Patagonia Expedition Planning

Patagonia Expedition Planning:

Planned to commence mid-February 2018, Nan and I will be heading to the south of Chile and Argentina.
This blog is mostly for our own reference but may also be of use for others planning a similar trek?

Follow us (when hiking) on APRS via our SPOT Messenger
Hint: Expand the Time and Tail length under the Show Last header on the RHS of the Google Map page. Also, under the MAP header drop down box (LHS of page) select terrain.

First up is to get to Tullamarine Airport. Rather than a limo service, we are going to try the  South East Airport Shuttle that offers door to door pickup a a considerable saving.

Latin American Airline LATAM  (amalgamation of LAN Chile & TAM Airlines) have just announced that they will commence flying directly from Melbourne to Santiago, Chile three times a week as of October 2017. Latin America’s largest carrier will fly the route using state of the art Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner aircraft, featuring the latest inflight entertainment and lie flat beds in business class (not us!). Travellers will also notice a big difference in the reduction of the dreaded jet lag, due to the increased pressure in the cabin over rival aircraft. The route will be the only international connection between Latin America and Australia.
Also beats the previous transits in Auckland, prices are near $500 AUD cheaper than our 2013 Flight via Auckland & Santiago to Lima.
Our LATAM flight LA804 will depart Melbourne at 7.55pm Friday (also Tuesday and Sunday), arriving in Santiago at 7.00pm the same day it leaves Melbourne (10:55 am Saturday Melbourne time).
Note usual restrictions on Lithium batteries. Also declare camp stove (I have a TSA document and photo – English and Google Spanish!)

Australians Traveling to Chile and Argentina travel information links.

NOTE; no visa, tourist permit is valid for 90 days for both countries.
Reciprocity fee presently $117 USD for Chile and $100 USD for Argentina.
As of 1st July 2017, Argentina has “Suspended” their Reciprocity fee. Check for updates to this suspension before travelling!
You can pay cash, EFTPOS or USD at Chile’s Santiago airport but Argentina needs to be paid prior to entry.  Keep receipts as it is usable for multiple entries. If simply intending a stop-over in any of these countries, then this could be an unwarranted inconvenience and expense.

Mobile Phones: I did not bother picking up a Chilean or Argentinian SIM
This information is current (as of 18/01/2018) but subject to change.
Chile had made picking up a local sim card more difficult but, due to their revised system being unworkable, has reverted to the previous (pick up local sim on demand) until such time as a replacement protocol is enacted.
Regulations :
At phone stores you might be asked for your RUT number, that’s a Chilean tax number. It should be no problem purchasing a SIM without it, if they insist on it (e.g. on an online form) just give 9 times 9 (e.g. 999999999).

IMEI registration :
Effective September 2017 Chilean regulator Subtel has ordered that mobile users are required to pre-register the IMEI of their devices before they can be activated. They imposed a very bureaucratic system to enlist the IMEI numbers of all phones of visitors wanting to use a local SIM card.

IMEI legislation was temporarily suspended in December 2017 for at least 120 days. According to Subtel you are now free to go on a local SIM card without registering your device prior to visiting the country. In April 2018 a new and much more facilitated system will be introduced for visitors. Subtel Link
Dial *#06# in your phone keypad to locate your IMEI number.

Carriers are Movistar, Entel, Claro & WOM (ex Nextel) 3 & 4G networks.
Top up at the corner pharmacy.

Carriers are Claro, Movistar, Personal & soon Nextel.
No pre-registration required.

Sims (Chips) available at Kiosks, Pharmacies etc. Look for a sign saying ‘cargo virtual’ or orange vending machines.

For local call rates it is required to purchase a SIM (chip) for each country. Roaming may be an option but it is doubtful a SIM purchased in one country could be topped up in another?

Patagonian Time – Use CLST.
Chile Local Time (CLT) is UTC- 4 hours however there is also Chile Summer Time(CLST) which is UTC- 3 hours. Chile will remain in CLST for the foreseeable future!

2015 No changes, UTC -3 hours all of the period
2016 Sun, 15 May at 12:00 am CLST → CLT -1 hour (DST end) UTC-4h
Sun, 14 Aug at 12:00 am CLT → CLST +1 hour (DST start) UTC-3h
2017 — 2019 No changes, UTC -3 hours all of the period

Argentina Time (ART) does not have any daylight savings and is UTC-3 hours.
Our Torres del Paine sunrise will be from 7:15 am and sunset from 8:50 pm; looks like later starts and finishes to correspond with daylight.

Patagonia is deemed to be from Latitude 42 degrees south.

“The legendary towers are responsible for the name of the National Park: Torres del Paine”. Photo and text from Steve Hanisch.


After a short stay in Santiago including a day trip to Valparaiso  we intend to fly south with SKY to Punta Arenas then bus to Puerto Natales and into Torres Del Paine where we intend to complete a modified circuit trek that should take about 10 days.
Recent changes require bookings for all camp sites at Refugios and a limit of 80 people on the 130 km circuit per day.

Sky Airlines has a basic fare that has no check in baggage but does allow for a massive 20 kg in carry on so long as the case fits inside an over head locker. We have opted for a higher fare that gives us 23 kg of checked in baggage each; the packs will not fit in an overhead locker! We will be using SKY for the journey to Punta Arenas and later from Puerto Montt to Santiago.

From Torres del Paine, it is back on the bus to Puerto Natales and again by bus into Argentina to El Calafatealthough it is technically possible to traverse direct from Lago Amarga to El Calafate, this requires linking two different buses: return bus to Puerto Natales then Puerto Natales to El Calafate; OR a private transfer. Easier to just return to Puerto Natales and catch the morning bus to El Chalten the next day –   (El Chalten -Monte Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre), fly north to Bariloche then back into Chile by boat and bus to Puerto Montt.
Finally we will fly back to Santiago and then home.

The SOTA hiking gear will be put to good use. No radio gear on this trip!

Refer to the SOTA GEAR PAGE for details on our tent, camping & sleeping gear, clothing, portable power and navigational equipment.
Looking at the maps, there are heaps of potential SOTA summits, the high majority would un-activated due to extreme access issues.
To the uninitiated, SOTA is an amateur radio program (Summits On The Air) where “Ham” radio operators lug their gear and operate portable from mountain tops.
The main items are: Wilderness Equipment Space 2 tent with footprint, Osprey 65L Atmos / Aura packs, Sea to Summit Trek 3 sleeping bags, liners & insulated mattresses, Trangia stove – butane powered, Mont Austral / Siena jackets. Heaps of dry sacks plus a pack liner. I decided to use Sea to Summit compression dry sacks for our sleeping bags.

All of the gear but our S2S air chairs were used. The Steripen, whilst used, was not necessary. Likewise, taking the GPS was not essential as the trails were all well marked; it was useful to determine our exact location and thus how far we had to go, how far had we come?
The combination of pack liner plus stuff bags was great. Our packs could remain outside in the vestibule (protected by the pack cover) whilst our gear could be stowed more conveniently in the tent.
Inside the tent we had an insulating foil sheed, the S2S mattresses, sleeping bags & liners. These proved to be quite capable of keeping us warm in freezing conditions, ground chill was not a factor.
Our little Trangia Stove is a new beast with the butane burner. As seen above, we used the bowls for eating, the only additional items being S2S cups and Sporks. No need to use matches or a lighter, The Light My Fire flint worked great every time.
I did not see anyone else with gaiters. Not sure why as they certainly helped keep our clothes clean, aided with grass seeds and on occasion, in conjunction with a log, became an impromptu seat.
There was another Wilderness Equipment Space 2 tent at Paine Grande but mostly tents were MSR & Doite (local brand).
There were many tents destroyed by wind at Paine Grande.

Torres Del Paine

As from last year (2016), you must have your accommodation at the various campsites (Refugios or Campametos)  pre-booked if you intend on staying in the park (essential if undertaking any of the multi day treks!)
This is not necessarily easy! Why?
Well there are 3 different “operators” of the camp sites (and no camping outside of these areas)

Firstly there are the Free CONAF Sites. These have very basic facilities and do not provide meals. Bookings cannot be made more than 180 days in advance.

Paid sites: Provide additional facilities such as accommodation and restaurants. Nan & I intend to use some of the restaurant facilities to cut down on weight but will be camping out. A cheaper option and we have to take the tent anyway!

Fantastico Sur Sites. Their reservation site has been undergoing maintenance since mid May (2017) so is not available. Refer to updates.

Vertice Patagonia Sites. They are still not taking any reservations! No matter what the date entered, everything shows as being booked out. Refer to updates.

Update 17/06/2017. Email from Vertice. Dates will be OK, now to arrange payment within 24 hours! Hope that Fantastico & CONAF bookings come through!

Yeah, 23/06/2017. Vertice campsites paid for and booked. $55 USD. They have advised Fantastico will be open for bookings from 1st July.

Update 17/07/17. Fantastico have just confirmed our dates. Web portal is still down but they contacted us by email. The process is a bit “clunky” but now done. No option other than full board (camping) for our night at Chileno.
Now just need to finalise CONAF closer to time.

Update September 2017. CONAF sites are now booked. No accommodation this season at Campamento Torres

Update for the 2018 / 2019 season and possibly beyond.
Campamento Torres remains closed adn look like it will remain so indefinitely.
Park entry permit can now be done on line following which CONAF camp site bookings can be made.
This process will fast track your entry into the park at Laguna Amarga.
Note that documentation still needs to be presented at Las Torres before commencing any treks.

If trying to book logically, one should probably be booking by jumping from one provider to another as you progress around the circuit in the required anti-clockwise direction. In doing, we will have locked in the date of the preceding camp before making the next booking. This means jumping from site to site. In reality, as the season has not yet commenced, we will grab the paid sites as soon as they become available and follow up on the free sites right on the 180 day limit.
All a bit of a shambles if you ask me? Then travelling into out of the way places always has its intricacies!
The logical method may work if booking later in the season? Don’t leave it too late though! Take copies of your bookings with you!

Refugio and Camping Las Torres:
I have highlighted our proposed camp sites. There are to be 2 nights at Refugio Paine Grande as we intend to do a day trip on the Catamaran to view the Salto Grande waterfall 

Link to the Torres del Paine map

Argentina. El Calafate & El Chalten

Hopefully we will grab an early bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. This involves a border crossing and customs; a first land crossing of an international border for me. The bus schedule indicates this as a 5 hour trip and a 7:30 am departure.
Buses to and from Puerto Natales / Torres del Paine & El Calafate now booked online from home.


Located in Argentinian North Patagonia, an intended highlight will be an overnight trek to the Refugio Otto Meiling Photo below courtesy of the hyperlink.
We will travel with Aerolineas from El Calafate to Bariloche. Note luggage restrictions of 8 kg (originally this was 5 kg) cabin baggage and 15 kg checked baggage. Signs at check in confirmed the 5 kg cabin limit; it was not rigorously enforced. 
The airport is 15 km out from the town centre. Public bus #72 runs a service into town hourly at 10 minutes past the hour.
 It begins its tour at the parking lot in Bariloche airport and gets to the stop on Moreno street, between Palacios and Rolando, at the centre of the city. It operates daily from 6.40 am to 10.40 p.m (confirm times?) and the approximate price is 23,50 pesos. The intermediate stops include the office of the Railway Police, the bus station and the coastal avenue. Taxis are also available, Another transportation alternative in Bariloche is taking a taxi or remise. Taxis are white and light blue, have specific stops at the center of the city but may be hailed to stop in any street by signaling with a hand. Fee from the airport is around 300 ARs compared to the bus at 23.5 ARs. With the present exchange rate of 15.6 ARs to the AUD it is not too expensive.
The electronic cards to use the service should be purchased in advance. You can find them at the ticket offices of bus companies or other stores, in different points of the city. All lines use the SUBE card, the same card used in other cities in Argentina.

I expect the overnight camp by the glacier will be pretty cool 🙂 With the weather, it would have been miserable verging on suicidal!

The mountain shown in the background is the Tronador (3478 m) which is also the Chilean / Argentinian border.
Getting to the trail head for Refugio Otto Meiling requires a mini bus ride courtesy of Club Andean Bariloche ($130 ARS per person each way plus park entry fee $150 ARS?) to Pampa Linda. It looks like there is heaps to do ( Visit Castaño Overa Glacier – return leg from Refugio Otto Meiling – allow 2 hours to return to Pampa Linda, The Ventisquero Negro (Black Glacier) – 8 kms, 4 hours each way, Nalcas Waterfall – 2 kms, 1 hour) around here so not only will we spend a night camped by the Refugio but now also intend to stay a couple of nights at Pampa Linda before returning to Bariloche.
Need to register all hike intentions

Registration of hiking intentions, evidently only required for the more ardous back country hikes. This probably includes Refugio Otto Meiling? The intentions booth is outside the CAB camp ground. Nobody present, no intention forms available and none recently lodged. Maybe at the CAB camp ground?
While in Bariloche we intend to visit Refugio Frey.
Catch #55 bus ($25 ARS – need electronic ticket) to the Cerro Catedral resort car park head to the ticket office to purchase you lift ticket. Take the Gondola ‘Amancay’ then the ‘Diente de Caballo’ chairlift to the top; follow the track about 1 km as it that gradually ascends, with the last 100m of steeper ascent over loose scree to the pass. Ascent $470 (Jan 2018) check times and days it operates (7 days per week 9:00 am to 5:45pm)lift details. When you purchase your lift tickets you will probably be asked to sign a register so they have a record of who is doing the trail.
Allow 4 hours for the 10 kms trek to Refugio Frey then take the standard “direct” route back to the car park 12 kms and 4 hours down hill.
Trek Bariloche

Also on the agenda, and as a part of our journey back to Santiago, is to travel by boat and bus to Puerto Varas ( & Puerto Montt – airport). Not exactly cheap, this journey will take us through 3 lakes, connected via bus links.

A rare calm and clear crossing

Photo courtesy of Cruce Andino


Our intention is to take a number of freeze dried hiking meals with us from Melbourne like those from Back Country Cuisine & Outdoor Gourmet. This should ensure some variety and evidently these items are not too common in Patagonia & if found, can be very expensive.
Also hope to take some Clif Energy Bars – Chocolate Almond Fudge currently being my favourite.
Fortunately, lots of variety and sales on prior to Christmas.

The Australian Smart Traveller site does not provide anything useful as to what food items can be brought (into Chile) and the web (namely Trip Advisor) is full of outdated and conflicting reports. This did lead me to the SAG (Agricultural & Livestock Service) website that specifically states cooked and dehydrated processed meat without bone is OK.
The link is current as of 23/12/17 but could easily change; if so just google SAG.
This link covers fruit and vegetable products.
Have printed off a copy of the relevant page. Both the aforementioned pages have a link to a downloadable declaration form.


Tips to assist with altitude sickness. (Taken from when we visited Peru in 2013)

  • Drink lots of water – STAY HYDRATED! You should be drinking at least 6 -16 ounces of bottled water a day.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages
  • Participate in mild activities your first few days. Walk slowly and take it easy. Don’t overdo it and listen to your body!
  • Eat Carbs! (pasta, bread, and potatoes) – but be sure not to over eat!
  • Eat coca – coca tea, coca candy, cocoa brownies or the raw coca leaves themselves. Found Coca Leaves in a market in Calama, not as abundant as in Cusco. Coca can help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness.


More Information and Links

Patagonia Expedition from Steve Hanisch  A link to a series of Youtube Videos by Steve.

Steve Hanisch also has a Great Blog and Travel Guides  plus E books on (Amazon) that cover Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia. These are some of the best that I have found for our intentions (purchased both)

Another reference is the Cicerone Torres Del Paine Guide (This book is way out of date and is of limited use, recommend E-book only) available as an Amazon Kindle down load and was also available at Bogong Outdoors in Lt. Bourke St Melbourne (also stocks Monte Fitz Roy / Cerro Torre map plus Torres Del Paine Trekking Map)
Both these maps provide a broader overview than the maps supplied at the Parks Office. They both contain numerous errors and omissions. The Parks Maps are more than adequate for hiking purposes but get duplicates if possible as they are not robust.

Also on Amazon, by Matthew Morgante has been a very useful resource.

Australian Perspective: Blog from Dave Casey courtesy of Paddy Pallin

This Blog from Henry Chen summarises our Torres Del Paine trek
Other guidebooks: Save your money and first visit the local library. Our Bayside Library has offered lots of choice.

If purchasing from Amazon, use the Australian site to avoid currency transfer fees.
A 30 day free trial of Kindle Unlimited may also prove to be cost effective?

A free Garmin Map of Patagonia with contours is available, you will need to register on the site to enable the 500mB download. Note that whilst the map accuracy is quite good, be wary of walking tracks displayed as straight lines. I suggest a relevant track file be sought to show the real route. This is just as applicable to the Garmin OzToppo maps.

I have also found numerous GPX files on Wikiloc which is a much recommended site for treks outside of Australia. I have simply downloaded the GPX file for use in Garmin Base Camp.

180 degrees south A youtube documental movie. A must watch if interested in either Patagonia or the future of our planet.


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