Blogger: Brennan James

TLDR: Most adventurous trip yet! Santiago was a colorful energetic city with a great nightlife. Torres del Paine was an experience of a lifetime that absolutely MUST be planned ahead! The Argentina side of Patagonia cannot be skipped, Perito Moreno Glacier and El Chalten were incredible and unlike any other trekking in the world. The towering snow capped mountains contrasted with the vibrant green and blue of the valleys is truly awe-inspiring to look at. Buenos Aires was like a piece of Southern Europe in South America, with Castilian-Style architecture and a wild nightlife unrivaled by any I’ve ever experienced. 10/10 would go again tomorrow!

The Details:

Day 0: Are we there yet?

So it began! I drove through a blizzard to the Toronto Airport then flew to Santiago on a red-eye flight. I highly recommend looking at a few airports near you prior to booking big flights like this. I use Skyscanner and make a big matrix of flight prices with flight times and number of connections prior to making a decision. This time, driving to Toronto saved me nearly $500 and about 12 hours of travel time.

Day 1: The dazzlingly colorful and energetic Santiago.

Accommodation: La Chimba Hostel

Price per night: $16 US

Activity: Cerro San Cristobal and Santiago Nightlife

Comments: I arrived, had a stellar broken conversation in spanish about the limited number of topics I could cover with my cab driver who told me all about the political landscape of the presidential election the next day, none of which I could understand but that's besides the point. The city itself was much bigger than I expected with most of the smaller buildings and homes being painted in vibrant colors, a hold over from the early days of immigration from Europe. Streets were mostly clean and the road lanes mainly recommendations to the fleet of taxis racing to their next fare. Upon settling in to my hostel, I made friends with a group of Brits travelling for a few weeks together and set off to Cerro San Cristobal for sunset, located in a nice green space with a stellar view of the city. After the sun went down we went back to the hostel and prepared for the La Chimba pub crawl. I can't really tell you where we went, only that I am still not much better at beer pong than I was in college and that contrary to some other countries I've visited, the Chileans loved to include us rather than the typical hostel pub crawl of foreigners that sticks together, removed from the locals. We danced the night away and eventually made it back to to La Chimba around 5 AM.

Day 2: Into Patagonia (Santiago > Punta Arenas > Puerto Natales)

Accommodation: Hostel Last Hope in Puerto Natales

Price per night: $17 US

Activity: Provisioning and other preparations for Torres del Paine

Comments: Flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas which is the primary airport on the Chilean side of Patagonia and then hitched a ride with awesome group of Californians #1 into Puerto Natales(2:30ish hour drive). We stopped and bought food at a Punta Arenas super market prior to leaving to save money(they don't give you plastic bags so park nearby or bring a bag of your own). After parting ways in Puerto Natales and checking into the hostel, I got the rundown from Diego on anything I had missed during my research for Torres del Paine. He was extensively knowledgeable and helped me iron out the rest of the logistics for getting into and out of the park. I’ll do another post later with a Torres del Paine specific guide to preparing and route planning to keep this one shorter.

Day 3: Torres del Paine W Trek (Day 1)

Accomodation: Refugio Cuernos

Price per night $116 US -see comments for why this was so expensive.

Activity: Bus to Torres del Paine, ferry to Paine Grande, hike to Glacier grey and then to Refugio Cuernos.

Comments: Caught the first bus to the Park(about 2 hours).The bus was very social, ended up meeting some Aussies I’d see again in Buenos Aires and awesome group of Californians #2 I will mention again later. It's a bit of a hullabaloo actually starting your trek. You bus to the main ranger station, pay the park fee, get a fire lecture, then get back on the bus to the ferry pick up site if you are starting the W from Paine Grande. The ferry was awesome,  


and most of the people on the boat are people you will see again during your trek, upon arrival Paine Grande, I dropped my pack at the refugio and went up to glacier grey, the weather wasn't great but the view was epic and worth it.


I came back down, grabbed my pack and set off for the first night’s lodging. The views are hard to describe well so I have a few of my pictures to try, and then to disclaim, by saying they don't do it justice.


The views are massive, you can see for miles with plunging ravines into green canyons and soaring ice covered mountains dotted with beautiful blue glacial lagoons. Then there is one view after another, after another. I arrived at Cuernos, my jaw sore from gaping at my surroundings along the way, I checked into the refugio and my premium platform (raised wooden platform with a tent, sleeping pad, and bag already set up for me. 3 meals were also included, hence the price. I went and sat down with a beer on the shore of Lago Norden Skjold


and relaxed a bit and made friends then went inside for dinner and a few rounds of poorly played Jenga. Our group grew until people went off to sleep for the night and I went to sit on the beach with a new found friend, enjoying the 11PM sunset until it was time to very thoroughly pass out.

Day 4: Torres del Paine W Trek (Day 2)

Accommodation: Refugio Chilenos

Price per night: $56 US

Activity: Backtrack up to Valle Frances then to Refugio Chileno.

Comments: I should lead with the point that this is the day that was the most terribly planned but ended up one of the best days of the whole trip because of amazing people. I woke up and ate breakfast at the refugio with my friends from the evening before and then set off backtracking to the middle part of the W that I had skipped the day prior. What I hadn't realized though was that what had been an easy segment coming from Paine Grande was quite tough on the way back, then the middle part of the W is an aggressive uphill climb for about 8k. However the views were definitely worth it.


The miradors(viewpoints) revealed a gorgeous green valley floor with walls of ice ascending up and away from view. I went back down and collected my pack from the refugio then set off across the most open and flat part of the trek. This part was characterized by beautiful flora and the occasional black hole-like mudpit that sucked the shoes right off my feet. As I was trekking I approached a fork in the trail. One went down to the camp I had booked online, the other went up to the far more desirable, Refugio Chilenos. The decision point was to risk going all the way up to Chilenos and hope they had a cancellation or no show and then could have a place to sleep that was much closer to the final big viewpoint the next day. However if they didn’t have room, I had just added a couple hours onto an already super long day of hiking. I decided to risk it.


There was no availability...however...a friend from the evening prior and the greatest person I met on the entire trip swooped in just as I was about to leave in disappointment and invited me to stay with them. Crisis averted, we ate some solid refugio food and prepared for the next day.

Day 5: Torres del Paine (Day 3)

Accomodation: Hostel Last Hope

Price per night: $17 US

Activity: Final hike to the Torres then down and out of the park, back to Puerto Natales.

Comments: In typical Patagonia style, the weather didn't cooperate on day 3 of the hike until we were practically out of the park. The wind roared and the rain came sideways at the tent all night. However, by the time we got moving and climbing though it was only partly cloudy and we made the steep 3k ascent easy enough. The mirador was a bit obstructed by cloud cover but rather than ruin the view it created this surreal, otherworldly effect that was impossible to photograph well.


The Torres viewpoint is across a deceptively massive, beautiful glacial lagoon with small waterfalls streaming of the towering grey rock face behind it. It was truly incredible to behold and a great way to culminate the trek. After making our way back to the refugio and then down and out of the valley we were continually greeted by viewpoint after viewpoint as the weather continuously got warmer and the clouds cleared off the park.


We had a couple drinks at Hotel del Torres and then my friend once again saved us from sitting around waiting for a bus for hours by hitching us a ride with some Chilean people heading back into town.

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We arrived back at Puerto Natales, grabbed a much needed shower and reset, had some dinner and then parted ways in preparation for the rest of the trip.

Day 6: Awesome Group of Californians #2

Accommodation: Backseat of the rental car.

Price per night: 3 or 4 rounds of drinks

Activity: Border crossing in Argentina, Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chalten nightlife(lol)

Comments: On the second leg of the bus ride into Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales, I met my second group of Californians who without really knowing me at all offered to give me a ride with them for pretty much their entire day after Torres del Paine. Our itineraries matched up so they picked me up from the hostel at about 5:30 in the morning in hopes of getting across the border before the mountains of people on busses arrived. However, upon arrival at our border crossing we realized that they didn't open for another couple hours. So we made some tea with the jetboil, had some camp style breakfast, one of them went running after llamas, and all in this sleepy little border town that looked right out of a western movie. We eventually made it across and in to Argentina and completed the drive through the flat grazing lands that makes Patagonia famous for its livestock production and in to El Calafate.


We had a great lunch at a little cafe and then went off to Perito Moreno. The glacier itself was beautiful and we were treated to house sized pieces of ice calving off into the 150 ft deep lagoon and disappearing from view.


We packed back up and headed to El Chalten, visions of climbing to the Laguna de Los Tres early in the morning so they could get back in time to return their rental car later that day. We arrived with the Fitz Roy rock formation barely concealed by clouds in the distance, then proceeded to have a celebratory drink, then another, then another, then we lost count. El Chalten was host to people from over 40 countries all having a great time running all over the Glacier National Park, and we partied with all of them that night. It doesn't help that every third building in the town is a bar either. The night came to a close ad the concept of going 4k up the trail to the free campsite in our inebriated state evaporated and we all promptly crashed in the car.


What a night.

Day 7: Laguna de los Tres

Accomodation: Laguna Capri

Price per night: free

Activity: Hiking in El Chalten

Comments: We began our hangover hike up to Laguna de los Tres and it was about as you’d expect, rough. What is unique and awesome about El Chaltén though is that all the trailheads are at the town, no buses, no park fees, just days and days of hiking right at your fingertips. And while the weather is rather volatile, the views are spectacular. The Fitz Roy hike was, in my opinion, the best hike I did the whole trip. The landscape is the hardest one for me to describe so I'll let a couple pictures do the talking for me.


I parted ways with my friends about half way to Lago de Los Tres and went the rest of the 20k


meeting other cool people along the way in typical El Chaltén fashion. I ended the day at my campsite at Laguna Capri, a beautiful free site on the banks of a glacial lake and prepared for the next day


Day 8: Recovery day

Accommodation: Rancho Grande Hostel

Price per day: $22 US

Activity: Recovery and rest.

Comments: Waking up in my tent, I rolled out of bed and realized I could not go another day without washing clothes. Thoroughly concerned with my capability to interact with other in my current state, I packed up, ate a camp breakfast:


and headed into town. I checked into Rancho Grande, a lively bright yellow building situated near the trail heads and set about recovery tasks. Laundry was a bit expensive at $6 a load but they folded it for me so I guess it's okay. The rest of the day was spent stretching, hydrating and planning the remaining days in Patagonia.

Day 9: Christmas Eve

Accommodation: Rancho Grande Hostel

Price per day: $22 US

Activities: Lago Torre and El Chaltén nightlife

Comments: Feeling like a new man I went off on a day hike to Lago Torres, the second major day hike in the area. It was a very flat, easy hike with only a couple small ascents. Interestingly, the main river along the hike was filled with silt, in contrast with the perfectly clear streams found elsewhere. As it turned out, the glacier at the end of the hike was relatively very active and as a result of the ever so slow grinding of the ice along the rock, a very fine silt was made and mixed in with the water. The Mirador of the glacial lake itself at the top was made that much more epic by the gale force winds that nearly knocked me over as I crested the final ridge. Thankfully, this is Patagonia and there were various stacked rock bunkers to shelter from the icy wind screaming off the glacier in the backdrop.


At the conclusion of the hike and keen on not spending Christmas Eve by myself I went to a nearby bar and restaurant and made some friends, we added a few more folk from the hostel and proceeded to party like it was New year's.


We spent most of the time at the ironically named Bourbon Bar with a bit of El Chaltén disco action at the end of the night and welcomed in Christmas day in person. Unfortunately, the only present Santa left me was yet another hangover, but oh well, maybe I'll be better behaved this year.

Day 10: Christmas Day

Accommodation: Rancho Grande Hostel

Price per day: $22 US

Activities: Short day hike and a unplanned recovery day

Comments: The town was completely dead on Christmas day with bad weather and the late night before helping people to stay in bed. Made a great opportunity to meet people in the hostel from all over the world and ensure transportation was thoroughly booked for the next day’s trip to Buenos Aires.

Day 11: To Buenos Aires

Accommodation: Milhouse Hipo Hostel

Price per day: $18 US

Activities: Bus to El Calafate Airport, flight to Buenos Aires, rapid descent into Buenos Aires nightlife

Comments: 8AM bus to the airport, 1:45 flight to Buenos Aires, took a short taxi to the hostel and met a stellar group of Aussies who invited me to drink with them. We partied together until about 11 when the party shifted to the other Milhouse location a few blocks away(Avenue is bigger, Hipo is smaller but easier to meet people in). Transitioning to the other hostel, we met more people, partied till 2 and then when to Club Kika. Kika was a blast, with a mix of reggaeton and EDM music. The night eventually ended and we all made our way home in the early morning daylight.

Day 12: Buenos Aires walkabout

Accommodation: Milhouse Hipo Hostel

Price per day: $18 US

Activities: Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve, Puerto Madero, and San Telmo

Comments: Met a couple more Aussies, one who went to college in the city who gave us a bit of a tour around the city. We walked the Ecological preserve which had a distinctly marshy feel and a really cool slow moving river fully covered in vegetation.


Puerto Madero was mainly touristy shops and restaurants with a university on a side of it but was also home to the ferries that can take you on a day trip to Uruguay, home to the closest beaches. San Telmo was an older part of town with beautiful streets straight out of a postcard and numerous cafes full of distinct character. We eventually made our way back to the hostel and met some more people, including a few from Patagonia and went off to a Tango show which was both extravagant and incredibly entertaining. A man sung the scenes of the dances into action and then 3 pairs of dancers weaved their way across the floor with every picture of grace, it was truly impressive to watch. The team then wanted to give partying another go. Unfortunately, I couldn't hang another night in a row and called it an early evening(midnight).

Day 13: La Boca

Accommodation: Milhouse Hipo Hostel

Price per day: $18 US

Activities: La Boca, Argentina national soccer stadium, nightlife round 2!

Comments: I went off solo in the morning to see the painted houses of La Boca(also a holdover from the early days of immigration)


it was quite touristy but nevertheless a beautiful, energetic sight to see! Keep in mind it's not in the best part of town so better to take the bus in and out. I also visited the futbol stadium with it's radiant yellow and blue, made extra vibrant by the fact that the facades of all the buildings are also painted yellow and blue.


My sightseeing done for the day, I walked back to the hostel and prepared for Tango lessons at the hostel. The seen was hilarious, most of the participants we're singles or groups of one gender. Therefore, all parties were smashing drinks to build a bit of confidence before engaging in the learning of the extremely sexy dance. The lesson was fast and furious but a ton of fun and a great way to meet more people. After a stellar steak dinner at a nearby steak restaurant, the party resumed at the hostel until 2 when we went off to Club Cuba de Asia, a more chill club than la Kika with a bit of outdoor seating that allowed for groups of friends to chat and get to know each other in between dancing around the main floor. We called it an early evening(4ish) and headed off.

Day 14: Final day and travel back to the US

Accommodation: Palacio Duhau, Park Hyatt

Price per night: don't ask

Activities: Sleep, more sleep, and off to the airport.

Comments: We got back to the hostel and typical of party hostels, there was a couple getting to know each other extra well in my room. So in my slightly(not so slight) inebriated state I grabbed my stuff, called the nearest 5 star hotel and booked a room for the day. While a terrible financial decision, everything else about it was great, the bed was perfect, the water hot, and the service of the highest order. I spent the day pretending to be either a trust fund kid or a successful tech startup, walked about Palermo a bit(gorgeous neighborhood that feels straight out of southern Europe) and then headed off for my flight back to the States. Memories of an incredible trip dancing about in my mind, I boarded a United flight back and prepared to re engage the real world. Until next time South America!

Do’s and Don't:

DO: Break up the travel time to Patagonia with a stop in Santiago or Buenos Aires.

DO: Give hitching a go while in PAtagonia, its a great way to make friends and get new ideas on trips, life, and politics(okay, maybe not politics)

DO: Book lodging for Torres del Paine 6-9 months in advance. 9 if you want to do the full O circuit. Guide to preparation and planning coming soon!

DO: Provision in the first city/big town you come to in Patagonia, you will save mad $$$. Keep in mind moving food across the border between Argentina and Chile is restricted though.

DO: Utilize the free campsites up the trail from El Chalten to maximize the experience and minimize expenditure.

DO: Bring a camp stove and some tea long on the days with worse weather. Great way to make friends and get a reprieve from the cold.

DO: Learn to tango in Buenos Aires!

DO: Go cafe hopping in Palermo in Buenos Aires.

DONT: Forget to pack for the hot, the cold, the rainy, the windy, and the sunny while in Patagonia!

DONT: Lose your Chilean immigration slip, you actually need it to leave.

DONT: Forget that you need 500 Argentina pesos per person to visit Perito Moreno