Hiking Torres del Paine with three generations
In 2005 when my husband and I lived in Ecuador, we went to Patagonia and hiked the W, Mt. Fitzroy near El Chalten and saw the Perito Moreno glacier. Laughingly, we ate the calafate berry because they say if you eat it you will revisit Patagonia. Not likely, but we thought we would eat the sweet berry to be on the safe side. We never thought we would be living in South America again, this time in Chile, and we would be taking our three children, my sister-in-law and family and my in-laws back to Patagonia.
We flew down to Puerto Natales where we picked up our collective cars. My sister-in-law and in-laws rented and we shipped our car from Santiago down full of all our camping gear. After we gassed up, bought jerry cans/bidons full of gas and we headed into the park.
We knew the W was impossible but we wanted to do as much hiking as we could and my sister-in-law and family wanted to see a glacier. With this in mind we booked into the Hosteria Pehoe as it was a family hotel inside the park, which would mean less driving time. With this as our base we booked the Glacier Grey boat to see the glacier and planned hikes for the other days. We asked the park guards when we arrived which hikes would offer the best views and would be the easiest for children ages six to ten. I have circled on the map the hikes they suggested.
Day 1 involved getting to the hotel and getting organized. I really liked our hotel as it offered great space for the children to run around. You access it from a bridge and you are on a little island, with a small hill behind the restaurant that offers great views of the cuernos. Even if you don’t stay at this hotel it would be worth it to stop and have a meal or a drink and enjoy looking at the mountains across the green lake. We had five kids under 10 years so it offered green space for the children to explore and a small beach too. Wifi in the restaurant.
The Condor viewpoint is located across from Hosteria Pehoe and there is a parking lot on the side of the road. It also offers really nice views of the cuernos.
Day 2 — Mirador Ferrier hike. We left in the morning to tackle what the guard said would be the steepest hike but offer really nice views of the mountains and the valley. He also said if we didn’t make it to the top, there would still be nice views midway up. He was absolutely right. It was our least favourite hike but it was also rainy, a bit dreary and it was the first one we did with the children. Our younger two (ages six and eight) struggled, but they do have mobility issues. Our six year old niece was fine to the midway point. There are stairs and some slippery bits. We had some partial views at the end of the hike.
You can park at the cafe area by Lago Grey (the long low building in the photos). There are toilets, a convenience store and a restaurant. The restaurant was booked up pretty solid with reservations by the time we ended our hike, it was cafeteria style and had salmon on the grill when I poked my head in! If you want to eat there I would suggest making a reservation before you start the hike. There are limited restaurant options in the park with set lunch and dinner times. We barely made it back by 2:30 p.m. to our hotel for their lunch which ended at 3 p.m.
Day 3 — Lago Grey Glacier boat tour. We pre-booked the boat tour with denomades in advance as we were 11 people we wanted to be sure we got on a tour. For some reason we thought we had to be to Hotel Lago Grey for 8 a.m. for a 9 a.m. sailing. It turns out we needed to be there probably more like 8:45 a.m. to check in at 9 a.m., drive to the boat launch, and walk out to the boat for the 10 a.m. sailing. We arrived with packed breakfasts from our hotel. Our packed breakfasts were ok, but the buffet at the Hotel Lago Grey was amazing! So half our group ate breakfast there which was buffet and about $15,000 per person. If we were to do it again we would just plan to do that. The hotel also had nice views across the lake and a gorgeous set up and it’s quite new. Although with really young children I think Hosteria Pehoe offers really nice running around space. Before we left, we pre-booked a table for lunch at Hotel Grey for after the boat ride and it was a delicious meal.
The walk out to the boat took longer than we thought so with young children I would suggest getting in line to register a few minutes before they open (it’s in the hotel by the gift shop) and I after registering I would go immediately to give yourselves enough time. After you check-in at Hotel Grey for the boat, you have to drive over and park where the cafe is by the Ferrier Mirador and then walk down to the lake and across a sand spit. The boat ride was not rocky (two of us get seasick and we were fine) and you get some nice views of the glacier. Light snacks and drinks on board for a fee.
Day 4 — Mirador Cuernos
We had good weather on day 4 so we did my favourite hike/walk which was Mirador Cuernos, a 5 km walk along a lake to a lookout. This walk can be closed due to high winds. There are two parking lots, so keep driving and park at the second one if you have small children. This was a very doable hike for young children, you pass a waterfall, walk along burnt out trees and then along a black sandy lake to the lookout.
Day 5 — Laguna Azul walk
Our final day in the park we ate breakfast and headed out of the park and did the Laguna Azul walk on our way back to Puerto Natales. It was a nice gradual walk uphill through fields of wild flowers and it’s about 5 km. On a clear day you can see the Torres. There is a cafe at the parking lot but it’s for tour guides and so there are no amenities and no food to buy. Bring a picnic lunch. We left after breakfast, did the walk (11:30-2:30 p.m.), drove out of the park and were in Puerto Natales by 5 p.m.
Breakfast was included at our hotel and we ate one big meal a day. We brought salami, crackers, fruit and nuts to supplement or as a picnic lunch on a hike. Check the timing of the few restaurants in the park, as they aren’t open all day so we planned our lunches and suppers for the day ahead of time.
We had three cars between the 11 of us. We got gassed up in Puerto Natales and watched the mileage. Two of us had jerry cans/bidons full of extra gas, but we didn’t need to use them. At one point my father-in-law was getting low so we left his car at the main entrance to one of the hikes and all squeezed in one car for the last 15 km of driving. You do need to keep an eye on your mileage as you can only get gas in Puerto Natales.
Park Entrance Fees
You pay with Chilean pesos in cash for your days in the park on the first day you enter. It’s either one day or three day pass. If staying more than three days you just pay for the three day. If you live in Chile it is a cheaper rate with your RUT card. If you are coming from Punta Arenas you can buy your park pass at the bus station with a credit card and avoid using up your pesos in cash.
International visitors: 1 day entrance fee (Jan-July 2020) Adults $25,000 per person, children 0-11 free, children 12-17 $12,500 per person. 3 day is $35,000 per person.
Chileans or those with RUTs: 1 day entrance fee (Jan-July 2020) Adults $7,000 per person, children 0-11 free, children 12-17 $13,500 per person. 3 day is $10,000 per person.
We stayed one night in Puerto Natales with family rooms at the Arte Brisas hotel. It was comfortable, clean, and not too expensive. Patagonia Dreaming has a great list of hotels and places to eat. We ate at Artimaña based on her recommendation and it was delicious. Cash only and we were able to deconstruct a few sandwiches to make them more kid friendly.
The next morning we said our good-byes to my sister-in-law and her family as they returned to Canada. My family and my in-laws continued on our 1,800 km north to explore more of Patagonia!