Patagonia 101 – Torres Del Paine – The ‘W’ Circuit

Last year I had a marathon frenzy and decided to run the Patagonia Marathon in Puerto Natales, Chile. My friend and I stayed after the marathon and had a three-week hiking trip down the coast of South America.

Getting to Patagonia

If you are like me and live in the U.S., the most economical way to get down to Patagonia is to fly either to the capital city of Chile (Santiago) or Argentina (Buenos Aires) first, then book a separate flight down to Punta Arenas (Chile) or El Calafate (Argentina).

*Pro tip: If you you need to traverse countries while on your trip, it is cheaper to fly domestically and use ground transport (buses) to get the last few hours to your destination. Flying within the same country is cheaper than taking an international flight between Chile and Argentina. For example: If you want to start from Chilean Patagonia and travel to Argentinian Patagonia, the best way is to fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas, then take the bus up through to Argentina. 

Getting around in Patagonia

Google map link

Patagonia operates on buses. You can find a few bus companies that will take you through the borders between Argentina and Chile. You can purchase bus tickets online prior to arrival from Bus Sur (one of the bus companies in Patagonia), but it might be easier to figure out the timetable once you arrive in Patagonia and purchase the bus tickets from the bus station as you see fit. *Pro tip: Go to the bus station a day early  and figure out your ride. 

September is considered a “shoulder season” (before and after the busy season) of Patagonia. There are plenty of spaces in the campsite but the national park may require  a reservation confirmation to let you inside the park. The temperatures in Patagonia around September is about 25F° (-3C°) – 40F° (4C°). I had a thermo jacket  

The route we took was: Punta Arenas –> Puerto Natales –> El Calafate –> El Chalten. Because we were trying to save money, we took a bus back to Punta Arenas then flew back to Santiago. If you are short on time, Punta Arenas and El Calafate both have airports.

We had also rented a car and drove between El Calafate and El Chalten. It was a wonderful experience to not have to rely on bus schedules for once during the trip. It was not much more expensive for two people to rent a car than to take the bus. We were a lot more efficient with our time having rented our own car.

Torres Del Paine

Puerto Natales – Torres Del Paine

Chile National Park service (CONAF) now requires local guides for you to enter the park in September due to past season’s increased number of rescues (2019). However, my friend and I did not find out about this requirement until after we had spent 5 days in the park. The CONAF staff asked whether we have a guide at Paine Grande point. When we told him no, he just asked us to write our names down for record keeping. It seems the weather was nice the 5 days we were there. I suppose that is the reason the CONAF staff was not super concerned about us not having a guide.

Most of the information can be found from one of my favorite travel blogs, Yes Mom I’m Alive. I received a lot of help from Britt, author of Yes Mom I’m Alive in the planning stage on maps/camping/weather condition/routes. 

Here is an easy map for the ‘W’ and ‘O’ Circuit. Camp Central is Camp Las Torres. Camp Italiano, Cuernos, and Chileno only open during the busy season (October – February).

Mirador de Las Torres

Camping in Torres Del Paine

  • The two privately owned companies that operate in the national parks are Fantastico Sur and Vertice. I have linked the specific reservation link I found from researching it for a while. It is not very obvious on Fantastico Sur’s main website where to reserve campsites. Neither of their websites are always up to date. When you see the campsite dates unavailable for consecutive days (especially outside of the busy season of October to January), email them and ask for availability. I have emailed them and found they respond quite quickly. *Note: their website advertises their own tour in addition to the accommodation. It is a bit pricy and not necessary to go with a guided tour. I’d always suggest go by yourself.
  • Campsites are way cheaper (~$20 a night) but requires time to set up. You can pay a little extra ($~10) to have the park set it up for you prior to arrival (*totally worth it*). After a long day of walking with 25lbs on my back, having a place to sit and lay down is totally worth the extra money. They gave us sleeping bags (20 Fahrenheit) but we doubled up with our own sleeping bag because it is COLD at night.
  • The refugios have nice buildings with electricity and almost like a big hostel hotel. The bathrooms were modern and some of them can even flush! Coming from primitive camping in the U.S., this was a pleasant surprise.
  • There are designated areas for cooking but definitely no stove. We brought our jetboil and pre-cooked some sausages to bring on the trip. Alternatively, most of the refugios have food you can purchase, from a simple pizza to elaborate dinners. They all have hot water which was the cherry on top (hot chocolate after a cold day of hiking, yum!). 
  • Sunrise for the tower Cerro – My friend and I woke up at 2:30 am, packed up our sleeping bags and started hiking up the mountain in the dark. It was easier to hike up than down. The trail is frozen towards the last 2 miles and it was basically an ice scramble on our hands and knees going up the mountain (note: if you are going in October, it will probably be a lot easier). I would recommend trying to time your arrival to the mountain around sunrise because if you are early, it is extremely cold on the top while waiting for the sunrise. 

Perito Moreno Glacier

El Calafate, Argentina

While we were getting from Puerto Natales to El Chalten, we stopped at El Calafate for a day. This is the place to visit one of the most famous glaciers in the world. Unlike most of the glaciers in the world that are receding due to global warming, Perito Moreno Glacier continues to accumulate mass at a rate similar to that of its loss.  It is one of the most magnificent and powerful places I have ever been. We took a tour with Hielo y Aventura where you can wear crampons and get onto the glacier for a whole day. We were told that there is only one official tour company. Other companies who offer glacier walk are agents and will lead to back to this company. Find this company locally once you arrive in El Calafate (this link for google map location). 

The trip started at 7am, we took the bus into the national park, paid the park entrance fee, and took a walk to the overlook where the glacier touches the land. Then we rode on the boat across the water to the left side of the glacier. It is about an hour hike to get onto the glacier, punctuated by a lovely beach, safety debriefs, and tasks such as putting on our harnesses, helmet, gloves, and crampons. 

We had lunch out on the glacier while huddling in an ice cave carved out by the strong wind on the glacier, observing nature’s biggest glacier making machine in the world. The blue color emanating from the glacier is indescribable. I tried to capture them in my photos but the photo does not do it justice. While we were on the boat back to the city, Hielo y Aventura surprised us with whiskey on the rocks (‘rocks’ from the glacier) and local chocolates to give us some relief from our tired and aching knees and body.


El Chalten, Argentina

Chalten city limits are within the national parks, therefore you don’t need to pay to enter the park (unlike Perito Moreno Glacier). There are many things you can do in El Chalten and it is fully equipped with restaurants and outdoor recreational shops to prepare you for any type of adventure from hiking to alpine climbing. 

Unfortunately, only 1/3 of the places are open during the shoulder season of September when we arrived. We hired a local guide and climbed our first multi-pitch right next to the town!

Everything is walkable the moment you arrive El Chalten. It was a town established around 1985. Trailheads start from the town and lead you to Mt. Fitz Roy, the most famous  adventure Chalten has so much to offer. It is a convenient basecamp to all types of adventures you can possibly imagine. My second trip to Patagonia will be centered around Chalten. 

Other helpful tips

  • Patagonia is EXTREMELY windy, so it is always necessary to have layers, and possibly scarf to cover your face.
  • Learn some games that can be played while hiking. 8 hours of walking is only so much fun. A rainy day poker card game is a fantastic way to meet handsome guys on the trail!
  • Always bring a book. Always.
  • Pocket hand-warmers would have been the cherry on top.
  • Stray dogs are picky eaters.
  • Sunrise and sunset schedules

All the photos are taken by me or my friend Kat. It seemed daunting when I started planning at first, even with Yes Mom I’m Alive‘s extremely detailed walkthrough and personal help (hats off to Britt!). 

I hope this is helpful for you to plan your first trip down to Patagonia. If you have any questions, you can reach me at jingjingyu.org@gmail.com.

8 Things I Learned from Hosting an Airbnb Private Room

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Here’s what I’ve learned after 10 months of hosting a private room on Airbnb.

1. Start hosting without the room being perfect. 

Don’t wait for the perfect day, the perfect decorations, the amenities, or the perfect pictures to start hosting. You will add features, learn to adjust your boundaries along the way. 

One of my closest friends listed a private room on Airbnb in Dublin Ireland while we were both hiking in the mountains in Patagonia and she received booking requests within a day.

2. Don’t accept guests you don’t feel comfortable with. 

If there is some nagging feeling that makes you not want to accept that person, simply reject the Airbnb inquiry. This will NOT affect your host rating, which is different than cancelling on a confirmed booking reservation.

Here are some of my boundaries. These are all personal preferences and the assumptions I have made were based on experiences hosting for my local area (Northwest Arkansas).

  • Guests from the local area – There could be perfect reason why local guests need Airbnb. Everyone who is local that reached out to me was either looking for either did not understand Airbnb or wants one of those motels you pay by the hour. It also could jeopardize your own home privacy having locals knowing how to get into your house. I have searched Airbnb forums after having a bad experience with local guests and found it was a hard pass for most Airbnb hosts. 
  • Guests with children – I do not charge enough cleaning fees for children and I rent a private room. It would be too crowded to have a child in the room, and usually normal people who have children prefer the whole place to themselves instead of private rooms. This put it into question why the guest would want to stay in a private room as well.
  • long term rentals – Usually, I would like to keep the option of being able to only endure guests for a week, especially first time guests. I have made one exception to a guy booked my airbnb for a week at a time for 4 months. When he first proposed booking 2 months straight. I told him no, I would rather do a week at a time and see how it goes. It turned out that we got along well. He was a great repeat guest.

3. Set clear boundaries.

I don’t want to clean the kitchen after others. So cooking is off limits on my Airbnb. I contemplated this rule a lot when I listed the house. But as it turns out, people don’t care that much about cooking. Instead, I make recommendations to local delicious and affordable restaurants or groceries. Don’t half-hearted rent out something you don’t want to, because you will resent it later. Don’t be afraid of saying no, because this way you will attract the right people to your Airbnb.

4. Title of the Airbnb listing counts.

When I first started doing Airbnb, I didn’t have a lot of furniture, so I named it “The minimalist room.” To my own surprise, people love it! I received one review raving about the idea of minimalism.

Gradually throughout this year, I found that I love outdoorsy guests. Not just because they will be out all day, but also they are almost always VERY laid back, respectful, and quiet. Most of the time, they are so tired of their daily adventures, they will come right to bed! So I changed my title to “Rock Climbing and Mountain Biking Haven” which yielded good results so far. I am learning to be more outdoorsy myself so I have made numerous friends with similar hobbies (rock climbing and mountain biking, of course!).

One other thing I make sure to add in my title is how many bedrooms (if it is a private room) or if it is an entire place. Since I have a long title now, I can only add “1 br + bath” at the end. I find this helpful when I search Airbnbs to stay so I add them to my title now.

5. Have a dog!

When I first started Airbnb, I was worried people will be very annoyed with me having a dog. They may be allergic to dog hair. They may find dogs barking annoying. They may accidentally let my dog escape (I still fear this). As it turns out, a big portion of the people who stay at my Airbnb booked my place BECAUSE of my dog (I mean, can’t blame them because the Ice Queen is so cute). And research has shown, people are nicer to each other when there is a dog present. So if you have a dog and is contemplating on hosting Airbnb, wait no more!

6. Schedule the stays with breaks in between.

When I first started my Airbnb, there was a period of time where someone would check out in the morning, and someone else would be coming at 3pm. I have a full time job and I struggled to clean the sheets and towels for the next guests. Now I try to plan ahead the stays and block out days so I can have time to clean the rooms.

7. Airbnb prices are not always accurate.

In my area, Northwest Arkansas, Airbnb’s suggested price is too low. When that happens, it attracts people who are not my targeted audiences (aka people who wants a motel and doesn’t want to pay a lot of money). I found out by getting a lot of inquiries of guests who barely had a profile set, and just want to show up at my house for a night. 

I looked into the Airbnbs around me, and found comparable listings (similar bedrooms, similar area, similar style) and raised my price up to theirs, and the problem is solved.

8. Great photos = great guests.

  • Using the right camera – Taking photos with a real camera helps (as opposed to using a cell phone) because the cell phone lens is smaller and it will distort the architecture of the room. 
  • Let there be light – Choose a sunny day to take the photos. Open ALL curtains and turn on ALL lights. Having lights (natural or artificial) can make editing your photos SO MUCH easier.
  • Perfecting Photos – I spent a good chunk of my time taking photographs of my place and editing them. It took me a couple of tries to get the photos come out crisp and clean. There are many photos that I’ve realized later on that needed a makeover, such as, clutter on the desk, the toilet lid was open, the kitchen counter was not clean, the pillows on the bed looked saggy and sad, etc. I went back and adjusted them.