One of my all-time favorite places is Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chile’s Patagonia. Torres del Paine (which literally means “towers of blue”) is home to dramatic mountain scenery, glaciers, lakes, and wildlife, and the park’s geology is unique, as you can see both granite and sedimentary rocks throughout the area.
If you’re planning a trip to this incredible national park, following these helpful tips will make your adventure a success. Happy travels!
How to get to Torres del Paine
Torres Del Paine is about 70 miles north of the town of Puerto Natales and 194 miles north of Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas is the closest airport to the national park.
I flew into Santiago, Chile’s capital, where I stayed for a few days. I then took a 3.5-hour direct flight to Punta Arenas. From Punta Arenas, I took a three-hour bus ride to Puerto Natales, the gateway to the national park.
You then have the option of taking either Route 9 or route Y-290, the latter a gravel road to the Serrano entrance which is about 50 miles away.
What to see and do
Torres del Paine has several trails and is great for circuit- or day-hiking. You can also do a glacier hike on Grey Glacier. Climbing is another popular activity, along with kayaking, fishing, and horseback riding.
The park is home to the following mountains that you are sure to see as you traverse the length of the park: Torres del Paine, the Cuernos (the Horns), Paine Grande, the French Valley.
Lakes and rivers
Some of the lakes and rivers to see include Grey Lake, Pehoe Lake, Serrano River, Nordenskjold Lake, Salto Grande Waterfall, Paine River, and Toro Lake.
The park has several glaciers, including Grey Glacier (which you can also hike on), Dickson Glacier, French Glacier, Pingo Glacier, Zapata Glacier, and Tyndell Glacier.
Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
Hiking Torres del Paine might very well be one of the most popular activities to do in this park. Many people come to trek the popular Torres del Paine W Circuit, which is named after the shape of the route. It takes you to some of the most beautiful and iconic spots to be seen in the park.
You can also hike the O Circuit — which includes the W but also takes you farther out and farther away from people. The full circuit can take up to 10 days, while the W circuit took me 5 days.
If multi-day hiking is not your cup of tea, you can also indulge in day hikes to either Torres del Paine, Grey Glacier, French Valley, or the French Glacier.
Of course, the Torres del Paine (the Granite Towers) offer the most iconic view in Patagonia that everyone comes to see. And while this natural feature is part of the actual W Circuit, it’s also popular with day hikers. During the summer peak season, this trail teems with people.
The Grey Glacier is another fantastic day hike option, which includes a viewpoint from a higher vantage point and the option to go down to take a closer look.
The French Valley — or Valle de Frances — is also part of the W Circuit, but it can be done as a day hike and is interesting because you feel like you’re little more into the heart of the park. This hike gives you the chance to be surrounded by many of the towering peaks.
There’s plenty of wildlife to be spotted in Torres del Paine, including guanacos, hares, pumas and foxes. Pumas and foxes are rare, so don’t be disappointed if you aren’t able to spot one. You might also be able to catch a glimpse of the Andean Deer. I did see an Andean condor once, and there are plenty of other birds and animals that thrive in this area .
Know before you go
The weather in Torres del Paine can rapidly change, so be prepared and pack accordingly. I actually think I experienced winter (hail and snow), summer, and spring all in one day during my week at the park. It is essential to pack rain gear (I loved my rain pants and jacket from REI), a thicker jacket in case it snows, and thermals and gloves, as you never know how cold it can get.
While you technically don’t need a guide to hike around this park, in hindsight, I would recommend going with one. Guides provide tremendous insight into the area, and more importantly, it’s very comforting to have a guide at your side if there’s unexpected weather, such as snow on a trail.
For the summer, you will rarely see snow, and the trail signs are pretty clear, so you can do without a guide if you’re hiking in the peak season.
When to go
The popular time to visit Torres del Paine is between December to February. If you go during or just after December, you’ll enjoy long hours of daylight and warmer temperatures.
To avoid the crowds, I visited during late October and early November. Many times during my W Circuit trek, I was the only one on the trail, and it felt great to be able to enjoy this in solitude without hundreds of people around me.
Where to stay
As I was hiking the W Circuit in Torres del Paine, I booked accommodations in the refugios along the trails. The refugios offer accommodations in a mixed-dorm setting with shared bathrooms. Rooms have a capacity of six to eight people. I stayed in Refugio Paine Grande, Refugio Grey, Refugio Torre Central, Refugio El Chileno, and Refugio Los Cuernos.
You can also camp in the park at authorized campsites in Pehoe, Rio Serrano, Grey, Paine Grande and Dickson.
Torres del Paine is a treat to the senses and a gift to your inner explorer. To begin planning the perfect excursion, you can visit Acanela Expeditions.
Written by Preethi Chandrasekhar