There seems to be a fair amount of confusion and a lack of clear information about the possibilities of driving independently around the Torres del Paine national park in southern Chile. Some people still seem to suggest that this is tough to do on your own, and that to get to and around the park you absolutely need to shell out on a 4×4, which will be very expensive.
This is more of an issue if you only have a limited amount of time to visit the Torres – which are a truly stunning, magnificent area, with enough blends of mountain, lake and ice, and constant changes of weather and colours, to keep anyone hypnotised for days. If you have a week or more there, you can see them in the classic way, by hiking, on the celebrated trekking routes of the W (4–5 days), the full Paine circuit (9 days) or other less prominent trails, sleeping in the well-kept refuges along the way. Getting there and back by bus from the nearest town (Puerto Natales) will be only a small part of your trip. If you have only 1-3 days, though, transport and costs are much more of an issue. You could stay in one of the hotels just outside or inside the park, and take day tours, but this will cost. Day tours from Puerto Natales will be cheaper, but you’ll have to factor in travelling for at least 1 and a half to 2 hours at the beginning and end of each day just to get to Torres del Paine from PN. The regular Torres bus schedules from PN are also restrictive, with only 1 or 2 services each way per day. So having your own transport becomes much more attractive.
Having recently driven around the Torres in a very ordinary car (a Chevrolet Optra, from Emsa Rentacar of Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, http://www.emsarentacar.cl/, recommended), here are some comments that might be helpful.
The one and only road from Punta Arenas for over 240km to Puerto Natales (Chilean route 9) is a good two-way fully-asphalted highway all the way. Since other traffic can be seen a long way away you can really rip along. The asphalt continues for another 52km north of PN to Cerro Castillo, where it crosses into Argentina. The other roads that continue towards and into the Torres del Paine are all what in Chile and Argentina are called caminos rípios. These are hard-packed, gravel roads, nut just dirt tracks, and pretty well maintained. They do not throw up huge amounts of dust, or even too many stones, nor do they mud-up badly and develop giant ruts after rain. They are much, much better than real dirt roads such as in, for example, Mexico, which change every time the weather does and can only be driven along at under 20kph or so.
With a standard, very ordinary car you can drive along a camino rípio pretty steadily without taking any risks at around 50kph/30mph or more, in 3rd to 5th gear. You do need to watch out more when it rains, and change gear quite a lot on bends, but it’s nothing very hard. You might need to be more careful in the southern summer peak season (Dec–Feb) when there are more tour buses and other vehicles around, and slow down and keep your distance whenever you meet any oncoming traffic, to avoid any stones they could throw up. Anyone dedicated to automatic cars should consider getting a manual, you’ll have much better control.
Driving around this way you can reach everywhere in the park you can get to with any vehicle, beyond which the only option for everyone is to hike or boat it. The (considerable) extra expense of a 4×4 will not get you any further. All it might get you is some more comfort and maybe the ability to go a bit faster.
The most direct route into Torres del Paine is on the rípio road that turns west off the main road about 19km north of Puerto Natales, and goes past the Cueva del Milodón to the south side of the park at Río Serrano, with a small cluster of hotels just outside the park that are more reasonably priced than those inside, from where it continues into the park. This will get you to the park entrance in about 1hr 30 minutes. Scheduled buses and much other traffic continue on the asphalt road to Cerro Castillo and then enter the park on the northwest side at Laguna Amarga, which will take much longer, about 2–3 hours driving or nearly 4 on the bus (since it stops, and often waits for passengers). Inside the park the two roads meet up at Lago Pehoe.
With a car it’s obviously difficult to take any of the longest hikes but you can try day hikes such the Base of the Torres route from Hostería las Torres (6–8hrs) or shorter routes like the Mirador Cuernos and Salto Grande waterfall track near Hostería Pehoe (an easy 2hr walk from the road, with fabulous mountain and lake views), or the path straight uphill to Mirador Condor, also from near Hostería Pehoe, or the also-steep one to Mirador Ferrier from the Lago Grey hotel. Park wardens and local hotels are very helpful in pointing out shorter routes.
Beyond the road conditions, two other things that are maybe more worth keeping in mind –
Fuel – The last petrol stations going north are in Puerto Natales, so always fill up there (we were charmingly told that, though some maps show a gas station in Cerro Castillo, it hasn’t actually been working for some time). You should then have enough to get to and from the park and for about 3–4 days driving around it, in most cars. If fuel runs low, the hotels apparently have emergency stocks, but they’ll naturally charge you well over the norm for it.
And another issue – signage. This is erratic. Sometimes roads are indicated by the name of a place that’s the least likely of the various options anyone might be looking for, and sometimes the places indicated change along the same road. Hence it’s handy to have in mind a few other names close to the one you’re actually looking for, in case they’re signposted first.
This comes up particularly on one of the minor roads into Torres del Paine. The official park map you’re given shows an entrance road on the east side of the park, ending at Laguna Verde, said to be one of the Torres’ most beautiful small lakes, surrounded by woods and especially good for seeing birds and animals. On the map it shows a warden’s station at the park boundary, by a hotel called Hostería Mirador del Paine. But, if you are driving along the road north of Cerro Castillo looking for this entry road, the only signs you will see will be a very big one for ‘Estancia Lazo’, and a much smaller one for ‘Mirador del Paine’.
If you then, as we did, go up this road, you will indeed see loads of wildlife – especially guanacos and rheas – and after about half an hour of winding over the pampas will come to a rambling ranch, the Estancia Lazo, the cabins of the Mirador del Paine and a big gate across the road. If you got there in season when there were people at the hotel – part of the Estancia, and which specializes in horse-riding trips across the wilderness – you probably wouldn’t have a problem, but in early October every part of the Mirador was locked up. Eventually, a very small man in a beret and old sweater appeared and looked at me with unease. Having generally found Chileans very helpful and communicative, more curious about foreigners than suspicious, I wasn’t ready for our conversation. Buenos días, I say, ¿es ésta la entrada a Laguna Verde?, assuming he’d at least have heard of it. This is Estancia Lazo, he says. I ask again if Laguna Verde is nearby, thinking there’s supposed to be a park wardens’ station in the same place. This is Estancia Lazo, he says. I ask about the hotel, but there’s no one there. I ask again more specifically about Laguna Verde, and he says it’s not here , it’s ‘over there’, waving an arm vaguely behind his back. Where again, do you mean… and he gave me some complicated directions, saying that I needed to turn around, that somewhere along the way there was another turn, and entonces tiene que hacer esto… 4km in some other direction was mentioned at one point too. I still can’t figure out what he was trying to tell me, my only interpretation is that he’d been told by his boss that, while there was no one at the hotel, he should just not let anyone go by, and try to get rid of them any way he could. Maybe the boss has an issue with people using his Estancia as an entry into the park. Quién sabe….
Because… we later discovered we were in the right place all the time. Should anyone else wander up this same road and meet the same wee man in a beret, he is having you on, so persist. We were told by wardens at other park stations that, yes, the gate we could see is the entrance to the park we were looking for, and so we had every right to use it. There is also apparently a wardens’ station just beyond the gate, but it’s not staffed and slightly abandoned, so the symbol on the map is misleading. However, you should be able to leave a car at the Mirador del Paine/Est Lazo and then just walk through the gate, without charge, and then after about 1-2km you should come to Laguna Verde. Apparently it’s a fabulous place. Rats.
At least things aren’t always predictable.
76 comments on Driving in Torres del Paine, Chile
Headed to Torres Del Paine in two weeks. Renting a car and self guiding. The gasoline availability will be an issue since we will be driving back and forth out of Hosteria Lago Pehoe daily 40-50 miles searching for Puma. What do you think of this idea….buying plastic gas containers in Arenas and carrying extra fuel into the park? Thanks for your blog and thoughts.
Hi Robert, would love to hear how your trip went and if there are any updates I should be aware of. I am heading down that way in about 3 weeks with my wife for just over 3 days so we have rented a car as well. Would love to know if any new streets have been paved or any new gas stations popped up. Thanks!
sjk and Robert: I am heading down in 3 weeks. Renting a car and driving from Puerto Natales up to the park. I plan to stay just outside the park at hosteria lago tyndall for 3 days . If you have any updates or advice about gasoline and driving to/from trailheads, that would be great! Muchas gracias!
First thing to do is probably check with Hosteria Pehoe whether they can supply extra gas and what they charge for it, maybe they’re prepared to be reasonable! Otherwise, depending on the size of your vehicle, I guess carrying some extra gas wouldn’t be hard to do. Your rental company may supply spare tanks, it’s worth asking, otherwise as you say there are probably hardware store-type places in Punta Arenas where you could buy them in different sizes. As I said above filling them up is easy to do in Puerto Natales, but nowhere further north unless the Cerro Castillo station has suddenly returned to life.
We filled up to the brim in PN and found with a standard car we had enough for 4 days and getting back there, but that was a combination of driving and walking, not driving all day.
Sounds a great trip!
Thanks for your article. So informative!
We’re going to Punta Arenas-Puerto Natales-Torres del Paine next Tuesday for 9 days. We’re renting a car from Punta Arenas, where we’ll spend 2 nights, staying one night in Puerto Natales, driving to TDP from the Laguna Amarga entrance and staying in the park for 4 nights, returning through the southern entrance and back to Punta Arenas, where we’ll stay one more night before flying back to northern Chile. We’re also renting a smaller car (Kia Soul), so I’m VERY happy that you said a 4×4 isn’t needed.
I was wondering if you had an idea of how much gas would be for the 9 days. Just so can budget a bit better.
Starting from Punta Arenas you’ll need at least three tanks-worth, to get to Puerto Natales, up to TDP and then back to PA. Depending on how much driving you do inside the park you’ll need another, maybe more, but if you just use the car to go to a few places in the park and then spend most of your time there on hikes, the boat trip to Glaciar Grey etc then obviously you’ll use much less gas and might be OK with three.
I understand that the average price of gas at the moment in Chile is around US$ 1.15 a litre – that’s for the whole country, I don’t know if it might be more in the far south. I see that a Kia Soul has a 54 litre tank, so one tank would be around $60–65, so three – $180. Rough estimate, obviously.
As you can see gas in Chile is more expensive than in many Latin American countries, but cheaper than in Argentina!
Enjoy your trip!
Loved reading this blog and the info you have in it. I am trying to plan a trip to TDP/Chilean Patagonia for my family (parents in their 50s, my husband, brother, and me in our 20s) for next year in early february (2016). We are of average fitness with the exception of my mother who is weaker, so we are not looking to do the typical treks in TDP… we want to do some day-hiking for the time that we are there (probably 5 days or so). If you are able to recommend the best options for going about planning this trip, i would really appreciate it. We can’t spend a fortune, though i know it is expensive in general.
A main question i have is how the driving conditions generally are. Is driving in the crazy winds really difficult?
Another question I have is how far away from the park entrance are the hotels that are “just outside the park”? like 2 miles away, or more like 15 miles or more?
I hope to hear from you soon! I appreciate any info you’re willing to give me.
Glad you liked the post. Re driving, as I tried to say in the blog, I don’t think it’s particularly difficult. We didn’t have any particularly bad weather while we were there (though the weather and the skies do change amazingly all the time!) and the winds are impressive but don’t threaten to push you off the road or anything like that. The main thing is to take care and keep your distance when you see a bus or truck coming towards you because they can throw up stones – but you can usually see any traffic from a long distance away, and the trails are often wide enough to allow you to pull over easily. I don’t think this is much of a problem.
The hotels at Río Serrano are about 1km or so from the park entrance, so very close. This is just a ranger station where you pay to go in (valid for the whole of your stay and not much) and they can also give you maps and other info. Staff are helpful, most speak some English and they can advise on shorter, easier hikes.
From there it’s around 8-10km to the core of the park around Lago Pehoe and the Hostería Pehoe hotel, near where there are some great easy walks facing the Torres like the Mirador Cuernos route, about 2hrs or less and with no severe inclines. Another thing to do is the Glaciar Grey boat trip from Lago Grey hotel, which is beautiful, and the only thing you have to do is walk across a beach to the boat – no exertion required! Hotels are also good at recommending accessible walks.
I can recommend Hotel Río Serrano (at, surprise, Río Serrano) – it’s a modern place, the buildings are frankly a bit boxy, so it’s not as ‘characterful’ as the Lago Grey, Pehoe or other places inside the park (or the new luxury places like Explora), but it has all the necessary comforts, nice food, and because it’s outside the park it’s significantly cheaper. And most importantly it’s built so that most rooms have spectacular views of the Torres, so the architecture doesn’t really matter. Staff were very helpful and friendly, and (as in all the hotels there) there’s a tour desk where you can book longer trips like Lago Grey. Other places further in (I think Hosteria Las Torres is the star) will give you more of a mountain experience but will cost a lot more.
Hope that’s useful. Enjoy planning your trip!
I’m going to visit TdP from Dec. 27th – Dec. 30th. We’re staying in Puerto Natales and renting a car to go to TdP. Since all the hotels are booked in the park, we’ll be staying in Puerto Natales each night and driving back and forth from our hotel to the park. Do you think this is possible to do? Once we’re in the park each day, we plan on doing day hikes and then returing to Puerto Natales at night. Any help you can give us greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Yes you can do that in day trips, but as I think I said in my initial post you need to factor in about 1 1/2 hours each way between Puerto Natales and the park entrance – so you need an early start! And be sure to take the turn off west to the Río Serrano park entrance, not carry on along the main road to Cerro Castillo, as that will take over 2 hours. At the ranger station at Río Serrano (where you have to stop to pay) get some free maps and info on accessible day hikes and shorter walks (the rangers are very helpful too). Wherever you’re staying in Puerto Natales will probably be able to give you some useful info too.
As I said also I think some of the best places for short (under 3 hours) and day hikes are around Hostería Pehoe and around Laguna Grey (most starting from near the Glaciar Grey hotel). Others involve a longer drive so you’d have to weigh up how much time you have to get back to PN.
And on the plus side, if you stay in Puerto Natales you’ll have a much better choice of places to eat! Have a great trip.
Nick -thanks very much for the information! Really appreciate the help.
Just wanted to say thanks for the really informative and up to date information. It really helped in my planning as I will be travelling the exact same route (and time I might add) as Jamal in December, and am going to be based in PN and taking day trips up to TdP too.
If it’s not too much trouble, which day hikes do you recommend (besides the ones mentioned), and are these hikes part of the W treks (i.e. are they the same routes)?
The walks I mentioned are not part of the W, which is on the north side of the big lakes, and so a bit of a longer drive from the Rio Serrano park entrance. I didn’t get that far myself but I understand there are shorter walks possible from Hostería las Torres, on the W – however, I think that would be about a 3 hour drive from PN.
Re other walks, at Lago Grey, apart from the ones on the west side – around and above the Hotel Glaciar Grey – the walk along the east side to Mirador Grey looks beautiful. It’s quite long, I think, so you’d need to make the most of a day, and check ahead at hotels etc how long it could take.
Have a good time,
Thanks Nick! I actually have a few days here so perhaps I’ll take a longer drive to do one of the treks! Thanks a lot! 🙂
Thank you for the wonderful info you provided on your blog here. Do you still remember if gas stations at Puerto Natales accept (Visa/Master) credit cards?
Am budgeting for my trip to TDP (will also drive up there) and determining how much cash I should bring, and also how much I can pay with credit card.
I think so… but it’s maybe not wise to rely on it, so it would be best to have enough Chilean pesos to cover it. There are several banks in Puerto Natales where you can get cash through ATMs if you need extra, and in Chile there are no big differences in exchange rates at ATMs. As I remember there are two or maybe three gas stations in PN, all near the middle of town (it isn’t big!) so if you really wanted to check your cash usage you could walk down there and ask and then go and get cash if you needed to.
Hi nick – this was a very informative article, thank you! We are going to be arriving in el calafate on february 15th, and want to spend a few days in TDP – our flight back out from calafate is feb 19th. I was thinking to rent but was wondering if you know anything about cross border renting? I heard there are advance permits and such and am worried i won’t be able to pull this off in time
Hi Sri – I’ve never done this myself but I understand it’s generally time consuming and potentially expensive. Some rental companies won’t do it at all. When you find one that does, it’s most important to inform them of your intention to cross to Chile at least a week before you get to Calafate so they can prepare all the paperwork and make sure all the details are taken care of. There will be an extra charge for this, I don’t know how much, a while ago it was around $200. Then when you get to the border it will take extra time on each side while they check over all the papers, and the same again coming back. I don’t want to be negative, but that’s what I’ve heard!
Hi again Sri – I may have been too negative in my previous reply, from some info I just got it looks as if most recently there have been more people looking to do the same thing, so it’s got a bit easier, and the border crossings themselves have got quicker. There are certainly agencies in Calafate that offer this as an add-on service, but you still need to ask them about it as much in advance as possible.
Hi Nick, thanks for spending the time to write such an informative blog and responding to comments. My wife and I are going to TdP in September for three nights, and we’re hoping to self drive focusing on the spots you mentioned. We do not have experience driving in icy conditions and are unsure if we would need a 4×4 for this time of year. I thought I’d see if you knew anything about this? Thanks.
September is early spring there, particularly the end of the month, so the weather isn’t that bad – windy and pretty cold at times, but I don’t think there’d be much ice on the roads or that driving would be that difficult. I was there in late Sept-Oct once and the weather was great, chilly but very bright and clear, and warming up a bit around midday. What could be a problem in the first half of September is that it’s still the area’s low season, so some hotels, restaurants might be closed. Check before you go – by October, everything is open.
Have a good time,
First of all, I wanted to thank you for the great blog you have done on driving in Torres del Paine national park in Chile!
We are heading to P. Arenas this coming Friday and renting a normal size car for 9 days. After a day in PN, will go to the Hosteria Lago Tyndall for 4 nights in order to do day trips into the TDP park.
Then we plan on driving onward to El Calafate in Argentina for 3 nights. Finally will drive back from there direct to P. Arenas in one stretch in order to fly back to Santiago.
Do you know what is the gas supply situation between TDP and El Calafate? Are there any gas stations once one leaves the park and heads towards Argentina? I read that one might be able to get emergency gas for example at the Hosteria or somewhere near there, but am not sure how much of a full tank does one need to drive from the Park to El Calafate.
Any advice on this would be highly appreciated!
Distance between TDP and Calafate is around 270km, so around 165 miles, or around half a tank or a bit more of a normal car, so if you’re full leaving TDP you should be OK. However, if you’ve not been able to fill up since leaving Puerto Natales this could be more of a problem.
Between TDP and Calafate, I’ve seen some suggestions that it’s now possible to buy gas in Cerro Castillo, last town in Chile, but I haven’t been able to confirm it. On the Argentina side, there’s a gasolinera in a place called Tapi Aike about 50km past the border, but I don’t know how reliable it is. The best bet is to ask your rental car company for as much information as possible – you’ll need that anyway to make sure there are no glitches in taking a Chilean car into Argentina.
I think all the TDP hotels have gas stocks, but they’ll make you pay for it!
Wow you should be getting paid for this haha!! My fiance and I are both travel agents and can’t access this kind of information anywhere…
I was wondering if you could help us also? We plan to visit TDP for our honeymoon in April. Our flight arrives into Punta Arenas from Australia in the evening 4th of April at 1925. We are thinking that will be too late to get a bus to Puerto Natales? We will be much to tired to drive so we thought maybe we would hire a car spend a night there then head to Puerto Natales the next morning.
Then we will have one full day the next day and all day the following (6th and 7th) except we will have to end in Punta Arenas to catch our flight the following morning. (8th at 10:00am)
We would love to see the lakes, glacier, a few short walks etc just wondering what you would recommend as a route with two days, starting first day in Puerto Natales and finishing the second day in Punta Arenas? We would be happy to spend one night in the park 🙂
Do you think we are trying to do too much with such limited time?
Any advice would be great,
Tara and Steve
Hi Tara and Steve,
Yeah, I know, the Chile travel notes is a growing business, but I haven’t found a way to put a paywall on this blog….
Anyway, your questions –
• I think it would be too late to get a bus to Puerto Natales. As far as I know the last bus from PA leaves around 19.00.
• If you haven’t got much time, one of the best places to stay would be Lago Grey (the Hostería Grey). It’s quite easy to get to and the boat trips to Glaciar Grey, which is spectacular, run right from the hotel. There are good short walks around the lake, and you’re also not far from Lago Pehoe, for more accessible hikes and classic views of the Torres.
Hostería Las Torres and the area around it are beautiful too, but a longer drive from Puerto Natales, so it might be too much for 2 days, assuming you’d drive back to Punta Arenas the night before to get a morning flight.
And here’s a free tip, half way between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas in the middle of the pampas in Villa Tehuelches there’s an amazing little café, El Patagón, visited by bikers from all over the world, but bizarrely cosy…
Congratulations, and have a great time!
Muchas gracias Nick! Will check with the car rental agency. From what I have been reading so far, renting a normal car (e.g. Hyundai Sedan) to travel from PA to TDP and then El Calafate and back to PA, should be sufficient in terms of gravel road conditions in mid-March. Would you agree? Cheers. Peter
As I said in my original piece, you should be fine. The gravel roads are pretty solid. Only things you need to look out for (I think) are stones when somebody else comes towards you or passes you, and maybe go a little bit slower if it rains. But I don’t think those roads disintegrate into ruts in the rain, and I don’t think there should be any really heavy rain this time of year. Enjoy the scenery! Nick
Hi Nick. Indeed this is comparable to a travel agency post.
May I ask you one last effort? As I am going to have a car for 4 days and want to have time to visit this park properly, would you help drafting the itinerary you would follow to maximize the time, avoid driving on the same roads multiple times, and maybe pin down the hotels on the road where I could sleep? This would be very helpful to me.
Thank you very much again!
P.S. I am going from 14 to 19 September.
Well, to tell you the truth, it’s not like something from a travel agency because they would have charged you for it.
Re hotels, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the Hotel Rio Serrano is good, just outside the park, and inside there’s the Hostería Grey and Lago Tyndall, and Hostería Las Torres a little further north. All hotels inside the park, as I’ve said, are a little more expensive than ones outside it. Re an ‘itinerary’, the most normal thing to do in Torres del Paine is pick one hotel and then use it as a base for visiting different parts of the park – it would be hard not to go up and down some of the same roads more than once, and the distances are not huge. If you really wanted to try and minimise this, then I guess you could stay (say) at Rio Serrano at first and then move on to Hostería Las Torres or other places near there, in the northern part of the park.
As to any more detailed itinerary, I’m afraid I’d have to bill you for that, at professional rates.
Thank you very much Nick. Pls share your rates, I might consider assistance then! Rgrds.
Echoing others, many thanks for all the helpful hints. This is incredibly informative.
We are going to rent a car from Punta Arenas and will have 3 full days in the park. (We were initially going to hike the W and were willing to camp, we just don’t have time). Do you have any recommendations on where we should camp? It doesn’t seem like car camping is allowed, so I’m trying to figure out if there is a good place for us to park and camp, and if we should stay at multiple places, or if the park is small enough where we could set up camp at one spot and continue going back there every night. Thank you!
There are a lot of campsites in the park, run by CONAF, the park authority, and by private companies (which predictably cost a bit more). In the north part of the park, the most spectacular mountains around the W, it’s obligatory to reserve campsites a lot of the time because of demand. There’s information on this with a good map of the sites on the official park website (http://www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl/es/sistema-de-reserva-de-campamentos-1) but it only seems to work in Spanish, hope that’s OK! Probably the handiest if you want to see a lot of the area are the Italiano, Frances and Los Cuernos sites just below the Mirador Frances. As you can see the sites are either run by CONAF or two companies, Vertice and Fantastico Sur.
Outside this area, I think campsites are easier to get into, though it’s still a good idea to reserve in the main southern-summer season. The most central, and so probably the most convenient for seeing each side of the park, is Camping Pehoe (http://www.campingpehoe.com), near Hosteria Pehoe. You get great views from there and it’s not too far to get to areas like the Hotel Las Torres (west side of the W) and get back the same day.
Alternatively if you want to move around more you could stay one night in the campsite at Rio Serrano (website doesn’t open too well, but it’s listed on the park site!) and then go on to one of the northern sites.
Have a great trip!
Hi Nick! Thanks for your post–really informative/helpful. Quick question for you: if we’re planning to stay at the Hotel Rio Serrano and want to drive to all the major spots in Torres del Paine, but also park the car and do some hiking, is it relatively easy to do this? Will we be able to easily park and hike up to the major attractions? And does the parking generally entail pulling over on a trail/road, or are there designated parking locations? Thanks for your help!
Hi there – It’s pretty easy to find places to park I think. As I remember there are public parking areas at the foot of most of the main paths such as Mirador Pehoe, or you can park at hotels like Hostería Pehoe or the Hotel Lago Grey, I don’t think they mind (certainly if you take the boat trip at Lago Grey, you can leave your car at the hotel all day). In other places you might need to pull off to the side of the road but I don’t think this is very risky, I’ve never heard of many breakins or things like that.
Have a good trip!
Hi nick! Are all the best scenic views from the full trek easily available from car? easy as in I can leave the car and hike for some hours and go back? I’m trying to figure out how fast I can do torres del payne. but I dont want to miss out on the best eye candy.
Hi there – As I said in my initial post there are both long-distance hikes for which you need to camp overnight (the famous W route) and day-hikes of around 6 hours or less you can do while driving around. Plus there’s the Glaciar Grey, which you see with a boat trip of around 3-4 hours or so from the Lago Grey Hotel. Obviously some of the most spectacular scenery you can only see on the long, camping hikes but you can see a lot from the shorter routes and even just from hotels and the road, including the highest pinnacles of the ‘Torres’ themselves. The Pehoe hotel is right opposite them across a lake, and you also get fabulous views from Rio Serrano.
Hi Nick, thanks a lot for your informative post!
We are going to Torres del Paine next week and we already rented a car. We have 2 years old so we won’t be doing big hikes but I was wondering which highlights to you recommend for 2 days (knowing that we will be staying in Puerto Natales). And do you know about short hikes (max 2 hours)?
I was thinking about doing the same tour as you on Day 1 and go to Lago Grey (and maybe Glacier Grey) on Day 2.
Thanks a lot!
If you’re driving both days from Puerto Natales and then back again in the evening (around 1 1/2-2 hours each way) you’ll probably prefer to stay on the south side of the park to make most of your time. There’s a good easy walk from Hosteria Pehoe north to Mirador Cuernos, which is about 2hrs in total and leads to a great view of the Torres. And yes the Glaciar Grey boat trip is worth doing – didn’t see any little kids when we went, but I imagine they’re child-friendly, and the glaciar is fabulous.
Hi Nick and everyone who might need some updated info on driving in TdP and PN (and got to this blog while searching for driving in the park). I have just come back from 5 days trip and would like to share some tips.
1. renting the car: although we’ve rented a Toyota Rav4 from Hertz (mainly to be on the safe side for any situation having aboard our 3years old toddler), I can confirm that you can easily drive any car in the park without any risk (a daewoo matiz would be also fine). It is just a matter of comfort and speed. But keep in mind that bigger cars have bigger fuel tanks, but also consume a bit more.
2. gasoline: our Rav4 had 65 liters tank, which, according to the renting guy, was enough for 600km. This calculation was true because we did PN-TdP “Hotel Lago Grey” -PN (200km) and in the park during 3 days 200km; and we gave back the car still with one third of the tank. Regarding spare tank for fuel: we booked in advance one for 40 liters at Hertz, but the guy said that only pick-up trucks are allowed to carry additional reserve of fuel due to safety reasons. In the park is prohibited to sell gasoline (again, due to safety reasons), but if you really need it, try “very informally” with the service stuff (preferably men) of the hotel you stay or (mini) bus drivers at any parking. The price is usually double.
3. roads: as Nick described, the gravel roads are pretty fine in any wheather condition.
4. entrance: the entrance ticket allows you to enter and exit for free during 3 days.
5. accommodation: i would recommend the Rio Serrano area hotels as it is very close to the entrance and cheaper, or Hosteria Pehoe (in the park) which most centered hotel in the park.
Thanks a lot for the update – though I’m glad to say it more or less confirms what I said about the need (or not) for 4WD and road conditions!
Thanks for all your comments. Very helpfull this information.
I am planning a trip to TDP by car and returning each day to Puerto natales. I would like to know if I have to pay something extra to get into the park with the car? or just the regular ticket?
You don’t pay extra for the car, just for each person, and foreigners pay more than Chilean nationals. Each ticket should be valid for 3 days, even if you’re leaving each day to go back to Puerto Natales – keep the ticket, and maybe say to the staff when you first arrive that you’ll want to come back the next day. Sometimes you have to get it stamped when you re-enter, but I’ve heard that at other times they don’t bother.
If we have just 1.5 days in Punta Areans and 2 days in Puerto Natales, what is the recommended things to do? Penguins, Short hike in park, etc. We are planning to rent a car and drive.
Depends when you’re going. From around November to March, the boat trip to the penguin colonies on Isla Magdalena is probably the best one-day trip from Punta Arenas, but the boats don’t run out of season. At other times, Fuerte Bulnes and Estrecho de Magallanes park, 50km south of PA, is beautiful and interesting, with wonderful views of the straits (depending, as everywhere in this area, on the weather!), and open pretty much all year.
From Puerto Natales you would have time to spend a day in Torres del Paine, and get to places like Pehoe and Lago Grey where as I’ve said before there are good short hikes.
I’ve been reading through all your great information — thanks for your guidance. Another quick question about parking. We are renting a car this December for our trip to hike the W (staying at Refugios for 2 nights) we’d like to leave our car overnight for these two nights near lake pehoe so it’s waiting for us when we hike out. Does this sound doable? Thank you again!!
I’m pretty sure you can leave a car in the parking areas of the main hotels – Hostería Pehoe, Lago Grey Hotel, Hostería Torres – which are pretty big and don’t fill up. I don’t think they even charge for it, except maybe at peak times, but it’s advisable and a courtesy to tell them that you want to leave it there, how long for and ask if it’s OK. Then they might even offer to keep an eye on it for you.
Have a good trip – very best,
Hi Nick, thanks for a great post. You have given me some hope as prior to this the only way to visit the national park seemed to be on a week hike or by organised bus tour, neither which appeal.
The thing is I am travelling with my dog. Now I know dogs are not allowed in the Park for protection of the wildlife BUT would it be feasible to visit, leaving my dog in the car? As long as he has been walked and it’s not too hot or cold, he would be fine to be left in the car for a couple of hours while I looked around a sight. As long as we slept outside the national park somewhere close I could pop in for half days with the car and see various things. We travel a lot and he is used to spending 4-5 hours in the car without a problem.
Would this work? Do they search your car at check points or anything? My dog’s a chihuahua so he’s pretty concealable 😉
If not then what’s the sort of time scale to visit somewhere by car, staying just outside the park? I could always leave him in the hotel but obviously not for longer than a few hours.
Thanks in advance for the info. Really don’t want to miss out on this fantastic place (realise I can’t do everything) but got to think of my travelling companion.
Wow… that’s a new one….
As you obviously know already pets are not allowed in the park so really I should just tell you to desist. But, to answer your questions – either way (i.e. if you want to leave your dog at a hotel or try and take him) the best places to stay would be the ones at Rio Serrano which are the closest to a park entrance. And they don’t search vehicles at the park entrance or anything heavy, in my experience the rangers are easy going and very helpful (but you’re proposing breaking a rule with a very sensible justification so you’re making me feel guilty…).
Once inside the best place for walks within that time frame (with dog or without) is around Hostería Pehoe, the paths to Salto Grande, Mirador Cuernos or Mirador Pehoe. You can get there in about 30 min or maybe less from Rio Serrano and each walk takes about 2 hours or less, Mirador Pehoe maybe longer (and it’s steeper than the other two, which are really easy). So you could get there and back in about 3-4 hours I think, From Mirador Cuernos you get a fabulous view of the Torres themselves.
Have no idea what dog policy is at the hotels but – Hotel Rio Serrano is not the most characterful place you’ve ever been, but rooms have wonderful views, and most importantly for your problem the people there are very friendly and helpful, so it’s worth asking.
Hope that’s helpful. Sorry if I sound snooty but I really understand why they don’t allow dogs in protected areas.
Very best and have a good trip,
Thanks for the info it’s fantastically useful. As I said in the original post, I have no intention of letting my dog out of the car within the national park so there would be no harm. You can relax. I just can’t leave him for too long at a hotel or whatever.
Great to know there are options for a shorter time frame. Most other bloggers only talk about the W or the O ring, both of which are upwards of a week (!) Sounds like I could get some good stuff out of a visit.
As for the rules, it seems to be a South American thing, I have never had trouble anywhere in in Europe or North America. Normally on leash rules only, but a healthy, immunised dog on a lead really poses no threat to the environment, or at least no more than humans tramping around.
The problem is all the people who get into a protected area with a dog on a lead and then say ‘oh, it can’t do any harm, let’s let him run around for a few minutes…’. In the UK there are constant problems between sheep farmers and dog walkers who think the countryside is a giant park.
Hi Nick! We are planning a trip to TdP in March. We have 2 full days to spend in the park. The night before the first day we’ll stay in Puerto Natales. The first day we plan to drive thru the park, entering at the Rio Serrano entrance, and spend that night in Cerro Castillo on the eastern side. The next day we will drive back thru the park from Cerro Castillo to Puerto Natales. I am wondering roughly how long in drive time it takes to go thru the park, Puerto Natales to Cerro Castillo? We hope to have time to take the boat ride on Lago Grey and kayak around the glacier one day, then do some short hikes the next day. Does this sound feasible? Also, are we likely to have enough gas with this route if we have an average size car? Thank you for your help!
Have been incomunicado for a couple of days and just saw your query – As I said above getting from PN to Rio Serrano takes about 1 1/2 hours, and then driving through the park to Cerro Castillo probably about the same again, just driving without counting in stops, so it is doable in a day with short hikes included. As to doing Lago Grey on another day, bear in mind that the boat trip to the glaciar (which is great) takes about 3 hours from Hotel Lago Grey, so how much time you’d have to do other things would depend on how long you hope to kayak – and to how much daylight you have, I don’t remember how long the days will be in March!
Two days driving should be fine with a full tank from Puerto Natales, so long as you don’t take any long detours.
Have a good trip!
Planning a trip to Torres del Paine for a day in march in a family with two small children 5 and 8. driving from Punta Arenas to torre del Paine. Idea is no to hike …. just to go around and get the feel of the park as the full day tour that tour agencies offer… and return and staying in puerto natales and doing other tours.
my question is it wise to drive from punta arena to TdP or better opt for a tour
Second which main stops to go around in the park?
Just check a map and the distances – Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales is about 240km or 150 miles, so a drive of about 2 3/4 hours, and from PN to Torres del Paine the road is slower, so another 1 1/2 hours, so to get there and back in one day (!) would take over 8 hours solid driving. This is why to visit the park it’s best to base yourself in Puerto Natales (where there are plenty of places to stay) or the hotels in or near the park, such as at Río Serrano. I’ve never heard of tour companies offering one-day tours from Punta Arenas but if there are you’re going to spend the whole day on the bus.
Which stops… your choice, friend, it depends what you like. I guess Lago Grey (the boat trip as said above is about 3 hours), Lago Pehoe, where a short walk gives you a great view of the Torres, the area around Hostería Las Torres.
Hey there!! Thanks for all the great info!
We will be in the area for about 7 days, but didn’t want to go through the expense and effort of renting overnight gear and staying in the park. We were thinking of staying in Puerto Natales and just heading into the park everyday to do some day hikes. We were thinking of renting a car in either El Calafate or Puerto Natales, but were concerned with a couple things. Your info answered a lot of them, but just curious as to what you did for parking? Where did you leave the vehicle for the day while you were out and about? And was it safe? I don’t really want to bust my butt hiking to come back to a smashed in car 😉 And do you think there would be ample parking in Puerto Natales at the hostel?
Also, and info on crossing the border with a rental? I have been reading up on it, and it looks like the rental company will tell you if you can or not, and will provide you with the proper documentation?
Thanks so much!!!
I refer you back to some of the replies I’ve given above. You can generally leave a car in the parking areas at the main hotels (Lago Grey, Hostería Pehoe), they don’t normally charge for it, but it’s good and courtesy to tell them it’s there and maybe have at least a drink there. But even if you don’t park there, at the foot of each trail there are places to park while hiking. I’ve never heard of any problem with car break ins at TdP, unless this is something that’s started very recently. And there’s plenty of parking space in Puerto Natales.
Re taking a rental car from Argentina into Chile, as I said a while back, this has become a lot easier in the last 4 years or so but still naturally involves an extra cost. Most essential is that you notify the rental agency in Calafate (Argentina) when you book the car so you’re clear on the charges and they have all the papers ready. This is assuming you intend to take the car back to Calafate. Rental agencies will probably not allow you to leave a car in Chile, or if they ever do will charge a lot for it.
This post is amazing! I’ve been searching for information about this topic since weeks ago and nada. Thanks Nick! We are going to drive and explore the TdP tomorrow (and the next day).
We are planning on travelling there in the end of June, do people drive in the winter, and what is it like. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Daytime temperatures in June are usually above freezing, just a little (generally around 2–6ºC), dropping below zero (sometimes below –5º C) at night, so at the lower levels places and roads shouldn’t be really frozen up, but there will be ice and sometimes mud. There will also be plenty of snow, the mountains will be snow-covered, and some lakes will be part-frozen, so the views are spectacular. Some of the high paths will be tricky. The days are shorter, but hotels and activities are also cheaper (as it’s low season), so some people actually find the winter more exciting.
It’s a good idea to check carefully with local hotels, tour companies etc on what they offer in winter and what you can and cannot do (it’s generally pretty easy to tell the difference between the ones who are giving you good information and those that are just saying ‘everything’s fine, when do you want to book?’). You will need to be especially careful to have the right equipment and warm clothing for any hikes, and not be too ambitious, given the short days (you don’t want to get stuck outside at night). If you’re driving, contrary to what I said in my main post (which refers to conditions in the main seasons), this can be a time when the extra cost of a 4×4 is justifiable.
The Chilean park service website has a handy page of recommendations on travelling in the Torres in winter (http://www.conaf.cl/difunden-normas-de-seguridad-para-visitar-torres-del-paine-en-invierno), but so far it seems to be only available in Spanish. The graphics, though, are not hard to figure out!
Thanks so much Nick. It is very kind of you to have shared your experience in driving in Torres del Paine, and take all the time you did to answer everyone’s questions. So much helpful information! You’re clearly committed to people enjoying their time in Torres del Paine!
We’re heading to Chile on Dec.14, spending Xmas with my partner’s family, who have a place 2 hrs south of Santiago. After heading to the Lake District, then to Puerto Montt. Trying to decide whether to take the ferry to or from there down the coast of Patagonia. We definitely want to explore Torres del Paine as much as we can. We used to be big hikers, but the aging body with it’s accompanying issues has us limited to day hikes. Had no idea that we could drive & hike.
Thanks very much for the kind words and glad the post is helpful. We wanted to take the Navimag ferry down the coast too, it looks like a great trip, but unfortunately our sailing was cancelled at the last minute – they only have two ships, so if there’s any technical problem, and the other ship is at the other end of the route, they have to cancel!
My husband and I are traveling to Chile end of December. We are staying in Cerro Guido. IS it possible to drive to French Valley from there or will we have to park somewhere else in the park and take a bus. Any pointer would be great.
If you drive into the east side of the park from Cerro Guido, you’ll only be able to go as far as Hotel Las Torres, the end of the road for vehicles (there’s an excellent map under ‘mapa oficial’ on http://www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl). From there you’d still have to do a hike of several hours to get to the bottom of Valle del Francés. This is why organised day hikes into the valley (as opposed to trips of several days around the whole W) generally go in by boat across Lago Pehoe, cutting out the first part of the route.
But if you’re staying at Cerro Guido, ask them what they suggest, they probably have a hike available.
Wow great information. Thank you so much. My son and I are arriving by bus from El Calafate to puerto Natales February 13th at 2pm, and immediately rent a car at 3p. We have in Chile 3 nights, leaving back to El Calafate February 16th at 8am by bus.
Can you suggest an itinerary? Does it worth to drive to punta arenas to see the pingüinos in such a short time? Or just to concentrate on Torres del pain?
Thank you so much.
Hello and apologies for not replying earlier, I’ve been out of contact over the new year.
The distance between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas is about 240km, so it’s about a 3-hour drive each way, so doing this will take a whole day. So if you’re only in the region for 3 nights, i.e. 2 full days, then if go to PA you’ll only have one day in Torres del Paine, which isn’t much. With two full days you could drive around the park and maybe do some shortish hikes around Lago Pehoe one day and the glaciar boat tour from the Lago Grey hotel (which takes about 3 hours).
It depends what you prefer, but I’d say there’s enough to do in TdeP to fill 2 days!
Thanks for all the information!! Very helpful! We’re going from El calafate to Torres del Paine and our idea is to rent a car since we only have 3 Days to Torres del Paine Park. Can we car camping inside the park? Or what would be cheap alternative accommodations close by? I think we will only do the north part and we didn’t want to loose much going outside the park everyday.
Sorry I haven’t got back to you earlier but I’ve had some technical problems. By car camping I imagine you mean with an RV/motor home? In that case no, that’s not allowed in the national park. There are camping sites for tent only camping, listed on the park website, but they need to be booked up well ahead because the Torres are now so popular, especially in the southern summer. As I’ve said before the best places to find cheaper accommodation (cheaper than all the places actually inside the park) are Puerto Natales and Rio Serrano, both on the south side. Puerto is about 1-2 hours drive from the park, Rio Serrano right outside. Konashken Lodge is I think the most economical place in Rio Serrano.
On the north side there aren’t so many places, but two I’ve heard of are Estancia El Ovejero (a traditional ranch) and the Posada 3 Pasos, both on the road up the north east side of the park. Look quite nice, simple, country places.
Great information to start with and then keeping up with the blog. Not sure if you are still active on this blog.
There is discussion about border crossing but if you rent a car in Punta Arenas, is there any reason to cross the border? Obviously if one wanted to go to El Calafate, then you would need to cross the border – but based on the route that you have described from Puerto Natales, it doesn’t seem that there would be a border crossing.
Yes I try and keep it up but have had some tech problems lately, hence the late reply.
If you’re coming from Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales you have no reason at all to cross into Argentina, and it’s a long drive. I only mention it because a growing number of people started trying to include the Torres del Paine in Argentina trips. Plus, it used to be more difficult and expensive to take a rental car across the border, but nowadays it’s much easier – but, as said, unless you really want to go into Argentina you can just stay in Chile.
Thank you for the great info you have been providing. Is it possible to sleep overnight in the rental car (not RV or camper car) while the car is parked at hotel parking or any parking inside or outside the Torres Del Paine park?
I don’t think so. It sounds pretty uncomfortable anyway, and it gets cold there at night.
Hi Nick, hope you are well, I´m not sure you are still checking on here but your advise would be greatly appreciated. We are flying to Puerto Natales and going to hire a car and do some of the short hikes you have recommended and the lake grey boat trip. We are just wondering where we could park the car and then set up camp with our tent around Rio Serrano? / and around the short hikes? Also as we are driving from Puerto Natales I noticed on the map there is a quite early left turning towards the west and one quite further up the main 9 route road at torres del paine, which is the one we need to take for Rio Serrano? Im guessing the earlier one and then another west turn later on into the park? Thanks for all your advise on the blog, it has been very useful reading your information.
I’ve been out of contact over Christmas so haven’t been able to reply any earlier – but – your questions –
Torres del Paine is a protected national park and no ‘wild camping’ is allowed. Camping is only allowed in authorized sites. Full information on camping areas and the rules that apply in the park are on the official park website http://www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl/en, in English (the rules are under ‘Plan your trip/What you should know).
The same website also has a detailed map of the accesses to the park. Coming from Puerto Natales on Route 9 you can’t really go wrong, Río Serrano is well signposted. If you want the north side of the park and the ‘W’, you stay on R9 for a another hour or so.