With its massive granite mountains and peaks, crystal-clear lakes and rivers, and stunningly blue glaciers, Torres del Paine, Chile is the perfect introduction to Patagonia. The National Park, which is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, contains numerous ecosystems and is home to over 40 mammal species and numerous rare birds, such as the ostrich-like rhea.
While there are some multi-day treks suitable only for the most experienced outdoorsmen, part of this park’s popularity is its plethora of short hikes, comfortable and sometimes luxurious accommodations, and well-trained guides.
But you’ll want to come prepared. The weather is notoriously fickle, hotels book out quickly and there aren’t many places to stock up if you’ve forgotten something. While this remoteness is what makes the national park unique and pristine, it also means that you’ll want to plan your trip ahead of time.
The climate in Torres del Paine is infamous for changing suddenly. On any given day, you might experience snow, wind, sunshine or rain - maybe even a combination of any of those weather conditions!
Needless to say, the weather will have a huge effect on your trip. The rainiest months are between March and April, while the coldest month is in July (a frigid 27 °F). Most people travel to Torres del Paine between November and January, which are the warmest months.
Be warned! November to January are also the windiest months. Hiking up to the famous Mirador Las Torres can become so windy that it literally has picked people up and blown them away. Unsurprisingly, the park will close when wind conditions become that dangerous.
As the weather conditions vary so widely within a day, we highly recommend dressing in lots of layers and bringing a waterproof coat and hiking boots.
The most famous of Torres del Paine’s glaciers, Glacier Grey is believed to be 18,000 years old. Back then, scientists believed that it covered all of Argentina, as well as parts of Chile. Now it measures around 100 ft tall and 3.5 miles wide.
For those looking for a relaxing and delightful time, the boat excursion takes you up close and personal through Lake Grey, right next to floating icebergs, as you sample cheese platters and sip on pisco sours. You can get so close to the glacier that you’ll see its million different shades of blue. You’ll also have the opportunity to get to know Nunatak Island, which divides the glacier in two.
The most iconic section of Torres del Paine is Mirador Las Torres, where three rocky granite peaks jut out from a lake nestled between a mountainous valley. It’s a gorgeous, well-deserved reward after a demanding hike.
The trail goes up the Ascencio Valley, through a dense forest and along the river, until you get to the last leg of the hike. This is the most strenuous and intense part of the trail, where you’ll have to navigate through steep rocks and boulders. This is also where the winds can pick up and whip around at dangerous high speeds.
One of the main hiking attractions in Torres del Paine, French Valley is a deep valley nestled between imposing peaks with a view of French Glacier. It can be done as part of the O or W Treks, as well as a day hike. If you decide to do the day hike, you take a 30-minute ferry across the turquoise-colored Lake Pehoe, which offers some fantastic views of Cuernos del Paine and Cerro Paine Grande, some of Torres del Paine’s most famous peaks.
The trail begins by sloping gently upwards and along the shores of Lake Skottsberg before reaching a small forest of dead trees. It might sound off-putting, but it’s a visually striking contrast that is both haunting and beautiful in its own unique way.
The second part of the hike is much more strenuous, requiring you to climb up small boulders. Fortunately there’s a great stopping point about halfway up where you can soak in the scenery. The landscape here is so beautiful that many hikers decide not to go any further, as the rest of the trail gets even steeper and more challenging.
Just when you think you can’t possibly go any further, you’ll reach the highlight of the hike and be rewarded with a sweeping view of French Glacier and the surrounding valley.
Get in touch with nature and experience an entirely new perspective of Torres del Paine by going on a horseback riding excursion. You’ll explore mountains, valleys, glaciers and grasslands led by gauchos - skilled horsemen famous in South American folklore - whose families have lived in Torres del Paine for generations.
Horseback riding is a trip that can be accommodated for all skill levels and can be either half-day, full-day or even a multi-day experience.
The guanaco is Torres del Paine’s most iconic animal. Native to South America, they are closely related to the llama. Their pelt, however, is shorter and their coloring ranges from light to dark brown on the body, and greyish on their undersides and face. Like the llama, they have small ears that point straight upwards.
Just a few decades ago they were endangered, with just 175 guanacos living in the entire National Park. Now their population has grown to more than 3,000.
The condor is the national bird of Chile and has long been revered by the country’s indigenous communities. With a wingspan of up to 10 feet, you’d think they’d be easy to see, but unfortunately they are in decline.
One of the few places you might be able to catch a glimpse of them is in Torres del Paine. With the current abundance of guanacos, which are the main source of food for the condor, you’re more likely to see at least one.
During the second voyage of HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin made many trips throughout Patagonia in vain search of the smaller rhea, which he had heard about from the gauchos, Patagonian cowboys.
A few days after Christmas, the ship’s artist shot a rhea for dinner. Halfway through the meal, Darwin realized it was the bird he had been searching for. Fortunately for him, most of the bird had been preserved and from these he was able to put together the perfect specimen.
As South America’s largest bird, the flightless rhea looks similar to an ostrich with a small head, long neck and legs, and a larger body.
Want to explore even more of stunning Patagonia? Check out our 12-Day End of the World Australis Cruise Expedition, or another favorite, the 5-day Patagonia Estancia Tour. Want to go beyond Torres del Paine? Explore all our Patagonia itineraries here.
About the author: Julia Guerra Slater is the SEO and Social Media Marketing Manager at SA Expeditions. She has traveled extensively throughout the world, including a week-long hike on the W trek.