The refugios of Torres del Paine are hostels inside the park and serve as points of rest and refuel after a long day’s hike. I didn’t know what to expect and for the most part, I found the refugios to be clean (as they can be given the amount of people who stay in them!) and I’m glad we booked early (in May 2018 for the November 9th trek with Chile Nativo). Some people in our ten person guided tour had to sleep outside in tents as beds were booked up (they booked about a month or two before we left).
The four we stayed at during the 5 day trek were:
Refugio Los Cuernos (we were supposed to stay in Domo Frances, which is one of the worst-reviewed places and further west on the trail but when we got to Los Cuernos, they had room and allowed us to switch!)
Of all the refugios, I think Paine Grande was my favorite. It’s one of the newest ones and it’s nicely decorated inside, huge, and cozy and the landscape of Los Cuernos in the back is breathtaking (see last pic below). The dinner here was also the best (juicy big piece of chicken) but the bathrooms were kind of terrible by the time we left in the morning. Paine Grande is different than the others as I think it’s owned by the government who leases it and operated by a private company. You’ll just notice the service is different. The other Refugios are run by private firms.
I also liked Torres Central—it’s a big beautiful cozy lodge with warm common rooms but I just thought the view of Los Cuernos at Paine Grande was the best view of any refugio. In terms of comfort and cleanliness though, Torres Central was the best. Torres Central was also the ONLY one of the four lodges that had personal closets for your bags/personal stuff (you need a lock to lock it though).
Refugio Los Cuernos was my least favorite. Although it was nice, the food wasn’t as good, the staff didn’t seem as friendly as the others, and the rooms and bathrooms were the smallest. We were also given sleeping bags to sleep here inside the beds as there’s no heating.
Refugio Grey was also nice, the staff was friendly and the rooms were clean and cozy and the food was good too.
Staying at the Refugios vs. camping is more expensive but includes all your meals. I’m not sure the price of each since we booked with a tour but it’s not cheap given the fact you’re sharing rooms and bathrooms with everyone else. But there are no other options so it is what it is, unfortunately.
General Characteristics of the Refugios (Here’s What to Expect)
Bring your own toiletries and towels. Even though a couple of them offered shampoo/soap, it didn’t mean it was always available. Only two of the four (Torres Central and Cuernos) had any soap for the showers. The bathrooms are cleaned certain times of the day (generally when everyone is out/sleeping) and hot water is also only available at certain times (generally after 5 pm). Towels were not always given.
Lights out at 10 pm (maybe a little later at others). This goes for electricity too so if you’re charging your phone, you might need to wait until the morning to finish up.
Dinner is served buffet-style or by meal times. There’s usually two meal times and you have to sign up for them. Our group sometimes had the early dining seating, sometimes later. Same with breakfast.
Water may/may not be available to fill up. For example on the first night, I was able to get water from the bar at Refugio Torres Central (they had a big water jug) but by the morning they ran out and wouldn’t offer anything for your personal bottle. Glacier water from the rivers and streams around the park is way better anyway but it’s so dry out there that having your bottle full is important! Bring electrolytes for added hydration!
Toilet paper must not be thrown in the toilet. As a result, the women’s room would stink after a few hours especially in the morning and late at night. It’s all thrown in the garbage, which may/may not be efficiently taken out (although the staff seems to try to keep up with it).
Any trash you take in with you into the park you’re expected to take out. The only trash cans that exist are the ones in the bathrooms so I would throw away the little litter I had in here. Trash is carried out by horses since there are no cars around either.
Hot water is a commodity but I never had any issue with getting a hot shower at any of the refugios. One shower you had to press every 90 seconds to keep the water going but otherwise I was able to take a decent shower at each refugio after every hike.
My trip was in November and while the refugios seemed full to me, not sure if they were. I never felt like it was overcrowded though. If you’re paying to tent outside, they set up the tents for you and provide everything but the tents may be a bit far from the bathroom areas. There were howling winds at night in a couple of the places we stayed at—not sure it’s pleasant to sleep in a tent but it is cheaper. I had bunk beds the whole time with my friends, anywhere between 4-7 people in a room. Co-ed as well. Bathrooms are not co-ed though.
Each refugio provides a bagged lunch. It was enough for me, I never ate any of the extra snack bars I brought on my own! It’s usually some kind of sandwich, and chocolate or sugary snack and fruit and/or cereal bars. Sometimes a juice as well. The best lunch was from Torres Central (and much needed for the long hike up to the Blue Towers) but don’t expect much. When you’re burning so many calories everything will taste good. Our sandwiches were either ham, turkey, or tuna. Breakfast was usually scrambled eggs with ham/cheese and cereal and yogurt and bread.
Pisco sours are delicious! The bars take credit card.
I loved the bar at Paine Grande as it had this amazing view of Los Cuernos.
Seeing a refugio towards the end of a hike was a great boost to finish. I remember on the fourth day, I was so winded but as soon as I saw the roof of Refugio Grey from half a mile away, energy surged back in my bones and I practically ran to finish the W trek the last 5-10 minutes of the hike.
Definitely book early if you want a bed at a refugio. My guess is most refugios only have about 30-50 beds.