Torres del Paine Park in Chile, description and photos

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine is a picturesque and impressive mountain range in Chile and a national park. 12 million years ago, retreating glaciers formed a bizarre landscape of granite towers and ledges, turquoise and emerald lakes. Staying in this national park will leave you with memories of beautiful mountain peaks, glaciers, icebergs, waterfalls, and wildlife. No matter how many days you visit, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous scenery and unforgettable moments.

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Video: Torres del Paine

Highlights

One of the main highlights of Torres del Paine Park is the great diversity of fauna: 118 species of birds (15 species of raptors) and 26 mammals (including guanaco, cougar, Andean deer, South American fox). Some of these species are very common (guanaco), others are endangered (Andean deer). The park covers an area of 2,420 km² and contains almost all of Patagonia’s landscapes – Patagonian steppe, Magellanic sub-polar forests, and Andean desert. Since hunting has been banned here for more than 50 years, wild animals are virtually unafraid of humans. Guanacos are among the most common mammals in the park. In addition to them, the park is the natural habitat of cougars, foxes, and the Chilean deer, which is in danger of being completely exterminated. The Chilean deer is depicted on the national coat of arms and is comparable in size to the hare.

Hurricane winds dominate the region in spring and summer, but the native vegetation is resistant to strong winds and harsh weather conditions and somehow survives in this inhospitable terrain. The park’s vegetation varies depending on the area of the park you are visiting.

The famous Scottish writer Lady Florence Dixie in her book “Through Patagonia” (1880) first described the area, in which three famous Towers called Cleopatra’s Needles (Cleopatra’s Needles are popular names for three ancient Egyptian obelisks, which were taken from Egypt and installed in Paris, London and New York in the 19th century). Following her in the next few decades, Torres del Paine was visited by several famous European scientists and explorers: Swedish polar explorer Niels Otto Gustav Norskiöld, Swedish botanist and Antarctic explorer Carl Scottsberg mountaineer, geographer and ethnographer Alberto-Maria de Agostini.

Torres del Paine was once home to several cattle farms (estancias); with the creation of the park in 1959, all estancias were moved to another area. Since then, the park has grown to its present size of 2,422 hectares (20% of the country’s national parks) and was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978.

Torres del Paine is one of Chile’s most popular national parks, with over 100,000 visitors a year. Despite a significant increase in visitors (in 1981 the park received only 5,000 people), it can hardly be called a visited park. For example, Yosemite National Park, with an area slightly larger than the Chilean park, receives about 5 million visitors, dozens of times more.

The best way to experience the magic of Torres del Paine National Park is to hike through its territory. The park offers many trails for day hikes, as well as two of the most famous trails – “El Circuito”, a 9-day hike around the mountain range of the Paine (Macizo Paine), and the most popular “W”, a shortened version of the first trail along the southern range of the Paine, which takes 5 days to hike. This park is a hiker’s dream, with many visitors finding great pleasure in hiking the park’s multi-day trails. Even those who visit the park on a day visit marvel at the beauty of its nature.

In addition to hiking excursions, there is fishing, rock climbing, glacier hiking, kayaking, horseback riding tours, and wildlife watching.

Torres del Paine Trails.

Trail W.

This trail is so named because hikers follow a W-shaped trail that runs along three valleys. This trail leads to the park’s main attractions – the Towers (Las Torres), the Horns (Los Cuernos), the French Valley (Valle del Frances), and Glacier Grey, meaning that in 4-5 days you can see all the main beautiful sites. The park’s infrastructure allows you to hike the entire W Trail while sleeping in cabins (refugios), eating hot meals, taking showers, and even ordering cocktails. The W Trail is the most popular hike, with many hikers making the trek, even without the necessary experience.

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Circuit Trail.

The Circuit Trail is less popular with hikers than the W because it is longer and requires an overnight stay in a tent at least twice. This trail is designed for physically fit hikers and includes several difficult hikes up and down steep, rugged terrain. Your efforts are rewarded with a variety of beautiful scenery, from steppe plains and winding rivers to dense ancient beech forests, snowy peaks, and, most importantly, the spectacular Glacier Grey glacier.

Should you hike just the W trail or take the entire circuitous trail? The answer to this question depends on time, experience, and stamina. You need about eight/nine days to complete the entire Circuit Trail, while the “W” takes four to five days. While you will definitely see more of the Circuit Trail and be spared the influx of tourists even during peak season, the W Trail allows you to see all of the park’s major attractions in a short amount of time.

All the trails in the park are clearly marked, so you don’t have to use a guide at all, you can hike them yourself without too much trouble. You can carry your own tent (or rent one), necessary food, and stay overnight at designated camping sites. In total, there are about 15 campsites in the park. If you do not want to carry everything you need with you (sleeping bag, tent, food), the W trail allows you to eat and sleep in cabins (refugios). During busy periods (December, January and February), there is not enough room in the cabins for everyone, so they must be booked in advance before your trip.

Attractions in Torres del Paine National Park

One of the main attractions of the park is the most famous peaks “Los Cuernos” (horns) and “Las Torres” (towers), each with three peaks. Rising from the prairie plains of southern Patagonia, the peaks of Los Cuernos and Las Torres are some of the most photographed sites in South America. Their shape has been largely “modeled” by the movement of glaciers and the force of wind.

Los Cuernos

The spectacular view has made Los Cuernos one of Torres del Paine’s most famous and popular formations. They can be seen from different angles from most vantage points in the national park. At over 2,000 meters high, Los Cuernos are an integral part of the W Trail, the most popular trail in the park. There is a campsite, a lodge, and you can buy food and stay overnight.

The Towers (Las Torres).

The famous towers have given their name to Torres del Paine National Park (Torres del Paine means “Blue Towers”) and have long been considered its main symbols. Three needle-shaped granite towers ranging in height from 2,600 to 2,850 meters are located in the northeast of the Paine massif, and there is a hiking trail to them. It is a popular spot among tourists and climbers, especially since 1958, when the Italian climber Guido Monzino climbed the North Tower.

It is possible to reach the foot of the towers on foot and return the same day. This would be the easiest thing to do. Some hikers make the trek in the evening, watch the sunset on the towers and stay overnight in a campsite near the towers. Then they go back again and watch the sunrise in the early morning as the red light illuminates the walls of the towers. The only trouble is that the weather is often cloudy, and for this reason there is a high risk of not seeing anything.

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Glacier Gray.

One of the most beautiful places in Torres del Paine National Park is Glaciar Grey, the most spectacular glacier in the park. Of the park’s four glaciers, Glaciar Grey is the most famous, largest, and most accessible. The glacier, 28 kilometers long and totaling 270 square kilometers, is part of the enormous South Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest in the world after Antarctica and Greenland.

Hiking on Glacier Gray is one of Torres del Paine’s most popular activities. The Puerto Natales Big Foot (which translates to “big foot”) tour company is the only operator authorized to conduct Glacier Grey Glacier tours. The tour includes descending to the glacier, walking on the glacier, exploring the ice caves, and ice climbing as a separate item. This company also arranges trips to the glacier by boat.

French Valley

Located in the middle of the W Trail, the French Valley (Frances Valle) is the most beautiful of all four valleys in Torres del Paine National Park. For some hikers, it is the most spectacular section of the trail. It offers beautiful panoramic views of huge granite walls, hanging glaciers, lakes, Los Cuernos and a valley covered with greenery and flowers.

Azul Lagoon.

Located at the entrance to Torres del Paine National Park, this beautiful lagoon (Laguna Azul) is surrounded by forest and mountains with rich flora and fauna. An ideal place to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of a beautiful corner of nature.

Practical information

Torres del Paine National Park is located 390 kilometers north of the Chilean capital of Patagonia, Punta Arenas. The town of Puerto Natales, 145 km away, is the closest settlement in this area, from which you can reach the national park by bus (the trip takes about 3 hours). Or you can go from the city of El Calafate with two changes in Puerto Natales (5-6 hours by bus) and Paine.

The entrance fee is 15,000 CLP per person for an unlimited number of days.

The best period to visit is from December to the end of February, summer in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the period of most favorable weather and long, bright days due to its proximity to the extreme southern latitudes.

The climate here is very unpredictable, even during the summer (December through February) you can experience the weather of all four seasons (snow, rain, sun). Unpredictable weather conditions are the reason that the mountain peaks are often shrouded in clouds, and such weather can last for hours and even days. Therefore, it is advisable to plan a visit to the park for a longer period of time to protect yourself from the vicissitudes of bad weather. Given the changeable weather, warm clothing is a must for anyone hiking in the park.

Torres del Paine National Park is dominated by high winds. In summer, even on sunny days, wind speeds can exceed 110 km / hour. Temperatures average +1 °C in winter and + 11 °C in summer.

The park has a free camping Torres (Campamento Torres), located 3.5 hours walk from the far entrance to the park. On the island of Lake Pejo is one of the most expensive hotels in the park, Hosteria Pejo, which costs $300-400 a night. But if you’re coming from Puerto Natales, Chile, it’s worth buying a supply of canned goods and other non-perishable foods, as food outages can happen.

Campfires in Torres del Paine National Park are strictly prohibited. In 2005, a tourist from the Czech Republic carelessly used a gasoline stove in high winds, causing a large fire that destroyed 12,000 hectares of the park for several days. The Czech tourist paid a $218 fine, the maximum penalty for the offense. The Czech Republic provided monetary aid to Chile to carry out reforestation in the park.

Torres del Paine

Stretching 4,630 kilometers from north to south, the country of Chile is full of amazing places: the alien Atacama Desert, the blooming vineyards of the central regions, the beautiful Lake District, the breathtaking Andes with the Carretera Austral road crossing them and, of course, the jewel of Patagonia, the Torres del Paine National Reserve. When I was planning my month-long road trip through Argentina and Chile, I couldn’t help but include it in my plan, because it is one of the most beautiful parts of Latin America!

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Covering nearly 2,500 square kilometers, the monumental mountain peaks, rushing rivers, majestic lakes, blue tongues of glaciers, and golden valleys where guanacos graze opened up before me.

How to get to Torres del Paine

The nearest town, the charming and cozy Puerto Natales (be sure to take a walk along the waterfront!) is 115 kilometers from Torres del Paine.

By car

Of course, the easiest way to get to the park is by car. You can rent one in Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, the capital of Chilean Patagonia. In Punta Arenas there are several branches of large rental agencies such as Hertz and Alamo with standard for Patagonia robbery rental conditions (from $ 65 a day for a small car such as Ford Focus and from $ 125 a day for an SUV). In Puerto Natales you can book a car through a good website, they only offer SUVs (from $125 per day).

I would highly recommend getting a bigger car and higher ground clearance. First of all, the park is mostly gravel, and all the time to worry about the bottom of a small car – to spoil the pleasure of rest. And secondly, very strong winds can be unpleasant and dangerous for lightweight cars.

When renting a car you will be asked for a driver’s license, an international license and a bank card to block the deposit.

By Bus

Of course, renting a car in Patagonia is expensive. A great way to save money is to take the bus, which departs from the station in Puerto Natales twice a day at 7:30 and 2:30 pm (arriving at the park entrance at 9:45 and 4:30 pm, respectively). The return bus leaves from the park administration building (Administation) at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. (stops at the park entrance at 2:30 and 7:45, and arrives in town at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.).

A round-trip ticket will cost about $22 (15,000 pesos), which can be purchased at the station or from the conductor.

Tour

It is possible to purchase a multi-day tour (usually offering five-day itineraries) in Punta Arenos or Puerto Natales (on site or in advance), which includes transfers, park ticket, overnight stay in comfortable refugios, meals, and a guide to accompany the entire itinerary. These tours start at $1,000 and average $2,000.

Things to do in Torres del Paine

In Torres del Paine, you don’t think about what to see; you think about stretching out the hours and minutes and seeing as much of the mind-blowing beauty as possible! Either way, whether you decide to take a day tour by car or go on a long ten-day trek, you won’t be disappointed.

Absolute must-see places to get to (I’ve highlighted the sites in purple on the map), even if you only have one day:

To get to Torres, you’ll have to walk about 5 kilometers from the nearest parking lot or lodging, which will take about 1.5 to 2 hours one way. But the view is worth the effort! Contemplating the sun-drenched or cloud-shrouded peaks, feeling pleasantly tired and breathing in the cleanest air is one of my best memories of the trip!

Grey Glacier is taken from the marina near the Lago Grey Hotel by catamaran for $80 (45,000 Chilean pesos) one way. It takes an hour and a half to get you to the site, ride alongside, and drop you off on the shore at the observation deck. A $100 (55,000 pesos) option will not only take you forward along the designated route, but also back to the starting point. The catamaran sails twice a day: at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. (check-in begins one hour in advance). Tickets are purchased at the pier.

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You can save money and walk to the shore of Gray Lake, which offers a great view of the glacier. And you can also catch and hold blue shards, which are carried right onto the shore pebbles. That’s where I found a heart-shaped ice cube.

You can reach the mountain peaks called Horns by car and see them through the windshield from the observation deck (mirador) – an excursion for the lazy :). The peaks rise up on the opposite side of a beautiful silent lake, the water of which is a mysterious milky blue shade. The peace and tranquility of the landscape is disturbed only by a brisk wind, rocking the car and taking away carelessly tied scarves.

Of course, I highly recommend having more than one day to explore the park – the stunning views can be spoiled by erratic weather. In that case, two hiking options are at your disposal:

  1. The shorter 4-5-day W-trek allows you to walk between Torres, Grey Glacier and the Horns, as well as admire the delightful French Valley. If you’re used to comfort, this is a great option – no special physical training is required for the trek, and you can stay overnight in well-appointed lodges (refuges).
  2. The long 9-10-day O-trek is essentially a big lap around the entire national park. It allows you to see aquamarine lakes, picturesque valleys, climb peaks and, if you are lucky, meet wild animals. Some preparation is highly desirable: you will have to climb the slopes, experience differences in altitude (up to 800 meters) and make long hikes. And don’t forget about the changeable and capricious weather. I decided to climb a low hill (about 400 meters high) that was marked as an easy walk on the map I was given. The ascent proved to be easy indeed if it were not for a brisk wind in one of the saddles that turned into a real wind tunnel! It was nearly impossible to breathe at such a high wind speed and it was very difficult to move. I had to bend over and push myself to the ground, because with every step the wind pushed me so hard that it almost took me off the ground! Also, it’s worth remembering that not all of the O-Trek has the option of staying under a roof – you’ll have to spend a few nights in tents.

But whichever way you choose to explore Torres del Paine, it won’t leave you indifferent!

The park is open from 8:30 to 8:30 p.m. and admission costs about $30 (18,000 pesos).

When to go to Torres del Paine

In these latitudes, even in summer (December to February) temperatures rarely rise above +10°C during the day and +3°C at night, and hurricane winds and occasional rain make travelers feel the harsh nature of Patagonia in its entirety. The wind in these places sometimes reached such speed (up to 100 km/h) and strength that it easily rocked my heavy red pickup truck. Because of this, even when the sun was clear, the temperature felt like +3-5 °C. So a visit to Torres del Paine from April to October is worth planning only if you are highly resistant to difficult weather conditions (besides, not all sections of the tracks will be open). The ideal time is February, the driest month of the year. I visited the park in the first decade of January and got caught in a couple of fine rains, which, however, didn’t last more than half an hour.

Since Torres del Paine is extremely popular with Chileans and residents of other Latin American countries, and most tourists visit just during the summer months, overnight accommodations will have to be booked in advance. This will require careful planning of the itinerary and day trips. However, don’t be afraid of being surrounded by crowds – the park’s vast area allows you to enjoy the beautiful sights to the fullest by yourself.

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What to take with you to Torres del Paine

Bordering on extreme weather conditions make it especially important to take care of your gear. Regardless of which type of travel through the national park you prefer, be sure to bring:

  • A warm ski suit and thermal underwear, as well as a hat, waterproof gloves and balaclava;
  • sunglasses and cream – there is plenty of ultraviolet light here;
  • comfortable shoes, ideally – trekking boots, so you can easily explore the most interesting and remote corners.

If you decide to hit the trails, all the necessary equipment – a tent, a sleeping bag, a burner and more – can be rented in Puerto Natales. A tent for two will cost about $5, and a sleeping bag will cost about $2 per night, which is almost half the cost of renting these things in Torres del Paine itself.

Where to eat in Torres del Paine

There are several small stores within the national park where you can buy snacks, bread, and drinks, three restaurants (all with mind-blowing views), and the option to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner at a refugio. All of these spots are marked on the maps that are given out when you buy your admission ticket.

Be prepared to be amazed at the prices. For example, a chocolate bar will cost $3 and a sandwich will cost at least $7. A meal at a refugio costs from $12 for breakfast and up to $25 for dinner. Restaurant prices are even higher: coffee will start at $5, lunch at $40, and dinner at least $60 without wine.

So it’s not surprising that many travelers buy supplies in Puerto Natales: there’s an excellent supermarket with prices several times lower. Cooking in the park is only allowed in designated campsites and open fires are strictly forbidden. It is because of such tourist fire and fierce winds that a terrible fire occurred in the park in 2011, in which almost a third of the vegetation of Torres del Paine was destroyed.

Where to stay in Torres del Paine

In Torres del Paine Park, travelers have the choice of staying in lodges or camping in tents. The first option includes six hotels with exorbitant prices (from $250 per room) and hostels with shared rooms called refugio/refugio. A bunk in such a room will cost about $30-80 per night. And for bed linen you will have to pay separately about $ 5 more.

Such inhuman cost forces many tourists to prefer tents. For a place in a camping also have to pay from $5 to $15. Here you can also rent a tent and a sleeping bag (about $10 and $5, respectively). The campsites have toilets and showers, but no power outlets. Camping outside the campsites is strictly forbidden for safety reasons – first, to protect humans from nature, and second, to protect humans from nature, because there are cougars and other carnivores in the park, and getting up against them at night is no picnic. Order is kept by park rangers, who constantly check the park. Violating the park’s rules can result in fines and expulsion from Torres del Paine.

And the latter would be much sadder than the former, because Torres del Paine falls in love with and makes you want to explore its every trail.

What’s the point of traveling halfway around the world?

To feel in the heart of the harsh and beautiful Patagonia, at the edge of the earth, in a country of hurricanes and sunshine, bottomless lakes and blue ice, golden plains and impregnable mountains, where inexpressible magic reigns! To see the Torres’ towers turn scarlet at sunrise. To see the wild horses go by shaking their ears. For you, like me, to catch your breath at the panorama of unspoiled nature. So that once and for all, desperately and irrevocably fall in love with this place, to which I want to return again and again.

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