How to Visit Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular parks in Patagonia. Located in southern Chile, near the town of Puerto Natales, and close to the border with Argentina, it has become one of the must-see attractions in the region.
Boasting spectacular mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes, wonderful wildlife and the famous granite peaks that the park is named after, it really is a spectacle of nature that words cannot truly do justice to. The park’s location and its many activities mean there are a number of ways to visit Torres del Paine, depending on your interests, itinerary and time.
The mountains and rivers of Torres del Paine National Park are breathtaking / Photo by Daytours4u
1. TAKE A DAY TRIP FROM EL CALAFATE
Since the park is so close to the Argentine border near El Calafate, a day tour to Torres del Paine from Argentina is perfect for travellers who have not included Chile in their itinerary, but still want to see one of the highlights of the region. While this trip is a long full day excursion, with many hours on the bus and two border crossings, it is still well worth the effort. You’ll get a chance to fully appreciate the Paine Massif mountain range, enjoy short walks, and discover some of the stunning landscapes in the park. You can book a Torres del Paine Full Day tour here.
The Paine massif in all its wondrous glory / Photo by Daytours4u
2. A DAY VISIT FROM PUERTO NATALES
If you’re staying in Chile, you can also visit the park from the Chilean side. From the town of Puerto Natales, you can either take a day tour or go independently. Daily buses run from the main terminal in Puerto Natales. Once inside the park, there are shuttles that run between the key sights, each coordinated with buses to and from Puerto Natales and the catamaran to Paine Grande. There are a number of day hike options, depending on what you want to see. Just keep a careful eye on the time so that you don’t miss the bus out of the park.
Buses depart from Puerto Natales at 07:30 and 14:30 and leave the park at 13:00 and 18:00. You can find the bus schedules and stops here. Alternatively, you can rent a car in Puerto Natales and take your own driving tour.
Torres del Paine is a picture of serenity and tranquility / Photo by Daytours4u
3. STAY IN A HOTEL IN THE PARK
If you have a bit more time and want to experience Torres del Paine in a more leisurely and luxury fashion, why not stay in a hotel inside the park? There are a surprisingly large number of accommodation options to choose from, including some great luxury ones for those not on a strict budget. Hotel Las Torres near the start of the hike to the towers, and the incredible Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa are two great possibilities. In addition, there is a range of hotels, refuges and camping sites located along the hiking trails in the park.
Some of the accommodation options in this part of the world are simply spectacular / Photo by Daytours4u
4. HIKE ONE OF THE MANY TRAILS
Of course, the best way to see Torres del Paine National Park is on foot, hiking one of the popular trails. The most famous of which is the ‘W’ trek, and the longer ‘O’ or ‘Q’ full circuit. If you have the time and enjoy hiking, don’t miss out on a multi-day trek. Get up close to the Torres, spot wildlife and immerse yourself in Patagonia’s spectacular scenery. The unique views are a reward worth the physical effort.
There are a number of accommodation options for hikers. The more hardcore can camp all the way, carrying their equipment. There are also refuges along the way with dorms, tent rentals and hot meals. All accommodation and campsites are run by two companies: Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia. If you’re hiking in peak season, particularly December to February, then be sure to book your accommodation well in advance.
If you are shorter on time but still want to hike, it is easy to do segments of the trail to fit your time schedule. Have a look at CONAF’s guide to the park’s trails. Check the condition of the trails with the park rangers before setting off, especially if you’re hiking outside of the peak summer season.
The hiking trails offer unsurpassable landscape vistas / Photo by Daytours4u
The park entrance fee is not included in tour prices and is the same if you’re going for the day or a longer hike. High season (1 October - 30 April): $18,000 Chilean pesos. Low season (1 May - 30 September): $10,000 Chilean pesos. Chilean residents pay a reduced price, as do children under the age of 18.
The weather is unpredictable in the park, so be sure to pack adequate gear for rain and cold, windy conditions. Even if it’s cloudy, make sure you have sun protection. The UV exposure is high.
Be sure to obey the park’s regulations when it comes to fire. Campfires can only be lit in designated areas. The high winds make runaway fires a very real danger.
However you choose to visit Torres del Paine, you won’t be disappointed. Getting here may be expensive, and the weather wild and often times uninviting, but the scenery is absolutely extraordinary and it’s one of the most special places in Patagonia.
By: Nicole Eberhard, travel writer and avid explorer, with a Masters in English Literature.