Chile or Argentina? Patagonia stretches across both Chile and Argentina. I went to the Chilean side, Torres del Paine National Park, specifically. If you’re more interested in Argentina or a different part of the region, this isn’t the post for you.
Plan your trip. First, you need to decide if you’ll take the trek with a tour guide/company or on own your own. I personally went with a guided group and it made for a very relaxed experience. The guides did everything from reserving transportation and lodging, picking up our bagged lunch, checking into the refugio, etc. However, I think this trek can be done on your own with enough research and planning in advance. The trails are very well-marked and populated.
How to get there: You’ll fly into Punta Arenas and from there, drive to Puerto Natales. From Puerto Natales, it’s another couple hours to the park entrance. Stock up on any snacks or last minute supplies and use the last bit of Wi-Fi and cell in one of these cities.
Let’s talk money! You’ll need Chilean pesos, possibly, or a credit card you can use internationally. Everywhere in town, and even the refugios, all accepted credit card. However, it’s always a good idea to bring cash when traveling in case you need it. I always exchange cash with my bank prior to my trip to avoid any exchange fees. I brought about 500 Chilean pesos that I used for restaurants, bars, souvenirs and tips. I put the other tours I did on my credit card. Prices are comparable if not more, than the U.S.
While You’re There:
Prepare for weather: It almost goes without saying. Prepare by dressing in layers and bringing the right gear (Gortex is your friend!). We experienced sunshine, snow, rain and plenty of wind.
The days are long. I went late December to early January which is summer in South America. You’re on the “bottom” of the world so the sun rose at 5 a.m. and set at 10 p.m. I was never up early enough or late enough to see the dark… excluding New Year’s Eve!
Live off the grid. You won’t have TV, Wi-Fi or cell service once you leave Puerto Natales and it is awesome! Some refugios offered eight hours of Wi-Fi for ten pesos (pay online with credit card). But I say, embrace being off the grid!
Brush up on your Spanish. Having bilingual guides made this optional, but I enjoy the opportunity to practice my Spanish. It seemed that most of the refugio staff knew English, but it helps to at least know some basics!
Daises and Torres del Paine at dusk in Patagonia, Chile
Try a Pisco Sour. Apparently it’s THE drink: Pisco (brandy), sour and egg whites! They also make them in the Calafate variety, which was my favorite! Calafate is a berry that only grows in the Patagonia region.
Like beer? I loved trying local beers! Austral Calafate was great slightly fruity beer that let me further enjoy the Calafate berry. Puerto Natales had the most variety of craft beers in restaurants and had a great blonde beer that I don’t remember the name of.
Explore a glacier. Glaciar Grey will be at either the end or beginning of the W Trek depending on where you start. We ended there, which I thought was perfect. There are two options to get intimate with the glacier: kayak in Lago Grey among the glacial cliffs or climb on top with an ice hike! You can reserve either with Big Foot Patagonia.
I completed the amazing W Circuit of Torres Del Paine in the Patagonia region of Chile recently and was very happy with what and how much I packed. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure my pack was the lightest of the group of 12 I traveled with (18 lbs before food, water and camera). So, I wanted to share my complete packing list and brief product reviews with you!
What:The W Circuit of Torres Del Paine When: Late December – Early January (Summer) How Long: Seven Days Other: We stayed in refugios (basically hostels) along the way, so you will not see any shelter or cooking supplies on this list Budget: Most of the items I didn’t already have, so I purchased new for this trip. I had a year to collect this gear and never bought anything for full price. Yet, I only purchased quality, durable gear – think of it as an investment in your trekking future. Look for annual 20% off coupons or clearance sales at Backcountry and REI!
40-50 liter backpack: I have an Osprey Ariel 55 liter pack that I found on clearance from REI. When choosing a pack, nothing beats trying on different brands loaded with 20-30 lbs and walking around the store. The staff at REI is really helpful in helping you find the right size and style. Osprey was easily the most comfortable pack for me, and I love that this one has a removable top compartment that transforms to a day pack. 55 liters was bigger than I needed for this trip, but the outer compression straps help with that!
Rain cover or trash bags: Yes, you’re going to get rain in Patagonia. If your pack doesn’t have a rain cover built in, try the REI duck back or line your pack with trash bags. I did both.
Water bottle: I brought my 32 oz Hydroflask. You can fill up straight from the streams which is pretty amazing – so make sure your bottle has a wide mouth.
OPTIONAL – sleeping bag liner: I use one so I can keep my sleeping bag somewhat clean from sweat and dirt.
OPTIONAL – compression/dry sacks:I loved having these! I kept my sleeping bag in one to make it a bit smaller in my pack and to keep it dry. I used another to compress the clothes I wasn’t wearing that day (be sure they’re dry first). This saved me a lot of space and time packing!
OPTIONAL – small day pack: There were a few days of day hiking where I ditched my larger bag, so this nice to have! Some packs (like mine) have these built in. If not, there are plenty of options for pack-able day packs. Or, you can simply remove gear from you main pack and store in a trash bag.
Filling our water bottles with fresh water and a view of the French Valley
Base Layer Clothing
100% Merino wool shirts: I rotated between one long sleeve and two short sleeve shirts. Some people may prefer synthetic materials, but I like wool in both summer and winter because it helps wick sweat away from your body and doesn’t get smelly ever after wearing for several days. Again, looks for sales! I like Icebreaker and Ibex (which is sadly out of business now).
One pair of wool or synthetic long underwear: I have a synthetic pair that I brought but didn’t wear/need.
One sports bra: I tried this wool bra since I was going all in with the wool tops. Go for your preference as long as it’s comfortable.
Three pairs of underwear: Yeah, you don’t need a new pair for every day. I bought a few pairs of ExOffico underwear (they put certain colors on sale!) and would wash them in the shower every night. They are comfortable and dry so fast!
One pair of shorts: I don’t like hiking in shorts, but I brought a pair for hanging out in the refugios and to sleep in.
Flip flops: for hanging out in the refugios and as shower shoes. It feels so good after 8-10 hours with your hiking boots on!
Soft shell jacket: A soft shell is a versatile layer that is breathable but wind and water resistant. Mine has a fleece lining, so if we were hiking, I was warm! Either I didn’t wear a jacket or I was wearing my hardshell to protect myself from rain/wind. While I didn’t wear this particular layer, but you may wish you had one just in case!
Down jacket: It can get chilly if you’re not moving, so this is nice to have for rest and lunch stops. Down doesn’t like water, so layer with your hardshell if it’s wet out! I love the Cerium Superlight Jacket from Arc’teryx. It is only 5.8 ounces but keeps me warm and packs down really small!
Fleece pullover: This was probably my bulkiest item! I kept this clean and wore it during evenings in the refugios. A clean T-shirt would have done, but oh well!
Rain pants: You’ll need these for hiking in the rain or even walking through the forest-y areas where the bushes and trees have dew on them. Look for pants with snaps or a zipper so you can get them on and off with your shoes on. I’m extremely happy with the Women’s Stretch Ozonic pant from Mountain Hardware. They are lighter and more comfortable than any other rain pant I’ve seen. You will get wet if you sit in a puddle, but for Patagonia they were perfect.
Fleece gloves: Nothing fancy here!
Warm hat: I wore mine every day!
Baseball cap: Nice to have, but I didn’t wear mine because I thought it would blow away!
Passport and immigration paper: Every refugio asks for these when you check in. The immigration paper is the receipt like document you get from immigration upon your arrival at the airport. Keep this safe!
Cash/Credit card: Necessary for the post-hike beer at the refugio! I brought pesos with me, but I was surprised to see that all refugios accepted credit card.
Portable charger: More of a luxury item, but I used this to keep my phone charged (for pictures!).
Camera: You’re about to see some fantastic views! It’s worth it to lug up your camera (and possibly tripod). Make sure your battery is charged or bring an extra so you can save weight by ditching the charger.
Headlamp with extra batteries: Never used it, but a good thing to have on any trip.
Ear plugs: You don’t want to listen to your refugio roommates’ snore, do you?
Snacks! The lunches from the refugios were filling, but it was nice to bring our own chocolate and candy for the trail. Get these in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
Finals notes: I was really happy with this list and my pack weight! I had all the right layers I needed. I probably could have gone without the long underwear, fleece and softshell, but I have no regrets!
Daises and Torres del Paine at dusk in Patagonia, Chile
Have any questions about gear or this list? Is there an essential I missed? Let me know in the comments!
Internet/cell service – get of the grid and go without it! However, if you need Wi-Fi you’ll have to purchase an internet card. We found a hotel cafe that sold a one hour card for $2 CUC and also included a coffee
Forget the credit card – you’ll need cash for everything. See below…
Currency – There is a 10% fee for exchanging USD. I got Euros from my bank before I left the US. Then in Cuba, I could exchange the Euros for Cuban currency without the fee. There are two currencies in Cuba, the CUC and the CUP. We did run into both types but didn’t have an issue with the locals giving us correct change. Read this article to educate yourself
Safety – while using common sense, I never felt unsafe in Cuba. Since we were two young females, we did get a lot of “cat calls” but ignored them and kept walking. We also ran into people trying to get us to eat in their restaurants, buy their cigars or give us recommendations – we also politely said no to all of these offers and kept walking
Buy bottled water – I do this when traveling to any foreign country. We would buy 2 liter bottles from a sandwich stand near our Airbnb for 2 CUC. All restaurants serve bottled water as well
Wear comfortable shoes – Havana is very walkable – save some money and take advantage of that