There are a number of ways you can experience Torres Del Paine Park in Patagonia – from roughing it to luxury. I was there to hike the W trek, a well known route in the shape of a W leading you to the best views in the park.
Many people, like Audrey and Dan from Uncornered Market, hike it independently carrying all of their camping gear with them and camping in the designated areas. Some people just come and do one little section of the trek up to the Torres (towers) or the French Valley. And some, like me, decided to forego the complete roughing it and do it with some support and even – dare I say it – a touch of luxury.
I understand the word luxury and mountain hiking aren’t typically things you would put together, but when I had the opportunity to stay at Ecocamp, a unique environmentally responsible lodge at the base of the Torres, I figured this allowed me the best of both worlds. Plus, thanks to Ecocamp’s guided hiking programs, I would be able to complete the whole W trek with some extra support of a porter, guide, and a nice bed to sleep in for my sore muscles!
I was introduced to the other travelers in my group in Puerto Natales where the 6 of us were picked up. We had a nice international mix of solo travelers from the UK, Brazil and the US as well as one couple from Canada. Ecocamp was located on a little hill tucked away on it’s own with Las Torres peak perched above it. The circular domes looked like Hobbit houses, but were meant to represent the old native structures used by the Kaweskars, a nomadic tribe in Patagonia. Their native semi-circular huts were built from simple materials, built to withstand the strong Patagonian winds, and they left no trace behind when they moved on. The modern Ecocamp domes each had a bed, and a nightstand but there was no electricity or plumbing in the standard dome. However with the long days of the Patagonian summer there wasn’t much need for lights.
The domes were connected by a raised wooden walkway as a means to preserve the ground and plants underneath. Power was collected and used via solar panels and from a nearby micro hydro turbine. The shared composting toilets for the standard domes were nicely situated in the middle of camp including a nice area to wash out close and hang them to dry.
There were 3 large domes housing shared area with couches, books, games, a dining dome. These were all connected by a welcoming patio area and bar. Each structure seemed to be situated to admire Los Torres. This was a place where you not only came for a little Torres Del Paine pampering, but you also came to unplug. There’s no internet or cell connection at Ecocamp or anywhere in the park for that matter. I suffered a bit of withdrawal, but quickly loved the fact that I was unplugged for the week!
We met our guides Nico and Claudio in the common room over pisco sours and learned the details of our trekking for the next 5 days. We would hike approximately 50 miles total and for two nights we would stay in 2 different refugios along the way that had been reserved in advance. No camping required but still all the fun of long hikes and the complete W trek. Our lunches were provided and dinners were included at the refugios or Ecocamp. Basically everything was taken care of – all we had to do was hike…a lot.
Even though our ‘living arrangements’ were somewhat posh, the hiking was very real. This trek is not a stroll – it is a proper trek. Hiking boots, poles, and a determined spirit are necessary. My original concerns about my fitness level were pretty justified, I was out of shape and my body and mind were sore after each day. I was a constant fixture at the back of our group huffing and puffing my way through the trail. But we were given near perfect conditions, which is rather unheard of in Torres Del Paine. The hardest day, the hike to Los Torres, was a constant mental struggle for me, but with Claudio’s encouragement I was able to make to the spectacular viewpoint that made all of the sweat and doubt worth it.
However the best thing was being able to come back to our little domes and the comfort and food of Ecocamp. Our group had bonded over the last 6 days along with the excellent guides. The last night we stayed up late drinking beer, toasting our accomplishments, and enjoying the late sunset. For a solo traveler like me – this was a perfect way to experience the W Trek and much easier than if I had carried all of my own food and camping gear!
Disclosure: Adventure Life hosted my Patagonia travels. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!