Beyond the hotels listed in greater detail in this section, there are several rural hotels between Puerto Natales, Cerro Castillo, and the park itself. For travelers with a vehicle at their disposal, these lodgings are more moderately priced and hence a good option as park entrance fees are valid for multiple entries, if you don't mind a fair amount of driving. Among them, consider the half-timbered Hotel Posada Tres Pasos, between Natales and Cerro Castillo (tel. 61/245494 or 2/196-9630; www.hotel3pasos.cl), built in 1904 and visited by Nobel Prize Laureate Gabriela Mistral. At the new development outside the far southwest limits of the park is the sprawling Hotel Río Serrano (tel. 61/240528; www.hotelrioserrano.cl), a giant complex with a whopping 105 rooms and nice views of the Paine Massif. Another option is the estancia lodging operated by Baqueano Zamora, Baquedano 534 in Puerto Natales (tel. 61/613521; www.baqueanozamora.com), including Tercera Barranca 20km (12 miles) from Laguna Amarga.
Dome, Sweet Dome: Patagonia's EcoCamp -- Somewhere between a lodge and a tent, the accommodations at EcoCamp Patagonia (tel. 800/901-6987 in the U.S., or 2/232-9878 in Chile; www.ecocamp.travel), across from Hotel Las Torres, are a series of permanent domes that offer refuge for budget-minded, eco-friendly travelers. You'll get a real bed under a real roof, but no electricity and shared outhouse-style toilets. The "Suite domes" have running water. Each dome sleeps two, and all have composting toilets. Meals are held in the "dining dome," and there's a cozy "living dome" for chilling out. All lodging is based on all-inclusive packages, starting at $1,059 (£706) per person for 4 days.
Advance Planning -- Due to the soaring popularity of Torres del Paine, it is recommended that travelers book well in advance if planning on visiting the park between late November and late March. Nearly every business now has a website or, at the very least, an e-mail address, so trip planning is easier than ever. Hotels can be booked directly, and often they offer their own transportation from the airport or, at the very least, can recommend a service to call or e-mail. One-stop agencies such as Fantastico Sur (Sarmiento 846, in Punta Arenas; tel. 61/613410; www.fantasticosur.com) and Chile Native (Eberhard 230, in Puerto Natales; tel. 61/411835, or toll-free from North America 800/649-8776; www.chilenativo.com), are good places for refugio reservations, horseback-riding trips, or camping equipment rentals, and they can sometimes offer lower hotel rates at hosterías in the park. They can also solve tricky transfer problems.
Refugios & Hostels
Five cabinlike lodging units and one hostel, all with shared accommodations, are distributed along the park's Circuit and W trails, and they are moderately priced sleeping options for backpackers who are not interested in pitching a tent. Although most have bedding or sleeping bags for an expensive rental price, your best bet is to bring your own. The price, at $40 (£17) on average per night (about $63/£32 for room and full board), may seem steep for a simple dorm bed (or $80/£53 for full board); still, it is a far cry cheaper than many shared accommodations in national parks in the U.S. All come with hot showers, a simple cafe, and a common area for hiding out from bad weather. Meals served here are simply prepared but hearty, or alternatively, guests can bring their own food and cook. Each refugio has rooms with two to six bunks, which you'll have to share with strangers when they're full. During the high season, consider booking weeks in advance, although many visitors have reported luck when calling just a few days beforehand (due to cancellations). All agencies in Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas book reservations and issue vouchers, but the best bet is to call or e-mail. There is a scrappy refugio near the park administration center, with two rows of sleeping berths that I do not recommend except in an emergency situation. This refugio is on a first-come, first-served basis.
The first three refugios are owned and operated by Fantástico Sur, a division of the Hostería las Torres. They can be booked by contacting tel./fax 61/360361 or by visiting www.wcircuit.com:
- Refugio El Chileno. This is the least-frequented refugio because it is located halfway up to the Towers (most do the trail as a day hike). Hikers will find it more convenient to stow their stuff in the campground at the hostería, but, then again, this refugio puts you away from the hubbub below, and is the best place to stay if you want to see the sun rise on the Torres.
- Refugio Los Cuernos. This may be the park's loveliest refugio, located at the base of the Cuernos. The wood structure (which miraculously holds up to some of the strongest winds in the park) has two walls of windows that look out onto Lago Nordenskjöld.
- Refugio Torres. This albergue (lodge) is the largest and most full-service refugio in the park; it sits near the Hostería Las Torres. This is also the trail head for the W-circuit and the Full Circuit. You may dine in the hotel or eat simple fare in the refugio itself. Horseback rides can be taken from here.
All three of the following refugios can be reserved at tel. 61/412742 or online at www.verticepatagonia.cl.
- Lodge Paine Grande. This hostel-like "lodge" replaces the old refugio Pehoé, at the busiest intersection in the park. It is the hub for several of the trail heads to the park administration center, Glacier Grey, and French Valley, as well as the docking site for the catamaran. Utilitarian in style, the hostel has 60 beds, two lounges, and a cafeteria that can serve 120 people. Day walks to Glacier Grey and French Valley can be taken from here.
- Refugio Dickson. This is one of the park's loneliest refugios, due to its location well on the other side of the park (part of the Circuit trail). There are a lot of mosquitoes in the summer, but you can't beat the rugged location on a grassy glacial moraine, facing Dickson Glacier.
- Refugio Grey. Tucked in a forest on the shore of Lago Grey, this log-cabin refugio is a 10-minute walk to the lookout point for the glacier. It's a cold but refreshing setting, and it has a cozy fireside seating area. This is a good base for taking a walking tour on the glacier.
Torres del Paine has a well-designed campground system with free and concession-run sites. All refugios have a campground, too, and these and other concession sites charge about $15 (£10) per person, which includes hot showers, clean bathrooms, and an indoor dining area to escape bad weather and eat under a roof. The site at Las Torres provides barbecues and firewood. Free campgrounds are run by Conaf, and they can get a little dingy, with deplorable outhouses. Beginning in March, mice become a problem for campers, so always leave food well stored or hanging from a tree branch. The JLM hiking map (available at every bookstore, airport, kiosk, and travel agency, and at the park entrance) denotes which campgrounds are free and which charge a fee.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.