Torres Del Paine National Park Tours and Travel Guide
Torres Del Paine National Park Attractions & Landmarks Guide
In Chilean Patagonia is an other worldly landscape of ice fields, rocky cliffs, and granite peaks. This is Torres Del Paine National Park, which is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Chile. With diverse wildlife, multiple hiking trails, and countless opportunities for incredible photos, it's any outdoor enthusiasts dream.
Not only is Torres del Paine National Park a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, it’s now the eighth wonder of the world. Its striking countenance and rugged landscape woos adventure travelers who seek majestic glaciers, turquoise waters, uncommon flora and fauna, rushing rivers, Chilean lenga forests and vast pampas.
Within this privileged landscape, there are miles of marked trails and countless opportunities for lodging (from the rustic to the luxurious), making it an accessible and enjoyable destination for any level of outdoor enthusiast.
Torres del Paine Trekking Circuits
1. “O” Circuit - Topping many an avid adventurer's bucket list is the lengthy “O” circuit in Torres del Paine, which takes, on average, eight days to complete and extends for nearly 60 miles. It’s certainly the most challenging trek in the Torres del Paine and yet, with the right Chile tour company, those who are in excellent shape can easily tackle it.
Depending on how independent one wishes to be, there are Torres del Paine tour companies that fit the bill - bring all your own gear and food, and a good map, perhaps checking in with a guide at the beginning for sound advice … or opt for a less arduous (and cumbersome) undertaking and travel with a tour company that provides tents, sleeping bags, food, equipment and guide services.
The “O” circuit starts at Laguna Amarga at the main Torres del Paine park entrance, continuing to the Las Torres sector and on to Seron Campsite. From here, the vista is nothing less that heavenly, dotted with ancient glaciers and lenga forests. The second day brings a higher difficulty rating as you continue to the Dickson shelter and then through the Paso John Gardner at nearly 4,000 feet above sea level. Subsequent days bring you to Los Perros Campsite, Grey Glacier, the French Valley and ultimately, the Las Torres base, where you’ll finally see those iconic massifs of the park - cross your fingers for clear skies.
2. “W” Circuit - Seeking one of the most scenic treks in the world, yet have modest time constraints and are reasonably in shape? Consider the “W” Circuit in the Torres del Paine, a celebrated route that lasts just four days yet lands you within striking distance of Grey Glacier (the southernmost tip of the Chilean Patagonia’s Southern Icefield), French Valley and the three imposing Las Torres (and the stunning turquoise lagoon in front of them) for which the park is famous.
It’s an epic trek all wrapped up in a tidy package that won’t eat up a month’s worth of vacation time and is just as memorable and striking as tackling the whole “O” Circuit. Along the way, take a scenic ferry ride on Lake Pehoé, trek around Lake Nordenskjold and photograph unique forests, rushing rivers and a variety of flora and fauna, including 26 different mammal species (look for the elusive puma and the more oft-glimpsed guanaco).
One of the many upsides of working with an expert Torres del Paine tour company is the hoops through which they’ll jump for you with regard to trek routing and park permits. With the high demand for time on the park’s trails, reservations must be made well in advance for the camps and mountain shelters in order to protect natural resources.
It’s a lot to navigate on one’s own, especially from far away, so a tour company well versed in Torres del Paine and its hiking and camping requirements, as well as its geography, will mean a safer, more pleasant trip overall. Plus, depending on the tour company, everything from accommodations and food to professional guide services, transfers and entrance fees will all be included in your cost.
Top Landmarks in Torres del Paine
1. The Torres - The most iconic symbol of Torres del Paine National Park, this triad of towers is really what you came for, right? Consider working with your chosen tour company to get a view of the granite massifs at sunrise (many stay at Campamento Torres for this purpose). However, any time of day or evening is going to be unforgettable.
2. Southern Patagonia Icefield - Absolutely massive at 4,773 square miles, the Southern Patagonia Icefield crosses the regions of Aysen and Magallanes and feeds dozens of glaciers, including Perito Moreno in Argentina, and the XI Glacier, O’Higgins, Grey and Tyndall in Chile. Intrepid explorers have successfully navigated the icefield (combined with the Northern Icefield) longitudinally, but for the rest of us, it’s best to set our sights on the impressive Grey Glacier, accessible by catamaran, bringing you right up to its daunting walls of ice, or from a more remote vantage point on Lake Grey.
3. Milodon Cave National Monument - Close to Puerto Natales, this majestic cave mustn’t be overlooked for its prehistoric findings. It wasn’t until 1895 when the German pioneer Hermann Eberhard shared his discovery of the site and remains that would later be identified as prehistoric Milodon people - believed to have been seeking shelter from the region’s wild and unpredictable weather and hungry wildlife.
4. Grey Glacier - Sit back and take in the awe-inspiring views of Grey Glacier from the shores of its namesake lake, or venture out from the lake’s black-sand beach by boat to get ever closer to this, the biggest glacier in Torres del Paine National Park. The striking white, the mystical blues, the icebergs, the rugged rock - you’ll be magnetically pulled to reach out and touch it.
5. Sarmiento Lake & Armaga Lagoon - The deep blue of Sarmiento Lake is mesmerizing, the wind never seems to die down and the shoreline is home to living calcium carbonate fossils that started to form with the last ice age - about 10,000 years ago. Walk two more hours from here to Amarga Lagoon and continue your living history lesson - along the way, spot red fur guanacos, eagles, a flock of flamingos and, perhaps, a puma.
6. Salto Grande (Big Jump) - Don your warmest coat, hat and waterproof pants before your trip to Salto Grande waterfall, bordering Pehoe Lake. The water flows from Lake Nordenskjold and makes for a mesmerizing 33-foot-high waterfall - you’ll soon forget the strong, cool wind and mist as you’re drawn in by the hypnotic rushing waters.
7. French Valley - Walk, walk and walk some more through the gorgeous French Valley - it’s doable by practically anyone in relatively good shape and with the right wind and rain attire and sturdy shoes. There are steep areas, yes, and those covered in snow, but with a knowledgeable Torres del Paine tour guide, you’ll be prepped and ready for everything the valley throws your way.
Cross through lenga forests and open areas, ultimately reaching the French Lookout, where the vista includes Paine Grande, the park’s largest mountain range and the mighty French glaciers (which, if you’re lucky, is calving mighty icebergs as you watch).
Weather in Torres Del Paine
The one constant about the weather in Torres del Paine is that it’s constantly changing. To capitalize on sunshine, plan your trip for January or February - but be aware that the rest of the world reads this same suggestion. December is typically still heavy on the sunshine and lighter on the tourists, so consider a visit then if you’re looking for less congestion on the most popular hiking trails.
Overall, October through April - spring and summer in the southern hemisphere - is what you want to aim for. After April, the cold temps start to settle in … and we mean, cold! Wind is a big factor in most areas of the park - in the French Valley, it can gust up to 60 miles per hour. As long as you’re dressed appropriately, that shouldn’t ever be an issue. Which brings us to our next point … what to pack.
What to Pack for a Torres del Paine Tour
A good Torres del Paine tour company will be able to provide you with a complete packing list, often with very specific instructions for clothing and gear. Depending on how independent your travel will be, here is a starting point. Do keep in mind that it’s wise to just pack exactly what you need and leave the extraneous at home, particularly since you’ll be moving around quite a bit to take full advantage of the sprawling park.
A quick aside: Should you worry about drinking the water in Torres del Paine? Thankfully, no. Take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fill your water bottle from the free-flowing streams coming directly from the glacier - surely cleaner than any bottled water!
Here are the top things to pack for your next Torres del Paine tour:
-Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots
-Hiking pants, perhaps the kind that zip off to shorts at the knee, and/or hiking shorts
-Long-sleeved synthetic tops
-Short-sleeved synthetic t-shirts
-Rain gear (jacket and pants)
-Water- and windproof parka
-Medium-weight fleece jacket
-Long thermal underwear top and bottoms
-Athletic shoes for camp
-Casual city clothes and shoes
-A waterproof backpack
-Warm, waterproof gloves
-Wool hiking socks
-A basic first-aid kit
How to Get to Torres del Paine
For a region seemingly so rugged and remote, it’s actually fairly straightforward to get to Torres del Paine National Park once you’re in South America. From Santiago, nonstop flights of about three-and-a-half hours bring you to Punta Arenas. Continue the journey by public bus running from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. Then, during the high season, visitors may hop on one of two daily busses that travel for two hours to Torres del Paine.
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