Renowned for its soaring mountains, bright blue icebergs and golden grasslands that shelter rare wildlife, Torres del Paine National Park offers some of Latin America’s most revered hiking trails.
Located in Patagonia in the southernmost part of the Chilean Andes, hiking Torres del Paine National Park takes you along valleys, peaks and passes, past hanging glaciers, vast pampas, twisted metamorphic rock, glistening turquoise lakes, and ice blue streams. It’s a truly magical experience for all who complete it – one that’s sure to leave you with a lifetime of enduring memories.
For all its beauty and grandeur, hiking in Torres del Paine can be a highly accessible activity nowadays, with trekking tourism having been rapidly increasing in Patagonia in recent years. How and when you choose to traverse the park depends on a number of factors: namely, time, budget and fitness levels. If you’re thinking of embarking on a Torres del Paine adventure and would like to get the inside track on what to expect, what to bring, how to book, and other essential tips, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide below.
History of Torres del Paine
Named in 2013 as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the history of Torres del Paine as a hiking destination can be traced back a whole lot further. More than 100 years ago, a number of Croatian families arrived in the area fleeing the diseases and instability that had taken hold in Europe at the beginning of the last century. Among this cohort of immigrants was Antonio Kusanovic, who along with his son, also Antonio, established a foothold in local ranching.
The duo became owners of what is now known as the Cerro Paine ranch, today the starting point for one of the hike’s most iconic hiking routes – the Torres del Paine O Circuit. By the 1990s, Antonio junior and his wife began offering overnight accommodation and home-cooked meals to tired trekkers. Going a step further, they converted part of the ranch into bedrooms and a restaurant. As a result of their entrepreneurial and public-spirited efforts, the Kusanovic family are widely considered the most important figures in the history of Torres del Paine.
When to go
Travellers planning a trip to Torres del Paine who are coming from the Northern Hemisphere should bear in mind that owing to its geographical position in the Southern Hemisphere, the national park’s seasons are reversed. But on this note, perhaps the first thing to mention is that Patagonia has highly unpredictable weather, and it’s not uncommon to experience multiple seasons within one day. Mild temperatures by morning that appear to be perfect for hiking can quickly turn to windy snowstorms by afternoon – and with little warning.
That being said, with effective preparation, every season can be a great time to visit Torres del Paine. Summer (December-February) is high season and sees the warmest weather throughout the year. Tourism at this time is bustling to say the least, with many hotels, hostels, campsite accommodation experiences, guided tours, and excursions on offer. It’s also the windiest time of the year, but with high temperatures, that can often be a blessing rather than a curse.
Spring time (September to November) and Fall (March to May) are also some of the best times to visit Torres Del Paine. These periods reveal the park’s true kaleidoscopic colours through springtime blossoms and fall foliage. And since they’re the “shoulder” seasons (the travel period between high and low season). the crowds are thinner, leaving you better able to immerse yourselves in the area’s majestic natural beauty.
How long to go for
As mentioned in our introduction, the duration of your hike depends on how much time you have, how much money you want to spend, and how much energy you have to consume. As a general rule, we’d recommend at least four full days in the park, with a one-week trip ideal to make the most of your visit. While hikes of as little of a couple of days are perfectly possibly, owing to the vastness of the park, which spans some 227.298 hectares, you are certain to miss plenty of highlights doing it this way.
Some of the most famous trekking circuits, such as the W Trek and Torres del Paine “O” Circuit, require at least a few days, with the latter possible to complete in full in nine days (a shorter 5-day trail is also available). Considered by many Patagonia’s most spectacular trekking route, this trek is a 360° circuit around the Paine massif, and takes in highlights such as the Perros glacier, the John Gardner Pass, French Valley and the three Towers of Paine, which form the centrepiece of the entire park. However, this demanding trek is recommended only for experienced hikers and is available only from November to March.
There are also several themed tours available that cater for special interests. Travelers with a particular prenchant for the area’s fascinating wildlife might consider a six-day puma tracking tour, which invites you to seek out the elusive puma as well as a variety of other animals. This tour is organised with a professional puma tracker and expert guide. Alternatively, also spanning six days you can embark on a multisport adventure, which combines conventional trekking with a range of intrepid activities such as mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and kayaking.
How much it costs
While it’s possible to hike the trail independently, if you’re planning on a trip of more than a few days then a guided tour is recommended. If you do plan to go alone, you’ll need to cough up for everything individually, from park entrance frees to food to accommodation. Entrance fees vary depending on the time of year and the number of days you spend inside, with up to three days costing US$35 per person US$49 for longer periods. What’s more, if you’re planning to do one of the long-distance treks independently, you have to book the campsites along the route in advance.
In contrast, the price quoted for most guided tours usually involve all of the above, meaning you know the extent of what you’ll be spending upfront. The cost of tours vary significantly, starting at a few hundred dollars for 4 or 5-day trips, through to several thousand dollars for tours of a week and more. Bear in mind that guided tours don’t usually involve flights.
Sleeping and eating
One of the best things about Torres del Paine National Park for travellers is the sheer choice of accommodation available. The park has something for every taste and budget, ranging from cheap ‘refugios’ and campsites for a fun and traditional trek experience, to eco yurt camps, all the way through to luxury lodges and hotels offering all the trappings of high-end travel. Most guided tours tend to include mid-range hotel accommodation for the duration of your trip.
As for food, every hotel in the park has its own on-site restaurant, and some of the more budget accommodation options such as mountain refuges/huts also have outlets serving provisions too. In the camp sites, there are no shops to be found nearby (unless it happens to be next to a mountain refuge/shelter or a hotel), so if you’re camping you’ll need to pack your own food. Most guided tours also include a certain number of daily meals.
What to pack
Packing light and smart are the keys to preparing for any arduous trek – and Torres del Paine is no different. After all, weighing yourself down with too much equipment will make the walk much less enjoyable, while forgetting essential items will leave you with major regrets. The good news is, if you’ve ever hiked or spent anytime backpacking before, then you’re likely to already have a lot of the necessary equipment at home.
When it comes to clothing, as mentioned above, there’s nothing more capricious than Torres del Paine weather, and so it’s best to prepare for all climes. Even if you’re travelling during typically drier periods, we’d recommend packing a waterproof jacket or poncho with a hood. Other essentials are a warm hat for those chilly mornings and nights, and sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to protect against the sun.
It’s critical to get your shoe wear right, too, and we strongly recommend packing good quality, waterproof hiking boots. Other items you may want to consider include a head torch so you can walk safely after dark, hiking poles to ease the burden on your body, toilet paper and hand sanitiser, thermal underwear, and a good quality sleeping bag.
Where to book
There are a huge number of Torres del Paine tour providers that let you book online. One of the most popular tour agency platforms is Bookmundi, and we’ve picked out three of their best tours catering for varying durations and budgets.
First up, Exploring the Best of Torres del Paine – W Circuit Tour is perfect for travellers with limited time. The complete W trek usually takes more than a week, but this shorter version lets you experience the legendary trail over just 5 days. During the trip, you’ll pass stunning glaciers, lakes, forests and the mighty Paine Towers, all culminating with a boat ride on a Catamaran across the blue waters of Pehoe Lake.
If you’re interested in a more extended adventure, the Sightseeing in Argentine & Chilean Patagonia Tour could be just the ticket. Spanning 18 days, this immersive tour combines visits to both Argentina and Chile, taking in some of the best natural attractions the countries have to offer. Included is a two-day stop-off in Torres Del Paine where you’ll get to see rheas, wild guanacos, Patagonian hare and even condors. You can also customise your time to include memorable experiences such as a full-day trek to the base of the magnificent Torres del Paine, or a visit to the stunning Grey Glacier.
Finally, If you can only spare a single day for visiting Torres Del Paine, there’s a Full Day Paine Tour that provides you with a snapshot of some of the park’s main highlights. Over the course of 11 hours, you’ll embark on three short hikes to viewpoints, as well as stopping off at Cueva del Milodon Natural Monument and a number of glacial lakes. This tour also includes hotel collection and drop off in Puerto Natales .