Visit Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Despite becoming steadily busier, there’s a fierceness to Torres del Paine National Park that no number of visitors can quite tame. Just witness the names of some of the Paine Massif peaks, the Andean range that seems to follow you around wherever you go: Sword, Blade, Shark’s Fin and Fortress.
The trio of sheer granite needles that make up the park’s calling card — the eponymous Torres (towers) — look like they’ve been constructed in Tolkien’s Mordor, and they’re accompanied by the spiky, twisting outcrops of the Cuernos (horns). They’re likely to be the first features you see on entering the park by car. Around this impressively diabolic-looking geology lie lakes of piercingly bright teal, grasslands and steppe, glaciers, cirques, valleys, waterfalls and rushing rivers.
Lest you forget that you’re at the mercy of the elements this far south, expect to be battered by winds, pelted by rain or sudden snow, or blinded by dazzlingly hot sun at pretty much any moment of the day. Sometimes, you’ll experience several weather systems in the course of a few hours. Welcome to Patagonia.
Getting to the park
Unless crossing into the park by road from Argentina, you’ll arrive by air into Punta Arenas, Chile’s (virtually) southernmost city, a ramshackle place with a pioneer spirit. Depending on flight schedules, you’ll stay a night here either before or after your time in the park itself.
To get to the park, you’ll travel through the Patagonian steppe for 300 km (186 miles) to Puerto Natales, and then on another 100 km (62 miles) to the park itself.
Exploring the park
Most visitors choose to stay in the national park itself, although you can technically stay on the outskirts and drive in each day. There’s a wide range of places to choose from, from snug yurts and guesthouses to no-expense-spared five-star hotels. Once in the park, you can experience its scenery in a number of ways — on foot, by car, on horseback and by boat.
Lago Grey is the terminal lake of the behemoth Grey Glacier, a great tongue of the Southern Patagonia Icefield that reaches 15 km (9 miles) into the park. You can kayak or take a small-group cruise of the lake, navigating right past mint-blue icebergs sculpted from the wind and rain. They calve from the glacier snout, which you’ll see on a boat tour.
You’ll get a good feel for the park’s wilderness just by driving around, glimpsing grazing guanacos and perhaps gangly rheas. Even if you don’t consider yourself a hiker, there are short walks leading to miradors (lookouts) over glacial lakes (though some of these can also be approached by 4x4).
One of the park’s headline hikes is the multi-day W Trek, but you can also break this up into day hikes: one route takes you right to the base of the Torres, while another sees you scramble through the French Valley, up to miradors over the French Glacier and over a lake, Nordenskjold. When in the French Valley, you might hear thunderous cracks and rumbles — these are the sounds of the French Glacier calving.
You can explore by horseback from any hotel, but if riding particularly interests you, you could stay in an estancia (ranch) staffed by gauchos — expert Patagonian equestrians — who’ll take you out on longer rides. You can read more about riding in Torres del Paine National Park in our guide to activity-focused trips to Chile
Best time to visit Torres del Paine National Park
January and February experiences the most reliable weather but is extremely busy, so we recommend visiting in the park’s springtime (October to November). Alternatively, go in March or April to see the park’s autumnal foliage at its best.
Suggested itineraries featuring Torres del Paine National Park
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Torres del Paine National Park, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Accommodation choices for Torres del Paine National Park
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Torres del Paine National Park. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Torres del Paine National Park
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Torres del Paine National Park, and which use the best local guides.