On my travels through the Patagonian mountains, I’ve heard many people comparing these two national parks. Eventhough I find this comparison rather pointless, I decided to give it a go, only because it’s an interesting way to describe both parks in one go.
From the aesthetic perspective, it’s simply a matter of subjective preferences of a spectator. In my opinion, both parks are equally stunning when it comes to views and the actual treks. Both of them are also well maintained and tourism is generally well organised in both either.
Upon your arrival to either of the parks, you will be informed by rangers about your trekking options, park rules as well as about the safety precautions you will need to respect. On the Chilean side, you will also have to sign a declaration that you will follow the park rules.
When it comes to the comparison, I’d say that the only minor difference between these two parks is about their accessibility, which gives El Chaltén a little advantage under certain circumstances and below you’ll find out why.
Parque Nacional de Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine National Park covers 242 242 hectares (598 593 acres) and it is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile (around 1/4 million people annually). Some of the most epic views from Chile could be found in this place. It’s truly stunning park with beautiful walks but…
But unless you plan your trip well ahead (I’m talking two months at least), you’ll find it rather difficult to secure a spot in the camping places inside the park. And because there’s not much of a tourist infrastructure in the close proximity to the park, you’ll be most likely forced to commute from Puerto Natales that’s 172km away, that’s unless you can afford to stay in Hotel Las Torres inside the park. Commuting from Puerto Natales would leave you with less flexible itinerary, that will only allow you to do some of the numerous day treks in or around the park.
On the positive note, you will still be able to get to the famous iconic Las Torres view point. It’s doable in one day if you take the first bus from Puerto Natales at 7am, catching the last bus back to town. It’s a stunning trek and in spite that it’s a nature equivalent to such places like Eiffel Tower or Charles Bridge places when it comes to crowds, it’s well worth it. You can however lose the crowd if you let the really fast walkers to go ahead.
FYI: you do not have to be 100% fit to make it. There are some steep-ish sections on the way and the last hour on the way up is getting a mild hardcore altitude change signs, with a possibility of a strong winds trying to blow you off the trek but it’s doable.
Unfortunately, when it comes to other highlights of the park, with no camping places inside the park you won’t be able to get to the Mirrador Britanica in Valle del Francés unless you’re extremely fit and fast walker. You will just not have enough time to catch the last bus back ): If you were desperate – you should be able to make 3/4 of the way to the French Viewpoint.
The same applies to other long treks. If you haven’t secured the camping spots, you won’t be able to do the W or O multiple day treks, because they require you to sleep in the park’s camping grounds. I must however say that the day treks in Torres del Paine can’t be called a disappointment though. Read about some of the day treks available in Torres del Paine here, compiled by Stingynomads. Otherwise plan well ahead and you’ll be spared of this problem/dilemma.
The 172km, two hours ride on the bus from Puerto Natales will get you to the park for 15 000,-CPL return (€19,50). The entrance to the park will cost you 21000,-CLP (€27,50). From the park’s entrance you can take a short bus ride further into the park to the Hotel Las Torres for 6000,-CLP return (€7,90).
Please note that there are two stops in the park itself and if you want to go for example to Mirrador Cuernos or if you want to board the catamaran which would take you across the lake to the beginning of the Valle del Francés trek, board your bus again after the rangers’ park introductions and head to the second stop: Pudeto. The catamaran will cost you further 30000,-CLP (€39) return.
A little tip for a late night sip 🙂
You know that great feeling of coming back from a trek. Being pleasantly tired but still full of emotional energy so you kind of want to stretch the eve to maintain that feeling for longer, especially after taking a shower followed by a meal, then what? Well, in Puerto Natales, I’ve came across a perfect spot, where you can keep being excited for a bit longer and, like many places around here, it even comes with the additional cool attribute to it: being something southernmost.
I’m talking about Last Hope distillery. I can’t say that it was the cheapest cocktail I’ve ever had but the overall great social atmosphere and friendly staff made me to forget about the prices and the possibility of the next day’s headache as it felt like a great night out, I have a great memories off. They do make their own Gin and Whiskey and nice list of cocktails (no shots) you will contemplate to try all one by one, which would be rather unwise though…
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is situated in the southwest of Santa Cruz province of Argentina. It covers the area of 726 927 hectares (2807 sq. miles). It is the largest park in Argentina’s Protected Areas System. Since 1981 it is a UNESCO”S world heritage site. It’s also a home to the iconic Mount Fitzroy.
Unlike in Torres del Paine, the entrance to the park is free (except the Perito Moreno Glaciar) and all treks starts and end in the town. In my humble opinion it’s therefore far more flexible in comparison to TdP and you will be able to sleep in bed after shower every night. I guess you now know which park I consider to be the winner in this pointless competition. Only if you had time for one of them – I would definitely recommend the Argentinian contestant due to the reasons stated above.
In both parks, all treks available are stunning, clearly marked and you’ll be provided a lot of information about them upon your arrival. In Argentina, I recommend trying some of those that are connecting the main treks – you’d be rewarded by nature with low numbers of the fellow tourists. Please – what ever you do – don’t miss the Laguna de Los Tres trek – it has been one of the highlights of my trip 😉
A little tip for a late night sip 🙂
El Chaltén comes with several nice places one can enjoy the drink outdoors if the weather permits. I mean the establishments I have visited in town did look and felt great from the inside but enjoying a beverage after your trek on a terrace in such place is just something special. Whether it was La Cervecería or La Vinería or in fact any joint in town looked like I wanted to grab a pint or two, especially if their terraces were filled with sun.
- Puerto Natales: First night I’ve opted for a hippie-ish Two Monkeys Hostel for €13 per night. It was a friendly and a very social place but due to the consequent hangover, I’ve moved to an Airbnb place called Natales Trip, cama 1 1/2 plaza near the bus station. For €21.25 I’ve had a comfy private room in a walking distance to the centre of the town. There was a good view of the lake, a smoking room/bar and nice friendly owners.
- El Chaltén: From the many accommodations this town offers, I’ve picked Hostel “Kaiken”. It was a nice, clean place with friendly owners. The dorm cost me €11. It was an OK place to crash after the trek.
And what lies between Puerto Natales and El Chaltén?
The ultimate highlight: Perito Moreno Glacier. Click here to know more about this unforgettable place.
What have I missed? Or shall I say: What would I do if I had a chance to come back?
Huemul Circuit. Viedma Glaciar, the 975 sq. km (376 sq. miles) is the second largest glacier in South America. It’s apparently challenging 6 days trek with tent and proper mountain gear. There’s rather detailed description of the trek here by ratravelsblog.
Sunrise at Laguna de Los Tres. Recommended by the romantic couple I’ve met in El Chaltén. This is doable from the camping place at the base of the mountain. Otherwise, the whole trek is approximately 8 hours long return from the town. The first 3 hours is pretty much just a pretty walk with not much of an elevation changes and the last hour is quite a hardcore push on the wet rocks.
Valle Frances ):
Sunrise at Los Torres. Unless you have a secured place in the camp near by – it would involve a long night trekking, which is not recommended for obvious reasons.
Other popular destinations travelling north
- You can explore the larges Chilean island Isla Chiloé
- Head to “the capital” of Chilean Patagonia Coyhaique and explore the stunning Carretera Austral
- To witness the beauty of Marble Caves, head to Puerto Rio Tranquillo
- Get your trekking shoes on in El Chaltén to explore the marvelous Los Glaciares National Park
- If you in the area, please do not miss the opportunity to visit the overwhelming Perito Moreno Glacier near the town of El Calafate
- Then there’s Tierra del Fuego with Ushuaia and its amazing nearby Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego