I am arriving in Santiago Jan. 26th with my boyfriend.
So far we only have the first 10 days planned - staying in Vina del Mar and Pucon. We have to be back in Santiago around Feb. 25th.
We know that we want to see the Lake District (the Argentina side too) and Torres del Paine but we have some questions...
With two and a half weeks, what would you plan to do in the south of Chile? We would love to see the natural wonders and live in nature!
Is it realistic to mostly camp along the way South? What do camping sites usually charge?
Are there buses that go all the way down to Torres?
Two and a half weeks is really quite a short time. Take into account that distances are huge and roads are not paved down there so you'll find that buses are really slow.
Having said that, if you're into the great outdoors you'll love it down there. Here's a suggestion of what your itinereary could look like.
Starting from Viña or Valparaiso, night bus down to Villarrica or Pucon. These are two towns next each other at the foot of the Villarrica volcano, which you can climb easily in one day, You can spend another day relaxing by the lake and a third rafting or cycling. Villarrica is not as touristy as Pucon but it does get a lot of Chileans by the lake.
After that...well there are no buses down to Puerto Natales (next to Torres del Paine) so I suggest crossing over to Bariloche or San Martin in Argentina and taking a bus down the route 40 to El Chalten. From Bariloche its two days down to El Chalten. El Chalten is kind of like a smaller version of Torres del Paine, at least the areas where tourists might go. You might want to hike around the park, which you could do in a long day or in 2 short days, 3 at the most. You could also try some guided ice climbing there.
From there another bus down to El Calafate, from where you go see Perito Moreno, a spectacular glacier.
Another 5 hours worth of sitting on a bus will get you to Puerto Natales, from where you can get yourself to the Torres del Paine.
To get yourselves back up to Santiago in time the best thing would be to fly back from Punta Arenas. You'll find on the way down that there are so many wonderful places where you will want to stop...I did what i've described in a month and a half and I felt that it was too quick, but then again I like to take my time when travelling ^^
Another option to get back up is the Ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt and the bus from there to Santiago. It's supposed to be a very beautiful scenic route, but pricewise I think its cheaper to fly, and if you're in a hurry...I think the ferry takes 3 days to get to puerto montt and then its another day up to Santiago on the bus.
God I've droned on a bit, anyways I hope i've been helpful.
Have fun ^^
Thank you so much for your detailed response! That helps a lot! Do you know the best resource for finding camping sites/information?
All the best-
Actually... another question!
What is the easiest way to get to Coyhaique from Torres de Paine? We found a ticket from there to Sanitago for a forth of the price from Punta Arenas.
Thank you for your help!
hmmm let's see...I'm afraid I can't help you much with these two questions...
As far as camping goes, well, there are campsites pretty much everywhere on the route i suggest, but a source of information that groups them all? sorry, no idea. As far as camping prices go, well again I can't help you as I wasn't carrying a tent when i went so I didn't consider them, but take the usual rule; Chile is more expensive than Argentina, and the farther south in Argentina you go the more expensive stuff becomes. Camping inside the park next to El Chalten is free, and in Torres del Paine, some places are free to camp and some are not. Those that are free are further away and have no facilities and in summer they get rats, so don't leave any food where they might smell it, and that includes the tent, as they have been known to chew their way inside to get at food they smelled.
As for Coyahique, if you go down that way, you'll have to cross into argentina to get down to torres by land, or alternatively I think there's a ferry from round there too, but I have the feeling that Coyahique is quite isolated and that public transport out of there except by air is fairly scarce. But then again I've never been so I don't really know. I have been told that the Area is very beautiful though.
Don't know what else to say so...
You should check out Chiloé. I´m actually hitching and camping my way down to chiloé for 11days starting the 25. I´m living now in Santiago as an English teacher, so i´ll be able to give you more detailed info later. puerto varas is another place you should look at visiting. And maybe you should think about Valparaíso more than viña del mar.