Torres del Paine vs El Chaltén (Chile/Argentina)
Aktualisiert: 5. Feb 2019
Patagonia is a place of longing for outdoor enthusiasts and boosts some of the finest hiking possibilities for independent trekkers in South America. If you want to go trekking in Patagonia you are guaranteed to stumble over the names Torres del Paine (Chile) and El Chaltén (Argentina) sooner or later and so did we. We went for both and found that they are equally awesome in mountain scenery but quite different in character and atmosphere. Here is some help to choose, if you can’t visit both.
Both destinations have incredibly beautiful landscapes and I think it is impossible to rank them against each other in terms if natural beauty. If this is your first multi-day trek or you don’t want to miss the comforts of civilisation while trekking, Torres del Paine is a wonderful place to enjoy Patagonia’s natural wonders. The downside is that you need to book weeks if not months in advance in high season and crowds and regulations can make Torres del Paine feel a little bit like a “trekking-theme park”. It can get very pricy.
El Chaltén is (still) much less crowded and campsites inside the park are very basic (but free!). This makes it an excellent option, if you are searching for a more adventurous or more down to earth multi-day trek. Also, the options for day hikes are better than in Torres del Paine.
The Park // Infrastructure
One of the major advantages of the Torres del Paine National Park is the good infrastructure for multi-day trekking and a nature highlight every single day. There are huts, good campgrounds, possibilities to hire comfortable tents, restaurants and even small shops alongside the trails inside the park. This makes multi-day trekking much more comfortable, you don’t need to carry heavy camping equipment and you can even enjoy a cold beer or cocktail after your hard day of walking. Yay!
In Parque National de los Glaciares (El Chaltén) you will need to bring everything by yourself. Beers on a multi-day trip get quite heavy pretty quickly… At least the water from the streams is potable. If you are only doing day treks from El Chaltén: There are many nice bars and restaurants and the town has a good atmosphere.
Torres del Paine National Park is about 1 ½ h on the bus from the next town Puerto Natales, which is a laid-back friendly town with good vibes. The closest Airports to Puerto Natales are El Calafate in the North (3 ½h) and Punta Arenas in the South (4-5 h). Day trips to Torres del Paine (from Puerto Natales) are possible but mostly limited to ascending to the Torres del Paine lookout. Although there are also day trips from Punta Arenas and El Calafate, I don’t think this is a good idea unless you are desperate to tick Torres del Paine from your bucket list and are very short on time.
If you are planning a multi-day trip to the park it is worth considering your general travel direction. You certainly need to leave some luggage in your hotel that needs to be picked up after the trek. So ideally, when travelling south start from Puerto Natales, when travelling North start from El Calafate. If doing so you don’t need to travel back into the “wrong” direction after your hike and this usually saves you a day.
El Chaltén is about 200 km (or 3 h on the bus, beautiful landscape, sit on the left side while going to El Chaltén!) from the closest Airport in El Calafate. Once you are in the village of El Chaltén there are plenty of hiking (and climbing/bouldering) opportunities at your doorstep. The first free campsites inside the park can be reached in approx. 1 - 2 hours (Camp Capri 4km) from the village. You can also hitch to and from El Chaltén but be prepared for some competition for the infrequent cars.
While accommodation in Puerto Natales is plentiful, places to sleep inside Torres del Paine National Park are very limited (compared to the crowds the park attracts). If you want to do a multi-day hike e.g. the W-Trek) inside the park during high season (Dec – Feb) you should plan several weeks in advance. We booked 6 weeks in advance for the end of January and it already was a pain … very inconvenient. Most days were already booked and we had to adjust our time schedule. You might be lucky and be able to book some (expensive) places on a short notice in offices in Puerto Natales due to e.g. last minute cancellations. In the end you will somehow find a possibility to do the W, if you don’t mind spending a bit more. If you are interested in the O-Trek (full circuit around the mountains) or the free campsites inside the park, you should book your accommodation at least several months (4-6) in advance.
El Chaltén: In high season, it can be tricky to find a room or dorm bed on the spot in El Chaltén and I would recommend to book in advance. An alternative is to bring your tent and camp at one if the hostels or hike to one of the free campsites inside the park which do not need a reservation. You can also hire camping equipment in El Chaltén.
Torres del Paine is definitely the pricier option. The bus to the park is approx. €10 and the entrance fee adds another €30 (as of 2018). Accommodation prices inside the park vary. There are a few free campsites, but you need to be very early to reserve them (6 months in advance). Also, they are not sufficient to complete the classic O- or W-Treks. Prices for a campsite with your own tent range from approx. €8 -20 p.p. per night. Staying in the refugios with full board is approx. €80 – 180 p.p. per night. For last minute bookings you are likely to end up in the second category. Food prices in the park are astronomical.
El Chaltén: The free campsites and the need for self-catering make a multi-day trek in Parque National de los Glaciares close to El Chaltén a dream for the budget traveller. In addition, the park entry in El Chaltén is free. Yay! An independent trekking adventure there will only set you back the price of the bus tickets (about €20 one way from El Calafate) and the price of the food from the supermarket. Your best option is to go shopping in El Calafate, before you leave to El Chaltén, as supermarkets are not always fully equipped. Accommodation and restaurant prices in town are average for southern Argentina
Rules and Regulations
We found this to be the most annoying thing about Torres del Paine. Due to the crowds visiting the park every year, there are many rules inside the park. Some trails are closed in the afternoon. Yes, that’s right. They have rangers checking that you do not pass certain points after closure. For experienced (multi-day) trekkers this can be quite a nuisance as e.g. the trek closures are very conservative. Some trails close as early as 3 pm with daylight until 10 pm in January. Several tracks can only be used in one direction (attention while planning your trip!) and you need to show sufficient reservations to complete the trek. Otherwise, you are likely to be turned around by the park rangers. The need for reservations also does not allow you to change your plans during the trek - e.g. spend a rainy and cloudy day in your tent. It is strictly forbidden to make campfires in the park. You need to bring your gas stove.
In El Chaltén you are free to make your own plans (and change them on the way). Rules and regulations are mainly limited to common sense (no littering, no fires etc.). The attitude inside the park is more ‘You are responsible for yourself! ‘.
I tried to be objective - but yes – I’m a little bit biased towards El Chaltén. I simply think it offers more freedom, solitude and a better deal for your buck.
Torres del Paine:
The web site of the National Park (information and reservation of free campsites):
Last time I visited the site the online booking was unavailable so it is probably best to write an email or call them for reservations. The accommodation in the park is owned by two companies:
Remember: You need to show reservations for all nights at the park entrance. Otherwise The park rangers might turn you around. Booking can be quite difficult, because you need to book simultaneously on three websites. You’ll find some helpful information about that here:
Some useful information on transport etc.: