One of the highlights you can find in Patagonia, is no doubt, the incredible Torres del Paine National Park.
Torres del Paine National Park: Basic information
Torres del Paine National Park is located in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Region, Torres del Payne commune, Ultima Esperanza province. It was created in 1959 and It is known worldwide for the massifs that give it its name, granite giants shaped by the force of glacial ice. The unit stands out for the protection of fauna species such as ñandú, tile, owl. Regarding mammals, some of the 25 species present in the park are the puma, red fox, as well as different kinds of reptiles, amphibians and fish. In terms of flora, there are 274 species of plants classified as Patagonian steppe, pre-Andean scrub, Magellanic forest (lenga predominates), and Andean desert.
Torres del Paine National Park: How to get there?
Well, first, a bit of information about distances: the park is located 1733 miles (2790 km) south of Santiago. Situated in the Magallanes and Antarctica Region of Chile the southernmost region of the country, the park covers an area of 926 sq. miles (2400 km²) and lies close to the border with Argentina. It is 215 miles (417 km) from the nearest Chilean airport in Punta Arenas and 157 miles (253 km) from El Calafate, the closest in Argentina. But, Puerto Natales is the main gate to visit the park, as it´s located only 112 kms. So, from Santiago you can take a flight to Punta Arenas, and may be overnight in Puerto Natales. From Buenos Aires, take a flight to El Calafate and cross to Puerto Natales throught the border. Once in Puerto Natales, you can visit the park by car.
The most direct route is a hard-packed, gravel road that turns off to the west around 14 miles (23 km) north of Puerto Natales and takes approximately one and a half hours. From the main highway, it subsequently passes alongside Cueva del Milodón at the Río Serrano entrance before continuing into the national park.
The second, more conventional route, is to continue along the paved highway north of Puerto Natales until reaching Cerro Castillo, located around 33 miles (54 km) from the city. After the crossing point in Cerro Castillo, turn left to take the unpaved road that arrives at the northwest entrance of the park at Laguna Amarga. This route into Torres del Paine takes roughly three hours.
Of course, there are several travel companies that offers excursions from Puerto Natales and from El Calafate to the incredible Torres del Paine National Park
Torres de Paine: What to see & what to do?
You know now, some interesting basic information and how to arrive to the park. Well, but what to do once there? What to see in Torres del Paine? Well, trekking activities are the main attraction in the park. It´s a must-do if you are an adventureous person. Take a look to some interesting trekkings and activities available once in the park. And for that, we strongly suggest to overnight in any of the hosterias available.
Trekking to the French Valley
The French Valley is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. This trail is between the 10,000ft Paine Grande and the spectacular Torres del Paine and Los Cuernos mountains, with hanging glaciers above the trail. Throughout this full day’s hike enjoy fantastic views of the natural granite amphitheater that makes up this enclosed valley, as well as the waterscapes below including lakes Pehoe, Skottsberg, Toro and Nordenskjold. It is also possible to hear and see avalanches coming down from the glacier. Hike deep and high into the valley or relax and soak in the scenery before trekking onward to Paine Grande Lodge where you can enjoy a pisco sour (famed South American cocktail) as the sun sets over the Paine Grande and Los Cuernos Mountains.
Trekking to the Base de las Torres (Base of the Towers)
This traditional trekking is one of the most amazing activitites in the park and one of the icons in Patagonia. The hiking will get you up close and personal with the beautiful granite towers soaring thousands of feet in the air creating the centerpiece for the whole park. The hike starts at Hosteria Las Torres beginning with a steep 45-minute ascent, eventually reaching a glacial moraine. From here it’s an hour trek before the towers come into view, jutting from a serene turquoise lake the majestic towers are breathtaking and well worth the climb. The hike is about 3-hours one way.
Trekking in the Grey Glacier
Another amazing activitiy is the hiking over the Grey Glacier. Strap on your crampons and get your camera ready because you are about to hike on one of the most unique ice fields in the world. The hike begins from the Refugio Grey with a 15-minute zodiac boat ride to the starting point on the western arm of the glacier. Walking on the glacier itself truly reveals its size and beauty. Peer into deep blue crevasses, cross over giant ice cracks and explore stunning ice caves. This is a very rare opportunity that is unique to Patagonia.
Enjoy Horseback Riding activities in the park
A horseback ride in Torres del Paine can be one of the most enjoyable ways to see the park. It is a great way to cover a lot more territory and can also save your leg strength between hiking days. Home to many large estancias and still vibrant with the culture of the gaucho, it is a rider’s paradise. Rides vary in difficulty depending on your riding experience and can be a great addition to your Patagonia adventure trip.
Kayaking the Grey Glacier
An amazing experience allows you to kayak amongst massive icebergs and up to the face of Grey Glacier towering above. This can be done as a half-day activity following a hike up Grey Lake or in conjunction with a glacial ice hike.
Mountain Bike in the park
If your legs are aching for more after your treks, or you want to be moving just a little bit faster through the landscape, mountain biking is undoubtedly one of the best ways to navigate through the park. Pedal down dirt roads around the lakes, or whizz along the single track on old trails, you'll be moving with enough pace to explore hidden corners of the park, but slow enough to take your time drinking in the views.
Puma Tracking activity in Torres del Paine
Pumas are thriving in Torres del Paine, and their exceptionally high numbers make this one of the top places in the world to see them. A good supply of juicy guanacos and ban on hunting in 1972 have made the park a perfect habitat, and on a dedicated puma tracking trip, your chances of sightings are high. Their numbers are greatest in the quieter eastern areas of the park, so you need expert guides who know exactly where to look.
Fly Fishing in Torres del Paine
Fly fishing in Torres del Paine is one of those activities that flies under the radar. Most people come for the hikes and the views, but it's also possible to catch some healthy browns here and sometimes salmon and carp. There are numerous lakes that are great for fishing between Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine, but if you want to string one up with the amazing Paine Massif in the background, your best bet is along Rio Serrano.