Planning & Tips Travel Tips

What to expect in a Patagonian refugio

Refugio is the Spanish word for shelter, and this is exactly what they are to me. A place where hikers from across the globe can meet, share their experiences, eat together and find protection from bad weather.

After a long day of hiking, giving your all and carrying a heavy pack, it’s always nice to find refuge. You have the reward of a cold beer, a hot shower, a warm nutritious meal and a comfortable bed to get some well-needed rest (in exactly that order for me). The great thing is, you get all of this in a refugio, without needing to leave the park, or even the trail!

Me on the trail to Las Torres viewpoint

Based on my experiences as a guide in Patagonia, both on the ground and in trip logistics from an office, here are my tips about what you can expect from this kind of accommodation.

The dorms

Refugios tend to be made up of shared dormitories with bunk beds. These dorms usually accommodate either four or six people. In Torres Del Paine, the Cuernos Refugio stands out with its quirky feature of having two three-story bunk beds, which can make nighttime bathroom visits an adventurous endeavour, involving navigating ladders both up and down.

When staying in these dorms, you can leave your backpack next to your bed. If you have valuable items such as a camera or money, it’s wise to keep them inside your backpack with limited access. Some refugios provide lockers in their dorms, so having a small padlock on hand can be useful.

It’s important to carry your passport with you at all times during the hike, as it’ll be requested at each refugio, and a copy made. Failure to provide your passport may result in having to pay VAT. While Patagonia, and especially Torres del Paine, are generally safe, it’s best not to take unnecessary risks.

Keep in mind that the refugios turn off electricity at night, so it’s a good idea to have a headlamp or use your phone’s flashlight for easy access when you need to use the restroom during the night. Also, be aware that tired hikers may snore more than usual, so carrying earplugs can significantly improve your rest and recovery for the following day.

Refugio dorm

The food

Your stay at the refugios includes full board, which means dinner, breakfast, and a box/packed lunch for the following day.

Breakfast will likely be bread with ham, cheese, marmalade, scrambled eggs, porridge or cereal, as well as tea or instant coffee. If you’re particular about your morning coffee, consider bringing your own, as instant coffee is common here – in Chile, we love Nescafé!

Lunch includes a substantial sandwich, fruit (usually an apple or orange), dried fruit, and a cereal bar, providing sufficient sustenance for a day of hiking.

Dinner consists of a satisfying three-course meal, often accompanied by a salad. The portions are typically generous, allowing you to refuel after a long day of hiking.

Refugio food

If you’ve got specific dietary restrictions, such as gluten-free or vegan, make sure to tell us in advance so we can make sure you will be taken care of. Some travellers choose to bring some extra food with them but that is down to personal preference. While there’s always a vegetarian option available and you won’t go hungry, it won’t be the most imaginative food you ever eat. 

For additional snacks, each refugio has a mini-market with a range of groceries, from chips/crisps to canned goods, pasta, and cookies. You’ll also find soft drinks, beer and boxed wine, which is surprisingly good! Plus, every refugio has a bar where you can enjoy a bottle of wine or of course a famous Pisco Sour (don’t miss out). 

Don’t worry about carrying cash as credit card payments are accepted at all these establishments.

The showers and toilets

All nine refugios within Torres del Paine National Park have hot showers. In most of these, the showers are separate from the toilets. I suggest bringing a pair of flip-flops or crocs as the floors can get wet and it’s easier than trying to change back into socks and hiking boots. While some refugios may rent towels, it’s generally better to bring your own travel one – we recommend a quick-drying microfibre towel.

Refugio bathrom

When it comes to toiletries, I try to use eco-friendly or nature-friendly products, considering the park’s pristine environment. Talking of which, take a look at our video guide to minimising your impact in Patagonia for more tips.

Throughout your entire stay in Torres del Paine, and indeed in Patagonia, it’s essential to dispose of toilet paper in the provided bins. The region lacks proper sewage systems and improperly disposed of paper can have significant environmental consequences.

The common areas

The common areas, which may be a living room or just a dining room, serve as excellent places to relax after returning from a hike, perhaps with a refreshing cold beer while enjoying the scenery.

Communal area at Refugio Cuernos

If you need to charge any electronic devices, this is the ideal time and location to do so. The only available electrical outlets are in the common areas. Therefore, please consider this upon your arrival, as it can occasionally happen that all the outlets are in use later in the evening.

In the common areas, you can also linger after dinner, sharing your travel stories with fellow travellers, engaging in discussions with your guide, and catching up with the rest of your travel group. Meeting likeminded people who share my passion for hiking and the outdoors is one of my favourite things about staying in refugios and it’s definitely worth making time for a chat before retiring to your bunk.

Three top refugios on the W Trek

Every refugio is a little different in terms of access, infrastructure, facilities, food and service but here are three of my favourites from hiking the W Trek.

Refugio Paine Grande

Refugio Paine Grande: The largest refugio in Torres del Paine with stunning mountain views. The team make great cocktails and it’s funny to watch from the bar as people run to catch up with the catamaran that drops fellow travellers on the doorstep.

Refugio Cuernos

Refugio Cuernos: The most remote of the W Trek refugios, accessible only on foot or by horse due to its cliffhanger location. You can’t beat sitting at the bench in front of the main window with a drink (cold or hot) and enjoying the majesty of the Cuernos.

Refugio Grey

Refugio Grey: A very comfortable resting place with a cosy living room and terrace. The only refugio where you can blend forest and lakefront while only a short walk from the Grey Glacier viewing point.


Want to know more? Swoop Patagonia has years of trekking experience and bedding down in refugios: if you’ve got any questions, get in touch and we’ll get you on the trail in no time.

Isidora Cruz, customer experience coordinator at Swoop Patagonia

Isidora Cruz

Customer Experience Coordinator

Isi lives in Matanzas in Chile and is a customer experience coordinator at Swoop Patagonia. She worked for eight years as a trekking guide across the region (and specialising in Torres del Paine) before moving into operations and logistics, so she is perfectly placed to help prepare you for a Patagonia adventure of your own.