Torres del Paine
Key information: Torres del Paine
- The Torres del Paine National Park is beautiful, inspiring, and otherworldly. Incredible, iconic spires of heavily eroded granite surrounded by the glaciers, lakes, rivers and forests of Patagonia.
- In the heart of this UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve is the Cordillera del Paine, lying between Magellanic subpolar forest and Patagonian steppes.
- The three dramatic, alien-seeming granite monoliths of the Torres del Paine form a silhouette never to be forgotten; set to full advantage by a triumphal glacial landscape.
- This is wild, remote country. While you will be inspired by natures harsh beauty, you need to be well prepared. The weather can turn at any time, and be particularly horrible.
- Walkopedia rating93
- Natural interest18
- Human interest2
- Negative points0
- Total rating93
- Length: Variable
- Up to 10 days
- Maximum Altitude: Around 1,200m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
Some 4,000km from the Chilean capital of Santiago, the Torres del Paine National Park demonstrates the full scale and drama of the South American continent. It is a spectacular region of granite towers and glacial scenery, similar geologically and geographically to Argentinas Fitzroy Massif, and internationally renowned as one of the most beautiful and untouched places on earth.
Chilean Patagonia is perhaps the nations most famous region. Cut off from the rest of the country by impassable mountains and violent storms, only by air or by sea or overland from Argentina can you penetrate into this astounding landscape. Islands, glaciers, icebergs and mountains all vie for fame. It is truly a natural, glacial wilderness.
Due to the regions isolation, indigenous flora and fauna flourish, from the unique Llama-like Guanacos to the native Rhea (somewhat akin to ostriches); a wonderful variety of flighted birds, too, and even the odd puma.
The area is full of resources for trekking, with a range of options suited to everyone from the puddin to the advanced hiker. Campsites and Refugios dot trails that are clearly marked and negotiate a series of natural wonders. Classic Torres highlights include:
W Route: The so-called "W" Route is the most popular route that hikers take to see the park. All the main sights can be seen from the trail, including from glacier to jagged spire. The whole "W" Route can be done by staying in either hotels, refugios, or campgrounds. The route takes roughly 5 trekking days to complete and usually starts at Laguna Amarga, or just to the right of Hosteria los Torres (on the eastern tip of Lago Nordenskjold). Despite reaching the parks eponymous cordillera lookout (mirador) on the first day, there is more than enough to carry on for: the Valle del Frances; a mirador betwixt the Torres del Paine and Cerro Paine Grande, the parks tallest mountain (3,050m); Lakes Nordeskjold, Pehoe and Grey; climbing alongside the goliath Glacier Grey up to Refugio Grey and its lookout in the heights.
Macizo Paine Route: This route takes in the classic "W" Route, before continuing on from Refugio Grey to circuit the back of the Torres cordillera. A high pass squeezes between Cerro Paine Grande and a smaller upland massif, along a vertiginous valley towards Lago Dickson, and then past Lago Paine and following the Rio Paine back to Nordenskjold. Takes 7 days of trekking to complete. There are five campsites and one additional refugio: the majority of this route is not reachable from hotels and thus is done by far fewer visitors.
Other park highlights:
Lago Nordenskjold; Mirador Cuernos; Salto Grande: An hour from the roadhead near Pudeto Ranger Station takes you to Mirador Cuernos viewpoint on Lago Nordenskjold, looking out across frigid waters to Cerro Paine Grande, the Valle del Frances and Torres del Paine. In the other direction from the same roadhead, a trail of a similar length takes you to the majestic Salto Grande Falls, where Nordenskjold violently decants into Lago Pehoe.
Salto Chico; Mirador Condor: Maybe two hours, half of which is on road, downhill from the Mirador Condor viewing point takes you to the Salto Chico falls.
Lago Pingo; Cascada Pingo; Zapata Glacier; Cerro Ferrier (1,500m): At the southern tip of Lago Grey lies a crossroads: three trails and a roadhead. A range of options:
- An hours walk from this point takes you to the Lago Grey lookout with beautiful views up the narrow ribbon lake to the sheer Glacier Grey.
- A slightly lesser distance in the opposite direction to Mirador Ferrier lookout, to gaze up at the Cerro Ferrier massif.
- A much longer walk: follow a path adjacent to the Rio Pingo (Pingo river), then climb up onto the lower slopes of Cerro Ferrier, skirting around it until a trail diverges to a viewing point above Cascada Pingo. Back on the main trail, Lago Pingo soon looms above you between outlying spurs. One and a half hours or so more will take you to Mirador Zapata viewpoint, looking down Zapata Glaciers length from its heights. Return on the second day.
Lago Toro; Verde Lagoon: From a bridge over the Rio Paine where it enters Lago Toro, climb for 45mins to Lago Toro lookout point affording views both up the Rio Grande gorge and down Lago Toro. Another four hours on the same track takes you past Laguna and Laguna Honda, before tracking around the edge of Laguna Verde at its pristine waters.
Los Glaciares National Park (and the Fitzroy Massif, Argentina) is located immediately to the north, and Bernardo OHiggins National Park lies to its west.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Trekking in the Patagonian Andes (Lonely Planet Walking Guide) – by Carolyn McCarthy.
Torres Del Paine: Trekking in Chile’s Premier National Park (A Cicerone Guide) – by Rudolf Abraham.
The Andes: A Trekking Guide – by Cathy Biggar and John Biggar.
For general books on Patagonia (in its entirety), start with:
Natural Patagonia: Argentina and Chile – by Marcelo D. Beccaceci (1998).
In Patagonia – by Bruce Chatwin (2008). An account of Bruce Chatwin's journey through Patagonia, where he searched for almost-forgotten legends, Butch Cassidy's log cabin, and the descendants of Welsh immigrants.
Fodor’s Patagonia – by Fodor Travel Publications (2008).
Patagonia Handbook (Footprint Handbooks) – by Lucy Cousins and Janak Jani (2009).
Frommer’s Argentina and Chile – by Haas Mroue, Kristina Schreck, Michael Luongo (2005).
For general guidebooks on Chile:
The Rough Guide to Chile – by Andrew Benson and Melissa Graham (2009).
Chile and Easter Island (Lonely Planet) – by Carolyn McCarthy and Kevin Raub (2009).
Frommer’s Chile and Easter Island (Frommer’s Complete) – by Nicholas Gill, Caroline Lascom, Christie Pashby (2009).
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego: ITM.5661 – by ITMB (2008) (Folded Map).
Chile – Patagonia Nelles Ma (Nelles Map) – Ed., Günter Nelles (2010) (Folded Map).
Patagonia Map Guide – by Horacio de Dios (2004).
Independent Travel Map: Argentina and Chile– by Collins Publishers (2000) (Folded Map).
Specific maps for a Torres del Paine trek can be bought locally – fairly easily – from Puntas Arenas.
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk.An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Walk Patagonia has a good array of maps in its online catalogue.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
The Chilean high season is from October to April (Spring and Summer). This time of year has more sunny days with less rain, and regularly more than 16 hours of natural light due to the earth’s curvature. Although you might still expect strong winds at the drop of a hat, this is the most likely time of year for consistent weather.
Book well ahead if you are coming in high season.
Temperatures typically range from about -2 degrees Celsius to around 20 degrees Celsius (winter – summer); bear in mind that being in the southern hemisphere means seasons here run opposite to those in the northern.
Patagonian weather is unpredictable, even in summer. Wind up to 80km/hr is always a factor; rain, sleet and snow can follow a day of bright sunshine, even into early summer. There is an old saying in both Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”
Despite this (and neighbouring Fitz Roy’s particularly bad reputation) precipitation in all its forms is actually relatively low here.
A likely entry point for Torres Del Paine expeditions is Puntas Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city, replete with airport (access also available overland from Argentina). El Calafate in Argentina can also provide access to the national park, which has accommodation dotted in and around its myriad lakes, glaciers and spires.
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported to and from their arranged start/departure points. For further information contact CONAF (Chile's National Forestry Commission) at www.conaf.cl; regional telephone (56-61) 247845.
See Walk Summary above. For a useful map, try www.gochile.cl.
NOTE: The area is a National Park, so visitors are not allowed to stray from the trails or camp elsewhere than the clearly demarked sites.
NASA Satellite Image
Possible problems, health, other warnings
Glacier walking is an option, but not normally part of a standard Torres trip. Still, make sure you have the proper equipment and a guide.
Extreme weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
Strong sun, particularly that reflecting off the many glaciers. Carry enough water and sun protection.
Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
This is remote country: you will have to carry your food and other supplies from camp to camp, and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Routes that take in the various base camps, etc, are certainly treks and not walks. This is due to altitude, weather, technicality, terrain; a variety of factors. However, you can do these walks independently and this freedom can add an extra dimension to your trip. You will need to be self-sufficient and respectful of the difficulties, so come fully prepared.
Routes tend to avoid roads, but accommodation dotted in and around the Torres del Paine National Park makes independent day walks easily achievable. Also, you shouldn’t be too far from succour if impending torrid weather looks likely to drive you indoors for any length of time. Be aware, though, that during high season these could well be booked up, so organize well in advance.
While these walks can be done independently, many people will form or join supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the region and difficulty of getting supplies, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Expedition organisers include:
Explore! – www.explore.co.uk - reputable and experienced organisers.
Walk Patagonia – www.walkpatagonia.com
Wilderness Travel – www.wildernesstravel.com
Alternative Travel Group – www.atg-oxford.com
Exodus – www.exodus.co.uk
Detour - www.detourdestinations.com
Swoop Travel - www.swoop-patagonia.co.uk
Wilderness Journeys - www.wildernessjourneys.com
Cascada Travel - www.cascada.travel
Audley Travel www.audleytravel.com
There are lots of campsites or refuges once en route. Huts, when available, are not always particularly pleasant, so at USD $30 per bed well-organised camping could be the best option. Camping is not permitted except at designated sites, and at times is the only option, but fortunately sites are found at a few hours’ interval along each trail.
A few resorts and hotels do dot the Torres del Paine National Park, including:
Hosteria Las Torres (useful; at the start of the “W” Route)
Hostelbookersusually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Other information and tips
Campers can use the refuges’ facilities.
Ranger stations (Guarderias) are found at a number of roadheads. This map has them marked.
Radio is available at all refuges and some campsites.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
www.allaboutar.com: about Argentina, but has useful tips for Torres treks as well.
www.wikipedia.org/Torres_del_Paine. As usual, a good starting place.
Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
Patagonia has a huge variety of great walks, in both Chile and Argentina. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.
Other walks in Chilean Patagonia:
Parque National Laguna San Rafael
PlaenaLake National Reserve
Bernardo O’Higgins National Park
See our Fitzroy Massif page for other walks in Argentinean Patagonia.
Glacier walking: there is only one company registered for leading expeditions onto Glacier Grey.
Kayaking / Boat trips (Lago Grey, up to its glacier)
Climbing: a climber’s mecca.
Horse trekking: This map identifies some trails
Swimming: lakes are glacial(!), so summer only.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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