How to plan a trip to Torres del Paine in Chile

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park is located in the Chilean Patagonia, practically at the end of South America. It is definitely the most beautiful natural scenery I’ve ever visited in South America

The park was founded in the 50s and is huge, in an area of more than 242 thousand hectares. The Park is recognized as one of the most beautiful places on the planet. 

A landscape with diversity in lakes, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, forests and wildlife as well. All of which make it an incredible destination for wildlife observers and of course, adventure sportsmen alike.


Best time to visit Torres de Paine


Summer is definitely the best time to visit the Torres del Paine. But as you can imagine, summer is Torres del Paine’s busiest season of the year, from November to February. It’s the best time to take the famous W Trek. In summer you can enjoy the whole park, something that doesn’t happen in winter when part of the park is closed to visitors.

Torres del Paine
How to plan a trip to Torres del Paine

How to get there


To visit Torres del Paine you need to reach Puerto Natales, the small city is the main entrance to the park. Due the location, it is possible to get in Puerto Natales from Punta Arenas in Chile (the most common route) or from Rio Gallegos and El Calafate in Argentina. These cities receives scheduled flights from Santiago (Chile) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) as well.

Torres del Paine
Latam Airlines (former LAN livery) plane in Punta Arenas

There’s a small airport In Puerto Natales that receives seasonal flights from Santiago operated by Latam Airlines. This could be the most practical option to get in Torres del Paine park. However, the airport works only in high season (December to March) for climatic reasons.

Therefore, the most practical way to get in Torres del Paine is to use the city of Punta Arenas as your base and that’s what I did.

Latam Airlines and Sky Airlines are two carriers that have daily flights from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas. But Latam Airlines connects Europe and the United States with Punta Arenas with a fast connection in Santiago de Chile. This is the best option to get there.

From Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales you have to take a bus. There are 3 bus companies providing the service: Bus Sur, Buses Pacheco and Buses Fernandes, all charge the same prices, around US$ 10 each way. 

You can buy the ticket at the Punta Arenas bus stop or online. One tip is to buy the return ticket in advance, especially in high season when buses run totally busy.

I choose Buses Fernandes, the trip takes about 3 hours, and we travel through incredible landscapes in Patagonia until arrive at the Puerto Natales Bus Terminal.


How to visit Torres del Paine


There are 3 ways to visit the Torres del Paine National Park:

1) Staying inside the park:
You can stay in one of the several hotels inside the park, which offer tours, services and amenities included in the rate.

  • Hotel Rio Serrano: This hotel is located in one of the most beautiful places in Torres del Paine and offers a privileged view of the towers.
  • Lago Gray Hotel: This hotel is located in the heart of the park and nearby the lake with same name. In addition, the hotel has a side view of the mountains and Gray Glacier in the background, one of the most beautiful scenery in Torres del Paine National Park.
  • Hotel Las Torres Patagonia: in the opposite side of these hotels above, this hotel provide other incredible side view of the towers.

2) By yourself:
This is the backpackers favorite way to visit Torres del Paine National Park. Take a bus in the Bus Terminal in Puerto Natales. María José Bus Service or Buses Gomez has routes direct to the park’s entrances. From there, backpackers take the famous W trek, which runs throughout the park in 3 days. I saw people from all over the world arriving all the time looking for this trek. Along the way there are plenty of camping spots with some amenities like bathrooms, showers and even grocery stores.

3) By tour bus:
The most practical and comfortable way to visit the park is taking one day tour bus, as I did. In Puerto Natales there are plenty small companies that offer exactly the same tour with same price: US$ 37 for the tour, in addition to US$ 30 to visit the park.

All tour companies pick up passengers at their hotels and take them back at the end of the day. But you can buy the tours directly from the links below especially in high season when tours run out easily:


Torres del Paine in a day


The tours leaves Puerto Natales early morning (around 6am) and the trip to the park entrance takes around 1h30.  Before the park, we stop at the Cave of Milodón (Cueva del Milodón) a cave 35 meters high, where thousands of years ago lived a mammal called Milodón, kind of a bear that existed in prehistoric Patagonia. My advice: it’s not worth it, leave it behind and take a nap at the bus.

A few kilometers later we have the first great view of the Torres del Paine. In the viewpoint of Lake Toro we have a panoramic view of the towers. It’s amazing! But the time is short, just a picture and everyone goes back to the bus to finally start the visit.

Torres del Paine
Lake Toro

Gray lake

Gray lake is the first stop. Cross the narrow wire bridge where only 6 people can cross at a time. Don’t be afraid of the Patagonian wind, stay firm on the bridge. Them, we followed a trek and at the end, we could see the immense stone beach surrounding Lake Gray. We take a long walk at the beach, almost 2 km. From this point we can see one side of the towers, also known as Punta Bariloche and Punta Negra away. 

At the end of the beach, we took another trek to the top of the small hill to reach a viewpoint where we can see all Gray Glacier. The view is impressive and it is a unique opportunity, because the glacier is doomed. It has decreased 5 kilometers in the last 10 years and the sad expectation is that the glacier will melt in the next years due to global warming.

Torres del Paine

Lake Pehoé

The road to Lake Pehoé cross chasms and valleys beside the blue waters of the Paine River. Going up and down mountains, the feeling is that at some point the bus will fall down there. If you are afraid of heights, don’t look out the window.

Around Lake Pehoé we have one of the most beautiful views of Torres del Paine. Where the water is even more blue and we’re mesmerized by the immensity of the mountains surrounded by blue water. What a view!

Torres del Paine
Lake Pehoé

Salto Grande

The next stop is at one of the park’s waterfalls, Salto Grande, which water flows directly into Lake Pehoé. Once again, the blue water is very impressive, the wind is strong and there are some signs warning of the very strong wind currents at that point. Take care!

From here you can take a trek to the Los Cuernos hill. The trek is not very long, but it takes about 1 hour. If you have time left, it’s worth it.

Torres del Paine
Salto Grande

Nordenskjöld Lookout

Now the tour goes further to the right side of the towers and makes a stop at the viewpoint of Lake Nordenskjöld, named after the Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjöld who studied the Antarctic regions at the beginning of the last century. In this place we have a different perspective of the park, which always surprises travelers.

Torres del Paine
Nordenskjöld Lookout

Laguna Amarga

The next stop is nearby one of the park’s entrances. From this point we can see the back of the Torres del Paine. This is the only point where we can see all three towers that named the park.

By the way, this is the point where most backpackers arrive looking for W Trek and there’s a lot of traffic of people coming and going.

Torres del Paine
Laguna Amarga

Guanacos Valley

The last stop inside the park is to see and of course, photograph the Guanacos. These cousin mammals of the Llamas and Alpacas lives here in Patagonia. There’re more than 5,000 of these animals living in Torres del Paine. They are docile, but the guides ask us to not get too close. And guys, do not disturb the animals, always!

Torres del Paine
Guanacos Valley

***

For those with little time and looking for a more comfortable experience, the tour is the best option to visit Torres del Paine National Park, I really recommend.


Where to stay in Torres del Paine


Punta Arenas:
In Punta Arenas I stayed at the Hotel José Nogueira. The location was excellent, on the main street of the city and close to everything.

Puerto Natales:
In Natales I stayed at the Wild Hostel, one of the best accommodations of this type in Puerto Natales. The staff were very helpful and friendly.

Inside the park and around:
Posada 3 Pasos is on the way to the park, in a beautiful place! His price is something good, a great value for money. Cheaper than hotels inside the park.

A few distance ahead another option is Estancia El Ovejero Patagónico Hotel, closer to the park entrance and excellent rates.

Hotel Rio Serrano is located in one of the most beautiful places in Torres del Paine and offers a privileged view of the towers.

Lago Gray Hotel is located in the heart of the park and nearby the lake with same name. In addition, the hotel has a side view of the mountains and Gray Glacier in the background, one of the most beautiful scenery in Torres del Paine National Park.

Hotel Las Torres Patagonia is located in the opposite side of these hotels above, this hotel provide other incredible side view of the towers.

Another hotel which also has a beautiful view, is the Hostería Tercera Barranca. The cool thing is the location in the middle of the Patagonian landscape.


Travel insurance


It is very important to have a good travel insurance to visit Chile, especially areas of wild nature such as Torres del Paine. I recommend World Nomads travel insurance, which is easy to buy and flexible for all types of travelers.


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