Welcome to one of the most majestic, jaw-dropping and impressive places in all of Patagonia. This region is famous for its soaring peaks, vast wildernesses and wealth of nature, flora and fauna, and nowhere is more representative of the magic of Patagonia than the famous Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile. Located towards the bottom of Chile’s sliver of territory, the park is just a stone’s throw away from the Argentine border and smack back in the middle of the iconic Andes mountain range. It is known for its unmatched trekking, and is home to some of the best hiking the world has to offer. A true jewel of Patagonia, this immense park boasts numerous granite towers and massifs, whose impossible presence is revealed as the clouds part to dwarf the visitor and make them feel insignificant compared to the natural spectacle of which they find themselves suddenly a part.
This excursion ventures into the famous Valle del Francés, in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, and part of the famous “W” Trail. Boarding the catamaran Hielos Patagónicos on the lakeshore near Pudeto Ranger Station, you cruise across Lake Pehoé arriving to Paine Grande on the opposite side of the lake and trailhead for the start of our trek. The first part of the trail is relatively flat (it changes about 300m/980ft), leading along the north side of Lago Skottsberg to the bottom of French Valley and Italiano Campsite where we break for water and snacks. You will have the option of turning back at Italiano or continuing upwards, deeper into the Valle Francés along a steep trail through lenga woods and then a rocky moonscape above the treeline. Roughly 2.5 km (1.5miles) from Italiano, reaching a lookout on the foot of the “Horns” (Los Cuernos), that affords an awesome view of French Glacier coming down from Mount Paine Grande, the Cuernos del Paine peaks rising behind us, and down the valley to the lakes. Altitude change from start to finish is 700-800 meters (2,300-2,600 feet). There is also an option of returning to the hotel on the “W” Trail via Refugio Cuernos rather than taking the catamaran back across the lake. This is a 16km (10 miles) hike from Refugio Italiano which will take about 5 hours. It is possible that you would have to do this hike by yourself if our guide has to return by catamaran with the rest of the group.
This thrilling excursion starts with a visit to the Milodon Cave, where parts of a prehistoric animal named the Milodon were discovered in 1895. In this mysterious cave you will also find a replica of the peculiar mammal and some information about the geological formation of the cave. The tour then continues to the Cerro Castillo village, where we will take a short break before entering the National Park and catch our first glimpse of the stunning landscapes of Laguna Azul that earned the name due to its intense blue color. This lake is located 40 minutes before the main entrance to the park “Laguna Amarga”, where the more impressive sights of the Torres del Paine, Cuernos del Paine and Almirante Nieto Mountain can be seen. You may also get the chance to peek at some Patagonian wildlife like guanacos, ñandus and condors. The park is also home to animals such as foxes, hares, chincol and pumas, also known as “Leon de America”. Further inside the park we will glimpse at the Pehoe and Nordenskjold lakes and their dazzling turquoise blue color as well as waterfalls and glaciers flowing down the mountains. After a 15 minute walk we will reach the “Salto Grande” waterfall, where we stop-off to enjoy a packed lunch, later in the afternoon the tour continues to the Grey Glacier sector, where there will be a stop for about 1.5 hours before a beautiful hike through beech forests at the foot of towering icebergs. The tour will end by driving further to the Grey Glacier where you can get a closer look at the impressive waterfall before returning to Puerto Natales to drop you off at your hotel.
This is the best option for those who want to observe and photograph the Torres towers without all the walking, also offering a small but significant historical footnote. The adventure starts with a 30-minute drive through the rugged terrain of the national’s park’s far eastern region Laguna Amarga where we can observe cianobacteria with stromatolites and sometime flamingos before continuing our journey to the Blue Lagoon. We start with a short 1.5 hour walk that blends wildlife and views of the Paine Massif. Animals are abundant in this area of the park, especially guanacos and birds. The avian community around Laguna Azul includes water birds, as well as condors and raptors. Gazing from the east, the perspective of Torres towers is much different than elsewhere in the park, and in some respects even more awe-inspiring. Laguna Azul is also the spot where Lady Florence Dixie, the intrepid Victorian-era British traveler and author, first spotted the Torres del Paine mountains. She is considered to be the first tourist of Patagonia. In her 1880 book Across Patagonia she called the three towers “Cleopatra’s Needles” because the stone monoliths resembled the obelisks of ancient Egypt. During this 4 hour roundtrip we also visit the spectacular Paine waterfall, the first of three waterfalls of Paine river.
Sailing your way to the Grey Glacier is an utterly unforgettable trip, during which you will gawp at unique landscapes made up of ice floes, lush vegetation and towering mountains. After picking you up from your hotel, we will drive to Pingo River where we cross the bridge and head into the thick forest until we reach the banks of the River Grey, where we will embark on a 1 hour boat ride to the foot of the glacier. The sheer magnitude of the ice walls measure up to 20 meters high are simply stunning. Marvel at this mass of ancient ice while enjoying a typical Pisco Sour or if you prefer a whiskey on the rocks with ancient ice that is chipped off the glacier.
This celebrated lake at the foot of the Paine Massif is named after Otto Nordenskjöld (1869-1928), a Finnish-Swedish explorer who probed much of the Antarctic, Greenland, Chile and Peru in the early 20th century. Starting out from the hotel Torres, the excursion follows part of the famous “W” Trail that stretches between the lake’s gorgeous north shore and Monte Almirante Nieto, the glacier and snow-covered mountain the anchors the southeastern extreme of the Paine Massif. Although the routes are slightly different for horse and hikers, the scenery and terrain are very similar. The equestrian version includes numerous stream and river crossings. In addition to the flora and fauna, the excursion offers a chance to learn more about Patagonian gauchos and horses, and hone your own expertise on the saddle.
This tour is recommended for those wishing to enjoy most of the Torres del Paine National Park in one day. We begin our journey at the Visitor Center in the Administration Office Park, a place were you would receive an overview of everything that makes this World Biosphere Reserve magnificent. Then we drive to the lookout point called Cerro Condor, a point from which to climb for a spectacular view of Lake Pehoé area and the Horns of Paine. Our journey continues towards the Salto Grande, a breathtaking waterfall that can be watched after a short hike. Then we will go to the Mirador del Lago Nordenskjöld, a place where we can appreciate the lake and stay very close to the Horns of Paine. After refueling our batteries with a delicious boxed lunch, we drive to the Bitter Lake area to see the waterfalls of the Paine River. Later the excursion takes you into the National Park accompanied by large herds of guanacos, we return to the hotel via a path next to the Sarmiento Lake.
The park’s most spectacular waterfall and an astonishing viewpoint are highlights of this relatively easy half-day excursion. The adventure starts with a 45-minute drive to Pudeto in the heart of the park’s lake district. From there it’s a short walk to Salto Grande, a raging aquamarine cascade that channels water between lakes Nordenskjöld and Pehoé. Continuing the trail from the waterfall, it leads us through a portion of the park impacted by the great forest fire of 2011-12. Between the remains of the fire-ravaged trees, new life is already sprouting from the rich Patagonian soul. The path continues to Sendero Mirador Cuernos. Possibly the park’s most spectacular viewpoint, the panorama features the “Horns” (Los Cuernos), Mount Paine Grande, the French Valley and the French Glacier rising straight up from the north shore of Lago Nordenskjöld, a breathtaking spectacle of rock and water. The roundtrip hike from car park to viewpoint takes about two hours. Given the open terrain, high winds are possible during this trek. Those who don’t want to undertake the complete hike can opt for a shorter version that features just the brief hike to Salto Grande waterfall.
Given its location in Chilean Patagonia, expect the weather in Torres del Paine to the unpredictable, changing from sun to rain to snow all in the space of an afternoon. One thing that you are sure to encounter at any time of the year is the wind, so be prepared to battle some gusts at some point. The most popular time to visit the park is in the summer months between December and March, but this is also when the park is at its busiest. Many people prefer to visit in fall in April and May, when the leaves start to turn colour and provide ample opportunity for some spectacular photographs.
If you are traveling to the park from within Chile, the best way to get there is to fly to Punta Arenas from Santiago. Flights from Santiago fly either directly to Punta Arenas or with a stopover in Puerto Montt. If you are traveling to the park from Argentina, flights arrive to El Calafate, which is then a five hour journey by bus to the border at Puerto Natales. The border crossing can take some time, so if you are in a hurry, fly to Puerto Montt and then on to Punta Arenas. The main entry point to the park is via Puerto Natales, so you will need to get a transfer from Punta Arenas to this town, then get a bus or transfer into the park itself. Consult one of our travel experts and they will advise you on how to proceed once in the park based on what circuit or day tours you want to do.
Puerto Natales has a highly developed tourism infrastructure, and there are plenty of places to stay in advance of your trip to the park. Try some of Patagonia’s famous seafood, lamb and craft beer while you are here, and stock up on supplies in one of the supermarkets if you are planning on doing a multi-day trek in the park. Once you are in the park, there are purpose-built lodges and some rustic campsites to stay in. In an effort to conserve the park, tourist numbers have been limited and now reservations in the lodges and campsites must be made in advance, but just speak to one of our travel experts and they can make the reservations for you, as there is no central booking website. Ensure you have brought sufficient and proper clothes for your trip, but we will tell you what to pack, so don’t worry. Bring cash with you for your time in the park, as there are no ATMs. You can withdraw and exchange money in Puerto Natales.