Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park represents the pride of the Chilean natural protected areas and is a symbol of environmental conservation other than an unmissable place to visit during your travelling to Patagonia. It is located in the northwestern corner of Ultima Esperanza province in the Magallanes y Artartica Chilena region within a 100km (60 miles) from the city of Puerto Natales. Being the most visited National Park in Chile it is not the biggest, even though it includes circa 223.000 hectares of protected Magellanic Sub-antartic forest, Patagonia Shrubland and the Patagonian Steppe; together with the hidrological system of Paine river which creates on its way towards the Pacific Ocean beautiful and pristine body of waters like Dickson, Nordenskjold, Pehoe and Toro lakes. The western flank of Torres del Paine National Park includes and protects part of the Southern Patagonia Icefield embedding glaciers like Grey, Dickson, Pingo and Tyndal. Find all the useful informations to get the best out of your hiking Torres del Paine trip.
Hiking the W
The W Trail is the most popular multi-day circuit of Trekking in Torres del Paine National Park. It takes its name from the W shape you get when you draw the itinerary onto a map of the park and can be completed in 4 to 5 days. Walking Torres del Paine W Trek allows to visit the most iconic mountains and lakes of Torres del Paine located in the southern flank of Paine Mountain Range such as Almirante Nieto, Cuernos del Paine, Paine Grande and the world renowned Torres del Paine. The trails are moderate-to-easy, well trodden and signed and can be walked either with a local guide or self-guided. Accomodations are plenty and beautifully located such as Paine Grande Lodge, Refugio Grey, Refugio Los Cuernos and Cabins and Torre Central Mountain Lodge, although a bit complicated to book and that's why we suggest you to contact a local company to arrange that. For those on a budget campsites are also available in the same locations and meals can be arranged inside the Mountain Lodges.
Patagonia O Trek
Undoubtedly one of the best trekking circuits in South America and surely the most epic of Patagonia; also known as O Circuit or Torres del Paine Full Circuit, this seven-to-eight-day trekking journey leads you to the backyard of Torres del Paine National Park in lesser visited areas like Paine and Dickson lakes as well as Los Perros and Dickson glaciers, offering you the chance to complete a full trekking itineray around Paine Mountain Range therefore leading you to walk along the W-trek paths. Torres del Paine O Circuit is a more strenous journey compare to the one mentioned above, mostly due to the fact that you need to endure more hiking days rather than having higher elevation gains or distances to cover (as a matter of fact the hike to the Base of the Towers is most likely the toughest trail in Torres del Paine and it's part of the W-Trail). Most likely the best part of this itinerary is the trail which leads to John Garner Pass (circa 1250m) and beyond with spectacular and unique views of Grey Glacier and part of the Southern Patagonian Icefield. As one of our guests said: "[...] the view at the top of the Pass was easily the best I have ever seen in my life!"
Torres del Paine Day Hikes
For those who are less eager to tackle a multi day trekking program but still want to enjoy hiking in Torres del Paine, possibilities are plenty and the views are second to none of those experienced along the W-Trail or the O-Trek. The only road that crosses the National Park can be use to drive to various trailheads allowing you to enjoy different prospective of the mountains. In the eastern section of the park you can drive to Laguna Azul for a 2-to-3-hour half-day hike to the Sierra Masle lookout from where the Towers do really like the "Cleopatra Needles" mentioned by lady Florence Dixie, one of the first "tourist" visiting the area in 1879. Moving closer to the core of the park you've got Los Cuernos lookout trail and the waterfall of Salto Grande, and within a 15-minute drive you get to the trailhead of Mirador Condor which granted you with one of the best vistas of Paine Massif. Towards the west as you move closer to Grey lake you can hike along the lake's shore to the Mirador Lago Grey in order to have a far glimpse of Grey glacier, or if you want something more intense why not trying the trail to Mirador Ferrier, a steep and strenous path rewarding you with vistas of the western flank of Torres del Paine National Park and its lakes.
Off the Beaten Track
These are excursions that can only be performed with a Certified Guide of the National Park since you do need a permit from the Park Rangers (CONAF), a VHF-Radio and a GPS-tracker in order to be in contact with the authorities in case of emergency due to the fact that nobody patrols these trails ever. These off the beaten path trails are those ones who bring you to the so-called Hidden Valley of Torres del Paine such as the Silence Valley, Bader Valley and Pingo area. The first two are accessible from the W-Trek and therefore can be walked as an extension of such a trekking program, whereas Pingo sector is worth exploring on its own for a 3-to-4-day program in order to visit Zapata lookout and its vistas of Tyndal and Pingo glaciers as well as hunting for the 150-milion-year fossils of Ichtiosaurious which have been discovered and studying since the year 2009 by the Chilean University of Magallanes and the German University of Heidelberg.
Puma (Puma concolor concolor)
Puma or Mountain Lion is the apex predator of the region, relying on preys like juvenile or adult Guanacos, Hares, Huemul deers and Upland geese. Historically the conflict between humans and pumas represented a major threat for the survival and reproduction of these elusive and solitary feline; however the introduction of new regulations and creation of buffer areas for the hunting grounds of these carnivores have allowed their population to recover and actually increasing in the last three decades.
Nowadays in the eastern sectors of Torres del Paine such as Laguna Azul, Laguna Amarga and Lago Sarmiento encounters with these evasive cats are becoming increasingly popular and recently female pumas have been seen raising up to four cubs at a time.
Andean Fox (Lycalopex culpaeus)
The Mountain Fox or Andean Fox is one of the two species of the genus Lycalopex that can be found in Torres del Paine National Park, being the smaller cousin, the Grey Fox or Pampa Fox, more common in the neighbouring areas of the park.
The Andean Fox is the second largest hunter in Torres del Paine, commonly being an opportunistic predator, its diet is based on hares, rabbits, small rodents and birds. Common encounters with this species happen during our hikes to the French valley or the Base of the Towers, since its natural habitats is represented by the Nothofagus forest.
Guanaco (Lama guanicoe)
Guanaco is a native South American camelid, the unique of the four species that can be spotted in Torres del Paine National Park. It can be found extensively walking and grazing around the park and being the biggest herbivorous mammal in the park makes it the favourite prey for Pumas. Actually a healthy Guanaco population leads to a healthy natural ecosystem in the Patagonian Steppe.
Guanacos live in herds of 20-to-30 individuals socially organize with an alpha male dominating the numerous females and the juveniles (called chulengos in the region). These are steppe animals therefore easy to spot and photograph when driving around the park and not along trails, although sometimes we've got some rare encounters on the paths.
Huemul Deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus)
For somebody the Huemul can be just "a deer" atlhough it's something more than that. This skittish and Critically endangered Andean deer has seen in the last century its population wiped due to hunting activity, desease from livestock and loss of habitat; therefore a sight of this wary herbivore has to be taken as something special.
Huemul's habitat is the native Nothofagus forest, thus a close encounter with them can be possible in the quiteness of our off-the-beaten-track programs especially aorund Pingo valley in the western sector of Torres del Paine. The Huemul is the national animal of Chile and it's represented together with the Condor in the country's coat of arms.
Andean Condor (Vultur griphus)
Condors are voltures native from South America that can be found flying all along the Andes. It's one of the biggest bird of the world second only to the Wandering Albatross in its wingspan which can get as up as to 3,2 meters; ther are primarily scavangers thus feeding on carrions such as guanacos, hares or livestock carcasses therefore playing an important role in the whole food chain as bottom cleaners.
We're most likely to see them soaring around the high cliffs of Torres del Paine such as near Cerro Peineta or Nido de Condor as well as in the French Valley, lake Nordenskjold and Grey. On our Torres del Paine Hiking program we guide you on a dedicated half-day trip to a lookout to view these magnificient birds at a close range.
At the extreme southern latitudes of Torres del Paine National Park seasons change very drastically giving an interesting variation to the landscape, flora and fauna behaviour. Daylight also varies a lot from the 18 hours at the end of December to the less than 9 hours at the end of June; seasons are shifted six months compare to the northern hemisphere.
Torres del Paine in Spring (September to November)
Spring means the return of life after the long nights of winter months, the snow starts melting in the upper part of the forest and a new cycle begin again. In September the first new leaves start to sprout although it's still possible to find snow above the tree line like in the trail to Base Torres for instance. October is when the calafate and guanaco bushes begin to bloom with nice and tiny yellow and pale orange flowers, guanacos split again in small herds with the females almost ready to give birth to the new calves; refugios are fully operative and we can start to hike the W-Trail whereas the Full Circuit is still closed and can only be performed with a Certified Guide as a fully backpacking experience (like we did with Rachel and Dec in 2018). Then November comes full of life and colours, this is the best month for wild flowers (the fire bush is in fully bloom season) and orchids lovers (yes, there are more than 10 species of endemic wild orchids in Torres del Paine!!!) and also wildlife thrive. Chulengos, the guanacos calves, are born normally around the third and fourth week of the month, as well as foxes, skunks and pumas, although we don't see the cubs around until 40-to-50 days after their birth. November coincides also with the arrival of strong winds which continues during the summer months.
Torres del Paine in Summer (Dicember to February)
Summer is the busiest season as the Christmas holidays approach and daylight gets to its maximum length (the end of Dicember); trails get quite busy especially from mid-December to mid-January and sometimes it's hard to find availability in the Refugios. However as Christmas holidays are over January and February are two beautiful months for wildlife watching and hiking. This is a great moment of the year to hike Torres del Paine Full Circuit when the John Garner pass is completely free of snow and the contrast between the green lush forest and the pure turquoise of the ice is spectaculer. For photographer is a good moment for spotting and photograph the puma cubs that start to walk out from their den with the mother.
Torres del Paine in Fall (March to May)
Fall is undoubtely the best season for Patagonia photography as well as for hiking and trekking. Gettin to the mid/end of March the power of the Wind starts to weaken and the Magellanic forest, mainly composed by decidous species, begins to change into yellow, orange and reddish hues during the whole months of April. Days get shorter and temperature cooler, giving the sunlight a unique property which leads to stunning sunrises and sunsets, a paradise for photographers. Less hikers are around on the trails and it is not uncommon to trek alone even on the W-Trek in which the Ascencio and the French Valley become spectacularly peaceful. A season not to be missed!
Torres del Paine in Winter (June to August)
By the end of May winter is at the doors, there is peacefulness and some sort of a strange feeling in the air; windless Patagonia is weird. Snowflakes start to fall and to cover first the upper part of the forest and by the end of June the lower areas around the lakes and the steppe. Guanacos gather in bigger herds and move to drier areas of the park and pumas move down from the hills into lower locations; most of the birds have already migrated, such as the Chilean flamingo for instance and Paine Mountains get covered with their white veil which will stay still until next spring. Accommodations are limited during this months and Refugios are normally closed, daylight reaches its minimum at the end of June as temperatures drop below zero during the night. July and August are good months especially for day hikes where you can stay at a hotel in the park or in Puerto Natales driving back and forth for unique winter pictures.
When to GO
How to Get to Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine National Park is located in a remote corner of a the most remote region in Chile, therefore getting there takes time, patience and effort. Here we share our experience and knowledge to minimize you travelling time thus maximizing your experience during your travel to Patagonia.
Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park
The town of Puerto Natales, which is where we live, is located 100km (approx 60 miles) from the park's main entrance. There are regular scheduled departures twice a day (7:00 and 14:30) from the town bus station as well as private transportations which are always included in our excursions.
Torres del Paine Airport
Airport "Teniente Julio Gallardo" is the closest to you final destination, located in the vicinity of Puerto Natales. Since 2016 there have been an increase in scheduled direct flights to connect Santiago with the region, however these options are available only during the late spring and summer months, normally between November to the end of March. It's a 10 minutes ride from the airport to the town centre, where you can find accommodations, restaurants and private/pubblic transportations to get to Torres del Paine.
Santiago to Torres del Paine
Santiago, the capital of Chile, is regularly connected with its growing international airport "Arturo Merino Benitez" with major North American cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Huston, as well as with South American major hubs (Buenos Aires, Bogota, Sao Paulo, Lima, etc..), Europe (Paris, Amsterda, Frankfurt, London, Rome, Madrid, etc..) and Australia (Sidney and Melbourne).
There are two possibilities to fly into the region of Magallanes:
- direct option Santiago - Puerto Natales thus landing at Torres del Paine Airport
- more frequent flights Santiago - Punta Arenas, from Punta Arenas airport regular pubblic buses ply the route to Puerto Natales (two an half hours trip) every hour without the need to catch a cab to the city centre. We can easily arrange that bus ticket if you let us know your flight landing time.
Argentina to Torres del Paine
Reaching Torres del Paine from the neighbouring town of El Calafate in Argentina may be done in two ways:
- direct trip from El Calafate to Torres del Paine National Park. There are a couple of tour agencies (Always Glaciers or South Road) in El Calafate which organize photographic day tours to Torres del Paine; it's usually done as a round trip although you can arrange to be drop off at the park's entrance in Laguna Amarga continuing exploring the park on foot along the W-Trail or the O-Circuit.
- travelling by pubblic bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales, then going to Torres del Paine. There few companies which run daily trips in comfortable and safe buses from El Calfate to Puerto Natales bus station and viceversa. The whole trip take from 4 to 5 hours excluding the time you'll spend at the borders (calculata another extra hour if travelling in spring/summer). Take into account that the frequency of this connection tend to get lower or even none during winter time, normally from May to September.
Accommodation in Torres del Paine National Park
Whether you're going to do a multi-day trekking or simple day-hike program is worth spending a few nights inside the park since you'll be able to witness and photograph the beauty of Paine Massif at sunset and sunrise. Here it's a list of the options you can find.
Hotel Torres del Paine
Hotels inside the park are few and mainly scattered along the road therefore you can easily get access to them. On the easter sector near Laguna Amarga entrance you have the option to stay either in Hotel Las Torres, near the trail that leads to the Base of the Towers or at the EcoCamp domes with a better view of the eastern flank of the Massif. Right in the middle of the park is located Hotel Pehoe, settle in a small island inside Pehoe lake, perhaps the best view of Paine Mountains that you can have. Moving west you can stay at Hotel Grey, especially in the case you want to take a boat excursion in the lake and to Grey glacier. Last but not least close to the southern entrance of Rio Serrano you can find accommodations like Hotel Serrano as well as Hotel del Paine well situated near Serrano river.
All these hotels are located a couple of hours drive from Puerto Natales
Torres del Paine Refugios
While trekking the W or the O Circuit accommodations are provided in the so-called Refugios or Mountain Lodges. These are run by two different companies splitting the park in east and west. Fantastico Sur runs refugios and campsites in the eastern part such as Torre Central, Chileno, Los Cuernos, Francés and Seron; whereas Vertice manages Paine Grande, Grey, Dickson and Los Perros located in the west.
The facilities are pretty similar and provide shared bedrooms and bathrooms with a common dining area where breakfast and dinner are served. Campsites are located nearby with different facilities for bathrooms, while the dining room is used in common with the refugios.
Simple but neat options to shelter you from the crazy Patagonian weather along your adventure in the trails of Torres del Paine.