It begins with forest. Thick, green southern beech surround you as you trek through upwards. Then, suddenly, you break through the treeline, exposing clear views of of pale glacial peaks and emerald colored lagoons. Three granite mountains stand proudly in the forefront, while glaciers at their bases feed ice-melt into the lagoon.
Welcome. You’ve arrived at Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, one of the world’s great trekking and mountaineering destinations. The mighty Torres del Paine mountains dominate the landscape (hence the park’s name). They oversee a nature lover’s paradise: flowing rivers, glaciers, blue lagoons, snow-blanketed mountains and shimmering alpine lakes.
And the best part is: you’ll see them all.
Trekking Routes in Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine’s most popular trekking route is the “W”. Named for the route’s shape, the “W” connects five points:
- Glacier Grey, a huge glacier which melts into Grey Lake.
- Refugio Pehoe, located on Lago Pehoe. This area provides stunning vistas of Torres del Paine.
- Valle del Francés (“Frenchman’s Valley”), which is the highlight for many trekkers. There are several small glaciers in this area.
- Hosteria las Torres, a large hotel situated at the base of a mountain.
- The Torres del Paine, three granite towers located high in the mountains.
Hiking the “W” takes five days; alternatively, you can hike the full circuit in 8-9 days. This full hiking guide is loaded with planning tips, and day-by-day summaries of the hike.
Once you’ve completed your trek, there are plenty of options available. Jump on a boat to the Ultima Esperanza Sound, where horseback riding and kayaking several lagoons awaits the adventurous.
Credit: Liam Q
Camping Vs. Refugios
Each point on the “W” offers campgrounds, which generally cost $6-10 for a site. For $14 a night, you can rent a tent, sleeping bag and pad. Another option are refugios, which are similar to hostels. The cost per bunk ranges from $40-58 per night. The main advantage to refugios is they allow you to travel lighter. Meals are also available at refugios.
When To Go
October, November and April (spring and summer in South America) are the best months to hike Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.
In early spring (October – November) temperatures range from 36-64°F (2-18°C), though heavy winds can make it feel much colder. Temperatures from January to April range from 41-68°F (5-20°C).
Weather is fickle; pack some warm and waterproof clothes.
Getting There & Around
International flights land in Santiago, Chile’s capital. Catch a connecting flight to Punta Arenas, then overland 249 miles (400km) to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.
Trekking routes can be hiked alone or in organized groups. Small hotels in the southern area offer shuttle service to various trail-heads; boats cross both Grey and Pehoe lakes.
- Mid-range accommodations: $6-10 camping; $40-58 in refugios
- Meals: $10-18 in refugios
- Bottle of beer: $2-4
- Park entrance: $33
- Book in advance. Refugios book up quickly, particularly in the high season. Booking ahead for camping isn’t necessary.
- Attend the meeting in Puerto Natales. It’s a great way to learn about weather conditions, packing, trail conditions, etc. Meetings held daily at 3PM.
- Bring trekking poles. They’ll save your knees and help keep your balance.
- Light fires. It’s prohibited throughout the park.
- Over pack. Extra weight kills the fun. Besides, most supplies can be purchased or rented at refugios along the way.
- Miss the wildlife. Over 40 types of mammals live here, including pumas, condors, flamingos, guanacos (llamas) and Patagonian gray foxes.
- Two explanations exist for Torres del Paine’s name. The word “Paine” means “pale blue” to the Tehuelche natives, which was thought to describe the blue lagoons. On the other hand, some claim it was named after a Welsh female climber named Paine. No one knows for sure which is correct.
- A small collection of mountains is called a “massif”.
- Glacier water is among the cleanest in the world, and can be drunk without treatment.
Feature Image Credit: bittencourtRUI