, it is a great help to have an actual South Americano available who speaks the native language. Fortunately, B.I.T. has its feathers numbered for just such emergencies. This task may be ‘delegated’ to co-pilot Sylvia.

Sylvia, fluent in Spanish, will guide the way through Torres Del Paine’s Byzantine reservations system.

In addition to this we will have to make reservations in Puerto Natales itself. When making plans in Patagonia it’s important to remember that everything is far from everything else. The Park is more than three hours, by bus, from the town…and Brian has already read dire reports of how delays at the entrance station can lengthen this time even more.

How are we even going to do this in five days?

One good thing about the W is…it does not really matter where you start and finish or even which way you go. It’s not so much a trek, as there is no particular destination nor progress toward that destination. Each days hike is a separate destination in itself…it can be though of a series of days hikes, in fact, which is why some people prefer the much more challenging (and much longer) full circuit.

What DOES matter is you have a place to stay at the end of each junction.

Next we’ll cover some of the physical and safety challenged of this epic adventure.


Next Up: Patagonia (Or Bust): Staying Safe and Dry

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