My wife and I are beginning to plan a trip (14 days or so) to Chile for November (yes, I know, we're late!!) so I need some good advice. We would like to spend about half the time hiking (Torres del Paine, or El Chalten, or ?) and half visiting other interesting sights (Valparaiso, Santiago, ??). We are elderly but in good shape (backpacked the Tetons a couple years ago) so something not too strenuous but hard enough to get away from the hordes would be ideal. A couple of questions then: is it too late to plan to camp and hike in Torres del Paine? It seems like getting camping reservations there is really difficult. So is El Chalten better for that reason? Any suggestions of other must see things in Patagonia or Chile/Argentina? Any preferences for Valparaiso or Santiago? Thanks much!
I did a month long trek through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil in the winter of 2016 and I felt like I just scratched the surface.
I really liked Santiago, it felt like Los Angles in California, but with less traffic :). I found the old Spanish colonial convent and church of San Francisco very interesting. In addition the the 17th century church, the adjacent convent also houses a pretty good museum on the colonial history of Chile. I also really liked the National Museum of History, I felt it gave a pretty comprehensive history of Chile, from the Conquistadors to Pinochet.
To break up the museum visits, I would also visit the Gran Torre de Santiago, which is the tallest building in South American. The observation deck on the 64th floor is open to the public and offers commanding 360 views of Santiago and the Andes in the background.
Personally I liked Viña del Mar better than Valparaiso. Viña del Mar is a coastal resort city just north of Valparaiso known for its gardens and beaches. I found Valparaiso a bit underwhelming.
If you do find yourselves at the very tip of South America, in Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, I would recommend you use the town of Ushuaia (nicknamed the End of the World) as a base to explore the area. Ushuaia is a great town (feels very European/German) with plenty of transportation options, great seafood, and the best beer south of the equator (Beagle Beer)!
I did a multi-week Patagonian trip last November, but it was an organized tour, so I didn't have to make any specific plans, and we didn't camp or do hikes of longer than half-day.
If you aren't able to secure lodging in Torres del Paine or El Chalten, consider the area around Puerto Varas, Chile. The twin volcanoes of Osorno and Calbuco, Petrohue Falls, and the lakes in the area all offer some magnificent vistas. You can also cross between there and Bariloche, Argentina, by boat/bus combination. We didn't do that (we took a bus all the way), but I've heard it's a long and wonderful day. And the area around Bariloche also has some great hiking and more spectacular scenery.
We did the lakes crossing, starting in Bariloche, Argentina at 6:30am , but stopped overnight at a lodge in Puella, Chile. We continued on to Puerto Varas, Chile the next day. It is a unique and very beautiful way to cross from Argentina to Chile. Do not loose the document you receive at the border crossing as you will need it to leave Chile.
We hiked in both Chile and Argentina on a guided trip last year in January. It was wonderful.
My understanding is that the Torres Del Paine campsites on the W trek book up early. And I personally would not recommend them as the looks were quite unpleasant ( we were gone Venice time for a potty break as we hiked past, but the guide actuallynrecommended against using them if we could wait).
Maybe see what is available at the Refugio Paine Grande. We stayed there in bunks rooms with toilet and shower down the hall and it was clean and comfortable. And the bar and restaurant had a great view of my favorite peaks, Los Cuernos. You could do dayhikes from there along the first leg of the W, and to Lago Gray. And others.
But my top,recommendation would be an eco-lodge about 10 kilometers outside El Chaltén, we stayed there two nights on our tour and it was heaven. I believe they offer guided hikes or maybe transport to the local trailheads. You can hike in full view of Fitzroy ( the peak that inspired the Patagonia clothing company logo), a full day on either side.
They do not have a website but can be booked through booking.com
I checked random dates and they do have some availability in November. I looked at the 19-22.
And now I see this post was started a month ago and just brought to the top yesterday. The OP probably already has their trip all planned.
I thought I would give a brief summary of our trip. We flew to Punta Arenas from Santiago and rented a car to drive up to Torres del Paine. I was able to get 3 nights at the campsite at Torres Central and one night at Hosteria Pehoe. Luckily we were there in the shoulder season. I suspect it would be difficult to get reservations now. Then we drove across the border to El Calafate for 3 nights and to El Chalten for another 3 nights. If you are unable to get reservations to hike the W or O circuit in TdP, the El Chalten is a good alternative since there are many day hikes available there and lots of housing in the village. We then drove back to Punta Arenas to return the car and did a day visit to Isla Magdalena to see the penguins. We had 3 nights in Valparaiso before returning home. All in all it was a great trip with pretty good weather which means that there were some days of clear blue sky with no wind and some days of gale force winds on top of sleet and rain. But that's to be expected in Patagonia!
Thanks for reporting back.