Torres del Paine National Park Trails:
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park Overview
Even if you don't know the name Torres del Paine, chances are you'd still recognize the granite spires that tower over this 927-square-mile Chilean national park. This visual siren song—a stretch of the Andes dubbed the Cordillera del Paine—sits at the center of the park, which also boasts glaciers, lakes, a network of rivers, and a series of steep valleys that separate the vertiginous peaks within southern Patagonia. It has lured trekkers for decades—and with good reason. The park remains both on the radar and yet still wild and remote. You might not be the only explorers here, but you're all likely to be silenced by the park's natural grandeur.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is in the Ultima Esperanza Province of Chile, between the Andes Mountains' massif and the steppes of Patagonia. Torres means "towers" and paine means "blue," a reference to the blue hue of the park's glacial lakes and its four main glaciers, which are connected to the Southern Patagonia Icefield. The city of Punta Arenas, a four-hour flight from Santiago, serves as the central Torres del Paine hub. From there, catch a three-hour bus ride to Puerto Natales and then let your interests dictate the way you access the park, from the luxe (sailing) to the DIY (hopping another bus to one of the three entrances).
Considering the planes and buses and boats you need to get to the park, we heartily recommend carving out at least ten days for the trip—two weeks ideally, especially if you plan on heading into the backcountry. Loads of tour operators offer guided multi-day treks, but going it solo—especially during the summer peak season—is fairly easy; the trails are well marked, maps abound, and there will be loads of fellow hikers. The most popular route is the 46-mile W Circuit, named after the zigzag shape the trail follows. The four- to six-day trek exposes you to several of the park's famed landmarks, including Lake Nordenskljöld, Paine Horns (Cuernos), Paine Towers (Torres), Paine Grande, Grey Glacier, and the Southern Patagonia Icefield. If you are up for a bigger challenge, tackle the full Paine Circuit, which includes the W. It's about 93 miles long and should take seven to 11 days to complete. Whichever circuit you choose, there are refugios (or lodges) and campgrounds along the way. Refugios operated by Fantastico Sur are a good choice; they boast lovely architecture and spectacular views. You can also choose to camp in any of the designated sites throughout the park (no backcountry camping is permitted, however). The right gear is essential, as the weather can be harsh even during the summer; precipitation is always a possibility, and winds can gust at more than 62 miles per hour. Food in the park is expensive, so bring your own if you want to save money and can handle the load.
You can also explore the park on horseback, which will allow you to go beyond the trekking trails. Other activities in the park include sailing, kayaking, and fly-fishing. There's at least one tour operator for each activity, so you can have the assurance of a guide if you want it. Regardless of where or how you access the park, wildlife abounds, including pumas, guanacos (lama-like creatures), Andean condors, black-necked swans, and Chilean flamingos.
If you want a comfortable stay, spring for a cushy hotel. The park even has five-star accommodations at the Explora. Hotels typically organize daily tours and expeditions of the park's main attractions.
Torres del Paine is open year-round, but the best time to go is during spring and summer, which stretches from December through March; it's also when the chance of precipitation is lowest. Anticipate temperature highs around 68 degrees, with lows around 36. If you go in the fall (April through June), temps can range from 32 to 50 degrees. If you go in the winter (July through September), they'll range from 28 to 43 degrees—or colder if you reach higher elevations. And the sun is intense year-round, so proper protection is essential.
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