After a 2-hour bus journey from Puerto Natales and a 2-hour leisurely walk amongst herds of ‘guanacos’ (a breed of llama) at Portera Sarmiento at the entrance to the park, I was happy to arrive at the start of the W Circuit trail and at the refugio where I’d be staying for 2 nights. From the choice of hotels/hostels and eco camps in this area, Hosteria las Torres wasn’t the smartest or grandest, but it looked like somewhere where I’d get good meal and a decent night’s sleep.
Full bed and board with sheets and linen as opposed to sleeping bags costs $93 usd here, one of the more expensive of the refugios, but not as expensive as the other options at the start of the W Circuit – eco tents or a hotel. I was a bit miffed to find out that there were no plug sockets available so I wouldn’t be able to charge my phone. Chino, our guide, told us this was the same throughout all of the refugios as they use a generator for electricity and it is very expensive to run. So I turned my mobile phone on only to use as an alarm clock and I went for a wander outside the hostel where I had a great view of Ascencio Valley – the place where we’d be starting our trek the following day.
The facilities at the hostel were pretty good. There was a reasonably priced shop stocked with toiletries, food, t-shirts and jumpers as well as gas canisters and other useful items. You just have to go to the front desk if you want to buy anything (I had to buy moisturiser on day 2 thanks to my sunburnt knees). The hostel also had a ‘relaxation room’ with a bean bag, huge map of Paine and a warm fire where you could play a variety of boardgames and chess. I spent the evening of my second day in this room, writing a diary of the days events with a glass of red wine looking out of the window, definitely a great way to wind down and relax those muscles!
On day 2 we had a three course meal consisting of vege soup, beef in creamy sauce with mash and a strange desert consisting of dried fruit with syrup and barley. Both nights we ate meat, the second night was chicken soup with steak and cabbage, but I noticed that some people were vegetarian and they just had to remind someone at the kitchen of this upon arrival at the hostel.
The service was good and the staff were friendly, they served wine and beer at the bar and given that they have to get all of the food and supplies out to these remote refugios I thought the price of wine and beer was very reasonable, costing $2.500 CLP or approx. £3.30. Breakfast is served between 7:15 and 9:30 and on day 2 we were up and ready for breakfast at 7:30 and setting off at 8:30. On day 3 we set off a little later as the day walk was less demanding and would take about 4 hours instead of 8. Although the portions at breakfast didn’t seem huge but turned out to be just right and kept ‘hunger locked up til lunch’, breakfast included scrambled eggs, toast with jam, cornflakes and tea and coffee. Packed lunches are handed out at this time, they were ample with a cheese, chicken and tomato sandwich, a big apple, 3 cereal bars, 2 brownies and juice. Chino was quick to instruct us in the art of removing the tomato as this would make the bread soggy by the time we came to eat it.
The dorms themselves were mixed and split up into 4 rooms on the east and west side of the refugio with the restaurant, reception and bar inbetween. I would definitely recommend bringing ear plugs with you as each room is seperated by a thin wall that doesn’t reach the ceiling due to a long beam running across it. This means that if people stay up late/make noise whilst you’re asleep (which didn’t happen too frequently as everyone was so exhausted) you’ll definitely be woken up. Normally when I hear the words ‘bunk beds’ I immediately think of small, low, child-size beds, but these bunk beds were ‘adult size’, very comfortable, and with 3 per room (in Los Cuernos there were 3 triple bunk beds). In Las Torres you also have a big bay window looking out onto the start of the trail and a big wooden locker each. Either bring your own lock or rent from reception but either way it’s a good idea to use one as you leave your belongings there whilst trekking up Ascencio Valley on day 2.
The overall atmosphere at this refugio was calm and relaxed, with groups and solo travellers from all over the world chatting over breakfast. There is also a world map on the wall of the restaurant where travellers can put their name and hometown on the map.