When I started planning my trip to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile’s Patagonia, I was worried about the logistics of getting there. Since I only had about a week off from work, I wasn’t sure if it was feasible to stop in Santiago and do the W trek. Rest assured, it’s definitely possible and the trip from Santiago to Torres del Paine wasn’t all that bad. Here’s how to get to Torres del Paine from Santiago.
Step 1: Getting to Puerto Natales
When deciding how to get to Torres del Paine from Santiago, you’re definitely going to have to fly for a portion of the trip considering it takes about 32 hours to drive there. Most trips to Torres del Paine will require you to spend the night in the nearby town of Puerto Natales. You have two main options for getting to Puerto Natales: flying direct or flying to Punta Arenas and taking a bus. For both options, I recommend Sky Airline. This budget airline is very affordable and the prices are outrageously low if you can book early.
Option 1. Fly Direct
According to Google, there are only six flights from Santiago to Puerto Natales per week on Sky and Lan. If money isn’t a concern, Lan flies to Puerto Natales on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Sky Airline’s service to Puerto Natales started in December 2016 and makes getting to Patagonia on a budget a lot simpler. Depending on what fare class is available through Sky, flights can be less than 100 dollars. Sky flies to Puerto Natales on Saturday, Tuesday, and Friday. The flight is about three hours so this is a huge timesaver.
Since our hiking itinerary started on a Tuesday, we had to do option two since Sky doesn’t offer a direct flight on Mondays.
Option 2. Fly to Punta Arenas and Take a Bus
I booked our flight to Punta Arenas super early and paid only $45 per ticket on Sky. The same flight would’ve been a couple hundred on Lan! Side note: Sky has multiple ticketing classes with different pricing. I was confused when booking it but ended up choosing the cheapest fare on Sky Airlines (Class A). Basically the cheaper fares have restrictions on when you can check-in, pick your seats, and make modifications to your itinerary, etc. Despite these restrictions, I had not problem picking two seats next to each other. If your travel plans are set, definitely pick the cheapest option.
After arriving in Punta Arenas, you will need to catch a bus to Puerto Natales. There are several bus companies that can get you there including Bus Sur, Buses Fernandez, and Buses Pacheco. While the buses make a stop at the Punta Arenas airport, you cannot purchase a bus ticket at the airport or on board. If you wish to purchase a ticket in person you will need to take a taxi to the bus station downtown. This wastes time since the bus will end up stopping at the airport on the way out of town.
I recommend buying a ticket online ahead of time. You can specify airport pick up and drop off. We used Bus Sur but Buses Fernandez also has an online reservation system.
The flight and bus ride were about three hours each, but with the waiting time at the airport before and after our flight, this turned into a whole day of travel. Even though this option takes longer, bus tickets cost less than ten dollars so it may be more affordable than flying directly to Puerto Natales.
Step 2: Getting to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales
Bus tickets for Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine are included in itineraries booked through agencies like the one we used, Fantastico Sur. If you are camping or made other arrangements, you will need to purchase your own tickets from Puerto Natales to the park entrance at Laguna Amarga. Bus companies include Buses JB, Buses Gómez, and Buses María José (what we used). You can buy a bus ticket at the station in Puerto Natales.
After arriving at Laguna Armaga and paying the entrance fee, you’ll take one final bus to the start of your trek. For the W trek from East to West (what we did through Fantastico Sur), hop on the white shuttle bus for a quick 20-30 minute ride. We had tickets for this ahead of time but it is possible to purchase the ticket on board. The tickets are for no set time, just grab the first available shuttle.
It may seem logistically confusing to get to Torres del Paine from Santiago, but there are several options. If Sky’s flights to Puerto Natales work with your itinerary, I recommend booking early to get the best rate. This can also save you some serious travel time. While we only had about a week in Chile, getting to Patagonia by bus is still feasible despite the long travel time. Even with a full day of travel to get to Patagonia, were able to see Santiago and complete the W trek during our short time in Chile.