Martina Danelaite, a proud mama of two and Bébé Voyager, embarked on an intimidating journey to Chile and went visiting Torres del Paine with her family. Here’s how she did it.
Patagonia isn’t designed for babies and toddlers.
Sure, there aren’t any changing tables at trailheads or high chairs at picnic spots. Local Facebook groups where foreign expats and local Chileans mingle will warn you against going ‘south’ with littles. “What’s the point anyway,” they say.
Yet, no one goes to Patagonia and, specifically, Torres del Paine (TdP) for that. You go for the valleys, the glaciers, the rivers and the mountaintops, many of which aren’t going to be there forever. And, as a nature-loving couple (who just happen to have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old), we couldn’t let some uncertain weather stop us.
It meant packing way over the carry-on limit, with layers upon layers of weather-proof clothes and an assortment of shoes and planning way more than we normally do.
In the end, we spent three glorious days at the national park – one of the most famous ones in South America – and would go back in about the same amount of time that it takes an overtired three-year-old to melt into the floor during a tantrum. Lightning-fast.
Here’s what we did.
When to Go
We’re big fans of travelling during the shoulder season, so we deliberately put off visiting Torres del Paine and waited until mid-April to go. The ‘recommended’ travel time is during the Chilean summer (December-February), but the weather being so temperamental anyway, sunny days during peak season aren’t guaranteed either.
We took our chance and got incredibly lucky with two consecutive days of clear skies. We stayed in the nearby town of Puerto Natales for a week, which meant that we could plan our days in the National Park based on the weather forecast.
And while you should definitely keep an eye on the forecast, drop by the Tourism Information kiosk on the waterfront at Puerto Natales to ask them too. They’ve got more info and weather radars to tap into to give you recommendations as to the best days to visit Torres del Paine.
Note: April is still classed as ‘High Season’ by the park officials and you’ll pay the full premium price (approx. $30, under 6s free), but the crowds are considerably less.
This is what we’d recommend bringing when visiting Torres del Paine:
- Thermal base layers
- Mid-layers (e.g. fleece)
- Outer layers (we used insulated, waterproof jackets for April)
- Gloves, booties, and hat for babies
- Gloves, hat, waterproof trousers and waterproof insulated boots for toddlers/bigger kids
- A hiking backpack/carrier with windproof/waterproof cover (we had an Osprey Poco Premium for big kid and a wrap for little kid)
- Weather protection cream (we used the Weleda Calendula one)
- Refillable water bottles
- Snacks and/or picnic for each day you’re there (there aren’t shops and hotel restaurants weren’t reliable, e.g. wouldn’t serve food from past breakfast till dinner except for sad looking sandwiches)
- Thermos with tea/coffee to celebrate ends of hikes – cheers!
Where to Stay
This will come down to personal preference. We stayed in an Airbnb in Puerto Natales for a variety of reasons:
- We wanted to maximise our stay in the area, which meant we needed to stretch our accommodation budget
- The Airbnb had amenities to self-cater most meals
- We wanted the best chance for us to go visiting Torres del Paine in clear conditions
Yet, this also meant that each day we ventured into the park, we had to spend an additional 4 hours in the car (2 hour drive each way). We drove in during the little guy’s early noon nap and drove out when the kids were both asleep for the night.
You know your kid(s) best to know if this would be doable for you.
The hotels in the area are extremely expensive; think $2,000+ per night for the all-inclusive and amazing looking Explora Hotel right in the middle of the park. And that’s not even the most expensive option!
Don’t worry though – you can find cheaper places in or near the park if you book early. There are various camping grounds and cabanas available, some of them with breakfast.
The Hikes that Littles Will Enjoy (Or Just About Tolerate)
Tours don’t really work for our kids and to be honest, we aren’t fans of them either. We much prefer the freedom of self-drives and it wasn’t that difficult to do. The roads were fine and the markings are clear.
Plus, when you’re on a tour, you cannot choose your own itinerary and the hikes might not be suitable for babies, toddlers, and little kids.
That said, here are the hikes that we’d recommend for those with kids in tow, to give you the most expansive and popular views of the park.
- Salto Grande: One of the easiest flat hikes in the park, it’s just a quick 15 minutes to reach the turquoise waterfall from the car park. Be wary that the winds in this spot can get quite harsh, so hold on to your kiddos!
- Mirador de Cuernos: Continuing on the trail past the Salto Grande, the Mirador de Cuernos is a (realistically) 2-3 hour hike with a lunch break included. Add an hour or more if toddlers want to splash in the puddles of the creek or chill at the shores of the lake en-route. It features mild inclines and fantastic views of the Cuernos peaks – truly awe-inspiring to get so close to the ‘action’. We could even hear the ice cracking and falling. There were loads of kids on the trail and our 3-year-old walked for an hour all by himself.
- Mirador Condor: A 2-hour roundtrip hike, we didn’t hike up to this particular Mirador due to the steepish incline and our plans to do a longer hike later in the afternoon. Chances are you’re going to have to carry your babes up this one all the way, but the views do seem highly rewarding.
- Lago Grey: There is catamaran navigation on Lago Grey that takes approximately 3 hours to get you up close to the Grey Glacier. Starting at Hotel Lago Grey, a speed boat will take you to the catamaran when the weather is nice (when it’s not, you must hike 45 minutes to board the catamaran yourself). Then, it’s a two hour trip to the glacier and back, enjoying the views and a pisco sour that’s complimentary. There is a toilet on-board, but no baby change and life vests are provided. I’m not sure I’d do it again as it was quite pricey and the kids didn’t quite enjoy the confines of the small boat for two hours (that said, there were loads of kids on-board). An alternative while visiting Torres del Paine could be to take a short hike (30-45 minutes) towards the glacier to see the huge turquoise icebergs floating about and enjoy some more chilled ‘beach’ time for the kids and the magnificent views for the parents.
- Fauna Trail: There is a trail in between Guarderia Laguna Amarga and Porteria Sarmiento that is a flat walk, featuring guanacos, local lama-like animals, condors and pumas. Though, let’s get real – you probably won’t see any pumas when your loud-and-proud kid(s) accompany you This is a one-way trail that is quite samey, so you can go as far as you wish and trace back your steps at first signs of little feet fatigue.
- Laguna Azul: A perfect spot to end a day, we loved the optional short (up to an hour round-trip) hike to just above the laguna. If you just want to stay put, stay on the lakeshore and watch the sunset over the Torres, while the kids enjoy the black volcanic sand and stone skipping. There is a horse enclosure nearby too and the kids loved petting the horses. Tour buses skip Laguna Azul, so chances are you’ll have it all to yourself.
- Viewing points: There are viewing points miradores all over the park that you can stop at, a few with picnic tables available
The Base Las Torres Hike
If you’re a die-hard hiking family, then you might have heard of the W and the O. These are multi-day hiking trips that are some of the very best hiking routes in this part of the world.
They sure weren’t in the cards for us this time around, but if you want to do something more strenuous without the kids, such as the Base Las Torres hike (6-8 hours round-trip) there are ways of making it happen.
- Babysitting: hotels in the park and Puerto Natales offer babysitting services for this exact reason – to let parents do some day hikes that simply would not be possible with small children. Of course, you might be paying a premium for the stay, but traveling should be fulfilling for every member of the family.
- Going one by one: this is also an option if you have more time on your hands and want to let each other enjoy the park with no distractions. The other parent could stay put in Puerto Natales or the chosen accommodation in the park, with plenty of things to do.
Logistics & Tips
- National Park entrance is 21,000 Chilean pesos, approximately $30 for adults, kids under 6 are free and 6-16-year-old foreigners pay $9. The ticket is valid for three consecutive days.
- Bring passports (for purchasing the tickets) and be prepared to fill out entry forms for each family member
- There are baby changing facilities at the ticket offices
- Segment the park into three general areas, e.g. west, middle and east, and visit each for a day – less driving all over the place.
- Keep in mind that rangers close trails when it’s nearing closing time and the daylight hours remaining wouldn’t be enough for a round-trip.
- The roads in the park are mostly gravel, so you should be a relatively confident driver and could rent a 4×2 or a 4×4 car for more comfort (though this isn’t necessary if you’re on a budget)
- Car parking is free at trailheads
- Petrol/gas is only available at Puerto Natales, so if you’re staying in the park, this is something to keep in mind
- Puerto Natales has a few small grocery shops, such as the Unimarc (limited selection) and the Fruteria down the road (more varied selection, imported organic goods, baby food pouches)
- Puerto Natales also has got cafes and restaurants worthy of a visit. There are banks, outdoor outfitters for last-minute gear purchases, and some nice playgrounds too
- We found some of the best ice cream in the world at Aluen Gelateria – honestly rivaled the scoops we found in Italy. We went back to Aluen. Every. Single. Day.
Pro tip: If you want to explore more of Patagonia rather than just visiting Torres del Paine, it’s also totally doable with pre-schoolers. We visited the Perito Moreno glacier over at Calafate, Argentina, and drove up through the pampas, crossing into Chile at Chile Chico, to make our way back to Puerto Montt via the breathtaking Carretera Austral.
Martina Danelaite-Ouwens is a freelance travel writer and a mother of two. Her family are digital nomads, slow traveling and trying to navigate the world that’s set up for those who love waking up in the same bed, year in and year out. Martina goes beyond the ‘Top 10 of This’ and ‘The Best of That’ to deliver cultural insights and practical tips on making memories through family experiences. Check nomadspluskids.com for more or themartina.com to get in touch.