1 day Patagonia hike: Mirador Base de las Torres from Puerto Natales
On our final day in Torres del Paine we climbed so high that we reached paradise. Not pictured: an absurdly difficult hike to get there, featuring 120km/hr winds that spit gravel into your eyes. After around 7 hours and 22km, we were pretty exhausted but so glad that we made it to the Mirador Base de las Torres—the spectacular lagoon at the foot of three mountain towers.
Best one-day hike in Patagonia
The climb here is often the grand finale of the four-day W trek through Torres del Paine—one of the most popular hiking circuits in Chilean Patagonia. However, it can also be reached in just one day, even if you’re planning to stay outside of the national park itself in Puerto Natales.
This trek is by far the most rewarding one-day hike that you can do in the Patagonia region, and will take you to one of the most iconic landscapes in South America.
Drive: 2 hours (one-way from Puerto Natales).
National park pass: 21,000 Chilean Pesos ($43 AUD) during high season (valid for 3 days). The pass can only be purchased in cash in the local currency on arrival.
Bus ticket: 21,000 Chilean Pesos (round trip).
Hike: allow 7-9 hours (return).
Distance: 22km (return).
Difficulty: medium and then hard, very hard.
getting to torres del paine national park
PUNTA ARENAS TO PUERTO NATALES
It takes a bit of co-ordination to actually get to Torres del Paine. The nearest city to the national park is Puerto Natales in Chile’s southern Patagonia. However, there are very few flights into its small airport, usually limited to just one flight per day from El Calafate in Argentina. Alternatively, the easiest way to get there is to fly into the next closest airport at Punta Arenas (around 220km away from Puerto Natales), and then either drive or take one of the frequent bus services from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. Once you’re in Puerto Natales, it’s then another two hour drive to the national park itself.
Hiking to the Mirador Base de las Torres in one day
PUERTO NATALES TO LAGUNA AMARGO
Torres del Paine has three entrances: Laguna Amargo, Lago Sarmiento and Rio Serrano. To get to the Mirador Base de las Torres in just one day, you want to get to the Laguna Amargo entrance.
The hike is a popular day trip from Puerto Natales, so there are many bus companies that can take you from the city to the entrance and back—we went with Maria Jose, but others include Bus Sur and Buses Gomez. There isn’t much difference between the bus companies in terms of price, but they do run on different schedules which may affect your hiking time (to give ourselves the most time for the hike, we opted for the earliest start departing Puerto Natales at 7:00am and leaving the park at 7:45pm).
We booked our bus tickets the day before and paid 21,000 Chilean pesos each for the round trip (including the cost of the shuttle buses). Buses depart from the Rodoviario Puerto Natales Bus Station and take around two hours to get to the Laguna Amargo Welcome Centre, where you can buy entry tickets for the national park. It’s then a short 20 minute shuttle bus ride to the start of the hike at the Mirador Base de las Torres Visitor Centre.
Alternatively, if you’re driving, parking is available at the visitor centre.
What to pack for the Mirador Base de las Torres
We were stupidly unprepared for this. Unlike most people who plan the trek months in advance, we had decided to do it on a whim only the night before. It wasn’t until we were scrolling through Google reviews on the bus there that we started to realise we were in for a rough time.
Most guides recommend allowing 7-9 hours for the round trip. The first two kilometres are fairly easy and flat. However, the rest of the trek is then uphill and made extremely difficult by constant exposure. It’s hard to find cover from the wind and dust on the mountainside, and either the sun or rain or ice (or all) will weather you. There’s a common saying that there are four seasons a day in Torres del Paine, and you’re likely to experience all of these things throughout the hike.
The last stretch is extremely gruelling—a kilometre or so of scaling unstable rocks up an incredibly steep incline. It might only have been a short distance, but it takes most people 45 minutes to an hour to overcome.
We would really recommend taking proper gear; the trek is quite steep for large stretches and can be particularly dangerous on the way down. Having been through it in just activewear and basic joggers, here are the things we wish we had taken:
a good backpack;
waterproof and windproof jacket;
clothes for every temperature;
food (there are limited places to buy food in the national park. The visitor centre at the start of the hike is one of them, however it is pretty expensive, eg one bottle of water goes for $10 AUD).
If you’re not travelling with any hiking gear, equipment can easily be rented from stores in Puerto Natales and returned either late that day or the next day.
Best time to visit Patagonia
The best time of year to visit Chilean Patagonia is in summer, from November to early March. This is peak tourist season, but if you’re just travelling into the park for the one-day hike, buses can easily be booked as late as the day before from one of the many bus companies in Puerto Natales. It is relatively easy to find accommodation at hostels, hotels or on Airbnb in Puerto Natales at most times of the year.
If you’re planning on staying in Torres del Paine itself, or hiking one of the longer circuits (W or O treks) at any time of the year, the hotels and refugios inside the national park will definitely need to be booked months in advance as they fill up fast.
Note: Entry into the park for three days is 21,000 Chilean pesos ($43 AUD) in high season, and 11,000 Chilean pesos ($11 AUD) in low season.