Epic Adventures Los Glaciares Torres del Paine

How to travel to Torres del Paine from El Calafate

Two of Patagonia’s greatest national parks lie a short distance from each other, separated by an international border. Torres del Paine National Park, with its sheer granite towers and iconic W Trek, sits up close to the Chilean border. On the other side in Argentina, you’ll find Los Glaciares National Park, home to Perito Moreno glacier and the looming peaks of Mount FitzRoy and Cerro Torre. But how do you travel between the two?

Chile’s gateway city to Torres del Paine is Puerto Natales, while the Argentinian gateway for Los Glaciares is El Calafate. Both are connected by air to their respective capitals of Santiago and Buenos Aires, but there are no direct flights between the two. The two are linked by road however, and there are comfortable international buses that make the trip every day. We’ve put together this guide to walk you through the trip, step by step. If you’re new to this style of travel, check out our blog Everything you need to know about using buses in Patagonia to get yourself road trip-ready. 

El Calafate to Puerto Natales

For this guide, we’re going to travel from Los Glaciares to Torres del Paine, though the process is just as easy in the opposite direction. 

El Calafate bus station

The El Calafate bus station (Terminal de Omnibus El Calafate) is about one mile east of the centre of town. Several bus companies make the trip using modern comfortable coaches, but we recommend the Chilean operator Bus Sur as the most reliable. On most days, there are between 3–5 buses running every day, though this number is drastically reduced if you want to travel in winter. 

Tickets can be bought online, with a single ticket typically costing around US$40-50. It takes from 5–7 hours to travel between El Calafate and Puerto Natales, depending on how much time is needed as border control. Buses tend to leave at around 8am, meaning that you’ll arrive in Puerto Natales between 2–3pm. 

Loading the Bus Sur to Puerto Natales

When you board, there’ll be someone from the station who loads your luggage on to the bus for you. It’s customary to tip for this service: we suggest US$1-2 in local currency, so have some small change ready.

Leaving El Calafate

On arrival at the bus station, you’ll need to present your passport along with your reservation number to be given your ticket and assigned seat. On boarding, you’ll also be given a small bottle of water and some snacks and sweets for the journey. There is no opportunity to buy food along the way, so we’d advise having a good breakfast in El Calafate to see you through to a late lunch once you reach Puerto Natales.

Getting comfortable inside the bus

The seats are big and comfortable and recline nicely without disturbing your neighbour. There’s plenty of space for your daypack, as well as a USB socket to keep your electronics charged. The coach is air conditioned and also has an onboard toilet. 

To the border

Despite El Calafate and Puerto Natales only being 95 miles away from each other as the condor flies, the bus doesn’t initially appear to take the most obvious route. The highway at first heads due east away from the Chilean border and then swings south. Don’t be misled if you’ve plotted the route using Google Maps either: the most direct route is on a gravel road that’s unsuitable for buses. Instead, the bus takes the longer sealed road through the one-horse town of Esperanza before turning towards Chile. 

Pampas south of El Calafate

The scenery up until now has been Patagonian steppe, but after leaving Esperanza, if the weather is clear then it’s often possible to see the distant towers of Torres del Paine rising out of the horizon ahead of you. They’re always a stirring sight. 

It takes just under two hours for the bus to travel the 75 miles from Esperanza to the border. Again, ignore anything that Google Maps might tell you as the border crossing: the bus actually turns off the main highway onto a gravel road that runs for a couple of miles to the Argentinian border post at Cancha Carrera. En route, look out for the red roadside shrine to Gauchito Gil, a 19th century Patagonian folk hero who has become venerated as an unofficial patron saint for the poor and travellers (Argentina’s long-distance truck drivers are often particular devotees). 

Argentinian border post at Cancha Carrera
The Argentinian border post at Cancha Carrera

On a good day, the border guards will breeze through processing everyone on the bus. After that, you get back on the coach for the ten-minute drive to the Chilean border at Cerro Castillo. 

Crossing into Chile

Border procedures for arriving into Chile are considerably slower than checking out of Argentina. One important point to note is that it’s not permitted to take any fresh produce over the border into Chile to avoid the entry of pests and diseases. As part of this, all travellers must fill out a SAG Affidavit 48 hours ahead of travel. It’s both quick and simple: on the link, click on ‘Iniciar tramite’ (‘start procedure’) and the rest of the form has a section in English to follow. You’ll be asked to show the completed form when boarding the bus so please do ensure that you are prepared.

The Chilean border post at Cerro Castillo

When you get stamped in, you’ll be given a tourist card (popularly known as a PDI), which you’ll need to keep hold of to be given to immigration when you leave Chile at the end of your trip. 

From the border it’s just a couple of hours to the Puerto Natales bus station (Terminal Rodovario), a far grander affair than its El Calafate equivalent. From here, it’s about two hours by bus or private transfer to the entrance to Torres Del Paine National Park at Laguna Amarga. Don’t forget to have some change ready to tip the bus company staff member who takes your luggage off the coach when you arrive.

Puerto Natales

The majority of travellers spend the night in Puerto Natales before travelling on. The cross-border buses arrive too late in the day to make the bus connection to Torres del Paine. If you are joining a tour, transfers from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine also typically run in the morning to avoid any potential problems with delayed international buses. 

Lazo Webber Hike in Torres del Paine
Next stop: Torres del Paine

If you are travelling in the opposite direction, buses depart early from Puerto Natales, so it’s recommended to spend the night in the city to allow you to make your connection. Note that travel from Puerto Natales gets you into El Calafate in the early to mid-afternoon. This means that if you’re planning to travel straight on to El Chaltén you’ll also need to overnight in the city to catch onward transportation the following morning. 

Although the bus trip isn’t quite as direct as you might hope when you first look at the map and see how close Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares are to each other, many people find the day spent travelling a good opportunity to catch up on some rest. Whether you’re travelling from El Calafate or Puerto Natales, it’s likely that you’ll have just done a few days of hiking among the big mountains, so the journey is a useful moment to push your seat back and rest your legs – and let the next set of mountains come to you. 


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Paul Clammer

Swoop Guidebook Editor

Paul came to Swoop after spending nearly 20 years researching and writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet.