In the middle of the Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine has been for years the hotspot for adventure and hiking lovers. I decided to visit this region and find out why.
Stretching over 1800 km², Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most magnificent places in the world. It’s located in Southern Chile and with outstanding peaks, crystal blue glaciers, lakes and rivers, travelers from all over the world come to this place to get in direct contact with nature and for a short moment, forget about everything else.
Visiting the End of the World
My journey started in Punta Arenas – a small town at the “end of the world”. Here, at the Chilean Antartica, flights coming from Santiago land several times a day with hundreds of tourists looking forward to seeing the beauty of Patagonia.
From there, most visitors go straight to Puerto Natales: A picturesque village located 4 hours north from Punta Arenas and considered for many as a base for most trips to Torres del Paine National Park. Here, at a small homestay in the city centre, I was able to arrange my itinerary, meet other travelers interested in visiting the park and prepare any last-minute arrangements before going into the wild.
Public buses and private shuttles depart daily early in the morning to Torres del Paine National Park. After several hours of plain tundra landscapes with some Andean mountains in the background, the imposing view of the Torres del Paine mountain range appeared on the horizon and it immediately became clear, why Torres del Paine is such a majestic place for mountain lovers. The size of these mountains made me realize how small I am, as the three famous towers of the national park were just three little fingers at the top of the site. This was the wild and natural scenery I expected – a view that looked like the masterpiece from a painter.
My time in the park was relatively short. However, as a landscape and adventure photographer, I turned Torres del Paine into my playground. The different colors of the wild nature formed asymmetrical spectacles of nature and with several short and long trekking routes all over the area, I was able to encounter all kinds of wildlife
Torres del Paine is not a budget destination. Chile is the most expensive country in South America and Patagonia can get as expensive as in most western European countries. Still, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and every day in the mountains was definitely worth.
One day, 5 days or a week?
You don´t have to spend a week at the park and camp in the outdoors to get a first-class seat seeing the beauty of Torres del Paine. With several tours operating daily from Puerto Natales and different options for trekking, a visit to Torres del Paine can be as comfortable and long as you want it to be.
Visitors can visit Torres del Paine National Park for a day trip and hike to see the famous three towers or do a day tour by bus around the park – the last one it´s a good option if you are not a good hiker, but at the same time you want to see the highlights of the park.
NOTE: To see the iconic three towers at Torres the Paine you need to hike! These are the most beautiful peaks in Chile and for many locals, they are even considered a national treasure. The hike to the base of the towers you will need 4-5 hours and it can be done in a single day.
On the other side, walking the popular “W” route has become an unofficial pilgrimage for adventure lovers. This is one of the most beautiful treks in the world and it can be done in only five days. For this trek, travelers can go as light as they wish. Campsites, also known as refugios, offer either places to set up your tent or small huts to rent.
NOTE: Camping is only allowed at specified campsites and wood fires are prohibited throughout the park. In 2011 an Israeli tourist destroyed around 5% of the park by causing one of the biggest wildfires in the history of Torres del Paine.
Finally, the full circuit or “O” route can be complete in 7 to 9 days. It goes all around the park and although it´s the most physically exhausting, the rewards are worth it. Visitors doing the full circuit will encounter the greatest number of species of fauna and flora, pass next to some of the most iconic mountains in the world and cross bright blue glaciers along the way.
NOTE: Since 2016, it is mandatory to book your refugio before entering the park. Refugios tend to get booked months in advance and can be very expensive depending on the season.
Alternatives to Torres del Paine National Park
Although Torres del Paine is by far Chilean Patagonia´s most known attraction, there are many other beautiful destinations for you to visit.
While most travelers opt to continue their journey to Argentina and visit the iconic Fitz Roy or the massive Perito Moreno glacier, the area surrounding Puerto Natales has several hidden gems for you to visit.
Bernardo O´Higgins National Park is the largest protected area in Chilean Patagonia and it´s also the home of some astonishing glaciers and natural formations. Visitors come here to visit the incredibly large Pío XI glacier or plan a day trip to the very beautiful Serrano and Balmaceda glaciers.
Tours to the Serrano and Balmaceda glaciers start from 80 EUR and with early departures from Puerto Natales, they are an inexpensive and pleasant alternative for a day trip outside Torres del Paine.
When to go:
The climate conditions at Torres del Paine are very unpredictable. Summer (December – February) offers the best weather during the year but expect to have all four seasons in a single day. This is also the high season and tours, campsites and any other arrangements should be organized way in advanced.
Temperatures during low season (February to May) can get a little bit chilly with glimpses of sun during lucky days. However, expect to have at least 1 day of showers if you are doing the W or O trek. At the same time, prices are way cheaper, and most arrangements can be organized some days in advanced.
Most campsites and tour companies are closed during winter. Some sections of the treks are also close due to bad weather.